Ever have a meal at one place and try to get the same thing next, but it comes out completely different? You keep trying to order what you first like with no success until one day the cook finally gets it!
When I first came to Shanghai, everyone told me, “Oh you’re going to love the food!” And I do. There are things that I love and others that call for an acquired taste. From my tastes around the city, I have one food item that has become my staple besides rice—dumplings. I love myself some dumplings! They are absolutely delicious and filling and I could eat them every day.
There is one place I can count on to get my fix. Less than a block away is my dumpling spot, but I have a love hate relationship with it. My first visit to the dumpling place, a colleague of mine ordered large pork and vegetable dumplings for me and I was hooked. Since I liked it so much, of course I would go back and try to order the same thing.
I ordered what I thought was pork and vegetable dumplings, and return to my office to discover, to my dismay, they were not pork and vegetable dumplings. I have no idea what they were, but they weren’t the dumplings I had bought the first time. Still, they weren’t bad and I paid for it, so I ate them.
My next visit, I have one of the local teachers write out in mandarin my order. Get there, show the paper. The lady had no idea what it said! (For reference, I’m dealing with the same person every time.) So she gives me a random order of dumplings—which of course I eat. As long as they don’t have mushrooms (not a fan of them) I’m truly ok.
But I wanted my pork and vegetable dumplings.
Another time I go back, I just point randomly on the menu that is completely in Chinese. I go through a series of visits where I’m picking on the menu at random and this lady just gives me whatever. It could be anything. Even when locals who speak English try to help me order it doesn’t come out right. Never do I get what I first order and I had just settled into a routine of getting mystery dumplings.
Five months I suffered, never getting what I thought I ordered. It reached a point where, I didn’t even say anything except for, “hi” when I walked in. The lady knew I wanted dumplings, and she would put on an unknown batch and charge me the same thing every time, no matter how much or what type of dumplings I got. And I was completely cool with it because they only amounted to less than $3.00 each time.
But then one day, she wasn’t there.
I walked up the steps ready for my mysterious batch of dumplings and no lady. Instead there is another older ayi manning the dumplings.
I tell her I want some dumplings (in Chinese). And the most amazing thing happens. She opens the fridge full of dumpling trays and tells me to choose. No menu? I look at the trays labeled in Chinese and recognize nothing. I randomly pick one. The older ayi, cooks them, packages it all nicely, and sends me off. I settle down in my lunch booth in my office’s common area ready for anything—except the taste of my pork and vegetable dumplings. I could have cried.
It only took five months of loyal lunch attendance to rediscover my first ordered dumplings. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what the label said for the tray that I chose. A regrettable mistake. I’m hoping, but doubtful the next time I go back, I’ll get my dumplings.