Saturday, August 25, 2012

That’s How Snack Street is Done!

I’ve written about Snack Street by my school. I believe I’ve also told you about Snack Street in Wuhan, where you can sample all of this city’s indigenous fare. It is quite the attraction, not so much for tourists but for college students. A popular hangout for young people, it rambles for a few city blocks and then connects to the equally popular shopping district Si Men Kou.

I don’t particularly care for that area because of the crowds and because it seems the only food indigenous to Wuhan that I truly love is Re Gan Mian and deep fried glutinous rice balls, both of which I can get practically anywhere else around the city, and for much cheaper.

But I do like to eat, and I’ve found I have a weakness for food in Wen Zhou. So, when Gary told me his friends were treating us to a dinner at the famous Wen Zhou Snack Street I could hardly contain my excitement… or my drool.

First let me tell you: Snack Street is a misnomer. It is not so much a street as it is a dining hall of epic proportions. The building is as large as an airplane hangar and along 2 of the walls various chefs, in their allotted stalls, prepare their specialties before your very eyes.

Massive, steaming cauldrons of soup. Giant woks, sizzling full of meat and vegetables. Noodle stalls. Baked goods. Fried goods. Raw goods. Tofu dishes and seaweed creations. Whole fish, live and fresh for the catching. Fresh fruit, attractively arranged. A dessert section. Booth after booth of culinary delights. Anything you can imagine, and dishes that defy imagination can be found on Wen Zhou’s Snack Street.  

Here is how it works: you are greeted at the door by a chorus line of wait staff. As you make your way along the stalls, you make your selections which the discreet waiter following you duly notes. You are then invited to sit in the giant dining hall or, if you are a member of a large party or would prefer a private dining room you are escorted upstairs and such a room is accorded to you. As the various chefs prepare the dishes you selected, your waiter/waitress brings them to your table or to your private dining room hot off the grill, out of the wok or cauldron. 

We were a large party and so chose a private setting for our meal. Being the guests of honor, Gary and I got to select most of the dishes. Our friends selected a few dishes they thought we might like to sample as well. In all, we ended up with sixteen different gastronomical adventures. 

It is safe to say that, if any of us went hungry that night, it would only be our own fault.

My friends, I declare that I could cheerfully live in Wen Zhou for the food alone. Of course, the people are wonderful too but, OHHHH! The food! The food is so good I could slather myself with it and lick it all off. It at least ties for first place with Xi’an food if not knocks Xi’an out of first place altogether.

As usual a Chinese meal, when properly done involves a time commitment of no less than 3 hours. We spent longer than that nibbling, talking, toasting one another. Private conversations broke out around the table as the meal wound down. The children in attendance, two little girls started running around and playing. At one point, Gary’s cousin’s wife took her SmartPhone out and started watching a television program. That is not considered rude over here.

Soon enough even the little snacking stabs at the leftovers stopped, a clear signal that the meal was over. We had spent a little over 4 hours at the table. One final toast and our party broke up and went downstairs. The waitstaff, their duty done for the night, were scattered around the dining hall, making their cleaning rounds and sweeping the floor. The chefs and their helpers were scouring their implements, making ready for the next day’s onslaught.

For Gary, this would be the last time he would see his friends for maybe years. He lingered over his good byes. One by one, the groups got into their taxis. Those who had their own car drifted to the parking lot. We hailed our own taxi back to the hotel for our final night in Wen Zhou.    

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