I was not expecting something spectacular, but this was simply disappointing. After one or two turns from Piccadilly circus, we crossed a gate and arrived to a place that was very similar to the rest of the urban London…except that nothing was written in English. No pagodas, no maneki-nekos, no pandas. Just everything in Chinese instead of English.
– So we are here? – I stop to look at some wall posters over what looks like the wall of a closed business. A shop, maybe. Pictures of people, with Chinese text, and some numbers. – What are those saying? – My guide is not Chinese, but she is supposed to have learned the language at the school to the level of reading it. I have no clue of anything.
– They are looking for brides. – I smile, and look at the grey faces on the sepia-coloured paper. Some are looking like old men, but everyone needs love, right? – Are you interested maybe on adding your advertisement to this wall? – She’s playing the dumb Asian girl, she does it very well, but I hate it. I turn my head and start pouting. She realizes I’m upset and grab me by the waist. – Don’t be angry on me! Let’s go to find a place to eat. Any preference? – I don’t understand anything I see but I’m not going to say so.
– How about Chinese food? – She laughs her noisy, clearly sarcastic laugh, the one that let me see her silver teeth. I’m sometimes sorry immediately after speaking. – For example. After all, we took a cappuccino on Little Italy, right?
– Good choice, my lord. – She uses the exaggerated Oxford accent that I know she can use, instead of her usual american. She grabs my arm and we walk quickly through. – How about here? – We stop in front of what it looks like a glass showcase with a wooden door. Yes, there are tables inside, with people sitting, not a lot, and the smell of soup is overwhelming. I do not manage to see what the people are doing, the local is quite dark, I must say.
– After you. – I wave like if she is a princess. She goes in, not before smiling me, and I follow here to a featureless table. Over it, a white tablecloth that obviously has seen better days, the typical bottles with asian sources, two very small glasses, and chopsticks. I’ve been in chinese restaurants before, so at least I will not be forced to ask for a fork. A waiter comes, a few minutes after we finish examining the table, and he gives us two menus. I open mine. All is in Chinese, no pictures. I look at her. She smiles to me.
– What were you expecting? – I keep looking for something I can read. There it is. The prices! – When in Rome…
– Do as the romans, of course. Will you be so kind to order for me? – I hesitate. – Or, at least, can you explain me a little?
– Of course I can. – She has a quick look on the menu.- Let’s first decide what you want to eat. Meat? Fish? Soup? Two dishes? One? – I shrug my shoulders. – I’m going to go for a soup, some rolls, and maybe a dessert. The chinese character for soup is 湯. Doesn’t it look like a pot over fire? Then the one for meat is 肉, that looks a little like an open animal. The one for fish is not so obvious, 魚. You can try to remember it as an octopus, with all the legs under. – I nod. The Chinese waiter comes, she says something in Chinese, I smile, he leaves. – Good. How about you point to something on the menu you like how it is written, and I tell you what it is?
– I’m in! – I scan the menu, and we order dumplings, Chinese rolls, some soup, some tea, and a very soft chinese beer. Close to us, now an American family sat down. At one point, they start shouting. “Where is the English menu? I want to see the manager! We are in London, for God’s sake!” We try to hide, fortunately, we don’t speak English neither. The food, all of it, is delicious, and nothing comparable to anything I tried before on a so-called Chinese restaurant. A lifetime experience.