Saturday, July 22, 2006

Drunken shrimp

Well, I finally did it. The moment I have been dreading since I came to China. The one exotic food that I was sure I could not eat.



Yes, you would think I would have an affinity for the poor buggers... a mutual understanding if you will. But they are the one Chinese food I have always been apprehensive of. I've eaten silk worm pupae, jellyfish, eel, pregnant squid, live lobster, sea worm, pig lung, and scorpion, but I've never eaten drunken shrimp.

Well, tonight that changed. The evening started out as normal. Just another business dinner with more baiju (rice wine) and fried pork... until...

A bowl was brought out with another plate on top of it. And the bowl was making noises... like something hitting it rather violently. The waitress (fuyuan) removed the plate to reveal a bowl full of live shrimp, swimming in baiju. Quite literally they serve you live shrimp swimming in alcohol... not the worst way to go, mind you... They were creeping and crawling, and one of them lept into the air, fell out of the bowl, and landed in the dish of soy sauce, spilling wasabi-soaked-soy all over my pants. There was only one way to pay back the little bastard...

Everyone at the table reached into the bowl, chose a particularly fiesty little (or rather quite big) shrimp, and placed him on their plate. As poor Mr. Shrimp jumped up and down (you could acutally catch them in mid-air jumping out of the bowl) you picked him up, ripped off his head, and proceeded to peel him as fast as you can.

Why so fast you ask?

Well, it is simple. If you were very good at peeling the shrimp, you could get him in your mouth while he was still wriggling and spasming around. Trust me, this was not easy to do... you really had to be up on your shrimp-peeling skills to get him into your digestive tract before the poor bastard lost all nerve funtion from not having a head anymore. Sure you might get a muscle spasm or three, but its not quite the same as when the poor little guy is still conciously fighting for his life. That's when you want him in your mouth!

The result? Well, as much as I was terrified of this dish, and swore I would never eat it (also promised myself that about the silk worm pupae), it was really delicious. It really is a struggle (quite literally) to peel the shrimp while he is fighting against your fingers, but once you dip him in wasabi soy sause, and toss him down your gullet, you can barely feel the wriggling.

Eww... I know. But really... surprisingly good, and I can't explain why. I must have had about eight of them tonight. Occasionally we would replace the lid to get the little guys a tad more drunk. Shrimp can put up quite a fight you know!

While I did enjoy the meal, I need to learn not to express quite so much interest in Chinese cuisine... the Chinese staff decided that I liked drunken shrimp so much that they will probably now serve it at every meal we have together for the next 10 years.