While I was in Guilin, a medium sized city in Guangxi province, I befriended a middle-aged tourist from Singapore by the name of John. Ethnically Chinese, John spoke Mandarin fluently and had traveled extensively throughout China.
After a day of sightseeing with John in Guilin, he took me to a relatively upscale Chinese restaurant located in the heart of the tourist quarter. When John found out that I was a strict vegetarian, we began a conversation about the exoticism of Chinese cuisine - in particular, the diverse dishes normally offered at most Chinese restaurants.
Tongue in Cheek, John said “Chinese people eat anything moves.” Although this is a popular stereotype about Chinese people, it does have some basis in reality. Traditionally, Chinese people have a considerably more diverse and exotic diet than Westerners; the diet includes a greater variety of protein matter – including fried insects and grub, turtles, snakes, sharks, civets as well other mammals and wild animals – in addition to aphrodisiacs which often consist of the sexual organs and body parts of certain animals.
Usually you will have to go to a Gourmet Chinese restaurant in order to have the some of the more exotic dishes.
Rather than being critical about the Culinary Culture of Chinese people, let’s just say there are significant cultural differences between the West and the East.
Back to the story at hand – I had some delicious vegetarian food at the restaurant while John and the taxi driver devoured some very exotic seafood dishes. After making his selection from the menu, John was invited into the back room of the restaurant to choose which fish would be killed for his meal.
After finishing our dinner, we walked outside the restaurant where we saw a variety of animals in cages – civets, turtles, snakes and some rather exotic and large fishes in an aquarium. All these creatures were waiting to be selected and carved up for someone’s meal. Fortunately, I didn’t see any dogs, monkeys or bats in cages, otherwise I may have gotten sick.
It should be noted that most Chinese restaurants do not normally supply napkins to their customers. Upon request, they will provide a set of napkins for 5 yuan (75 cents USD).