Having lived out of Hong Kong for eight months, I still notice Chinese people in the street and in shops, and feel they are somehow "my" people. So yesterday when I spotted a place that could very well have been a café in China in that it looked like a Starbucks with the logo and lettering slightly altered, I pricked up my eyes. And sure enough, inside the simple cafe, what would I find but four Chinese working away.
"Have you any Chinese food!" I cried, nay, sobbed. "Yes, well, kind of," they answered, after we'd been through the "Wow, you can speak Chinese!" pleasantries. They showed me the menu and there was indeed some photos of pan-fried dumplings and noodles. Yes! Noodles! Extra spicy, I said, crying tears. We had a bit of a chat about how the Spanish don't understand the concept of hot/warm water instead of iced, and how I always sought out Chinese-run restaurants because in them I don't have to explain for ten minutes that I'd just like a cup of water, not tea or coffee, with my meal. (Hot water is great for you, just look it up!)
The noodles arrived and - it was spaghetti. The extra spice came in a plastic bottle. And worst of all, when I saw the bill, I saw they had charged 1 euro for a tiny cup of water. It was hot, though, I'll give them that. (Down with bottled water! )
As I ate the food - it tasted good and I'm sure spaghetti and Chinese noodles are exactly the same but it was of course psychologically damaging for me because they should have been rice noodles - I heard the people discussing "lao wai" (老外) inside. Lao wai is a term for foreigner that some Chinese say is derogatory, others "just a word for foreigner". I don't know if they were talking about me or the Mallorcans, but I couldn't help remarking upon leaving "Hey, guess what! You're the lao wai now!" at which they laughed uproariously.
Well, they are. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't cook proper noodles, or suddenly charge exorbitant prices for something that should be, dare I say, free? And also, when everybody travels and have a sophisticated palate, why change the food to "fit local tastes"? Locals have their own food. Can't Chinese just be Chinese, without the added ketchup, as it were? (Interesting facet, the word ketchup does come from Cantonese - 茄汁 - keh jap, tomato sauce. The word tomato is 番茄 - faan kei - "barbarian aubergine". You heard it here first!)
*None of the photos were taken in that café. That goes without saying.