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Kanji Roulette

October 16, 2011

These, for the uninitiated, are the rules to Kanji Roulette.  To play, you will need: one foreign country, preferably one that uses Chinese characters for their writing system, but Arabic would probably do at a pinch; one restaurant, the more ‘local’ and non-touristy the better; one dining partner for emotional support; an appetite; courage.

Select a restaurant to eat in.  If the menu has any pictures of food on it, or you are able to detect any pictures on the walls of the restaurant to help in food identification, you are cheating.  Leave immediately, and find a less populated area.

Request a menu.  Observe the dizzying array of symbols, lines, shapes and characters.  Ensure that you recognise none – clues that you have chosen a good menu will be your vision beginning to swim, the characters appearing to move about on the page and, possibly, the beginnings of a headache.

Hold the menu out to your dining partner, who must have equal or less knowledge of its contents.  Your dining partner must now point, at random, to at least two items on the menu and request them from the waiting staff.  Upon arrival, you are required to sample whatever is presented to you regardless of shape, colour, recognisable body parts etc.

A local delicacy...

No experience has proved this more than when a friend and I saw fit to invent the game, three years ago in Japan.  Grinning with confidence, I pointed to a particularly attractive shape on the menu being held up to the waitress.  Her response was not encouraging.  She grunted, her brows furrowing in an expression of surprise mixed with, I think, awe.  Unperturbed, I nodded again and firmly pointed at my choice.  She shrugged, smirked, turned and shouted something into the kitchen.  Almost immediately a man shouted back, the sounds of cooking ceased, and a head appeared around the door, scanning the room, eyes narrowed.

The waitress nodded in my direction.  The man looked at me, at her, and at me again.  I nodded again, just as firmly, my determined frown face masking the doubt that was now beginning to creep up my spine.  The chef let loose a low, slow, evil chuckle, and returned to the kitchen.

What arrived was, at first, unrecognisable – just some white lumps of animal on a plate.  Slowly, though, various features swum in to view.  Thick, translucent, rubbery skin.  Small bristles poking up from what now revealed itself to be a six inch long animal shin.  White, crumbling trotters.  The whole, boiled, blanched white and rubbery leg of a piglet.

There is, I believe, no finer way to eat.  The knot of anxiety that sits in your stomach waiting to see what arrives makes every meal an adventure; the occasional lows make the highs all the sweeter as the endorphins of relief mix with the new and exotic tastes you are experiencing.

Jess and I went for a delicious meal with the family of a work colleague last night.  The family were fantastic hosts; the father serving us food, the children practising their English with us, a selection of local delicacies prepared in the Sichuan way (Hot Pot), served by the father.  Eating with this family I felt more a part of this fascinating country than I have since I arrived.  Hot Pot is the provincial dish in Sichuan, and is something the local people are very proud of.  A spicy, oily broth is set to boil at the centre of the table and dinner guests cook the delicately prepared foods themselves.

Bamboo shoots and Tofu, I can report, are delicious, as are the finely sliced layers of fish.  Eel was a pleasant surprise: “these are not from the water” our host, Tiffany, explained helpfully: “these come from the mud, you know, in fields”.  These were a roulette success.  Less of a success to my taste buds were the cow and duck stomach lining, which I believe to be a national delicacy I will never personally come to terms with.  It’s not so much the taste, but the texture – the fine, rubbery tendrils caressing my tongue as I chewed proved too much for me, and I turned my clumsily held chopsticks back to the bamboo and Tofu.

The grand finale of the night was a large, warm bow of thick red duck’s blood.  Left on the side to congeal, once it began to crack and take on a gelatinous consistency it was poured in to the broth.  When it was ready, it took on a soft, dark, jelly like form and floated in clumps to the top of the seething liquid.  A lump was fished out and presented to me.  Gingerly, I took a bite and, I have to say, found it absolutely fantastic – like the most delicately flavoured liver pate, only more so.  Grinning in pleasure and relief, I enthusiastically munched on my lump of blood, a fine and fitting end to a very interesting evening.  Thank you to my hosts; a more gracious and hospitable group of dinner guests I have yet to meet.

Kanji Roulette – the only way to dine, and full of more pleasant surprises than you might expect.

  1. Every now and again, when I was feeling brave enough, I would do something similar. Just walk into a restaurant, pick a random dish from the list of characters and hope for the best. More often than not I was pleasantly surprised.

    • Hi Rory, thanks for the comment I don’t know about you but we always order something we recognise as well, just in case! looks like you have had quite the adventure yourself, bet you’re sorry it has come to an end.

  2. Stuart Wraith permalink

    sounds like a fantastic meal, and memories ichidai’s comes flooding back.

  3. Marc Moor permalink

    I recall the delightful piglet shins, though I did not partake.

  4. I played that in Chengdu! Got a blood and guts hotpot much like the one you must have had. Lovely!

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