Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oodles of Noodles

My favorite lunchtime restaurant happens to be a small noodle joint right next door to my office. While the Microsoft office building around the corner means that Starbucks, 7-11, and a range of upscale restaurants with English menus are within easy reach, my appetite (and, I must admit, my budget) always keep me coming back to "Chengdu Xiao Chi" ("Chengdu snacks"). For 4-5 RMB (USD approx $0.50-0.65) I can get a steamy and satisfying bowl of noodles; if I'm really hungry, I can get a side dish to go with the noodles for a total of around $1. And, to wash it all down, a large 24 oz bottle of beer costs less than a gumball does in the US.

It's not just the food that lures me to my beloved Chengdu xiao chi about 3 times per week, despite my Chinese co-workers teasing me for frequenting such a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. There is something distinctively Chinese about the atmosphere that keeps me coming back--the Chinese concept of "renao" (roughly translated as "hot and noisy") is fully embodied here. I am usually the only Westerner in the place, despite it being packed to capacity at lunch. Sometimes I'm seated at a table with a few migrant workers, taking a break from their construction on the numerous office buildings shooting up in the surrounding area. The floor is scattered with disposable chopstick wrappers and cigarette butts, the servers are always shouting back and forth across the restaurant, and I'm probably getting lung cancer from the second-hand smoke in the air, but I just can't bring myself to go elsewhere for lunch.

Today I rolled in and ordered, only to discover that I had left my wallet in the office. Rather than getting annoyed, the server told me that I could just eat lunch and pay some other time! I insisted that it would just take me a minute and dashed off; when I returned she had saved a spot for me at a better table, and told me that it would just be a minute, as she had already put in the order. While some may scoff at the lack of sanitation, I love the unpretentious service and the fact that the girls who work there know exactly what I like. I'd take it over a Frappuccino any day.

where the genius takes place...

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