The scene: a nice hotpot restaurant in Nanjing. We had already been out for hotpot once before, at a more fast-food like place in Nanchang. Hotpot restaurants, for the uninitiated, are where you get a boiling kettle of soup on the table and a stack of uncooked ingredients to deal with on your own. Not to be confused with Korean Barbeque, when you get a stack of uncooked ingredients to deal with on your own and a live grill with charcoal in the center of the table. Totally different. (Ahem.) In either case, you cook your own food, and that is a good thing IMHO.
But as a pescetarian who eats vegetarian much of the time, I was feeling a need for protein in my second round of hotpot, and I had this lovely mental image of small (salad-sized) shrimps that would cook to a lovely pink and be eaten. I was thinking in the manner of someone who lives in England, and finds small pre-cooked shrimps in a package at M&S. So it was a bit of a surprise to me when we ordered some small shrimps for our hotpot and they came in a bowl. Swimming. Alive.
I had been trying so hard to be all “when in Rome” about the food in China, and I had tasted many things that were new to me, like glutinous rice balls.
And I had been drinking Great Wall Red Wine.
But I could not contend with the living shrimps. I balked. I admit it. I could not drop them in the boiling soup to die and to be eaten. Especially with their shells and feet and antennae, which apparently the Chinese spit out. On the table. In the manner of fish bones. Another story there, for another day.
I told my sister that I was balking and tried to just eat hotpot with the vegetables with the live shrimps over on the side in their bowl, never reaching the boiling soup. It was all fine until they started jumping to their doom. Two of the shrimps made it out of the bowl of water and were flailing around on the table near the burner where the hotpot soup was cooking. I could not take it any more. I had to ask my sister, with her proficient Chinese, to get the waiter to take the live shrimps away and to save me from this mess.
It was embarrassing. And expensive. We paid a lot of money for those small shrimps that we never ate. My enthusiasm for hotpot has not diminished, but I do think that I’m quite happy with cabbage and tofu and the like in the manner of vegetables.