china · foodstuff · on the plate

On the Plate in Huadu, Guangzhou #2

The rat was a surprise, but not much of a distraction.

I have taken to tofu like a monkey to bananas. Perhaps it is a lack of meat and tofu’s… I cannot for the life of me see the similarity, tofu being quite unlike meat, but for some reason it feels the same: eating tofu and meat.

In any case, I was delighted at the discovery of tofu, specifically fried tofu. Together with rice, it had become a staple of my diet. I have oft spoken of my go-to restaurant, and it is here that I indulged wantonly in tofu and rice.

I was saddened when the cook, always thoughtful, presented me with the platter you see below. My earlier orders had resulted in a small oriental-decorated pot: oils would be hissing and spitting; vegetables, meat, and tofu dwelling within. He noticed that, of these three, however, only the tofu would meet my tongue. Accordingly, he replaced the vegetables and meat with tofu and placed them on a bland tray, the pot no longer large enough.

But that is neither here nor there. I caught your attention with talk of rats, and it is rats I will now talk of.

The night had not yet dawned. It was early enough to be the lone patron of the restaurant, which I do not at all lament. I ordered my tofu and rice (“Toooofuu haaa mi fan”) and settled myself down at a table beside the door.

The waitress, an amiable enough creature, mocked me as I waited. It has been months since I mistakenly called dumplings Christians, but still she whispers in my ear, “gee doe jow…” at every chance. I smile for her jape, but the jest has long since lost any humor.

I am brought my tofu and rice and begin to eat. By now, I have had the dish too many times to enjoy it heartily. The taste has become stale, though the cook might be to blame.

I hear from behind me a scream. I turn round and find the waitress fussing over some trash or recyclables. I turn back to my food, but she continues her wail. She is a very animated creature, so such utterances are not entirely unusual.

But now she is crying.

It may sound cold, but my immediate thought was that it was rather rude of her to cry while I am eating my food. Her tears lost their strength soon after, and I forget.

I have not finished much of my tofu and rice when the staff brings a bucket full of trash and drops it beside my table. I give it a cautionary glance, but continue with my eating. For a moment, I wonder if I am going to be thrown out, that I held some blame for the girl’s tears.

And then I hear it.

“Skree, skree, skree!” the rat laments, as it is bludgeoned with the broom, picked up, and then tossed into the bucket beside my table.

I do not know why I continued eating. I do not know why I was not upset with the rat. My reaction was a “hah hah,” as the staff ferried away the bucket. I would like to think they did not bring it to the kitchen.

I finished with my meal some time later. Others had since arrived, and I wondered how they would have reacted to rat’s pleas of “skree, skree, skree!”

At the register, the woman informed me, through gestures, that the bill was not 10 RMB, as I had given her, but rather 15 RMB. I shook my head, took out my phone, and translated the word rat.


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