One night in Beijing, we didn’t have a scheduled group dinner. A classmate suggested a popular spot he’d seen while walking around near the hotel – you can tell when a restaurant is good in China because there will be a crowd of folks waiting on tiny plastic stools out front, blocking the sidewalk and spilling out onto the street. I’m not sure if it was less busy that night or if we got seated so quickly because we were all foreign, but we walked in and immediately began the long adventure of communicating our order to the waitress. The tables were rectangular, with a stove and a large rack above it set into the middle. Ventilation hoods lined the ceiling to deal with the smoke coming off each table-grill. We ordered a leg of lamb and a few other appetizers, and once it arrived, sat staring at it more than a little blankly.
I forgot to mention – flanking our table on either side were tables of drunk, half-naked, older Chinese men. It got quite hot in the building, due to the stove set into every table, so the establishment provided huge tupperware-style bins under each table for patrons to discard bags, clothes, etc. Sensing our cluelessness, a delegate from each table approached us, and using various phrases like ‘China good!’, ‘America good!’, and ‘We should be friends!’ and sign language, showed us how to cut, season, and consume our aforementioned entire leg of lamb.
We eventually finished it all, with lots of help from our new friends, and the cost of the meal was a few dollars for each of our ~6 member party. Wowza!