Dining Alone in Kunming, China

Finding a comfortable place to dine alone in China is not so easy, that is if you want to eat a higher quality sit down meal. Lots of places serve quick bites for singles looking to fill their bellies with noodles, fried rice or dumplings. More upscale restaurants, however, are designed for larger groups of people out to have a good time and share numerous dishes. Hot pot is a favorite throughout China where diners order raw ingredients – meat, vegetables, and noodles – and then cook them themselves at the table in a steaming pot of broth or oil. Often the tables have a large hole in the middle where the pot sits. Not the most convenient way for a single to eat.

Friday night I strolled the downtown restaurants past the hot pot places looking for a place to eat that wasn’t too loud but still had an interesting menu. On one of the back streets I found a newer looking restaurant that wasn’t too busy and went inside. It wasn’t until after I ordered and was first served individual kimchi-like condiments that I realized I was in a Korean restaurant. (The Korean writing underneath the Chinese should have been a clue.) With the waitress’s help I ordered the house specialty. As usual I wasn’t sure what it was. One of the characters was a new one I had just learned that day, cake (gāo, 糕), but she assured me the dish wasn’t sweet. Turned out to be noodles (doesn’t it always?) about the size of dime rolls in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce with cabbage, carrots and onions. I learned later that nián gāo, 年糕, is this type of noodle. The second dish was a thin fish pan fried until crispy. Although I’m far from understand everything, I’m starting to understand longer phrases, “Do you still need the menu?” I was also able to get the leftover wrapped to take home. Actually very easy, “Qĭng dă bāo.” “Please make box.” Small steps.

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