It was lunchtime in Chinatown, which was in my plan. Actually, that was pretty much the entirety of my plan: Chinatown (lunch).
We walked into an unassuming place on a sidestreet. It was small and crowded with an atmosphere like a cafeteria. There were large tables, mostly filled up with Asian people (a good sign). There was no sign telling us to wait or seat ourselves, so we stood there awkwardly and looked confused. After a short delay, a man held up 2 fingers and directed us to a long table, where an old lady and an old man were already seated, though not together. Quickly, we were given small plates, chopsticks, a pot of tea, and two mugs. The only thing we could figure to do was pour the tea, and then we sat and waited. No menu, but I doubted we'd be able to read one if we had it.
A lady came by, pushing a cart of food. I'd love to tell you what kind of food, but I don't know what it was. There were a bunch of little metal pots, each with some kind of meat-looking substance. Our table-mates, clearly old pros, said something to the lady. She gave them each a little pot, and they both started mixing up the meat stuff with the rice hidden underneath. The old lady's meat stuff had small bones in it. She also poured some brown goop from a jar on the table into it.
These words I'm using make it sound unappetizing. It was not, but nor was it necessarily appealing, because I just had no idea what I was even looking at. It smelled pretty good.
The cart lady continued on her way to the other tables. Another lady came up to us and spoke to Josh, but all I heard was "potstickers." He said yes, which is a reasonable reply to any sentence containing the word "potstickers." She went away to her cart and came back with a plate of 3 potstickers. She used a scissors to cut one in half. She whipped a blank bill from her back pocket and drew a line on it, seemingly at random, then left it on the table.
Well, I know what to do with a potsticker. Man, it was delicious.
In the list of things before us, you'll notice that none of them was a fork. Once, a few years ago, I went to a Korean place in Raleigh where I also was not given cutlery. Rather than ask, I determined that day was just going to have to be the day I learned to use chopsticks. I didn't leave hungry, so I did okay. Since then, when forks are offered, I take and use them, but I feel confident enough in my chopsticking that I can manage without embarrassment. I probably look like Bambi learning to walk, but I imagine everyone else giving me credit for trying.
Our potstickers vanquished, we sat to wait again. I'd been very alert the whole time, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. The only thing I really noticed was that the other non-Asian folk there all looked as bewildered as we were, while the locals looked as if this were their regular Tuesday lunch.
Soon, another cart lady came by. Josh pointed at one thing, and I pointed at another. Out came the scissors to cut the third one in half, two more random marks on the ticket. The item that Josh picked out, I would have left on the cart, because it looked suspiciously like mushrooms. But we think it was actually eggplant, combined with yet more meat substance, probably seafood. The one I picked looked like a biscuit, and it turned out to be some kind of fried shrimp pastry. Again, all delicious.
A middle-aged Chinese couple sat at the remaining two empty chairs at our table. They said something to one of the cart ladies, who brought them something that had either tentacles or noodles or both.
Like everything else, the tea was excellent. Technically, I am off caffeine while pregnant, but I was not going to attempt to bring that up. I just enjoyed it and everything else without having much of any idea of what I was consuming.
After our three plates, Josh decided we'd better be done, since we had no idea how much each of those marks on the ticket was costing us. I was sated anyway. We took our mysterious ticket to the counter, where we were told we owed $9.35. Well then. We could've had a couple of those meat/rice pots and still come in under budget.
After we left, I learned that what we had just experienced, the tea, the carts with the little pots, was dim sum. It's sorta like Chinese tea time. And now that I've experienced it once, I could do it again.