They look innocent enough.  Just a dumpling.  Dim sum.  Filled with soup, steamed, and then fried on one side.  The picture doesn’t show scale so well, but each of them is about 2″ across.  I asked for two.  As has been consistent at local restaurants, no English was spoken.  The girl behind the counter looked at me with a questioning face and held up her hand, finger and thumb extended.  A question I didn’t understand followed, but I assumed she was asking if I really wanted two.  I said yes.  She shrugged and said something to the girl assembling the plates and 8 sesame-seed sprinkled, fabulous-smelling, puff balls of soup were accompanying me to a table for one.  They obviously came 4 per order and I got two orders…

I kept an eye on the guy in front of me, who had also ordered the dumplings just to make sure I didn’t violate some sort of custom.  They are kind of large and not exactly easy to hold with chopsticks.  He pinched his with the chopsticks and popped the whole thing in his mouth.  A’ight, here we go.

I have gotten better with chopsticks since I’ve been here because in most places a fork is not to be found.  I told the table I was sitting with at lunch today that I expected to be good enough with chopsticks by the end of my stay that I would be able to eat soup with them.  They laughed and I digress.

Back to the dumpling.  Before I left, Mom told me about the soup dumplings and had some sort of advice that I hadn’t really paid that much attention to.  Something about eat them quickly so as not to drip any of the soup on yourself.  At least I think it was.  So, following the lead of the guy next to me, I popped the whole thing in my mouth and bit down.

Oh. My. God.  Get-this-piece-of-lava-out-of-my-mouth!  Where’s the napkin!  This was pizza cheese stuck to the roof of your mouth boiling hot kind of thing.  Taste buds gone.  Skylight in the top of my mouth.  Coneheads, pass the Windex and a six-pack!  I try as quickly, gracefully, and quietly as possible to get it out of my mouth.  I look around to see if anyone saw me and it looks like the foreigner escaped notice.

But, also…  Oh. My. God.  What little capacity I had left to taste was treated to a wonderful burst of flavor.  After wiping away the tears, I took my time with the remaining seven, biting a small hole to allow some of the steam to escape and let them cool down just a bit.  I am definitely going back for more just as soon as I heal up

I learned later the finger and thumb is a Chinese single-handed way to count to ten.  They do 1 through 5 with fingers as you would expect.  Six is like Hawaii’s “hang loose”.  Seven is Oobie.  Not Grandpoo.  Oobie.  Look it up. Eight is the finger and thumb like a gun.  Nine is a hooked index finger like you’re making a small ‘a’ with your hand.  Ten is a fist.  So the lady behind the counter was saying, “8?  You really want 8?”  Yes, I did.

I’ve made it over to the neighborhood grocery store a couple of times.  Pretty interesting.  For you Columbia folks, it’s about the size of Eastgate IGA on Broadway.  And has a bit of the same scent.  As I walked the aisles, I could read nothing except the prices.  Had no idea what I was buying.  I did find some non-soup filled dumplings and brought them home only to remember that I couldn’t read the directions on how to prepare them.  I made my best guess.  The fruits and vegetables are fairly standard, with the addition of a big bin of dragonfruit, and some other local items.  I also found a pastry that looked tasty enough, grabbed a Chinese bottle of wine, and some pears – the Asian kind that look more like apples.  When I was checking out, the woman scanning in my purchases looked at my pastries and then grabbed both pears.  She shook the pears at me and pointed to the pastry.  I shrugged my shoulders.  She did it again, shook her head as if to say ‘No,’ and then to confirm her disappointment with my decision, put both pears in a basket under her register and refused to sell them to me.  I still have no idea why…  I’m also not sure if she had already rung them up.

Food vendors are just about everywhere – certainly anywhere there is foot traffic.  What with the pig incident, I had been wary to try it, but it just smells so good, I couldn’t help myself.  There is one just outside the building where I take Mandarin lessons – it always has a long line, so I figured it was both safe and good.  I had been watching what he was doing and how he was working the grill for other customers.  He had about six or seven different kinds of meat on skewers, but since I couldn’t really tell what was what and couldn’t ask (his English is as good as my Mandarin), I went with something that looked like green beans, something else that was breaded and a sausage.  He had a shaker of spices that I knew had heat because I could smell it when he put it on other customer’s items, so I happily nodded when he pointed at it to ask if I was willing.  Only he was a bit more heavy-handed with mine than he was with everyone else’s.  Trying to play a joke on the big guy?  Really?  I guess he did have a knife, so OK.  But the joke was on him because I loved every bite.  Awesome!  And the breaded thing?  Cheese!  His stand will be a staple on Mandarin days, that’s for sure…

My other favorite vendor – simply for creativity – is at the top of my subway stop.  I’m a bit more wary of her goods because I can’t see where she stores her skewers of uncooked meat…  Bikes are everywhere in Shanghai and they used for just about everything.  Like ants, these things are and not only in number – people load them up with 10x their weight and they just roll along…  Anyway, as you can see in the picture, she has fixed a grill to the back of her bike to cook her skewers on.  I know I’ll have one or two someday because it just smells soooo good when I get off the train, but I’ll have to overcome significant paranoia to try.

I still haven’t caught up from my wanderings last weekend, including Jing’an Temple, the Bund, getting propositioned on the street, and the fascination with my height.  Tomorrow will be a laundry day, so maybe I can get some more typed up…

And, yes, I did get to watch the Tigers.  Grrr.