Eating Dim Sum this morning with my girlfriend and a friend of hers. They speak Mandarin, also known as Crazy-Wobbling-Incomprehensiblese, so I could tell I was being discussed and judged, but was unable to understand a word and honestly didn't care because I was being well fed. Like being in a dog show but without anyone lifting my tail and testing my testicles for symmetry. I say well fed, but be warned - I am A Professional and the world of Dim Sum is not one for the unwary. A world where a large variety of small dishes are served, defeating our brave western tactics of memorising a single safe dish and ordering it, or checking the menu to make sure most of the words in the title are edible.
A long history of cultivating culinary skills, combined with occasional periods where they had to eat each other, has gifted the oriental peoples with kitchens containing wonder and terror as well as the usual pots and pans. Think of it as a Temple Of Doom for your mouth: you might find a previously unknown treasure, or end up rolling on the floor with something foreign and harmful lodged in your throat.
For maximum safety make sure the food is ordered by two people who are well used to it, talking in another language, and don't show you the menu. If possible make sure they're grinning and watching you carefully as you eat: that means you won't get any nasty surprises, and you are lucky to have such good friends. Despite these precautions I still ran into a few problems, amazingly, and list them below to save you from a similar fate:
1) Rice noodle skin wrapping.
In response to the increasing number of white devils who can actually use chopsticks without looking like they need a bib, Chinese Counter-Intelligence have developed a frictionless but edible material in which food items could be wrapped. This renders the food utterly inaccessible to anyone who did not start using chopsticks in the womb, or perhaps have them involved in the conception. Brave experiments in stabbing viciously at the food and swearing have so far failed.
2) "Radish filling pastry cake".
That's clearly not the name but was the closest to a translation I could extract from the Drunken Moon Scribblings of the chinese menu. It's a small delicate pastry with a lightly carved outer shell which looks sweet and airy without betraying even the tiniest hint of the miniature star burning within it. Reports from my surviving taste buds suggest that the outer shell is an edible version of the shielding used in fusion reactors, designed to contain vast quantities of scalding heat while giving the false impression that this is something even remotely safe to put in your mouth. It's also possible for it's name to be translated in any one of a million equally incorrect ways, not limited to "Caucasian Killing Thermal Grenade", so be careful. You have been warned.
3) Chicken Foot.
Seriously, chicken foot, cooked up and served just like it was food. I'm no burger-munching xenophobe, and have honestly eaten so much chinese food in the last two years it's a miracle I haven't developed some kind of rice-based superpower, but Chicken-God-Damn-What-The-Foot? I'm all for recycling and efficiency but you can't cut off the one part of the damn animal that isn't made of edible stuff and call it a delicacy.
Imagine a thick juicy T-Bone steak, and keep imagining it and its delicious fleshiness until your mouth is watering. Now picture the meat part shrinking, shrinking and disappearing like hopes of a threesome after forty, until the chewy gristle has constricted tightly around the piece of bone. Now leave it on top of a stove in a jar of spices for a day, then take it out and put it on the table in front of an innocent white guy and try to keep a straight face as you pretend it's something people are meant to eat. What I'm trying to say is that chicken foot is the opposite of food.
Remember these simple warnings, and being pointed at and fed by gibbering foreigners can be as enjoyable for you as it is for me!