川式好客之道 / Hospitality, Sichuan-style

川式好客之道

与近些年相比,80年代初居住在中国的外国人少得可怜,而且大多数人居住在北京。

中外合资企业刚刚起步,只有屈指可数的几家公司到了派外国专家常驻当地的程度,最早的中外合资企业主要集中于东部沿海的几座大城市。

但是,在中国西南部的四川省成都市郊外,住着一小群外国人,其中包括一些搞研究的学者,还有一家早期的合资企业——一座有美国公司参与的电缆生产厂。

在那个年代,驻华外国人的大部分日常生活都由当地外事局指派的官员安排,成都也不例外。

凑巧的是,在1981年居于成都的十来个外国人当中,多数都来自北美地区。美国人要过一个叫感恩节的节日,这是北美地区特有的节日,虽然加拿大和美国庆祝这一节日的日期并不相同。

美国人非常看重感恩节,亲朋好友在这个时候团聚,享受一份通常是由家人烹制的大餐。烤火鸡是这种场合最受欢迎的主菜。

近几年,中国许多大城市的酒店和餐厅都纷纷追赶西方节日潮流,也在圣诞节、复活节、万圣节,甚至感恩节的时候,推出相应的欢庆活动。

1981年,感恩节在北京还很少有人知道,更别提在成都了。即使是在香港这样国际化程度相对较高的中国城市,人们也没觉得火鸡有多么美味。我记得,那个时候美国禽类出口商会曾举办过一系列推广活动,试图让香港人相信火鸡的确是一道可口的菜品。

在感恩节(美国人的节日是11月的第四个星期四)到来之前的数周甚至数月,住在成都的一些美国人就告知当地的外事部门 “负责人”,他们非常希望能有机会吃一顿有火鸡的完整的感恩节晚宴。

外事人员负责地做了记录,并答应研究一下此事,这对他来说,完全是个新主意。他事先指出,自己不能保证一定可以为他们找到一只火鸡,但表示要尽力而为。

过了一段时间,他带着一份中期报告回来了:虽然在中国南方某地生活着一种土火鸡,但这种鸡骨瘦如柴,即使能找到一只,恐怕也不适合烤着吃。

美国人催他继续找,他也真的这样做了。

终于,在感恩节前数周,这位聪明能干的伙计带回了好消息:他已经帮美国人找到一只从北美进口的火鸡,并乐意安排一位成都锦江饭店的厨师为他们做这道菜。

他还说,美国人需要去指导厨师如何做火鸡和其他传统菜肴,因为锦江饭店的后厨更习惯做麻婆豆腐、樟茶鸭这些菜。

美国人表示同意,计划随之展开。最后,他们享受到了一顿无比愉快的感恩节晚餐,而这一切都应归功于那位帮了大忙的外事负责人。

后来,一名美国人问他,到底是从哪里搞到了这么难找的进口火鸡。

外事干部解释说,他做了广泛调查,中国国内的商店和餐馆都不卖火鸡,但他知道美国人对感恩节大餐特别期待,所以最终还是找到唯一一个可能有火鸡的地方,并为他们采购了回来。

“什么地方?”美国人好奇地问。

“成都动物园。”这是答复。

听罢此言,一群美国人顿时感到一阵强烈的内疚:他们夺走了动物园游客观赏这只漂亮的北美火鸡的机会。

Hospitality, Sichuan-style

In the early 1980s the number of foreigners resident in China was a tiny fraction of what is has grown to be in recent years, and most of these were based in Beijing.

Sino-foreign joint ventures were just getting started, and only a handful were up and running to the point where foreign experts were resident on site. The initial ones were mainly located in major cities along the Eastern China coast.

Out in the southwestern city of Chengdu, in Sichuan, however, there was a small band of resident foreigners, comprising academics working on their research, and one of the early JVs — a cable manufacturing venture involving an American company.

In those days, most of the daily life arrangements for foreigners resident in China were handled by a designated official of the local Foreign Affairs Bureau. Such was the case in Chengdu as well.

It so happened that many of the dozen or so foreign residents in Chengdu in 1981 were from North America. Americans celebrate one holiday — Thanksgiving — which is unique to North America, although Canada and the U.S. celebrate it on different dates.

Thanksgiving is an important holiday for Americans, a time when families and friends gather together and enjoy a sumptuous, usually home-cooked meal. The favorite main course on this occasion is roast turkey.

In recent years, many hotels and eateries in large Chinese cities have gotten aboard the bandwagon of Western holidays, offering special events and festivities at Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and even Thanksgiving.

In 1981, Thanksgiving was largely unknown in Beijing, let alone in Chengdu. Even in the relatively international Chinese city of Hong Kong, turkey was not considered a very palatable dish at the time. I recall the US poultry export council ran a series of promotions back then to try to persuade Hong Kongers that turkey was indeed a delicious menu item.

In the weeks and months leading up to the date (celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November), some of the Americans in Chengdu let the “responsible person” of their local foreign affairs department know that they would really appreciate the chance to enjoy a special Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey.

The foreign affairs person dutifully took note and promised to look into the matter, which was a brand new idea to him. He mentioned up front that he was not sure whether or not it would be possible to find a turkey for them, but said he would do his best.

He came back some time later with an interim report saying that although there was a type of turkey native to some parts of south China, it was a scrawny bird and probably not suitable for roasting, even assuming one could be found.

They urged him to keep looking, which he did.

Finally in the weeks before Thanksgiving, the resourceful chap came back with the wonderful news that he had found an imported North American turkey for them, and was happy to make arrangements with the chef in the Jinjiang Hotel in Chengdu to cook it for them.

He added that they would need to give the chef some guidance on how to prepare the turkey and the other traditional dishes, since the Jinjiang Kitchen was more accustomed to preparing dishes like spicy ma-po tofu, camphor-smoked duck, etc.

To this they agreed, and the plan was set in motion. In the end they had a most enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner, all to the credit of their helpful foreign affairs person.

Afterwards one of the Americans asked him where he had finally found the elusive imported turkey.

He explained that his extensive research had shown that although there were none available in China through retail or restaurant outlets, he knew how much they were looking forward to their special Thanksgiving feast, and he had finally found the only available source for the turkey, and purchased it for them.

“What was the source?” the curious American asked.

The answer came back: “The Chengdu Zoo.”

The Americans now felt a strong pang of guilt for depriving the zoo-goers of their handsome North American turkey.


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