Xibanya guo, dierge bufen

So when writing my last post I completely forgot, in my excitement at finding out the true date of the HSK exam, to include the part that made this relevant to Spain: I went to a Chinese restaurant 2 weeks ago in Algeciras!


First, a quick aside about Chinese people in Spain. There are a surprising number of them considering how far away China is and how little historical linkage there has been between the two countries. Nevertheless, even my small town has 3 chinos, or Chinese bazaars. I mentioned before that my aunt once remarked, “This is America; if you’ve forgotten anything, you can buy another one!” Well, here in Spain you would say, “Hey look, there’s a chino, did you forget anything? ‘Cause there, we can buy another one.” I asked my co-worker once whether they were called “chinos” because the products inside them were all made in China, or because the owners were Chinese, and she honestly didn’t know. Regardless. If you want to buy some plastic junk made in China, and also say “Ni hao” to someone, get thee to a chino.


Much like I would guess everywhere else in the world, there is a certain degree of underground racism against the Chinese here in Spain, which mostly comes out via nasty graffiti and old people. Out here in the country where I am you will even hear younger people seriously voicing the tired old opinion that Chinese people eat dogs and cats. This is most likely because we have exactly 3 Chinese families here, and no Chinese restaurant (actually, no ethnic restaurant at all, now that I think about it. We don’t even have a kebaberie . . . ). These sorts of attitudes (mostly) disappear the more education one has; for example, the P.E. teacher at my school has a friend from high school who is Chinese, and he has visited his friend in China several times, and he worked in a Chinese restaurant and knows how to say things like “pi jiu” (beer). I mean, he was actually saying the words, not just going “ching ching chong” like most people would. Another co-worker who teaches the 3 year old class found out that I was learning Chinese and asked me (in English!), “So, can you say, ‘Four is four, ten is ten. . .’?”, which is a tongue-twister in Mandarin (I can’t). First of all, the fact that a Spanish speaker asked me in English about a rhyme from a completely different 3rd language was kind of trippy, but my immediate reaction was, “How do you even know that????” Turns out, before he worked in public education he used to teach and tutor immigrants and he learned lots of interesting tidbits about everyone’s culture. Those are not at all the kinds of attitudes towards foreigners in general and the Chinese in particular that you usually find in Spain.


That was more than a slight aside. I guess I had more to say on the subject than I thought. My point was that I had serious doubts going into this dinner that the food I was about to eat was going to be like either real Chinese food or American Chinese food. On this score I was not wrong. The menu was in Spanish and English, with not even a decorative Chinese character to be seen. I also heard some English being spoken by an obviously travel-weary couple a few tables over. We ordered fried rice, which in Spanish was called “Arroz Tres Delicias”. The three delicacies included turned out to be egg, vegetables, and . . . ham. As I was eating with 3 Spaniards, no one else at my table could understand why I asked, “Is that . . . is that HAM?????” and then burst into laughter. For the main dishes, the offerings were about as far from traditional as you could imagine, and by this I mean there was no tofu, no jellyfish, no dumplings, and not a lot of vegetarian dishes either. Compared to American Chinese food, it was a little more similar. One of the girls I was eating with ordered something that, no matter how many times they said it, still sounded like “tangerines” to me, but turned out to be lo mein. You didn’t get the option of choosing what meat you wanted with it; the dish came with beef, chicken, and shrimp as well as the noodles and veggies. I ordered chicken and green peppers with black bean sauce in the hopes that it would be spicy . . . no luck. The least adventurous eater of us all got fried chicken (what is it with Chinese restaurants and fried chicken?). For desert we got ice cream, but I was waiting and waiting until I finally realized . . . no fortune cookies! No orange slices either. However, the food was just as cheap and oily as one would expect from a proper (American) Chinese restaurant, and I enjoyed my experience.


Unfortunately I don’t think I can draw any conclusions from this experience about Chinese culture in Spain.

1. The person who recommended and brought us to the restaurant is a super picky eater. He hates: seafood, fish, spinach, yellow rice. Perhaps he likes this restaurant because it is similarly not adventurous, and the restaurant doesn’t represent Chinese food in Spain as a whole.

2. I didn’t speak any Chinese all night. This might not seem like such a big deal, but if you speak Chinese at a Chinese restaurant, or even better if you’re WITH someone Chinese, you get different food. Case in point: the jellyfish. That is a food I have never once seen on a menu in a Chinese restaurant in America, and yet one time when I went out to lunch with my tutor and we spoke Chinese to the waiter, suddenly I was eating something wiggly with tentacles.

3. The restaurant was in Algeciras. Those of you who have been there, you know.


So! Any recommendations for good ethnic food in the south of Spain?


2 Responses to Xibanya guo, dierge bufen

  1. Emma says:

    Which town are you working in?? I live and work in Algeciras, so I can especially appreciate #3 :)

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