“I have a very serious allergy…”

About 7 hours later I woke up hungry. The clock read 5AM, but my stomach, still jet lagged, was looking for supper. Fuji and I agreed to meet for breakfast at 8PM after he picked up Antonia, another member of our research team, from the airport. I dillydallied around, trying to fight the jet lag and to stay in bed for as long as possible, but my stomach and I became stir-crazy at around six.

My phone finally rang at about 8.15 and Fuji, Antonia, and I took a left out of Tohee (the International Student Village). Our housing sits just across the street from Fudan University and is really an exception to the area. Restaurants and small businesses clutter both sides of the road. Walking down the sidewalk we passed Korean BBQ, fruit markets, pizza parlors, and family restaurants selling udon. The streets were like books shelves. Each building a book wedged between two others and held in place by convenient stores at every corner. And each building had a unique spin on the same language: food.

 

local restaurants

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We ended up at a cafertiera-style joint. My stomach had woken up early in a late-rising college town, and besides the convenient stores it was one of the few places open. It had attracted the 50+ early-bird crowd. The insides reminded me of an American Picadilly that had been compressed into about 1000 square feet; the place was a gem. A small rail separated the dining area from the cafeteria line, tables sat tight and adjacent to one another and booths pushed up against the floor-to-ceiling windows.  Antonia and I stuck out as bumbling foreigners and the geriatric diners stared as we relied on Fuji to help us negotiate our way through the line.

All three of us grabbed trays and slid them down the metal counter. “Nihao,” said the woman behind the counter; she looked about my age. Heated in metal trays and in glass warming chambers were China’s most traditional breakfast foods. First in line was congee (mǐ zhōu), a traditional rice porridge. Further down the line sat chǎofàn (fried rice), zhǔ jīdàn (hard boiled eggs), and hundun (wonton soup). (I was glad my stomach was asking for supper, because from an American perspective, the food looked more like dinner than anything.) Last was bāozi, which sat in a four-level, glass-paned heating unit. About the size and shape of a closed fist, each ball of cooked dough is served plain or stuffed with meats or vegetables. It whet my appetite, but I knew eating it would be disastrous for me. 

“Wújiā jiàngyóu” (do not add soy sauce) Fuji said to the woman behind the counter for me; we were in front of the fried rice. I pulled out a laminated card from my wallet to show to her. In English, the top of the card reads “Chinese Gluten Free Restaurant Card.” Below it begins in simplified Chinese, “I have a very serious allergy to foods containing wheat.”