Not in McDonald's anymore

I came to Beijing several weeks before the Olympics, knowing that when I return, I will not be in China. I will be in Olympicland.

To go to an Olympics as a journalist is not to go to a foreign country, but to live, work, and sleep in a world hermetically sealed by chain-link and barbed wire and run entirely by McDonald’s and Cola-Cola.

It is a netherworld connected to its host nation only by the language of the volunteers and the currency needed to buy Big Macs. This is as it should be. The Olympic venues must be secure, though it leads to keeping everything distinctive about the host nation out of the security cordon. Had I come to China only for the Olympics, I never would have been in China.

And I never would have been tempted to try the "man and wife lung slice."

What this is, I have no idea. But it was on a menu, so I assume it was not a practical joke.

To say that Chinese tastes can differ from American would be an understatement on a par with, “Houston, we have a problem.”

A colleague recently discussed what she ate at a wildly popular restaurant over the weekend. After struggling for a moment to explain it, we worked out the most accurate translation: boiled duck head. Her problem with this meal was not that it was a boiled duck’s head, but that it took an inordinate amount of effort to cull the meat from the dish.

I do not begrudge anyone the right to enjoy a boiled duck’s head. I readily confess that I am among the least adventurous of eaters. This, then, is one of those areas where my Chinese friends and I happily agree to disagree.

The Beijing Catering Trade Association, however, is taking a rather less charitable view of how outsiders will react to the unfamiliar aspects of Chinese cuisine. It has ordained that during the period of the Olympics, restaurants and hotels affiliated with the Games are prohibited from serving dog meat.

Yet it is my opinion that a dish accurately labeled is far less worrisome than the problem of the mistranslated Chinese menu. According to one menu, I recently ate goose intestines. The dish was, in fact, Kung Pao chicken. Also, everything in China seems to be braised. Since I have never enrolled in a French cooking school, I have no idea what happens to something when it is braised.

One restaurant would have me believe that it becomes extremely delicious, as in the “extremely delicious braised mushrooms” on the menu. I resisted the temptation to ask for the “fairly decent braised mushrooms.”

Yet there is a genius in this. Could Monty Python have come up with a dish like “man and wife lung slice,” which, it turns out is indeed a slice of lung prepared in a certain traditional way.

I suggest not, and so I am thankful to have come to Beijing before the Olympics. I wager that man and wife lung slice will not be on the menu at McDonalds.

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