December 29, 2005

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'Scuse Me Waiter, There's Benzene in My Soup

I read with interest this article on how a restaurant in Harbin has been carved out of 800 cubic meters of ice from the Sungari (Songhua) River. Similar to ice hotels and bars in Scandinavia, the restaurant is made completely out of ice, relieved and insulated only by very heavy carpets - patrons nevertheless must don heavy parkas. Allow me to quote the People's Daily:

It took workers more than 20 days to finish the construction, using some 800 cubic metres of ice, according to Liu.

The restaurant can hold some 100 people, with six large tables in the main hall and an adjacent separate room.

The most vivid design is the ice bar counter, where customers can sit on the ice stools while sipping hot drinks.

The main food offered in the restaurant is the traditional Northeast China's hotpot, with families or groups of friends sitting around a table to eat from a steaming pot in the middle.

But customers are advised to wear their thick winter clothes while enjoying the "extreme delicacy."

Thick carpet is laid on the floor to restrict the cold air from the ice floor below and the ice stools are all covered with woollen cushions.

"Of course, we aim to attract them to sit down not to freeze them," said Liu.

Liu said there was no need to worry about the hot air produced by the steaming hotpot melting the ice dome as it is very high up.

I found that last quote particularly amusing given the ill-famed effects the recent toxic spill into the river had on benzene levels in the H20. No need to worry indeed! I picture the writer a cross between an old-style Communist cadre and Alfred E. Newman.

But equally interesting are the ingredients put into the local hotpot, at least as listed by the People's Daily:"The restaurant is offering four special hotpot dishes, with some ingredients which can be rarely seen in common hotpot restaurants, such as meat of wild boar and deer, gnosis and ginseng, [the proprietor] said."

Now the other three I can understand, I grant you - but gnosis was something that rang a bell from my ancient philosophy classes. Allow me to quote from the Merriam-Webster dictionary online:"esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation."

Perhaps a bit more "gnosis" in hotpots everywhere in China would be a good thing. Especially with the water quality being what it is, people'll need it in the afterlife!

posted by HK Dave on 12.29.05 at 01:53 PM in the China food/environment/health category.


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