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when is bok choi not bok choi?

Ruth Lafler | Feb 25, 200506:44 PM

In Shanghai, apparently.

I got off work early today and hopped over to Oakland Chinatown for lunch at Shanghai. After reading all the posts, I wanted to try the shenjiang bao (fried pork buns) which were, as advertised, quite yummy. I had a nice chow-encounter with David Boyk, who says although he hasn't had time to post, he's still picking up tips -- like Shanghai -- from the board. Wanting something green, I also ordered a cold plate of some kind of preserved green vegetable (slender stems with small leaves) that was spicy (red peppers were in evidence), garlicy, vinegery and slightly sweet (from the vinegar?). Anyone know what this veggie was?

But in some ways, the highlight was the cross-cultural exchange. A Caucasian woman came in and tried to order the eel with vegetable lunch special -- there was a lot of back and forth with the charming but somewhat limited English-speaking waitress who basically admitted that many of the dishes that say they include vegetables don't. The customer really wanted vegetables. Finally, she asked if they had anything with bok choi. The waitress gave her a blank look and said "what's bok choi"? The customer was rather flummoxed that someone in a Chinese restaurant wouldn't know what bok choi is.

A lively discussion in several languages ensued among the young waitress, the other two restaurant staffers present, and the other two (Chinese) customers in the restaurant as to what "bok choi" was. Eventually they figured it out (although I could hear more discussion and the words "bok choi" coming out of the kitchen), and the customer got her rice plate of tofu with vegetables -- including bok choi -- which she was very happy with.

I talked to the woman as she was eating and found out she had no idea she was in a Shanghainese restaurant, nor did she know anything about Shanghainese food -- she was just walking by and wanted a quick lunch with some fresh veggies. I explained that the staff there is all from Shanghai, and that they speak Shanghainese, not Cantonese. I told her I thought that "bok choi" was probably the Cantonese name for the vegetable, and the older waitress confirmed it. The younger waitress shrugged and said she didn't speak Cantonese, just Shanghainese and English.

Then they tried to teach me to say "bok choi" in Shanghainese.

Meanwhile, the ice broken, the elderly gentleman at the next table told me about how he was born in Shanghai but came here in 1948, and how his mother suffered during the cultural revolution.

How many ways can I love that restaurant?

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