Kaifeng Street Food
On a hot July evening we are sitting at a table on the sidewalk. There are hundreds of street vendors bustling around us. This is Kaifeng’s night market. The only thing hotter than the weather is the food. The Chinese believe in fighting fire with fire. Men walk around with their soaked shirts pulled up to their chests, showing their round bellies. Women have less options so they fan themselves like mad butterflies.
On our right, a couple sits down. The woman looks like a fair-skinned and kind faced teacher. A constant smile hangs on the corners of her wide mouth. Her man is a dire contrast to her. He is tall and dark like a construction worker from the countryside. He speaks little and smokes much. When the waiter comes he orders three beers all at once.
On our left is a group of rowdy children playing with plastic toys. A young boy of three is laughing hard as he turns in circles while two other girls chase him with balloon swords.
The man who got us the seats is writing furiously on a little notebook. His job is to make sure today’s intake is good enough. He adds up all the numbers and nods. Finally a mug of beer is brought to him and he lights up a cigarette. The numbers are good. All the helpers: a cook, a waitress, two busboys, an old woman, they all let out a sigh of relief and take a breather. The rush hour is over.
The vendor in the next stall is still in the struggle. His wife is his only helper. Unless you count their four year old daughter who is in a pink dress playing with a basket of chives. She looks up and sees a customer eating a plate of fried mung bean jello so she runs to her mom. Moments later she is happily entertained by her own plate of jello and eats it carefully.
Presently, an old lady approaches us and mumbles something inaudible. She stretches out her tin cup for emphasis. I put a twenty cent piece in her cup. The metal sound breaks the spell and she leaves us alone. Soon another man materializes near us with the same intention. I shake my head until he goes away.
Behind us, music spills out from a portable speaker. A young lady plays her guitar and sings for a group of men. Her songs are well know because everyone, including the cook, the little girl and the fair-skinned teacher all sing along with her and nod their heads in unison.
Here in Kaifeng’s Xisi night market, over a plate of cumin lamb kabob and light beer we find our bliss. When our plate of fried green eggplant finally arrives we are in ecstasy. This is life at its finest. Explorers amount a sea of strangers with strange foods and culture. We are adventurers who dare to step onto trains of unknown destinations, because in each other, we find all the solace and peace we require. No matter where we are or who we are surrounded by, we are never lost.