It’s usually not a good sign to walk into a restaurant during the noon hour and find it deserted, with nary a customer, waiter, or hostess in sight. I would have turned tail and left, except I’d promised to meet my Chinese student and her new boyfriend for lunch.
She had specifically chosen this Turkish restaurant in the heart of Guangzhou (Canton) because it was rumored to have one of the most mouthwatering Mediterranean menus on the metropolitan map. Since I had my choice of tables and a few minutes to kill, I began a quest for the best seat in the house.
I knew I’d probably found the most comfortable booth when I accidentally disturbed two waitresses snoozing soundly on the red tuck and roll benches. Startled to see a customer, they jumped up, wiped the sleep from their eyes and offered me a menu.
“Where is everyone?” I asked in my best Mandarin. The two sleepyheads just smiled and nodded. Apparently my best Mandarin needs some work. Just then, Monica and her boyfriend arrived. After chatting briefly with the two girls, she offered me a one-word explanation: “Ramadan.”
During the holy month of Ramadan, followers of Islam abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Since the restaurant owner and most of the customers and staff are Muslim, business hours had pretty much shifted into the night. Nevertheless, we were warmly invited to sit and order.
After some deliberation and consultation with the now wide-awake waitresses, we ordered an assortment of appetizers, salads, kebabs and platters. Had we known, we could have saved some money and just ordered appetizers. Not that the food wasn’t delicious; it was fantastic.
It’s just that they, well, they had me at hummus. And flatbread. Hot, fresh-from-the-oven, round-as-a-tire flatbread and heavenly hummus. They kept bringing it and I kept tearing off huge hunks of bread, slathering it in the hummus and eating it. It’s hard to believe the lowly chickpea can elicit such sensory delight in a full-grown human male.