Meaning no disrespect to the magnificent imperial palaces, food remains the highlight of this trip, along with the discoveries of little aspects of daily life that everybody takes for granted but that are surprising to a foreigner. (And of course, in the end, theory will be the highlight of this trip, but this starts tomorrow.)

More about the little aspects of daily life some other time. Yesterday we went to a hot pot place, not unlike the Islamic Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco. The idea is that a pot with a savory soup is put on a burner on the table, and the diners cook their own morsels of meat and vegatables in the boiling soup.

Here a twist was that the hot pot was divided into two sections, one with a regular soup (which was white, for some reason, rather than clear) and one with a spicy soup, red from floating chilies and full of certain seeds that I was advised not to eat. We had thinly sliced lamb, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, spinach leaves and (non-stinky!) tofu. We mostly ate from the spicy side of the pot, and we only had beer to drink, so very large amounts of beer were consumed. Part of it was someone’s effort to get someone else drunk (the efforts badly backfired).

It’s becoming repetitious to point out how cheap it is to get good food here, but it’s really hard to get used to it. The meal and the beers were US$16 for three people. (Or, in other units of measure, about 5 espressos, or 120 small lamb skewers.)

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