At last night’s banquet I sat next to an old China hand; he’s been coming here since 1985. He really appreciates the changes that have taken place. For me, the China of memory is a childhood picture. Huge squadrons of identically clothed androgynous workers bicycling through the smog. Drabness and greyness. Well, it certainly is not like that now.

Anyway, as the food started to arrive, the old China hand revealed that the secret was to pace yourself. “These things go on and on, so you have to take just a little.” Wise words. I resolved to do just that.

I only had a couple of spoonfuls of the shark’s fin soup, for two reasons. One, if genuine, I really do not want to contribute to the demise of those sharks. Yes, I know they’re already dead, etc etc. But I have my inconsistent standards. More importantly, it just wasn’t very nice, to my taste. Too yellow, too rich

Iced raw abalone, with a soy dipping sauce, however, was delicious.

Just one duck’s tongue, hyoid bone and all? Oh, all right, I’ll have another. A question I ask repeatedly, I know, but how on earth did anyone discover such a fine way to prepare such an unconsidered trifle?

The foie gras, with toast, possibly from those self same tongueless ducks, was simply sublime. Only the trumpets were missing.

How could I forget the discs of softest, silkiest tofu, with added lipsticking gelatinousness? Or the brown chewy but jelly ribbon-like stuff, that I’ve eaten two or three times now and always thought was some sort of fungus. Jellyfish!

Anyway, there I was, nibbling here and tasting there, pacing myself, when suddenly the fruit arrived and it was all over. Was I full to bursting? I was not. And because we were such honoured guests there was absolutely no chance of a bowl of rice at the end. Pacing yourself is all very well, and probably good advice, but it helps to know how long the race is. Probably did me good.

At tonight’s banquet the food was as good -- some at the table said better -- but for me the most notable item was the gingko nuts. I’ll never forget those.

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