The walnut was the only treasure I recognised in the pint of tea – steaming, fragrant, sweet and full of seven other rehydrated goodies. The drink washed down soft steamed buns stuffed with spicy beef, chilled salty spinach greens and a chicken broth congee.
A cheerful husband and wife team ran the Muslim cafe near our Shanghai hotel, while several young women waited on tables. Two on the door looked horrified as we climbed the steps to enter. They argued over who would serve us until one was pushed in our direction. The owners laughed at their apprehension. We made soothing noises.
Other diners were welcomed as old friends. Two men asked for plain chopsticks in preference to the fancy wrapped ones on their table leaving those for the tourists.
Our waitress pulled out a cellphone with a translation app to take our orders from a large menu devoted to all types of congee soup, and the other menu featuring everything else on offer. I couldn’t go past the plastic wrapped glass pint on the table that looked full of pot pourri so with hot water added the “Eight Treasures of Heaven” tea was revealed. Though lovely looking as drinks go, two treasures, the walnut and possibly a goji berry, with a few sips of sugary hot water was enough for me.
The owners and our waitress stood patiently for our photo while the chefs and diners teased them. When we reached Beijing a few days later I showed the photo to a waitress at another Muslim restaurant we stumbled upon. A little later she brought her phone over with the translation app asking in text “Are you Muslim?”. I don’t think our “no” surprised her. I pondered ordering tea.