"To the King Mart!"
This has been a favorite phrase of ours for much of the time we've been in China. What's at the King Mart? Food we can actually eat. The King Mart is a grocery store, but we rarely shop there. We go for the little eatery in the front corner. There we can buy cheap lamb skewers that are amazing! There we can tell them to give us fried rice that's not spicy, and they'll actually do it! There we can also buy these amazing drink things that are one part milkshake, two parts slushy, and five parts heaven.
The King Mart recieves regular patronage from us. As in, it's not uncommon for us to be spotted there at least once a day. Food has been a frustrating thing for us here, because we can't eat at the school canteen (too spicy and makes us sick), we can't cook much (lack of ingredients and an oven), and any food we buy goes bad if we don't cook it within the first day or two. So the King Mart restaurant gets our business.
Now, the grocery store we usually shop at has a similar eatery, but we prefer the King Mart for two reasons: the food is better, and the people actually care. The people there treat us like royalty. They know we can't read the menu, so they make recommendations based on what we've liked in the past. They don't make us pay up front, and they have us go sit down, and then bring our food to our table (everyone else pays up front, and then just gets a holler when their food is up, like a fast food place). They always listen patiently when we try to speak Chinese to them, and they help us with anything they can. I can't tell you what a nice change that is from some of the restaurants and stores.
The only downside to the King Mart is that it's in town, and to get there we have to hop on a moto-taxi. Don't get me wrong, I love moto-taxis, but it can be expensive to take them every day, and when we're exhausted from teaching classes we really don't want to haul ourselves into town anyway.
But now, that problem is over.
A week and a half ago, our friend who's in charge at the King Mart came over and sat down across from us. He asked what school we taught at, and was excited when we told him. He proceeded to explain something in Chinese that we didn't quite catch, but it had to do with him and our school. We thought maybe he graduated from there or something. But the next day, we came out our front door, down the stairs, and... there, in front of us, was our friend! Opening a garage-style door into an old, run down restaurant. Over the next couple days, we realized what was happening: he was going to open a restaurant right outside our door! I think he was as excited to see us as we were to see him; wouldn't you like to have your best and most frequent customers living twenty feet away?
It took them about a week and a half of intense work, but they got the place cleaned up and ready to go. And today for lunch we walked out our front door, down the stairs, and into a restaurant where we could trust the food and the people; two very, very wonderful commodities.
Will we eat there often? Let's just say we'll probably single-handedly offset their startup costs.