As noted elsewhere, eating out in China and Changzhou can be challenge your Chinese skills are limited. As also noted earlier, there is the dilemma of being faced with a non-picture menu and trying to intelligently order without resorting to grunting and randomly pointing. One “no menu” option would be 麻辣烫 mala tang — a hot and numbing soup. You just throw ingredients into a bowl and it’s turned into soup. Another option in xiao chi barbecue / 小吃BBQ.
The concept is a lot like mala tang. You walk in and grab a tray. From there, you go to a fridge and select what you want grilled for you. All of it is on skewers — whole fish, vegetables, vegetables wrapped in bacon, and much more. Then, you pay and hand your tray to the cook. Five to ten minutes later, your meal is brought to you. No waiters or waitresses or ordering at all!
While this sounds great, both me and a number of friends have had food poisoning issues with some of these places. There are a few things to be careful off. Unless you say otherwise, the grill cook will dump a lot of hot spices on your food. This will not only make it hard to eat, but it may lead to dedicated toilet time later if you have a weak stomach. Also, look at how clean the grill is before you enter one of these places. If it looks like it has never been scrubbed, skip it — dedicated toilet time will soon follow, trust me. I’ve been there.
The other warning is this: be very careful ordering meat. Many of these places do serve dog meat. Many times, a lot of the different meat options are not labelled (even in Chinese), and you have to trust your eyesight. It’s not just dog you have to worry about. Chinese people eat a variety of other things like donkey, snake, and just about everything uncommon to Western diets. One rule should be iron clad in China: if you do not know what it is, don’t eat it. Period.