BEIJING - Boiled cabbage with mustard sauce gave Stephen Harper a genuine taste of Beijing on Thursday.
Harper dropped in for lunch to One Bowl Home, a famous restaurant in southern Beijing's Fengtai district. It is renowned for traditional noodles and snacks. In culinary terms it could even be described as super bowl.
Harper sat with his wife, Laureen, and Mark Rowswell, a Canadian entertainer who speaks fluent Mandarin and is the Canada-China Goodwill Ambassador.
Signature dishes were comprehensively explained by waitress Jiang Lanying who has worked at the Bowl for six years.
Initial concerns that the mustard sauce might be a tad overpowering were soon allayed, Rowswell said.
Harper relished the dish and even dipped slices of braised pork into what remained of the sauce.
It was a special day for restaurant manager Wang Wei.
"We are honored and proud to show the prime minister the essence of Beijing's culinary culture as well as a regular mini-show of Peking Opera."
The lunch was kept low-profile, and for the most part Harper and his team were treated the same as everyday customers.
Harper's personality won over the lunch crowd.
"It is surprising to find out that the prime minister is friendly and easy to talk to," said a 72-year-old guest who shook hands with Harper.
The lunch was meant to give Harper a taste, in more ways than one, of everyday life in the city, Rowswell said.
Siheyuan may have the traditional courtyards but few people can afford that type of living today, Rowswell said.
Most people live in apartments and "that's why we chose here", an area representing the life of city dwellers, he said.
Politics, trade ties and diplomacy were off the menu.
"Both of our families have two kids each, and we shared our experiences as parents," Rowswell said.