While twiddling my toes in soapy water yesterday, I realized that for lunch something different would be nice. This is not a sudden flash of insight, I've actually thought that many times before. Usually while at work, where too often I fall back on convenience store tuna salad sandwiches with a sploodge of chili sauce.
So on my three days off each week, I wish to eat something better.
The only thing that's the same is the presence of chili sauce.
Single men of a certain age and bend require it.
It keeps our eyes bright.
At a chachanteng I perused the menu and placed my order. Only afterwards did I start to read the specials on the wall. The pig stomach with celery (豬肚炒西芹) looked interesting, as did the selection of yummies mentioned directly below it, which all involved fatty pork: 榨菜炒五花腩、尖椒炒五花腩、and two others I do not remember.
I always do that; I order from the regular menu before looking at the special posted at convenient eye-level. Unlike restaurants for white people, where an art-student will chirpily inform you of the pangolin in truffle sauce with a port reduction which the chef recommends today while it lasts, or the sorbet of pickled calf liver on a bed of tender quinoa sprouts with toast points, Chinese restaurants quite logically expect you to read.
Donald Trump would be totally lost there.
[Please note there are terms in this post which perhaps you do not know. Like 'quinoa'.
Explanations might be provided, elsewise your own research will provide answers.
Unless you are Donald. Then you are hopeless.]
The double mushroom chicken rice was truly excellent. But the fatty pork would have been nicer.
PICKLED MUSTARD STIR-FRIED FATTY PORK
榨菜炒五花腩 ('jaa choi chaau ng faa naam')
One pound of five flower pork.
Small amounts of white pepper powder, oyster sauce, and up to half a cup roughly of Szechuanese pressed mustard stem (which is nice and crunchy, and need not be rinsed before use - taste it to judge how much you want in the dish), plus between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of soy sauce, teaspoon or two of cornstarch.
Sherry or rice wine.
Slice the pork not too thin, taking care to divide the pieces into fatty bits and lean. Cut the pickled mustard into thick shreds.
Rinse the pork slices, dry, and marinate them with the cornstarch, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Mix well to distribute the flavours.
Let it sit for half an hour.
Separate out the fatty bits, and fry these a little first. Then add the lean meat, stirfy with the fatty bits. Add the pickled vegetable, toss to mingle, and splash in the sherry or rice wine, plus a little water.
While it seethes sprinkle white pepper over it.
Cook a little bit longer, and plate it.
It is ganz einfach.
GREEN CHILI STIR-FRIED FATTY PORK
尖椒炒五花腩 ('tsim chiu caau ng faa naam')
One pound of five flower pork.
Half a dozen or more big Jalapenos, deseeded, cut, and briefly blanched in boiling water to tone the buggers down a bit. You could also use smaller hotter green chilies, or sweeter milder bellpeppers. And the duration of blanching to lessen the heat effect is also flexible. Or mix it up.
Garlic and ginger as seems appropriate, chopped.
Salt and oil.
Slice the pork semi-thin. Gild the pork in the pan with a little oil, remove and drain. Add the chopped ginger and garlic to the pan with a little salt, stirfry briefly, cast in the peppers and stirfy. When they start to turn, add the meat, and seethe with a small splash of water. Strew the scallion into the pan, turn over with a spatula a couple of times till the liquid is reduced.
Cant it all onto a plate.
Speed and heat are of the essence.
DOUBLE MUSHROOM CHICKEN
雙菇雞 ('seung gu gai')
About a pound of chicken de-boned cut into small chunks, rinsed, and mixed with beaten egg white and half a tablespoon of cornstarch.
Tree oyster and fresh champignon in equal measure, rinsed and trimmed, sliced thick, more than the amount of chicken.
A little chopped yellow onion, somewhat more than that chopped bell pepper.
Very small amounts of garlic and ginger.
A tablespoon of oyster sauce.
A dash of soy sauce.
Pinch of sugar.
Briefly gild the garlic and ginger, decant. Same with the onion and bell pepper. Do likewise with the mushroom. Now over high heat stirfry the chicken, splash with water or sherry, add the oyster and soy sauce, and throw in everything else. Stifry till mixed and turn out onto a plate.
It is not complicated.
All three of these dishes are suitable for four people, served with one or two other dishes, soup and rice. And easy enough to prepare that you shouldn't be frustrated. A keen eye for quantities and sound judgment of both heat and speed are important, though.
As one of the other dishes I would suggest stewed bittermelon with a little bacon or fishpaste. Good for you.
The soup, ideally, would be thin chicken and or pork bone broth with watercress. Add a few slices of carrot for a cheerful colour, and one or two slices of ginger.
[Optional additions, for a fuller soup, would be a smoked date or two, a small handful of yellow beans or pearl barley, and some dioscorea opposita (淮山 'waai saan') root.]
Did I mention 'ganz einfach'?
This is ganz einfach.
Though chachanteng cater to all types, they greatly appeal to people dining by themselves. They're for casual eating rather than refined dining, and the selection of dishes on the typical menu could very well be enjoyed by one person alone. Some are more suited for morning and mid-day, some do their best business in late afternoon and early evening.
All of them have hot Hong Kong style milk-tea.
Which is a pick-me upper.
Yesterday there were five other single men dining there, and a small family (one child). Quite possibly I was the only person not scanning my text messages, almost certainly the only Luddite without a cell phone, and quite definitely the only Caucasian; most white people cannot make sense of the menu, as it isn't what they expect Chinese to be.
Yes, they do have lemon chicken, and kungpao, but so much else is different.
It was very quiet. There was no background music.
Most of us dined in solitude.
A contemplative smoke afterwards while darkness fell.
Alleyways, corners, and past the park.
Then night and rain.
A friend in Shanghai recently posted photos of eel and pork kidney noodle soup (鱓絲腰花麵 'sin si yiu faa min
'), which is very Shanghai - Jiangsu - Anhui, and a dish which one would also associate with some place like Hangzhou. It looked quite yummy! There is no place in Chinatown that serves it, so I shall have to research the recipe and make it myself.
Dutchmen and Flemings, people like me, are eel lovers.
And kidney flowers, well, delicious.
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