THE SEASON FOR FRUITS
Men and women scrambling like mad, desperate for a purchase.
A horde of rabid piranhas with a sweet tooth.
She was selling strawberries.
There is no real Chinese word for strawberry (草莓 tsou mui), as it is not native to China. It is nevertheless extremely popular, not only eaten fresh, but also utilized in wafers (威化 wai-fa), cakes (蛋糕 daan-gou), muffins (瑪芬 maa-fan), candies (糖果 tong-gwo), and cupcakes (蛋糕仔 daan-gou chai).
Explanation: 草莓 (tsou mui): straw berry. 威化 (wai-fa): 'domination transforms'. 蛋糕 (daan gou): eggy cake. 瑪芬 (maa-fan): 'agate fragrance'. 糖果 (tong-gwo): sugared fruit. 蛋糕仔 (daan-gou chai): eggy cakelet.
The first digraphemion (草莓) is a direct translation more commonly used by Mandarin speakers, and you will note that the second (威化) and fourth word (瑪芬) are in fact transliterations of the English terms, much like 'si-do-pei-li' itself, which though not originally from the Chinese world, is now very familiar to the inhabitants of Hong Kong, and very much appreciated.
Nothing quite beats a thick slice of 士多啤梨蛋糕 with lots of 鮮忌廉 (sin gei-lim) whupped all over it. Yummy!
Another fruit presently available is the cherry.
More or less literally "vehicular thousandth-fractional thingy", in which the last character functions grammatically, rather than imparting a significant component of meaning - not that any part of this term imparts meaning, really. It's strictly a phonetice reading. Remarkably, there already is a Chinese word for cherry: 櫻 (ying); the only context in which you might see it is 櫻桃批 (ying-tou pai), which alas is seldom found in C'town.
The word 櫻 is of respectable provenance, attested by ancient literature.
Che-lei-ji is a typical Cantonese locution, rather than Mandarin.
This fruit is also popular, but not used in as many ways.
I would've thought that cherries would have been a far better seller than strawberries, seeing as you can sit on your front-steps eating an entire bag and spitting out the pits, aiming at the pigeons. That would be a splendid way to while away an hour or so.
Cherries are far sweeter and juicier than strawberries too.
But perhaps the texture and fragrance make a difference.
I remember hunting for wild strawberries during summer, and climbing over walls to steal the red red cherries of our neighbors in Valkenswaard, as they would do when our drupes ripened.
Both seasonal treats bring back memories, and sweeten the season.
But there are three other fruits that I anticipate as fondly.
龍眼, 荔枝, 枇杷 LUNG NGAAN, LEI CHI, PEI PA
The longan (龍眼) and litchi (荔枝) ripen at roughly the same time, and for the past few weeks huge bags of succulent litchis have been available. Both fruits are similar to each other, having a skin or husk that separates fairly easily, translucent sweet refreshing flesh, and a pit within.
The "dragon's eye" (longan) is so named because it resembles an eyeball, having translucent flesh through which the dark pupil can be seen.
It is often used dried, in sweet soups and desserts.
Litchis are best eaten fresh.
The third fruit I mention, loquats (枇杷 pei-pa) will start maturing in a few weeks, right when summer turns miserably cold in San Francisco. Already little golden orbs can be seen on some branches, smaller than normal, among the green bulbs barely visible among the glossy leaves.
[Loquats were mentioned in two previous posts on this blog: The Right Season for Loquats and Gold and Grey.]
To my mind there is almost nothing more beautiful than clusters of ripened loquat, on a plate or surrounded by dark green leaves.
It is the only thing that makes frigid summers bearable.
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Labels: San Francisco Chinatown