THE QUIET PLACES
One negative aspect of the season is that it is rather cold outside. Which means that wandering around Nob Hill with a pipe is not quite as appealing as it should be.
Maybe I need to develop a pelt.
For the new year.
I left the apartment in mid-afternoon and wandered up to Jones and Washington, where I intended to catch a cablecar down for a few blocks to Chinatown. Would have done so, except that some Muni employees are grumpy, irritable, and arrogant, at the end of their shift. Such as the two troglodytes manning the cablecar.
Ended up walking.
Except for the gaggle of Europeans on the trolley, there were almost no people about. The city seemed at rest. Almost empty.
LATE LUNCH AT NEW SANDALWOOD ISLAND COFFEE SHOP AND BAKERY
Maybe next time I'll try the German pig knuckle (德國鹹豬手). But on the very first day of a new year it is best to stick to the tried and true. 凉瓜猪肉飯 (bittermelon & pork curls over rice) with two cups of milk-tea. And a large sploodge of Sriracha hot sauce - bitter melon is cooling, chilipepper is heating, so the result is the perfect gustatory balance, as well as being one of my favourite breakfasts.
[The way they do it here is exceptional. The bittermelon (苦瓜 fu gwa) is sliced thickly, at an extreme slant, and barely salted at all, so it is still quite bitter. Like everyone else they use salted blackbeans (豆豉) to flavour the dish, but the tausi are left whole, so they provide an elegant visual contrast to the intense grass-green of the vegetable. Flamboyantly fast stir-frying yields exceptional fresh toothsomeness. It explodes on the palate. Yes, it is yummy.]
Remarkably, there were not very many customers there at tea-time. Normally that is just about when the third or fourth flush of the day flocks in for hot hot tea and a snackipoo. The place appeals to both elderly Cantonese and young Taiwanese. Clean, comfortable, a selection of fine baked goods, and a kitchen which does an excellent job at Chinatown favourites as well as the strange selection of vaguely Anglo-Euro dishes customary at "tea restaurants"(茶餐廳 cha chan-teng).
The typical Hong Kong "tea restaurant" is an institution that reflects both the environment that gave it birth and the shifted culinary tastes of a metropole where east met west, mostly at the working-class end of the social scale, and both sides committed culinary mayhem in consequence.
Hot milk-tea made with condensed milk and boiled black tea. Ham and eggs. Choice of spaghetti or rice with your New York steak. Borscht. Clam chowder. Potato salad. Fish head in claypot. Baked tongue Portugaise, pork chops with rice and steamed veg, chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce, peanut butter and condensed milk toast.
As well as rice plates, wonton noodle soup, and chow fun.
Plus Cantonese baked goods, and cupcakes.
The New Sandalwood Island (New Café Honolulu) is one of the best in Chinatown.
NEW CAFÉ HONOLULU 新檀島咖啡餅店
888 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108.
"San Taan-Tou Ka-Fei Bing-Dim"
The fossilized gentleman at a table near me ordered himself a second lunch. The remnants of his first lunch indicated that he had already eaten well, but I suspect he was merely dining for entertainment's sake at that point. He dropped one of his chopsticks on the floor again, and continued slowly eating with a fork while the waitress brought him another pair of chopsticks. This time she did not remove the extraneous chopstick. Which reflected good thinking: if he drops one more, he'll still have two. And there are as yet five salt and pepper chickenwings (椒香雞翅) remaining on his plate so there is a good chance of that happening. Whether he enjoyed the taste of the food more, or the sheer crapshoot of keeping chopsticks and utensils off the floor till the end of the second meal, is hard to say. An old lady at the table near the back, who had already finished her lunch, was observing him with avid fascination. She must have been close to a hundred, but I swear there was an element of love or lust in her look. Either that or familial concern.
Possibly Mr. Fossil was a cousin or nephew of hers.
Chew, chew, fumble. Chew, chew, crash.
No, not on the floor this time.
They had both already eaten by the time I got there. They were still there when I left. Even after dawdling over my second cup of milk tea.
Two more chicken wings to go.
Plus some lettuce.
The six Taiwanese at the round table near the pillar scarfed down their several culturally mixed orders in record time - one of them inundated her meal with hot sauce, I could see that the bottle was an inch less full after she was finished - and amid a flurry of shayshays (謝謝 xièxie) they paid and departed, anxious to continue exploring before dark.
The waitress had barely wiped the table when a crabby middle-aged gnome came in and ordered something with shortribs and green stuff in a claypot, bowl of rice on the side. When it came, he hunted and pecked with considerable pleasure, spearing the tasty meaty bits with his fork, and taking tiny bites of rice in between. When he first sat down he had been tired and grouchy. After the first few mouthfulls he seemed years younger, and considerably more elfin.
An amazing transformation.
Two women at the baked goods counter quarrelled with each other in English, while calmly asking for this and that in Chinese. Fluently unaccented in both.
I wonder if bad-temper simply sounds better in the language of Shakespeare?
I should know by know to not fill up the Peterson System Standard all the way. Especially with pale pressed Virginias, which must be smoked slow and calm. Ended up walking all over Chinatown, even down to the stretch between Bush Street and California where there are nothing but tourist shops. It took over an hour to finish the entire bowl, and I really wanted to get back to my book.
Got home shortly after seven.
Fixed myself a four-bagger of milk-tea at around ten o'clock.
Fast asleep by one.
As good a start to the new year as can be imagined.
How was yours?
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