At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, October 04, 2013


People get all paranoid when folks around them are talking a foreign language. Even in so multinational a place as San Francisco. Tourists, for instance, start acting really jittery when the wait-staff at a restaurant speak Chinese instead of German, and Mid-Westerners really freak out surrounded by Cantonese or Russians on the bus.

The other day five folks from Ohio nearly exploded out of the rear-door in a panic, after having hysterics because the door wouldn't open. Multiple passengers had hollered out helpfully that in order for them to exit, they would have to step down -- Muni buses do not automatically open at the rear, only if someone is on the steps -- but nothing registered because, after all, all those un-American accents could not possibly be directed at them! They hadn't spoken to anyone, they were innocent!
Stop shouting at us! Help!

Of course, as soon as they had successfully escaped, we proceeded to talk ABOUT them. All of us came to the same conclusion: idiots.

Yes, it's true! We discuss you behind your back.

We're also plotting to sell your kidneys.

And we have poisoned cookies!

Actually, that may just be the Russians in the Sunset District, the Arab liquor store owners in the Tenderloin, or the snooty Frenchmen running whorehouses in Union Square.
Or any of the several other ethnic groups in the city.
Except the Cantonese.

The Cantonese talk about food.

你食咗飯未呀 -- NEI SIK JO FAN MEI AH?

The most common greeting to people you already know is "have you eaten yet?". Which serves as well as anything to introduce the one consuming passion of all Cantonese-speakers, namely food and good things to put in your mouth. Even when the white people nearby are interesting as blazes oh crikey yes, it's still about food. On that same bus ride, a large number of the passengers were local Chinese folks, and, being one of the very few white people on the bus who could understand what they were saying, naturally I listened in.

[Most white folks don't speak Cantonese. This may surprise you, given that a quarter of the population here is Cantonese, but it's true. Maybe white people don't talk about food? Anyway, seeing as my appearance strongly suggests bland monolinguality, I usually put on a poker face and open my ears. Flying undercover, as it were. Incognito. I am the secret kwailo, now please keep talking. About food. Yummy yummy food.]

The conversation nearest me was a long drawn-out vituperation about the sucky noodles at a place on Clement Street. "They could NOT be eaten, diu, like swallowing garbage!" The word I've translated as garbage is actually something else.
"And the owner prides himself on those pulled noodles (拉麵 laai min), he really insisted I order them!" Laai min are unusual among the Cantonese, being more a Northern thing -- the Cantonese are at the far southern end of China, safely behind mountain ranges that protect them from tall smelly people -- and if done well are almost airy, with an appealing texture.
These weren't thus.
"Too expensive, stinky, and just not edible!" Followed by "I felt horrible afterwards". After a brief pause, the speaker admitted that he had to restore himself by going down the street and having some roast duck elsewhere. It was very good roast duck, he had two portions. But the pulled noodles had been utterly nasty, and the indigestion kept him up all night!

I really wish I knew the name of the restaurant with those horrible noodles.
If the owner takes pride in them, perhaps I ought to try them just to see if they're really that bad?

At the moment that the disappointed noodler said the name, someone on the other side of me dreamily mentioned the lovely Portuguese tartlets at that new bakery on Stockton street. They were "hau fuk kwai sei gam hou mei ge, hou cheeeeeeng" (mouth lucky devil dead so delicious, very niiiiiiiice 口福鬼死咁好味嘅, 好正). For the next several blocks she and her friend animatedly discussed the lovely little pastries, tiny tartlets, fluffy rolls, yummy buns, soft breads, delicious little sweet-paste puffs......
They both adoooore that place, heavens, they could not shut up at all.
I never did find out what the nasty noodle joint is called.
Nor where exactly it is located.

But I do know the bakery.

1362 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

Yes, the Portuguese tartlets (葡撻 pou taat) ARE delicious. Truly and utterly divine. They're like egg tarts (蛋撻 daan taat), with a much richer, creamier custard filling and an extra thick super-flaky crust, very 酥酥脆脆 (sou sou cheui cheui). And everything else they have is extremely beautiful too.
I am so glad I overheard that conversation, it might otherwise have been ages before I went there!
I only had the pou-taat, with a cup of milk-tea, and I must definitely go back to experiment with their vast range of yummies. But I know that everything there is wonderful, as the customers at both tables next to me were avidly discussing food.........


The caption of this post is a word-play on the statement that one has finished dining, and dined quite well: 食咗飽啦 (sik jo baau la). It reassures the people at the restaurant that one is completely satisfied (滿意 mun yi), why, nothing, nothing at all, could be added; I'm stuffed!
The term 'baau' (飽) is almost exactly the same as 'baau' (爆), only the tone is different. The second word means an explosion, to explode.


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