THE YAM WHAT YAM
What with being white, I am anonymous and well-nigh invisible, so nobody at the other tables actually noticed me. That's a benefit of not dining with a Chinese person. A dubious blessing, perhaps.
涼瓜鷄炒麵 & 港式奶茶
['LEUNG GWA GAI CHAAU MIN, GONG SIK NAAI CHA']
It wasn't that I was planning to have chow mein, despite gibbering about the subject in a number of recent essays. It's just that despite my resolve to get out of the house early yesterday I didn't. Instead I found myself rushing out after tea-time for breakfast (first meal of the day), and consequently I was somewhat limited for options.
Bakeries, coffee shops, and dimsummeries tend to close at six. There are a few chachanteng that stay open. The one where I ended up has interesting foods and excellent milk tea, but they had run out of ho fan.
The waitress suggested a noodly substitute.
Hence wheat instead of rivers.
[麵 versus 河粉]
For some reason which I haven't figured out they appeal particularly to old fossils, single men, and rough around the edges Toishanese peasant types. And the occasional lost white person who cannot grasp the menu, which obviously does not include me. I'm not lost, and I can read the menu.
As well as the specials on the wall.
It takes only a little construing to recognize that when they write 菌 they don't mean microbes or bacteria but mushrooms, especially when these are stirfried with long yam (淮山).
Dioscorea polystachya, commonly conflated with dioscorea opposita or oppositifolia, is extremely popular in Chinatown, widely available most of the year, and almost never found in restaurants.
I should have ordered it, but I didn't look at the wall until after the waitress had written down the bitter melon.
淮山 ('waai saan') is the common name in Cantonese, but it is also called 山藥 ("mountain medicine"; 'saan yeuk' or 'saan yek').
There are a number of superior pairings: 蘭豆木耳炒淮山 (snap peas and wood ear stirfried dioscorea; 'laan dau muk yi chaau waai saan'), 菇菌炒雜菜 (mixed mushrooms chop suey; 'gu kwan chaau jaap choi'), 菠菜淮山炒牛肉 (spinach and dioscorea stirfried beef; 'bo choi waai saan chaau nagau yiuk'), 百合木耳炒淮山 (lily and wood ear stirfried dioscorea; 'baak hap muk yi chaau waai saan'), 淮山木耳炒西芹 (dioscorea and wood ear stirfried celery; 'waai saan muk yi chaau sai kan'), 青瓜淮山炒木耳 (sliced cucumber and dioscorea stirfried with wood ear; 'ching gwaa waai saan chaau muk yi'), 海參炒淮山 (sea cucumber stirfried with dioscorea; 'hoi sam chaau waai saan'), 鮮淮山蒸排骨 (fresh dioscorea steamed short ribs; 'sin waai saan jeng paai gwat'), 山藥香菇雞湯(dioscorea and mushrooms in chicken soup; 'saan yeuk heung gu gai tong'), 淮山南瓜 (pumpkin and dioscorea; 'waai saan naam gwaa'), 西芹淮山炒雲耳 (celery and cloud ears stirfried dioscorea; 'sai kan waai saan chaau wan yi'), etcetera.
Stirfrying it with wood ear fungus (木耳 'muk yi' or 雲耳 'wun yi') is usual, as well as with celery or zucchini. It is good with meats, provided no strong sauces are used to drown the subtle crispy flavour.
It can also be put in soups.
Simply stirfrying it with some sliced black mushroom and a very discreet addition of abalone sauce ( 鮑魚汁 'baau yiu jap') is excellent. Some shredded roast chicken can be added to good effect.
Or pair this with a simple meat dish.
Allegedly it can be eaten raw, but I have never done that; to me all yams must be cooked. Because of traces of oxalate in the skin it is best to peel and rinse with a weak vinegar solution before slicing them for the pan.
This was the first time I saw it on a wall.
I hope it's there the next time.
Perhaps very soon.
It was still light when I left. I lit up my pipe and wandered down to Sue Bierman Park, where the parrots had discovered the prunus blossoms, and engaged in a riotous orgy of flower-eating, to the delight of many passers-by. Snapchats and twitters will be filled with close-ups of the cheeky birds.
They were determined to feast, and suppressed their flight instinct.
Very attractive likable creatures.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.
Labels: 唐人街 Chinatown