Saturday, December 29, 2012


The other day I made a lovely curry containing zucchini (courgettes), potatoes, and tofu. The base was Thai red curry paste, garlic, stinky shrimp paste, hot red chilies, plus some fresh herbs, with coconut milk, stock, lemon grass, and a squeeze of lime with some of the grated rind to finish. Great over rice noodles.
There was, of course, too much for the single man.
And it will not freeze well.
Fun dinner, though.

My apartment mate has a different food schedule, and mostly eats at earlier times of the day than I do, and would certainly not even think of curry for breakfast.

Maybe the single man needs a kitchen midden.
Or at least a compost heap.

I regret not having someone to eat with. Food is much more fun when shared, and the possibilities are more expansive for couples. Often I eat in Chinatown, but as you know Chinese restaurants usually have menus that offer a wide choice for plural diners, but fewer options for the solitary person. And there is no conversation.

Still, a lot of fun can be had sitting alone at a table in an eatery on Stockton Street, observing people and listening in. White folks are nearly invisible, and unless I let the cat out of the bag, no one realizes that I understand Cantonese.

Yes, I often do let the cat out of the bag.

Placing an order for the nam-yu roast chicken over rice (南乳烤雞飯 'naam yu haau kai faan') is just easier that way. And anything containing bitter melon (苦瓜, 凉瓜 'fu-gwa', 'leung-gwa') will prompt the waitress to worriedly inform one that it is nigh inedible if one didn't ask for it in Chinese.

[In fact, the only place where I've never yet spoken Cantonese is my barber shop. So I get to hear the conversations all around me entirely in private. No, they do not talk about Whitey. There are far more important things in life to discuss. Like the weather, for instance. Or food.]


After thoroughly enjoying my own meal, I sipped my coffee and observed the people at other tables. I had found a seat in the back, and consequently could see everyone else in the place without being particularly noticeable myself. The restaurant was booming, despite it being near closing time. The wait staff were preoccupied with putting stuff away for tomorrow, and cleaning the counter area.
The faster they finished, the sooner they could go home.
A bit understaffed - the helpful Ah-Sook was absent.

[Ah-Sook: uncle, how men of indeterminate age are addressed. Anyone between forty and four hundred is 'Ah-Sook' (阿叔). The term 'sook' indicates a man who is younger than one's father, specifically his younger brother. The corresponding term for women is 'auntie': Ah-Yi (阿姨).]

A late middle-aged woman two tables over had placed an order, and seemed sad that what she wanted had not come yet. Finally the waitress brought over her bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup (牛肉河粉湯), placed it in front of the customer, and quickly returned to her other duties.

The woman looked around. Stared at the rack where there should have been chopsticks. There were none, it was empty. Then she sought to get the attention of the waitress. Any waitress. The wait staff were bustling, and did not notice. She looked over at the rack on her table again, then at other tables. But all the other tables were occupied, and simply sliding over and snagging chopsticks, well, no. Quite unthinkable.
She looked at her noodle soup. So close. So close!

Rice stick noodles, fresh crunchy beansprouts, sliced jalapeño, pink meat.....
The tempting aromas of basil and cilantro, as well as the fragrance of lime.....

I had seen her happily squeeze the citrus into the hot bowl.
It was the only thing she could do without utensils.
But she could not eat without proper equipment.
And she was well aware of that.
It was a knowledge more painful with each passing second.

When she looked over at where the waitress was packing stuff into the refrigerator, she could not catch her eye.

Finally she let loose a disconsolate wail.

"MOW FAAI-JI!!!!!!"

Do you remember that scene in the Jazz Singer? The one where Laurence Olivier (Cantor Rabbinowitz) howls: "Eye. Haff. No. Chop. Stick!"

Precisely so.

Before the waitress could even react, I scooted over and wordlessly handed her a pair of chopsticks in their fresh paper sleeve. The rack on my table was still supplied.

You cannot eat noodle soup without chopsticks.

Back at my table I continued observing, while studiously looking elsewhere. The mirror along one wall. The reflective surfaces of the display cases and counters. The polished metal of the big cafeteria coffee and hot water machine.
Don't want to seem like I'm staring, you know.
Vietnamese noodle soup is a multi-sensual experience. Slithery rice stick noodles, tasty crunchy bits, lovely smells and textures, savoury meat......
All in a lovely deep broth.

You cannot eat noodle soup without a spoon either.

Scooted over with one of those too, before she could become unhappy again.


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