Sunday, February 12, 2023


Two people were speaking Dutch on the bus. So I asked them where in the Netherlands they were from. It turns out that they were from Amsterdam, here on both business and pleasure, for a total of five weeks. Yes, they enjoyed San Francisco very much; it was a very liveable city. And no, I did not recommend any places in Chinatown, because I realized that prefacing recommendation with several pages of explanation would be counterproductive.

Chachantengs, for instance. Those are restaurants that serve what might be seen as a Canto reinterpretation of white trash food, French toast like no Frenchman or American has ever seen, dolled-up insta noodles, old favourites, and strange dishes much divorced from any real origin. Plus quick versions of some Cantonese food. And, in America, for tourists, sweet and sour pork, kung pao something, and spring rolls. Plus Hong Kong Milk Tea, of course.

Chachantengs originated from the "ice rooms" (冰室) in the fifties. A kind of eatery that was more casual and affordable with dishes that were easy, semi-occidental, and interesting.

Another good example would be the dumpling phenomenon. Do you want Northern steamed dumplings, Cantonese won ton, or dimsum? With or without other stuff, and if other stuff, then what other stuff? Also, dried flounder used as a soup flavouring, and chives.

Dumpling are immensely important. Except that Caucasians don't think so.

Boba tea. Yeah, um. Not much a fan of indigestible tapioca balls myself, but you can also get it with fruit added, and jelly sguiggles. In all cases you're channeling for a teenage Hello Kitty fangirl in her twenties or thirties, her boyfriend who needs to buy her an expensive designer handbag, and a white person of either gender and any age with tattoos. Plus variations and combinations of all of those, as well as a single middle aged pipesmoker who inexplicably wants something sweet and refreshing but feels uncomfortable around this crowd, okay?

Red bean ice?

Egg tarts, flaky charsiu turnovers, and the textural contribution of pork floss. Not even going to try to explain this to anyone. I've seen enough people enter Chinese bakeries and stare for ten minutes at the pastries, before deciding that they don't want anything, their existentials are in crisis no, and I need my momma! Can I use Apple Pay for one almond cookie?

Either you're adventurous, and can pay with cash, or not.

Dried fish. Dried shrimp. And dried oysters.

Hot sauce, fried chili oil, Sriracha.

Many Dutch are willing to explore, but not everybody is at the same starting point. If they're Indies Dutch, they may have already left the gate in some respects. Or not. A bus ride is not enough time to establish that. And not all Dutch are into varied foods in any case.

They may have been like all those Dutch tourists in Thailand; desperate for French fries, mayo, and a frikandel speciaal. With chopped onions.

Gehakte ui, alstublieft.

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