I Learn From Tall Birds With Small Brains

July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

If anyone happened to walk out of the Hongqiao Road station Exit 4 at 1pm this afternoon, they would have seen a girl in a dull blue cotton dress, cinched a little below the waist, facing the wall and doing what apparently seems to be furiously flinging some noodles from a paper bowl into her mouth.

(If they stay a little longer, they would also see her looking sketchily left and right, before taking out a bottle of mineral water and washing her hands with it.)

That is a stratrgy i’ve learned from Discovery Channel since I was a young girl. The Ostrich Rule of Thumb. If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.

Really, this is the thing I’ve come to adore about Shanghai – no matter how stupid I look on the streets, no matter how much of a tramp I look like eating while walking, no matter how badly I eff up, anywhere, anytime… No one would know after a month .

Eating that bowl of 面皮 (soupless rice noodles mixed with…. read on) – was like experincing that Macho Nachos high one certain midnight in East Village. It’s like I was sent on to a platform of infinite euphoria and there was no stopping me from going on and on and on and on… I’m never a big carb fan (… I mean rice and noodles and pasta specifically), but Oh… My… LJU)W*RU(*SDUIHSDJHFN()&#)… this one was SO GOOD. The sesame oil, infused with the thread thin cumcumbers and the red spices and the occasional peanuts and every little irregular bump and imperfection of the hand made noodles … Made it just so, SO perfect.

And then when you figured out there’s nothing left in the bowl, you just look up, pause and think: oh, the rest of the world actually exists.

And crap, I don’t have tissue napkins.

I bought thirty packs of Kleenex and ten packs of wet wipes (spent literally half an hour choosing which scent to buy so now I have aloe vera, tree oil, mint and lemon… pick?) after that. Promise you it’d be a neater job next time round.

I never asked... but she might have been the heroine Mrs / Ms / Miss Cheung?

Mmmmmm...

Also some morning blabs…

Given that my mandarin is truly kinda, exceptionally, you know… bad,this conversation happened as I ran pass a street vendor, spun my head around, and doubled back.

Me: ‘what is that?’
‘………[some accented mando that I dont understand]’
‘Oh, I see….. Can I have one? Is there ‘rou’ [meat] in there?’
‘….Huh?’
‘Rou’
‘what?’
‘Um….Rou… Roll… Like *Flap hands around.* Chicken, lamb, beef… Roll’
‘… [Confused]’
‘Nevermind. Can I have one?’
‘Okay. 4 dollars. Do you want sausage in it?’

After a while, we conversed a bit more and he got to know that I’m from Hong Kong.

Me: ‘Hong Kong is very crowded!.’
Him: ‘What? Yea.. Lots of people go to Hong Kong.’

*pause*

Me: ‘I’m doing a summer job in Shanghai for a month. But I study in New York.’
Him: ‘Oh really. Hey [name of friend]. She’s from hong kong.’
Friend: ‘Oh. Student?’
Him: ‘No she’s working already.’

After a while more….. pancake’s almost ready…

Friend: ‘What are you up to today?’
Me: ‘Oh i’m heading to this … this… (I wanted to say art square, but I didn’t know how to say ‘art’ in mando) … Ahh I’m so bad at speaking mandarin!’
Friend: *Laugh and babble somehing for 5 minutes
Me: ‘Ohh hahahahhahaaaa yes.’
Friend: ‘Yes? Of courrrse.. Hong kong blah blah China blah blah . Yes?’
Me: ‘Yes!’
Friend: ‘Yes of course hahahhaa’
Me: ‘Yes! Hahahahahaa’
Everyone laughs.

The joy of not knowing a language too well.

I walked away and passed by the skinny, tanned middle-aged woman at the next stall. Her black hair, with loose hints of grey, were as usual, tied in a low ponytail. She has a slightly broken tooth and today she’s wearing a  loose dark blue tshirt that was torn at the collar. I waved at her. She smiled back at me and said ‘ay!’ I would pass by there every morning and grab the best meat buns in the world before rushing to the heart of the city.

It’s hardly a week and I’ve already become buddies buddies with 70% of ah yees and suk suks at restaurants or food stalls on the road outside… home.

Yes. Somehow, I feel surprisingly at home.

And can someone please enlighten me? Did I pronounce ‘meat’ wrong? It should be somewhat like ‘roll’ right?

Right?!?

First he squishes a white dough (which was mixed with chopped spring onions) flat on the pan, then after a while, he breaks an egg on to it

Then he adds salt, pepper, spices.... and CHEMICAL X........ Yea yea..

VIOLA! (I ended up not eating most of the sausage..... one thing I wouln't mess with - 'meat' that doesn't look like part of an animal. I swear I could taste suspicious hints of wasabi in it for some reason....

Zeee cook!

And ze Friend! Shanghai people are so friendly (maybe it's coz I don't understand what they are saying half the time) I love it here.

*

张阿姨面皮 Auntie Cheung’s Noodles, near Hongqiao Road Station, Shanghai.

Vendor that is usually there on Saturdays and Sundays, selling some sorta pancaky thing.

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The Heart Attack Blueprint

July 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

Can you just imagine what this is from this altitude?

If there is once in my life when I feel like fainting from the richness of a meal before sundown, it would be this time. The other time was perhaps some seven, eight years ago, when I was 11. We were in Macau, at Westin (still my favorite place to stay at in the region after all these years despite the bloom of many new hotels that often stink slightly of newfound money). I was in love with their buffet breakfast back then – I loved the variety, I loved the freshness of everything, I loved the tinkling sound of glassware and silverware against the sunlit marble of the hotel lobby. So one morning, I decided I would eat a portion of everything and not bother eating for the rest of the day. I remember mom had to stay behind to wait for me to finish while dad goes up and freshen up or something. I had croissants, danishes, sunny-side-ups, dim sum, fruits, cereal, yoghurt, sausages, smoked salmon, bagels, muffins, a mixture of different fresh juices which I fancied to call my signature morning cocktail, cold cuts of every shade of pink…

By the end of it… I felt like a juvenile mom whose fetus mutated into a meteorite.

The story did not end there. Two hours later, we went to Dad’s favorite spot for suckling pig, Fernando, a down to earth restaurant on the beachside. It was that period when my parents would insist on me having a healthy diet and a regular eating pattern, so when Dad heard that I was skipping lunch, he looked as if I just asked if I could be a prostitute when graduate. Braving the situation with a smile and slowly, slowly swallowing one chunk of pork after another (which normally tastes drop dead excellent), I could honestly feel some brain cells dying.

And that, for me, was the start of a life-long resentment towards the anything that has the word ‘buffet’ associated with it.

But back to lunch in question. Have you seen heart attacks in pyramidal forms?

So it starts off like this…

And ends up like this.

DO YOU GET IT???? IT’S BACON STACKED INTO A PYRAMID.

Okay, wait. Before Chinese chef’s start an uproar and the rest of the world faint from visual shock, let me clarify something. In chinese, it is called ‘扣肉’ – pork belly. It is one of the most famous dishes in Wei Zhou (惠州) cuisine, and is always a terrible guilty pleasure of mine at Guangdong restaurants. The choice of pork is of utmost importance – it is called  五花肉 (literal translation: five flower meat… but literal translations never make sense), and should have a perfect proportion of skin, subcutaneous fat and lean meat. When placed in the mouth, it should not disgust you, but instead should melt instantly into a fragrant liquid and marry beautifully with the sauce, the herbs and the pillow of bun that usually comes along with it.

To prepare it, the chunk of meat is first deep fried. Then it is sliced up and steamed under a bed of herbs and dried vegetables (梅菜) before being topped off with a typical red sauce. In ‘normal’ circumstances, it looks like this:

In this case, the meat is sliced into JAW-DROPPINGLY thin strips, constructed into a pyramid, and in the hollow center – a stuffing of fungi and dried vegetables and lean meat that was apparently slow-cooked in the broth of the meat.

I. Died.

I actually felt some christmas lights lighting up at the roof of my mouth. It didn’t taste fattening and nor oily at all. It just tastes… like an extramarital affair.

I don’t know… but isn’t this a bit more elegant than its American diner counterpart? (Big Toothy Smile)

DUCK!

Jumping back to the first dish. I know this post would end up a bit long, but the pork and the following dish – a roast duck – are so, so SINFUL I just have moast (moan + boast) them out like Sylvia Plath writes about her attempted suicides. The duck was first glazed with oil and roasted in a stone oven. Then it is rushed to the table as quickly as possible and sliced in front of five hungry audiences. No time spared, come along duck, come along…

You know we force feed birds too? Yes, unfortunately, it’s not just a Frenchie thing…

Again one of the China’s national dishes – the Peking Roast Duck, but served in a never-seen-before manner – in three ways: the skin, the lean meat, and the combination of the two. The browned skin, (this time sprinkled with crystals of sugar instead of with the usual hoisin sauce), glistening hot and crispy, practically dissolves upon landing on the tongue.

So. Ridiculously. Good.

From the oven....

the oven again, and the obnoxious girl clutching the camera

And then they chill for a short while on a hook...

And then to the table side...

THE best bit - literally... browned cruchy duck fat.

You know I was nicknamed hamster in junior secondary school? I am still not too sure of the physical resemblance, but there is one thing that probably explains it – hamsters never know how to stop eating. They would actually die from getting overfed, that’s why you are not supposed to put a huge dish of food in its cage – it would actually not stop eating.

And so yes, I came close to fainting today.

Fish. Deep fried in batter. Sweet and sour sauce. Peas and shrimps and pine nuts.

Some vege roll. I felt like a cow eating them. A lucky cow at that...

For some reason, the literal translation of this dish is 'vegetarian goose'.... Hmm.

*

One more thing, pretty irrelevant to food.

You know how painful it is to not get on Facebook properly? Save for one or two odd pages at random times?

Well, I do. So does the girl who has 27 more odd days on the dark side.

Shanghai’s looking bright otherwise.

*

Xindalu, China Kitchen – Hyatt On The Bund, 199 Huang Pu Road, Shanghai, People’s Republic Of China 200080

Decor: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Taste: 5/5
Five years from now, I’m going to remember: The Beijing Duck, The Pork Tower.

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