Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thirty-Fifth Week

Monday, August 30, 2010
When the 95 degree temperature prediction had not been realized when I went out to lunch, I was happy to stroll around Chinatown without much thought of eating. I finally walked into Nha Trang One Vietnamese Restaurant, 87 Baxter Street, one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in New York. Unfortunately, the ten ingredient fried rice ($6.25 including tax) I ordered felt old as well. Additionally, I could only count up to eight ingredients: chicken, shrimp, pork, egg, peas, carrots, cilantro (more as a garnish, but I’ll count it), and corn.

Columbus Park was busy on this gorgeous day. I decided to hover over a group playing cards, the same game being played at about 15 tables. I imagined that it would be indecipherable as is the chess/checkers game also widely played day-in-day-out in the park. I had noticed that the chess/checkers game was played by men only, while the card game (I haven’t gotten the name yet) was played by men and women, although usually one gender to a game. Once upon a time, I played cards frequently and I thought I might as well try and learn this game. The game turns out to be overly simple, a basic rummy. Far more interesting than the game was the fact that the cards were dealt counterclockwise, while the card games I know are dealt clockwise. Each of four players is dealt 13 cards, arranges them into sets (three Kings) or runs (4, 5, 6 and so on). Then, without betting on the outcome or discarding and drawing cards, the players lay down the cards and determine who has the best hand and pay the winner who has done nothing skillful to deserve the victory. At the very least, there should be a round of betting before the lay down as in a poker game. That would accommodate bluffs and raises and make for some excitement. On the other hand, there are 1.3 billion Chinese and maybe they shouldn’t get too excited.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Mark Dilman of Silicon Valley writes in regard to the Evil Eye:
As someone who had two Yiddish-speaking grandmothers: Frida and Khaya (version of Chaya), I grew up well protected from the Evil Eye. My parents [living in Tbilisi, Georgia] practically lost Yiddish, but inherited all the "kinahora" rules from their parents.
Early in my life I learned that it is impossible to challenge the wisdom acquired for 5700 years. I found it to be much simpler to invent rules that are supposed to counteract bad luck. For example, when my parents were telling me that I must not reenter our house if I had forgotten something, my reply was that someone’s grandma told me that it is OK to re-enter if you look at a mirror inside the house right after.
(It is clear why Mark is a scientist with a PhD.)

Alan Heim of Hollywood writes:
I thought you should know of the new, glatt kosher, taco truck prowling our Los Angeles streets. It joins the ever expanding ranks of Korean, burgers, normal tacos and a grilled cheese truck (done in a charming yellow), to name a bare few. I tried it today, outside the Trader Joe’s in an orthodox Jewish enclave near my home. The briskettaco was yummy but underspiced, no doubt a concession to the Jewish digestive tract. The latketaco, which will never pass my spell check no matter how many times I type it, was two nice potato balls served on a taco with an apple relish on top. Not greasy at all and thus a failure. The Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray was, as ever, flawless. $8.50 for the whole.

(Alan, another distinguished CCNY graduate, inadvertently touches upon one of life’s little tragedies. About 4 years ago, Dr. Brown stopped making diet Cel-Ray. Apparently, the good doctor now only produces diet versions of his cream and black cherry sodas. Full calorie versions of all three flavors are peddled, obviously in Los Angeles, as well as New York. This news about a kosher taco truck also reminded me that I saw Holy Cow Kosher Beef Jerky in Fairway recently. Now, that’s a solution without a problem.)

With the temperature at 94 degrees, I abandoned the discipline I usually show at lunch time. First, I bought 4 large, beautiful white peaches ($2.50) which will certainly ripen by Thanksgiving. Then, I stopped in the Mulberry Meat Market. Inc., 89 Mulberry Street, for some precooked takeout, Singapore Mei Fun and sesame chicken ($3.25), and hurried back to eat it in my airconditioned office. It was a gesture more than a meal.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
With the temperature again at 93 degrees, cold sesame noodles was the natural choice for lunch. Joe’s Ginger Restaurant, 25 Pell Street, served a solid B plate of cold sesame noodles ($4.65), nowhere near their scallion pancakes, however. Most noticeable about the dish was the no-frills presentation. No toasted sesame seeds, slivers of cucumber or slices of green onion were anywhere to be seen.

Seen in abundance in the window and on the shelves of Kam Man, 200 Canal Street, my favorite grocery store south of 74th Street, were mooncakes, described by Wikipedia as having a "thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste . . . surrounded by a relatively thin crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs." Wikipedia helpfully notes that mooncakes are not to be confused with moonpies. The reason that mooncakes, often packaged in attractive tins or boxes, are so prominently displayed is the upcoming holiday, of course. Do I mean to imply that the Chinese are one or all of the lost tribes of Israel? After all, isn’t food central to Jewish practice? Should a pre or post Rosh haShana meal include mooncakes? Actually, September 22, 2010, the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, is the Mid-Autumn or Zhongqiu Festival celebrating lunar worship, and, also the first night of Succoth for the non-Chinese among you. Is this a coincidence?

Thursday, August 26, 2010
I could not see through the front window of Hua Du Seafood Restaurant, 31 Division Street, because big red papers signs covered the part that wasn’t frosted. When I walked in to the empty restaurant the two Chinese waitresses seemed surprised to see me. I said, "If you’re cooking, I’m eating" and was shown to a table. I ordered chicken with garlic sauce ($4.50), one of those dishes that are different in every venue. This version, notable for a spicy sauce with flecks of hot pepper, contained, in addition to thin slices of chicken, red peppers, green peppers, green onions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and dark threads of something which none of the staff were able to identify in English, my favorite language. The portion was modest, but reasonable for the price.

Something was in the back of my mind from the moment I entered Hua Du though. A quick search of my previous contributions to human knowledge turned up the information that Gao Xin Seafood Restaurant at 31 Division Street was closed by the Board of Health about two weeks ago. I obviously arrived today just after the ink dried on the new menus and business cards. It reminded me of garment firms on Seventh Avenue that would shut their doors and turn their backs on their creditors after a bad season, yet reemerge at the start of a new season under a slight variant of their prior name – JorAl Frocks to AlJor Fashions to AJ Dresses to JA Styles. Just remember -- Cut velvet!


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