Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dog Food and Dry Noodles

When I lived in the Concrete Bunker, located at what is now the back of the school there were ample food and shopping opportunities. Just two minutes’ walk led me to Battercake Man, Breakfast Sandwich Woman, Steamed Bun Girl and Fried Bread Man… and many more food vendors whose treats I never have sampled. If I wanted a quick meal all I had to do was walk a few feet, spend a few ‘kuai’ and a hot and tasty snack was mine. See ‘New Man on Snack Street’ entry, posted on for more on these characters.

And, if I had any ‘little’ shopping to do, say for a bag of chips to go with my battercake or a flashlight to eat by in case the power went out, I just directed myself to the store whose doors were conveniently located between Porridge Woman and the corner fruit stand and pick up whatever I needed. The Farmer’s Market, the supermarket, and various other shops and restaurants lined The Street making for, at the very least a colorful promenade if not a self-sufficient little world.

I like my new apartment, but I kind of miss that setup. I don’t have near the food choices or shopping opportunities anywhere close now that I live at the back (or what is now the front) of campus.

Now, living in what really does feel like a home – except for that I have no gas to cook on and my electronic hotplate just died, meaning I have now only my grill, crockpot, rice cooker and ovens (microwave and radiant), you might wonder what I’m doing for food.

I’m eating dog food at least three nights a week. Relax, it is not Alpo or Pedigree or even that reviled Wally-World brand Ol’Roy. For that matter it is not really dog food.

‘Dog Food’ is a slang name given to a buffet style restaurant where one fills a plateful of food from a steam table laden with a variety of dishes and pays for it by weight. Your container of ‘dog food’ is accompanied by a same-sized container of rice. Voila! Instant meal! There might be anywhere from forty to sixty five dishes to choose from: eggs with tomato, tofu dishes, vegetables with or without meat flavoring, spicy and unspicy dishes, meats, fried foods like lotus and glutinous rice balls. There’s fish and duck and beef and pork and chicken and sausage. No horsemeat, frog legs or pig ears. Those are reserved for the fancier restaurants downtown.

I’ll get back to dog food in a minute. Let me expand my food choices first.

Of course I could always walk to those old haunts on Snack Street, and on occasion I do. When I don’t mind braving bevies of boys and gaggles of girls stopping me every few feet to talk, or walking across campus with me till I get to my destination, and then walking all the way back across campus to my little house and then… then, the food is cold. So going to Snack Street is out unless I want to walk and eat at the same time.

Incidentally, living so far removed from Snack Street means I missed out on fried pumpkin this year. Fried pumpkin is only available for a few weeks in November. Now THAT was a yummy treat!

From where I’m at now all I have to do is walk the narrow trail as though I were headed to the internet cafĂ©. That establishment is in fact at the back of a little courtyard lined with no less than 3 dog food restaurants, one tea shop, two fried rice stands right next to each other, one fried noodle shop and two other noodle shops that make my favorite noodle dish – Re Gan Mian. There are also a few vendor carts. One offers jerkey’d duck parts – duck parts roasted till they look mummified and the other offering barbeque. Fried barbeque.

At the entrance of this courtyard is a vendor who makes a snack that is somehow both baked and fried. From morning till evening he and his partner can be found rolling out dough, slathering it with a spicy paste and then sprinkling a tiny bit of cabbage onto the paste, and then rolling the concoction up to resemble a bun. The buns are placed in a pan containing about one centimeter of oil and then placed into an oven that resembles a beehive. While the dough rises from the heat of the oven the outside of the bun gets crispy in the oil. When eaten hot these snacks are right close to heavenly.

Rounding out the vendors in this courtyard is a fruit stand that also sells a variety of munchies that range from corn snaps to peanuts, sold in bulk. This is where I buy those fabulous roasted sesame crackers that I am now addicted to. They are not so much crackers as roasted sesame seed nuggets. They go with soups, salads, by the handful… pretty much any way you want to eat them. Every few days I approach that vendor like a druggie needing her fix. He already knows what I want and doles it out to me in the quantity I specify. I used to just buy a half kilo at a time but between my serving them to the occasional guest and munching them by the handful myself, they were going too quick. Now I buy them a kilo at a time.

To sum it up: there’s dog food, noodles, fried rice, fruit and fried/baked snacks, accompanied by munchies sold by the kilo. The healthiest thing to eat is dog food. The rest of the choices make for too much fried. Not to say I’m not a fan of fried, ‘cause I sure am! But that’s not necessarily healthy.

I need to either expand my food choices or start cooking again.

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