Sunday, September 12, 2004

Comfort Food

$1.50 for a bowl of rice is insane.

Brian and I went to a local pan-asian restaurant called pingpong in our neighborhood in Chicago which has some great food. They have this amazing super spicy calamari appetizer, which is lightly breaded calamari and fried with tons of garlic, tossed with jalapeno pepper slices. I ordered the dish as my entrĂ©e, but it didn’t come with rice.

There was an intense psychological battle between my cheapness and my rice addiction on whether to pay a buck-fifty for that small bowl of rice or not. It’s like having a drag queen choose between a sequined gown or a rhinestone tiara: a real moral challenge. I mean, in a regular restaurant they give you all the bread you want to eat! It's racism I tell you!

A 25 pound sack of rice costs about $15 at an Asian store and I can probably make more than 500 cups of cooked rice with it. They also have a 50 pound sack, twice the size, for only $5 more. I would have bought it but Brian refused to help me carry it to the car. I’ll have to remember this about him in case I have to bury a dead body.

I don’t know why I have to have rice when I have a meal. I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, dessert.

When I was younger, if I was ill or feeling poorly, my mother would often make lugaw (which the Chinese call congee), a sort of rice soup, much like other mothers make chicken broth for their sick kids. When you’re sick, lugaw is bland enough not to overwhelm you. My mother would top it with some pork fu, a condiment made from dried, shredded pork to add a bit of flavor.

Actually, I always thought pork fu looked like dried hairy boogers, which to a kid, made it more fun to eat. I imagined that some old Chinese man picked his nose all day to fill up the bag it came in. However, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this photo is that it looks like a cow’s pubic hair. Yum.

Some Sunday mornings, I would head towards Chinatown with some friends for dim sum at a restaurant called Phoenix. Here, Asian women in white cotton cheongsam-style blouses and black pants push around dim sum carts, calling out the names of the little dishes they carry in Cantonese or Mandarin amidst the din of patrons chattering in various foreign languages. Dim sum is like Chinese tapas: little dishes in bamboo steamers like beef tripe, pork spareribs or braised chicken feet—Fear Factor for the uninitiated maybe, but a real treat for me.

The carts meander around the restaurant like leaves flowing down a stream, stopping by each table to let diners pick out their favorite dish. You could probably order what you want to eat from a menu but it is more fun this way. I mean, you can have sex with your boyfriend--but isn't it more fun to take his Visa card out shopping first? The orgasms are much more intense that way.

I got excited when the lady with the congee cart came by. Here, the congee came with diced chicken and bits of century egg. She didn’t speak any English but she saw what I wanted. She smiled as she ladled the steaming congee into a bowl in front of me and topped it with fresh green onions.

I looked into her face. Her gray hair was pulled into a tight bun, little beads of sweat dotted her forehead from the steaming soup. The smile deepened the grooves on her wizened cheeks and the wrinkles around her eyes. In that smile, I saw a trace of my mother.

Then she was gone.

I ate my congee, my lugaw. The warmth in my belly comforted me.

Recipe for Congee with Chicken and Century Egg
Why I Love Chicken Feet
More Dim Sum
I don't speak Engrish

Kid Fear Factor: so cute
Fear Factor? Crusty Booger Balls and other gross recipes
(includes the Kitty Litter Cake recipe Pua sent me)

#762 Yo Mama's nose so big, you can go bowling with her boogers (and other Yo Mama jokes)

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