The Story of Every Restaurant I Ever Cared About.

Once upon a time, the new owner of a relatively famous restaurant wanted to cut cost at his little acquisition to start reaping in the cash. Naturally, he swapped out everybody who was good and cared about their work with a bunch of culinary school graduates and decided to switch to lower grade ingredients all around. After all, how many of those fressing fools with wallets out there could tell the difference? Or care? They should be happy just eating at his relatively famous restaurant!

For the first half of the year, business went swimmingly and much cash reaping was had. But then the old clients stopped coming back, and then almost imperceptibly, customers thinned out and thinned out until one day the once bustling restaurant space hung empty.

No more than two years later, the restaurant closed and what remaining assets were liquidated to pay the angry creditors. The owner, after the sordid experience decided that restaurants were not really his thing.

So he bought a lovely pastry shop down the street with the money he had made off with, just to see how things would fair with baked goods instead.

The Pacific – Ling Yu (太平洋 – 零雨)

Today, a small detour from the regular content: a gem of a piece of poetry by Taiwanese writer and poet, Ling Yu (零雨).

To me this poem evokes the experience of so many Chinese that have left our families and former homelands to pursue a dream on the other side of the Pacific. Here our cultural identities, habits, and thoughts slowly faded away, being washed and bleached to faint imprints and shadows.

Then one day, by accident, we rediscover pieces of our past like bits driftwood washing up on the beach. It is only then the we frantically try to reclaim and reconstruct our lost identities. As we are left wondering how we could have unwittingly abandoned all of these memories and emotion through the hurried blur of our lives, we find ourselves nurturing the next generation in our rather bewildered state, for whatever is to come.

The Pacific – Ling Yu
Losing ourselves, in the ocean. Carrying the entirety of
Our scattered fragments. Coursing towards the East. To that Promised-land
Afar.

Emotions. Beliefs. Memories. Slowly distancing themselves.

At that time, we allowed our tears to fall in torrents. Trivial,
In the surging currents of the ocean. And we turn.
One day, we will turn. To welcome that which has drifted over from the other side.

Emotions. Beliefs. Memories. Riding that feeling
Of exhilaration. Causing our blood to re-emerge anew. Surprised at how
Surreptitiously, we gave away that moment. How. That moment
Had been forgotten through time.

Now
I too have a child.
You are in my bosom
Suckling.

太平洋 – 零雨
我們正在失去。在海中。載著我們所有
散失之物。往東流去。到另一繁華
的彼處

情感。信仰。記憶。漸漸遠離──

那時我們將淚眼滂沱。微不足道
加入大海的洪流。然後轉身。有一日
將轉身。迎接另一處漂流而來的──

情感。信仰。記憶。並感覺那種
激動。使我們的血液重新湧現。並驚訝
偷偷換過的那一刻。如何。那一刻
被時間忘卻

這時
我也有了一個兒子
你在。我的懷中
吸吮

UofT Booksale Season

My mom often complains that I dress worse than a streetfood vendor, which is completely fair considering I am constantly out-garbed by those guys in the Sushittos truck. This basically leaves me to compete for “worst-dressed” in my ward with that guy selling street-meat; sadly, a prize that I win regularly. But while others Torontonians are rendered penniless splurging on vacations, million dollar tool sheds, fancy shoes, and finely reassembled bits of cloth, my excuse is that I spend all my disposable income on books. And by my budget book, University of Toronto gets a fair chunk of it.

Fall is booksale season at the University of Toronto and I have been marking it on my calendar diligently each year since moving back. In September to October, the colleges in the UofT have their book sales to raise funds for various activities, much to the delight of Toronto bibliophiles.

One can find old and new anthologies, poetry collections, in-print and out-of-print novels of every kind, along with biographies of the famous, infamous, and the much less famous. Yesterday, I haphazardly found a pristine first edition of Margaret Lawrence’s The Diviners stuffed next to a copy of Key’s light but fun cookbook Food for the Emperor. I also saw a copy of the esoteric Culinary Comedy in Medieval French Literature for sale. And all for a fraction of the price if you had bought them off ebay or one of the mega bookstores. On top of that, books are half price on the last day and only several dollars a crate in the last few hours of the sale.

I also love the “feel” of these volunteer organized sales; shabby, chaotic, and packed with nerdy merchandise, like what you would expect if the local flea market had illegitimate children with the university library. As an added bonus, here a sartorially challenged book lover can walk and browse amongst poorly dressed faculty and students without standing out.

As of today sale season is half over, though there are still two more coming mid-October:

Not to be missed!!!

Cookbook on 100 Double-Steamed Items

A few years back I was browsing through the overstacked shelves of a used bookstore in the Montreal (somewhere around Ave. Mont-Royal). It was a quaint and messy place, and despite the sheer quantity of books in it, I could not find anything particularly interesting out of its mass of predominantly old French novels and yellowing art books. I was about to turn and leave, when unexpectedly from the corner of my eyes spotted a string Chinese characters.

100simmered
The cover of the book, with some goopy winter melon and wood ear, an open qiguo (氣鍋) showing its conical chimney, a lidded soup pot with some hopefully nourishing brew, and saucy pork hocks. The decorations are classic 1970s Hong Kong, including that rather out-of-place bottle of muscatel (translated “rose fragrance grape wine”). (Credit: Some people on Taobao)

Wedged unceremoniously between some gargantuan art books on Kandinsky was a soft cover copy of “The Cookbook on 100 Double-Steamed Foods” (燉品食譜100種). Although printed in 1978 half way around the world, it was in surprisingly good shape and its charming cover with 70s-era puke coloured food photos beckoned. I quickly flipped through this book and by page four I knew I had to buy it.

While many of the recipes are relatively common, then as now, some of them, especially those from its chapter on “Treasures from the mountain and flavours from the wild” (山珍野味) absolutely blew my mind. The recipes read like a veritable zoo: rabbit, dog, bear paw, deep penis, partridge, civet, pangolin, soft shell turtle…etc. I’ve always thought that most of these recipes were lost in history after the end of the Qing dynasty, but to be able to read about it in a book published so recently was very surprising, if not a bit shocking.

Given how incredible and research resource this is, I think I’m going to translate and post some of the recipes from the cook book. Just reading through the book now, I know it’s going to be very interesting.

Stay tune.

The “Feel” of the Suiyuan Shidan

I was browsing through pictures of Chinese food drawings online when I came across this:

li_jin_a_new_take_on_scholars_collating_classic_texts_2_of_2_detail

Wow!! This is exactly what the Suiyuan Shidan feels like as it churns around inside my head! It’s a bunch of vegetables, meats, edible critters, spices, and dishes, some blurry and some detailed, all strewn haphazardly everywhere.

The artist behind these paintings is Li Jin (李津) and interestingly he did a bunch of them just like this involving food. Quite a few of these food related ones actually contain the Chinese text of the Suiyuan Shidan as part of the work:

8

Perhaps this is how Goggle “personalized” my image search and led me to them?

This next one is flooded with the character for “eat” (吃):

7

I like how all of these food paintings have a light-hearted feel and some sort of humour to them. A book on the translation of the Suiyuan Shidan NEEDS to have something like this for its cover. Actually, it SCREAMS for it.

The only thing that would make it better is if it had more of a American or Canadian (or any other Anglophone) Chinese narrative to it. This would match the idea of an English translation for a completely Chinese work.

A fun discovery in any case.