Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eat Drink Men Women

Two mornings a week, my mother teaches English as a second language to a small group of women. Over the years that she's done this she's developed a wonderful rapport with her students, two Chinese women in particular. Once Mom let it drop that she likes Chinese food, the containers began to appear. She'd come home from class with tubs of dumplings, jars of noodles, even a box of fiery little shrimp to be eaten whole, head, legs, and all. Frankly at one point a few years ago, before things calmed down a bit, I think the two students saw themselves as embroiled in a cook-off, duking it out to earn "Teacher's" favor. ("Enough!" my dad was heard to report, after forcing down his umpteenth dumpling.) But of course my mom loves all her ladies and doesn't play favorites.

Can you see where this is going? Yup, #1 son got involved. Margy and I actually live right near one of these students, who's the cook for a family in the neighborhood. From time to time she invites my folks and some of the other students over for a home-cooked meal, and at some point I -- lucky me -- got added to the list. In fact, sometimes I get my own special delivery of a round of dumplings or a container of noodles, to Margy's great delight.

Today we had quite a banquet, as you can clearly see. There were six of us -- my mom and dad, the chef extraordinaire, my mom's other Chinese student and her husband, and me. I hung my head a couple of times when asked where Margy was. "She's working," I said sheepishly, feeling like I should be working too. Little did I realize I'd soon be punching the clock -- that is, eating absolutely as much as I possibly could.

Did I say this was lunch for six? Well, the food you see here was about half of what was served. We ate slowly and chatted and lingered and ate and laughed and lingered and ate, and there was still tons left on the table. Clockwise, from the lower left:

* Fried spare ribs
* Whole fish with leeks and red bell pepper (the Chinese among us didn't know the English name of the fish but described it as "yellow flower fish")
* Spicy dried beans with leeks (I had a hard time imagining what the beans look like in their natural state -- green beans? black beans? chickpeas? -- and wasn't quite able to find out)
* Those legendary dumplings
* Clam soup, in the very small bowl -- wonderful!
* Fried tofu with a spicy soy-garlic sauce -- divine!

Not seen here:

* Not one, but two whole steamed chickens, both falling-apart succulent, one in a light ginger-scented broth and the other, called "3-cup chicken," in a dark and delicious potion made with a cup each of soy sauce, Chinese wine, and sesame oil
* Steamed crunchy greens that our host likened to Chinese lettuce
* Red-hot kimchi made with broccoli stems (I sort of got the recipe and have stems drying in the fridge as I type)
* Tiny slices of beef on toothpicks, flavored with hot red pepper and cumin seed
* Something surprisingly similar to Margy's Asian pot roast; our host said it contained radishes but my mom and I agreed they were turnips
* Sweet sticky rice with raisins and dates

And I seriously think I forgot something. Frogs' legs? No, that was last time (yum). Hmm...

Our host was a tad forgetful too -- she had made so many dishes that some of them never came out. In fact, the kimchi was presented just after dessert (which was a huge bowl of fruit with scoops of mint chip, dulce de leche, and butter pecan on top). It was just in the nick of time for us to try it before digging into our ice cream -- but the Chinese man in the group loved the kimchi so much that he kept snagging bits of it in his chopsticks between bites of mint chip. Now that is a good eater.

After a meal like this, I would've expected night to have fallen. But I staggered home in strong daylight, full to the gills and loaded down with plenty of food for Margy's dinner.

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