I think I might be addicted to Asian food. Maybe the ethnic foods that do well are the ones that you’re capable of craving. Everybody who’s had a decent curry knows what it’s like to crave a curry. Everbody who’s ever had a pizza knows what it’s like to crave a pizza. Well, for me, sometimes, it’s the same with Asian food.
Mainly it’s egg-fried rice I crave, but every now and again it’s noodles. I used to work around the corner from Kingsland Road in Shoreditch in London. And on that road there were about half a dozen Vietnamese restaurants. One of the dishes that they did which was truly awesome involved vermicelli noodles and fish sauce with barbecued pork on top. I think I might have had that every day for several months – especially the version that mixed up the barbecued pork and sliced up spring rolls – wow, I could go for a dish of that right now.
The only down-side I can see to a dish like that is that your breath smells like a long-dead herring after you’ve eaten. A long-dead herring that ate a lot of garlic and you get complaints from the wife. There are other noodle dishes that have enhanced my life. When I worked in Ealing we pretty much ended up going every day to a Chinese/Asian fusion restaurant called “The Hare and Tortoise.” It’s a chain, they’re dotted across London – I’ve been to the Bloomsbury branch and that’s good as well. And a lot of the time there I had their Roast Duck and rice, which does exactly what it says on the tin. But sometimes I had – hang on, I’m going to have to Google a spelling of this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Char_kway_teow Char kway toew (pronounced, by me anyway “Char coy chow”). This had prawns and bits of fish cake and Chinese sausage and chillies and chillie oil in it and it was fantastic. The only slight problem with it was that I think it was a bit heavy on the old MSG resulting in a light-headness and a willingness to eat my own weight in chocolate bars later in the afternoon.
The other great noodle dish is Pad Thai I suppose. I get why people get excited about it. I just don’t think I’ve experience a really good example. Writing about this makes me realise how ignorant I am of Asian food. The only Asian country I’ve been to is Japan, and I don’t think we ate many noodles when we were there – we ate a lot of yakitori and sushi. I would dearly love to tour these countries and eat everything - what the locals are eating and also the novelty foods – the ones that “make you strong.” My enduring memories of food in Tokyo is going into a really smoky “dive” yakitori bar in Asakusa where there was sumo playing on every telly and being served – you know that bit of cartilage on the end of the breast bone of a chicken – well we got three of those, slightly charred on a stick. This was after an attempt to mime (because nobody spoke a word of English – the horror!) we’ll have what they’re having. Pointing to the guys on the end of the counter who were deep in a conversation about sumo – or seemed to be. Asakusa is the area of Tokyo where they sell all the requisites for restaurants, crockery, cutlery, tablecloths, tables, chairs. They also have “noodle model parlours”as mentioned in the song Mondo Bongo by Joe Strummer, and what an awesome song that it, even though I had to watch the movie Mr and Mrs Smith (STODGE, see below) in order to discover it – collections of plastic models of dishes that restaurants might sell. A lot of restaurants put these models in their windows, presumably so that potential customers have an idea of what they’re getting – but also so that customers who don’t speak the language have a chance of pointing to their dinner. Curiously, we didn’t go to any of these restaurants.
One of the great disappointments of eating in the US. Actually, I think this might be a problem you get in the flyover states, I haven’t sampled Asian food on the coasts, so lets restrict this to Kansas City, is that all of the “flavours” – maybe I mean “flavors” - tend to lard and sugar and bland carbohydrates. Sweet and sour things taste, sweet. Egg fried rice tastes, fried, actually it doesn’t even taste fried, it just tastes of starch. It’s as if the taste palette has been compressed – like the idea palette and the culture palette and the politics palette – you can have anything you want as long as it’s de-tastified, de-natured, de-racinated STODGE. You are free to eat sugar or lard, you are free to vote Rabid Republican or Rabid Republican light. See how free you are? Stop it Stringer. When you travel you’re supposed to embrace other cultures. Otherwise you come across as churlish, narrow-minded.
It reminds me of a story that Mr Naylor told me. Mr Naylor was the headmaster at my first school. He terrified me. I don’t think he ever hit any of the kids. I don’t think he had to. He just had an attitude that made even the toughest boys wet themselves (I don’t think he ever bothered menacing the girls). But he was a bit eccentric. He was a stalwart of a male voice choir, as well as a 60-a-day chain smoker. And he would spend hours training us to sing hymns with choral perfection. And occasionally he would demonstrate his own singing prowess in slightly strange ways – like laying down on the floor and singing “Courage Brother Do Not Stumble” with an eight year old girl standing on his chest. I don’t think there was anything pervy about this – I think it was far weirder than that.
When Mr Naylor took a class there wasn’t any curriculum, it was just a series of diversion on whatever topic he felt like talking about. And one of the topics I remember was “Chinese torture.” I don’t know if these are actually Chinese tortures. But it seemed like an interesting topic. So we heard about “the chamber of little ease” and the “water torture”. But we also heard about a torture where a prisoner is given anything that he wants to eat, but everything is lacking in salt. And that’s sort of my experience of being right in the middle of America. And woe betide anybody who says or does anything, or reads anything “salty”.
Oh, and udon noodles go through me like they’re on a mission from God.