Yes, the noisy, sucking sound we all make when
-we shove food (usually Chinese, i.e. congee, noodles with soup, stir-fry noodles) down our mouths using a chopstick or Chinese spoon
-we chomp noisily "chomp-slurp-burp-ahhhh" as we try to assuage our hunger karpintero-style (patay-gutom in other words)
-we drink thick liquids (think milkshakes, slurpee, Zagu) from a too-small straw
Every sunday my mom makes congee "poor family style". No fancy pork with thousand-year egg, certainly no fish fillet or cubes of congealed blood. What she prepares consists of plain lugaw (as in rice cooked in plentiful water, not broth), sometimes flavored with camote cubes, pickled cucumber (with a sour, sharp crunch), pork floss (not the unappealing stringy ones), and garlic-sauteed pork with black beans (the one in the small yellow can, Narcissus or Gulong brand) which my father would eat with some poached tofu. A fancier version would mean additional fried lapu-lapu in tausi sauce OR ground pork and pickled turnip omelette OR century egg with soya sauce.
My father the storyteller would regale us with tales about poor families in China partaking of this meal everyday. The homely porridge was tasteless but piping hot and filling, perfect for the cold Northern weather. Whatever rootcrop they had was boiled and eaten along with it. Better times called for fish or pork. Whether he was spinning a good yarn as part of our breakfast entertainment, recounting the pitiful story of his ancestors, or reminding us that feasting on gourmet food is a privilege we should be grateful for, our sunday poor man's lugaw took on a different dimension. It became not only plain old breakfast, but my father's ultimate comfort meal; a way to cleanse our bodies and rid us of the oily, unhealthy grub we've had all week; a time to converse and listen; a shared hiSTORY, if you will; and a childhood memory.
Papa always slurped his lugaw, using chopsticks with the bowl brought up to his chin and slightly tilted towards his mouth. Though at first I thought it rude, I now slurp my own lugaw (which I make here in HK whenever I'm homesick) maybe even louder than he does.
Speaking of slurping, when we were billeted in Shama Causeway Bay last October, my little boy and I would frequent a noodle shop just down the street. Shy mentioned that this place is known for its noodle and wonton. Chee Kei is always full, and the line snaking past the corner of Russell Street is a testament to its popularity. There are only about 10 tables inside, and oftentimes little boy and I had to share ours with slurping strangers. Their shrimp wonton noodle soup is a delightful concoction of heady broth, thin wonton wrappers folded around large, fresh shimps, and firm, al dente thin egg noodles (even better than that old HK insitution, Mak's noodles). The pork wonton, beef brisket and beef tendon choices are similarly satisfying . Once I tried a dry noodle topped with spicy pork (a specialty), served with broth on the side. As always, the noodles were firm and plentiful, the generous slivers of pork were tender and mixed with a spicy sauce that was piquant and full of hot, sweetish flavor. I wanted to lick the sauce off the plate, but the slurping strangers were eyeing me with suspicion. Each table had a condiment tray with the ubiquitous soya sauce, Chinese black vinegar, chili-garlic sauce, and, to my surprise and delight, a small bowl of pinkish-white pickled ginger (very thinly-sliced and crunchy). Our visits there (and the fresh wonton I would take home and fry for hubby) were undoutedbly the highlight of our otherwise boring CWB stay. The only dish I didn't care for was the briny, bitter, slimy raw clams (they were so tiny and indistinguishable) that was served with the equally unappetizing fried fishballs. I think they undercooked the fishballs that time.Our bill always rang up to HKD60-120. Not bad. The five minute walk to the place was part of its appeal, aside from the better-than-ok chow and light-on-the-pocket prices.
Once I tried frying fish (little boy's all-time fave) in Shama and the "hidden and silent" fire alarm necessitated a frantic phone call from the manager, who rushed up to our place, opened all the windows, cautioned me about frying, and very politely and discreetly tried to "fish" (no pun intended heehee) for more info (What was I cooking? Did I burn anything? Was the stove too hot? Did I know how to adjust the knob?). It drove me crazy. And this is what made us leave the smoky confines of our room to check out Chee Kei.
Back in Canada I couldn't fry fish too. The alarm went off more than once, in its unique shrill, ear-splitting manner, and as my Tito, mother-in-law and hubby tried in vain to fan the alarm and disconnect it, I had to deal with my semi-fried fish, oil splatter and disappointed son. No noodle shop 5 minutes away to soothe our nerves and my son's grumbly tummy. All we had were good ol' Mickey D's, Church's Chicken, Wendy's, Applybee's Ribs, Me and Ed's Pizza Place, Panago Pizza (really scrumptious, if only I could afford the franchise), Arby's, KFC... we had to make do with burgers and fries (not on my list of favorite foods to eat when in a bad mood, or any mood, for that matter, unless it's gourmet burger and crispy onion strings/rings).Panago Pizza, now that is one Canadian resto I truly miss. Anchovies, shrimps, sun-dried tomatoes, 5-cheese, all the wonderful pizza toppings you can't find at your local Pizza Hut. The Real Canadian Superstore Deli also makes a mean take-home pizza. Thin-crust, smothered with pepperoni, blanketed with mozzarella, 8 slices of genuine pizza goodness for all of CAD 6.00 (HKD 40). None of the frozen boxes in Great or Wellcome can beat that. Come to think of it, not even the HKD45 personal pizza in Cafe O or Wildfire comes close.
Speaking of Pizza (and Pasta), we tried Casa Nostra on Caine Road last Sunday. Out of curiosity, out of pity (it wasn't a SOHO staple, but looked quaint enough), out of hunger, and a hankering for Italian. Should've known we were in for a big disappointment when I read the lunch specials (fish frittata, or fish omelette the waitress had the temerity to announce, thereby rendering it mediocre; pepperoni pasta; rib-eye with fried egg, EGG???!!!!). Had carbonara (again, the specialty. i love ordering specialties. if they suck, then rest assured everything else on the menu will, too), which, while not fantastic, was better than average. A good-sized portion of fettucine was tossed with traditional egg, butter and bacon sauce. Very rich. Bolognese (CIBO rules!, need i say more?). Scampi with lemon sauce (faint, faint lemon taste, overcooked smallish shrimp). Noodles were al dente, which is a plus, but everything needed a dash of salt, pepper and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to make them close to palatable. Never again.
Back to my humble lugaw and wonton noodles. slurp, slurp!