“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
I had originally written this post as a story, with plenty of descriptions and poetic phrases. When I had finished, however, I found that it was much too overdone. Instead of being pleased, as I have admittedly become accustomed to, I was intensely dissatisfied. After a few revisions, I finally did what every writer--any craftsman--hates to do. I deleted the file.
So here, in all its simple glory, a new post.
There is an street near my dorm which is lined with food vendors and fruit stands. Needless to say, this street abounds with students during mealtimes. Off this main street, like capillaries, are small alleys with yet more food stands. The first time I ventured down one of these alleys it was raining and I was not in the best of moods.
|Sometimes, you have to be willing to walk down those sketchy alleys to find the best food.|
I stopped briefly at several stands, perusing the food available. Nothing really appealed to me until, I found the pancake stand. Standing behind the counter were two young men. The stand itself was painted a cheery yellow--this should have been my first clue that this place is amazing. The man on the left, the one with the backwards baseball cap, correctly guessed that my Chinese is that of a three year old and asked, "How can I help you?"
His name, I would later find out, is Jùntāo, and he makes killer pancakes.
|They have a pan dedicated just for pancakes.|
It turns out that this type of "pancake" is a traditional Sichuanese dish. God bless tradition.
|A normal person sees a miniature pan with a lid. I know better. I see a treasure chest.|
So, the pancake is made, then fillings are added. As you might expect, there are traditional fillings, which include sesame seeds and sugar, and are, of course, delectable.
|Pancake perfection takes absolute concentration.|
|This photo is the closest one you'll get to a "finished product". My camera was long forgotten when he handed me this pancake.|
Since this is China, this dish has been modernized. On their menu, there are three pages of fillings to choose from, ranging from salad dressing to crushed Oreos. Being American, I naturally tried one with peanut butter and jelly. By my third visit, however, I decided to let Jùntāo choose, which is how I ended up eating a pancake with meat floss and Hershey's chocolate syrup. It was probably the most unexpectedly scrumptious foods I have yet eaten.Not only that, but when Jùntāo cooks, his movements take on a certain flair which makes it apparent that he loves what he does.
At first, I went back for the food, then I went back for the company. In the lull between hordes of students, Jùntāo and I would talk. He likes to bake--he can make superb muffins, but he says that he's had to work hard to get the recipe just right. When I mentioned that I regret not having access to an oven, he offered the stand's oven for my use.
One of our late night conversations--the stand closes at midnight, for some God-forsaken reason--we touched on the subjects of religion, specifically Buddhism--turns out he was currently reading the Diamond Sutra, which is not an easy read--and its similarities with Christianity. Our conclusion: love. Love each other, and do no harm. Both of us realize that life is so much more messy and complicated than that, but give us a break. It was 11:30 on a Thursday night, while he was trying to fill the orders from the pack over-excited high school students.
Anyway, I leave you with a video of Jùntāo doing his pancake magic. Feast with your eyes.