Midnight Snack 

Friday, August 06, 2004

Before I forgot my rhubarb stew in Karen's car, we drove up and down Porn Movie's main drag, looking for an open restaurant. It was only ten at night. Nothing was open. We even stopped at the haunted bar. I suggested the Hong Kong tea place, knowing full well that Hong Kong tea drives a four-day wedge between wakefulness and sleep. Jonesy pulled up to the wrong place. Then we noticed the little pearl milk tea place.

Yes, I know.

Here in Vancouver, the morons translate it as bubble tea. This stuff contains tapioca balls, not bubbles. Bubble implies a hollow centre. Tapioca balls start out as pebbles and soften to, if expertly soaked, a stiffened marshmallow. In a good tapioca ball, the centre will be of the same consistency as the outer membrane. I myself have not managed to soak tapioca balls to Taiwanese perfection.

Bubble tea also leaves milk out of the equation and out of the translation: zhen zhu nai cha, where nai means milk.

Our pearl milk tea place - soft curly sofas, fluffly armchairs, a shoji screen, melted lava lamps, and Hong Kong movies projected onto a wall. The drinks - all the bizarre fruit teas I came to love in Taiwan. And little niblits!

I hereby proclaim this pearl milk tea place as my hangout.

It came at just the right time. I am becoming overwhelmed with longing for Asia. I keep fantasizing about quitting my job so I can rush to an onsen or go on one of my cross-Taipei walks again (I manage to clear Taipei in about three hours).

Food is about as close as I can get to Asia from this side of the Pacific. Yet the experience is disappointing. With the exception of Guu, what passes for Japanese food in this town could at the very least be fresh. I rather like California rolls, though I never came across them in Japan during my two years and three visits. Yet rolls, while readily available in Japan, come second to sashimi. You know, the slabs of raw fish. Without the rice to divert your attention.

Sashimi is king.

Vancouver sashimi is a petty bourgeoisie second-rate pianist. It arrives at your table as if it baked in the sun. Sometimes it comes with an ice cube centre. Either way it deserves to be sent back to the kitchen.

Japanese food is so much more than just sushi and no one outside of East Asia seems to have figured it out. In Japan, JJ and I would plan weekend trips based on what we could eat that season. Special mushrooms in Gunma's mountains in the fall, boar soup in the summer, shreds of yuzu lemon in delicate December broths, the freshest oysters and sea urchin that melts like silk in your mouth.

Taiwanese food is even impossibler here in Vancouver. Even more than Japanese food, its borders prevent it from travelling. There are some restaurants - restaurants! snort! give me night markets! - that purport to be Taiwanese here in Vancouver. But their red beef noodle soup is not even spicy. Their oyster omelettes have more goo than egg; the egg is too heavily cooked; and the oysters chewy. Real Taiwanese peanut butter, even in Taiwan a dying breed overtaken by Skippy and its henchmen, is the Nutella of the Asia. Export it, damn you!

Instead of fantasizing of debauchery as a polyandrous wench dallying with Joaquin Phoenix and Adam Beach and Eric Schweig and Kyan Douglas, I daydream about my lovely and doting imaginary husbands feeding me rou yuan.

For Mr. Firemind's online potluck, I thus present this Taiwanese feast.

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