Fast Food

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Survival / Culture /

Luxury & Servitude

Luxury depends on slavery. We’re supposed to have eschewed the latter. I say that in embracing the former, we necessarily embrace the latter.

Modern slavery is several removes from holding people in chains: so we don’t recognize it to be slavery: the government did it; not us: the culture, the economy did it; not us.

Yesterday morning I’m making Choo-Choo friend rice: a favorite breakfast. I steam my rice Chinese-fashion at dinner time so it’s always perfect. Routinely I make more than enough so I’ll have an adequate amount left over for breakfast rice. In the ‘fridge over a couple of nights the rice solidifies into a single clump. The secret to the perfect steamed rice is to wash the rice in cold water, massaging the grains with your finger tips till all excess starch has rinsed away. It takes care to drain the washed rice without losing a single wonderful grain down the drain. I let the destarched rice sit for at least twenty minutes before proceeding. That gives me time to shred the meat, roll cut the veggie, marinate the meat … I don’t time the time by the clock. I use the clock only to know the earliest moment at which to test the rice by ear. I hold the pot to my ear. If I hear snap, crackle, or pop, the rice is not sufficiently hydrated for cooking. The first step in the preparation of perfect rice is done at room temperature and takes time.

More time is needed for the left-over rice. Joyce Chen says that the well-run kitchen has no left-overs. Wise: unless you want fried rice: then the left-over rice is a necessity. It isn’t “left-over; it’s saved! I want the cooked rice to have “matured.” Now I have to massage the rice again. Gently separating the sticky grains is more time-consuming than rinsing away the starch in the first place. Only when the grains are separated, nearly doubling the volume of the rice, do I mix in my egg, my salt, my sherry …

It’s been decades since I’ve been in New York. It’s even longer since I’ve eaten at the non-pareil Bobo’s. Someone must have died in that immortal family. One day I bee-line for Pell Street … and they’re just gone: from grandpa to granddaughter. But the Say Eng Look was still exquisite and not far away.

Say Eng Look
thanx gonyc
Is this the same restaurant?
It’s not the same location.
Time passes.

Would it still be its own equal today? I doubt it. Great cuisine depends on extensive labor. You need slaves to massage the rice, to shred the ginger with mathematical precision. The French restaurant had to charge $100 per dish while the Chinese restaurant could still sell it for $8: the difference being that the Chinese kitchen was full of illegal immigrants: they’d massage rice all day long for their own bowl of it at night.

Mom could sometimes cook well because Mom has always been a slave. Put a time clock in for Mom and the family breaks down. Mom could survive only by having n daughters, also slaves, as her choppers and scullions.

No: machinery does not help. I made a pasta carbonara for some friends not accustomed to being so impressed the other week. I’d asked the wife to help with the chopping. In her own kitchen, out came a chopping machine. Some of the green pepper cubes were cubed, some minced, some butchered. A sharp knife cuts clean. This machine had bruised every edge, squashed some of the pieces. Instead of sitting cleanly on a dry board, these pieces sat in pepper juice. The dish was good anyway. It would have been better done the old fashioned way: with infinite care.

Mama, under the best of circumstances, is a voluntary slave.

So then: am I saying that prior to kleptocracy, no one had ever had a good meal? Imagine the people who painted the Lasceaux Caves hunting for truffles and finding them. No one ever had a better meal than I cooked for my son on the darkened mountain side and everything was burned black. But King Louis wouldn’t have been allowed to taste it. And King Louis wouldn’t have just carried the gear up the mountain. Taste is at least partly in the taster.

Once upon a time we gathered our own food. Sitting by my side, you could have wiped your truffle cleaner than mine. If I’m crunching grit between by teeth and you’re not, we’re not tasting exactly the same thing. The beetle I’ve found to eat with my truffle might more than compensate though. I envy the whale, the snook … eating shrimp everyday. The Marquis de Sade should have been jealous of the birds Haematopodidae, the oyster-catchers! Ah, but does the snook ever have his shrimp styled scampi? or with a little salsa, a little horseradish? Does the whale know the joy of Tabasco sauce? note

False start of yesterday:

A man’s home is his castle. A chicken in every pot. Forty acres and a mule. One man, one vote. A man’s wife is his chattel. Children are chattel. …

Where do these ideas come from? Are any of them natural?

I think of these things all the time. This morning, cooking one of my favorite breakfast dishes — fried rice (specifically, Chinese Choo-Choo Fried Rice) — a bunch of familiar perceptions shuffled into an unfamiliar constellation which I attempt to reassemble here.

When I was a kid, the “nuclear” family was the ideal even among the majority that had never heard that phrase. The Bible had Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, daughters not being worth mentioning. In my “family,” there was Mom and Dad, my sister, and me: two kids: one of each. Dad took the train into the city; Mom baked bread, wiped our bottoms, had dinner ready when Dad came home. At least that’s the way it was supposed to go. In the case of my family it may have worked that way once or twice, but not regularly. By the time I was conscious enough to notice and remember things with any reliability, Dad was dumped on the lawn by any neighbor who found him fallen off the curb at the railroad station. Mom couldn’t bake bread; she was slaving for an income to get the power turned back on. If anyone baked bread, it was me and my sister.

A feast day would come: Thanksgiving. Oh boy, no school. Mom planned to get up at six to start the turkey. But of course her boss didn’t drop her off till ten PM the night before. Mom slept through the alarm till eleven. My aunt (her sister) and my cousins were due for the feast at three. Luckily, they seldom hit the time within three or four hours. My father wasn’t the only one who spent a lot of time passed out on the lawn. The car would roll up in the dark. They’d wipe the spittle from my aunt’s face before bringing her up the walk. (My uncle’s absence wasn’t explained not by him being drunk on the lawn but rather off in Korea where we don’t know whether he was drunk or sober.) We always had our three PM feast by at least nine PM. The adults would still be sitting at the table at midnight as the Drambui or Grand Marnier went round and round. B&B and cream was also a favorite. My aunt showed us some stunt where you drink the booze and the cream in two equal streams: simultaneously.

Feasting took all day. It’s preparation was scheduled from dawn till three. It occurred from eleven till eight or nine. We ate from eight or nine till eleven or twelve. The nuclear family: extended for a special occasion..

My friends had Dads who arrived home standing up straight. Some of their Moms actually did bake bread. Whether they did or no, my friends were typically paired as Sonny and Sis, Sis and Sonny. In all cases, indoor cases, that is, Mom was the cook. In summer, the preparation occasionally moved outdoors and B-B-Q tongs were handed to Dad.

If that’s not what you experienced, it is what you saw in the movies: right?

Meals were eaten at home. They were prepared by the women. The women were good at it. Standard Operating Procedure.

After the war, one pizza joint became two, then four. We’d go to the restaurant Mom called “Chinese” four out of five times and “the Chink’s” (by average) on the fifth. I learned where the ice cream parlors were. My second soda jerk position was in a joint that passed hot dogs and hamburgers over the counter by the hundreds. I guess MacDonald’s had been in business for a while but I never saw or heard of one until their sign already said multiple-millions sold. In my joint, Shore’s in Rockville Centre, the cooks were all men but no one expected them to be chefs. At home there had been several conversations iterating the saw that the best chefs were men. My father occasionally had cooked a mean egg, but I guess my childhood had never experienced a “chef.”

Once the army got us, the cooks were male. Ah, now we see the essence of civilization: no place for women, no women at all. The mess hall never once served sauerbraten mit kotoeffel klaes [forgive my childhood non-literate German, who knows the spelling, not me], but what it did serve was generally competent: sometimes actually good. I had one experience at the Camp Drum mess hall where the turkey was the best I’ve ever tasted: not just competent: exquisite. But by that time I had experienced chef’s. Going to college in the Apple gives you a leg up on a lot of things.

Notes and such continue in Food Neighbors.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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