In a quiet alley of Shida University district, there’s a shop that sells congee and ‘convenience’ noodles (方便麵). A single man in his 50s has been dolling these bowls of comfort food for years. But his business may not last much longer.
“The rent is getting heftier and heftier each year. Many stores have moved on and it may soon be my turn.”
I respond with a sad smile. The demand for larger western-style eateries come with the increasing international crowd. But what would local student life be, without slurping a bowl of heart-warming congee after a late night of study?
Ill and feeling sorry for myself, I went to my usual haunt for some comfort food. My small appetite fostered wistful thoughts for the owner.
“Your twenties and thirties are the prime of life – even when you’re not well. I used to spend all night out with mates, then work the next day feeling wrecked. But I could still do it. Nowadays my health is gone and all I have is this shop.”
Taking a moment to appreciate his words, I suddenly felt better. I finished my delicious congee, thanked him, and left to make the most of my prime.
Sometimes late at night near Shida night market, you’ll find an old man selling hand-grilled corn from a rickety street cart.
He makes them made-to-order. The cob is layered with three sauces, slathered with a wooden paintbrush. He regrills the corn with each new layer, controlling the flames with his wrinkled but nimble hands. Once blackened enough by the coal (though never burnt), he hammers a bamboo skewer into the centre, and presents it to his waiting customers with a semi-toothless smile.
This is his only trade, selling corn on the cob for sixty years more. And still selling strong.
I was already out gallivanting around Shida with a friend for a late-night snack before yesterday’s earthquake struck. We ended up discovering some amazing local imagery as we watched vendors get ready for the market day ahead. Lunar New Year festivities is around the corner and no doubt the haze of over-indulging on epicurean delights will bring plenty of cooks vying for fresh ingredients. Continue reading →