The Noodle Soup Stand

Written by Life

Posted from: Beijing

This Imperial Palace, said an internet guide to Chinese tourism, was built in 1772 during the heyday of the Qing Dynasty and destroyed by war disasters in the 19th century. Upon which grounds, Emmanuel Goldstein and I discovered on arrival, a commemorative landfill has been built in homage to kingdoms and conquerors past.

The irony of that may have been lost on me until about three minutes ago, but my dreams of a refreshing hike [cough cough coghmmunism] ending with myself soaked to the knees in what could have been none other than gooey dog remains [cough cougltural revolution] was not.

Truth be told, I enjoy a bit of adversity and the occasional mishap, mainly because blogs about Care Bears and rainbows are about as gripping as Shirley Temple’s diary, and I’ll be damned if my life is going to rotate on an axis of tap dancing and adorable freckles.

The only possible reason I can imagine to envy Punky Brewster and her pig-tailed ilk is for an existence devoid of Chinese noodle soup vendors.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Picture a student… going on a journey beyond Sight and Sound… That’s the signpost up ahead…

“Noodle Soup,” it says. “Choose from a variety of ingredients.”

Now, I’m usually on Red Alert for the noodle soup thing and steer clear if at all possible, because in this country if you don’t keep your guard up, some shyster of a waitress will sidle over and “slip you the bowl” at every meal. But Marta was on a diet, and every anorexic hopeful knows that soup is top-notch fare for starving yourself without ever feeling hungry. So off we went.

Marta (approaching): I’d like to order some soup.
Chinese noodle vendor (CNV): What kind?
Marta: Well, do you have beef and chicken? And tofu?
CNV: We’ve got all of those.
Marta: How about vegetables? Onions, mushrooms, spinach?
CNV: Yup.
Marta: Perfect. I’d like all those in the soup, please. No noodles.
CNV: No what?
Marta: Noodles. Just leave out the noodles.
CNV: …
Marta: A soup with vegetables, meat, and no noodles.
CNV (coldly): Impossible.
Marta: Why?
CNV: Because, (points to sign) we are a *noodle* soup stand.

As we left, I turned and looked behind us to see the employees shaking their heads at each other in disgust. Oh, I thought, you just wait. I’ll eat your noodles. With a FORK.

On the other hand, forgoing the starch experience doesn’t seem to be in the stars. Partially because regardless of vigilance, compared to the scourge that is glutinous rice, noodles are a mere ass-rash. But mainly because I can’t cook.

I hail from a family of kitchen and home-deco Macgyvers. My aunt Wedi can breach NSA security armed only with a can of baby corn and crème of tartar. In the dark places of the world, my Tia Nena was given the name Avocado Pit Ninja, and every browning bowl of guacamole from here to Santiago sweats little tomato seeds at the mention of her name.

I bring the napkins.

I may not be able to take out nine enemy operatives with a spatula, but when presented with a challenge, such as cooking Mexican food for my Chinese friends, I’d like to consider myself up to the task. So taking into consideration their cultural predispositions while planning my meal, I settled on Spanish Rice.

“Hmm,” said Fey, standing over what looked like a bloody car accident in a smoking sauce pan, “I didn’t even know you could cook it that way.”

It was then I knew something was amiss. Because when you, a foreigner, amaze the Chinese with the culinary delights your alien hands are able to produce from a cup of white grain – white grain, in fact, which they’ve been grinding and pounding and steaming and boiling into every conceivable thing but a kosher toilet for some thousands of years – you’re not cooking rice. You’re burning dinner.