Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Talk About Fresh!

A few of the alley restaurants we frequent are very small. In fact, most of these xiao fandian seem to be family operations where all members have their own responsibilities, whether cooking, waiting and cleaning the tables (usually no more than a few), or purchasing the items needed to cook an order....Sometimes right after the order is placed.

While many restaurants do receive deliveries of meat, fish, and produce daily (although the deliveries are markedly different from those in the US, as they amount to a guy riding up on his three-wheeled bike or sanlunche with a bunch of bags of product and dropping them off on the doorstep of the customer), some of the very small operations tend to keep some staple foods on hand but also to head over to the conveniently located produce and meat market on an order-by-order basis to get the ingredients needed for their culinary delights.

My personal favorite example of this occurs every time we head to what we affectionately call "Restaurant #3." On the aside, before we could read the Chinese names of the restaurants in our neighborhood, we would name them ourselves using either a ranking of how much we enjoyed the food or by some other characteristic of the place. While "Restaurant #3" started out as our third favorite place to dine, it quickly rose to top status when we considered the food quality combined with the beautiful personality of the family that runs the place. Anyways, it's real name Pang Shifu or "The Fat Chef" is undoubtedly in reference to the somewhat round young man who dons a white (or somewhat white) chef uniform and assists a man who we think is his dad in the kitchen by hopping on his moped after each order is placed and rounding the corner to the market for the freshest ingredients. After a year of observing this guy (and his tightening uniform shirt...he's obviously trying to live up to his title), I know we all have indelible images of his routine.

Just another realization of the charm that is the alley neighborhood. It may not be pretty to look at, but it is the type of community that all neighborhoods should strive to be. Suggesting to Steve and me of what it must have been like to live in places like Elizabeth, Linden, or Rahway, NJ back in their heyday (glimmers of which we had during our childhoods), these characteristics can only be mimicked by the "New Urbanism." It will take more than a facade of retail beneath high-rise to capture this feel. It will take people who want to interact, who want to spend time just hanging out and talking, who see the advantages of sitting on their front porch, instead of their back deck to watch the people go by.

Fresh produce, fresh conversation, now that's fresh.



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