Saturday, September 20, 2008

Commissary # 2

Here is the path from my apartment building that leads out into the school.  On the left is Commissary #1, and on the left Commissary #2. Lida hires two different catering companies to feed the students.  Commissary #1 is more Shanghainese, has lighter, more local fare, like wontons and noodles.  Commissary #2 is more traditionally Chinese, with a variety of dishes and rice.
To the west and behind the Administration building we are, right behind the curves of the library and media center.  You can see my apartment building at the top, Commissary #2 to the left and Commissary #1 to the right.
Luna took me to eat lunch that first day after I landed.  Groggy and trying to orient, she chipperly led me down the path.  'Let's go to #2.'  As a creature of habit that's the one I go to. For pretty much every meal.  With the 15 hour difference and the jet lag, I am awake to hear the early cock's crow at around 4:30 am and have been getting to Commissary #2 at 6AM, when it opens. 
It's 8 tables deep and 16 tables wide (8 x 16 x 4).  It amazes me the masses of folks it can accomodate, and superfast, too (if friends don't let friends cut in line).  Here is breakfast:
Lots of breads and light cakes, but also stacks of steamers, loaded with both meat and vegetable bao.  The also have plain bao (man to) available, and sometimes they'll have the foldable kind that you can stick a fried egg into the center.  They vary from 30 to 80 fen.  (100 fen = 1 RMB).  I've gotten so good at dividing by 7.  The prices keep blowing me away and I guess I really am Chinese at the core because if the price is good, it tastes better.
Here's some preparation.  O look at all the glorious dumplings, waiting to be cooked.
Then there are vats and vats of rice porridge, also known as congee, and to the Cantonese, jook.  One of them is plain, and one has century egg in it.  Since the food and fillings tend to be on the salty side, I've stuck to having the plain.  One bowl is 70 fen, and it comes with either pickled radish, or salted mustard greens with soybeans (edamame).  I switch off between the salty and the salted, and try to put only half the portion in.  
Today it's pickled radish, a veggie steamed bun (that has the salted mustard green in it) and a tea egg.  Tea eggs are hard boiled eggs that have then had their shells cracked and then stewed in tea.  It's a Shanghainese specialty.  It always reminds me of my Ma cuz she used to make a whole pot of them and eat one or two as a quick meal.
This is the magic card that gets deducted from.  This total is from lunch or dinner cuz it's a whopping 6.50 RMB (usually breakfast is around 1.20 RMB, which at 7 to 1 is less than 20 cents).  My card is credited with 250.00RMB every 25th of the month.
The card also works at this little convenience store, right in the commissary.  You can get basics like toiletries, mini-notebooks, sodas and snacks, fresh fruits like asian pears, fuji apples, or honey pomelos (oro dulce?), and yes, tea eggs.  You never really need cash, unless the machines are down. 
This is pretty much my breakfast every morning.  Right in the middle of it, I down an Omega 369 fish oil pill.  I bring my own water.  The bottle is from the 'nongfu shan something' which means 'farmer's spring.'  I just keep filling it with my big jug of water at home and chilling it in my mini-fridge.  And since I'm done with breakfast by 6:30am (it's 6:30pm in NY and 3:30pm in LA), I usually have a mid-morning snack as I'm reading the internet, to tide me over to lunch. Did you know that food is very important to the Chinese? 
Yup, still got mooncakes, and they're still delicious.  I have it with jasmine tea.  Come lunch:
It gets packed.  It's serious food for lunch and dinner:
The masked ladies are ladened with ladles, and have very good technique, scooping forehand from there closer side, and then able to reach across and scoop backhand just as proficiently.  They can make big scoops of rice too.  I usually just ask for a small scoop, it's 30 fen.  This here is a weekday spread.  They usually have more greens and variety.  Today's weekend selection is more limited, but still pretty tasty:
On the left is textured tofu with chili flakes.  The middle is a kind of zucchini with egg, and then there's sliced seaweed with tiny bits  of ground pork.  Really tiny.   And this meal is 6.80RMB--delicious!  

My only reservation is the salt and MSG situation.  Not to be an obnoxious American or anything, (because I am duly appreciative of having this food available to me 3 times a day and my not having to cook so that I can just do my work and stuffs), but I am extremely thirsty after eating and the MSG headache does creep in.  I can't exactly request 'low sodium'--it ain't that modern yet, and what do these kids have to worry about high blood pressure.  So I, when no one's looking, rinse some of the food with my water.  It might make a bit of a puddle in the tray compartments, but it just looks like...uh, extra sauce, yeah yeah.  I caught someone watching me do this--only one of us was embarrassed and hint:  it wasn't the American.  I swear, not so much headache anymore and not as thirsty.  (Or maybe I've adapted.) And it's not every bite. Some days are not as salty as others.  And there are ways around it.  For instance in the zucchini egg dish, the eggs seem to carry all the salt, so they tend to get left in the puddle. Since this is the one-child generation of students, brought up in a time of prosperity, they tend to be picky with their food and only eat what they want.  Yeah it weighs on my waste conscience, but it's either the egg, or my head.

I certainly do not do the rinse when I'm eating with others.  Though just today, I invented the bath: when one compartment is empty, I rinse the bite over it, and then I bathe the other bites in the new water, until it gets too salty.  That way I don't have to pour as often.

Not pictured here is the lady with the plastic container who wipes the tables and catches the food bits in her container.  She sits there as the eaters eat, and waits for them to leave their tables and then she wipes.  It didn't feel right taking a photo of her.

Also not seen are the three dishwashers that the tin trays are self-bussed to.  It was awkward for them when I gave them my tray and I would say 'Thank You.'  One would meekly, in his or her country Shanghainese accent say 'No need.'  When I told Winner about this, she said that no one thanks them.   I still do.  If they look at me.

When I stacked my tray today (cuz the dishwashers were taking their meal), I saw that I was not the only one with 'lots of sauce' in the tray compartments.  Someone else had done the rinse too... 

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Blogger Ms. Gu said...

omg... is that ku gua... bitter melon? with eggs?

my mom used to work in a cafeteria... too many thoughts. the food looks great.

wo heng du ji ni (jealous of you, yo)


September 22, 2008 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Alice T. said...

Hey Ms. Gu--

It's actually just plain old cucumber w/egg. But, the do have ku gua upstairs, with black beans sauce. You need to bring this food to the south, eh? Isn't ku gua the long lost cousin of okra?

September 24, 2008 at 6:20 AM  

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