This may be what the entrance to heaven looks like.
It's the second floor to Commissary #2, the eating facility where I get 250 yuan credit to eat to my heart's content. The first coupla weeks here at Lida, I was glad to eat the traditional meals, lots of tofu permutations, baby bok choy, seaweed, fish and peppers, rice. Then one day, facing the doors and taking a pause mid-bite, I noticed stairs to a second floor. Is there more food, I wondered.
Ascending the stairs, I could hear what sounded like a huge vacuum. It echoed through the big hall for one minute bursts and would then halt. I come upon a similar configuration as downstairs, but sparse. The same four-seater tables, but then off to the right, partitioned behind frosted glass, a private dining area, even a couple of large round tables. There are covered with green table cloths.
I approach the window and find the huge vacuum sound to be the healthy fire, gas-stoked under a huge wok. Noodles are being toss-fried and then steamingly scooped onto plates on order, and then the wok is rinsed, the fire stoked again, this time to fry rice with eggs, the velocity with which the elements are stirred insures a mouth-wateringly delicious pile of lunch.
It is to the right of the wok that my eyes land--a cook who is pulling a mound of dough as wide as his own arm span. He pulls and pulls and then works it like a jump rope, spinning it a coupla times before he twists it all back together and then gives it another pull. He does three rounds of this ; by the third time, the dough is naturally stranding--delineating into noodles. He then plops it into a huge pot of boiling water.
For 4 yuan, you get an ethereal bowl of these pulled noodles, or la mian (la meaning pull and mian meaning noodle--it can disguise itself in a romance language). With it, either sliced beef or braised beef, or sauced potato, or minced snow vegetable, or a fried egg or tofu and a nice spicy broth.
The upstairs of commissary #2 is indeed more specialties--a bit pricier than the downstairs where the ladies are putting scoops of food on steel trays. Here you can also get oval orange plates of shanghai delights like braised pork shank with stewed vegetables, greens with 'wood ear' mushroom, fish fragrant eggplant, green beans with minced pork, sliced pork ear, five-frangrant dried tofu and celery and a whole bunch of other local dishes I'm not sure of.
There's even a section with individual pots of rice noodles, cooked on the spot to order:
I haven't tried this yet, because I cannot get past the la mian. The first time I tried it, I was in heaven. The fresh noodle with the spicy broth had a tenderness unlike those cooked with dry noodle. It seemed like it was gone in three bites. Or let me be candid, three slurps. That along with some greens and a scoop of the chili paste. O me goodness. I now have a date with the la mian counter every Friday lunch, after my grueling 'outward bound' schedule of 9 class periods on Thursday (it's actually only 6 and a half hours of teaching). It's what gets me through.
And I have to get to the counter by 11AM, before the students break for lunch, because then it becomes a madhouse and a mad wait. Once, before I knew to come before the rush, it got tense at the la mian counter. The troops were hungry, and the cook was not pulling fast enough. Well he was pulling fast enough, but the fellow who scoops it from the water and then adds broth and the meat was moving extra slow. It didn't help that the hungry students were starting to bark at him--'Get me my braised beef noodle now! Hurry up!' The louder the demand, the slower he would move. 'C'mon give me more beef than that! ' An Elivra-hairdo'd girl asks 'Where are my four bowls? My friends and I have been waiting the longest!' It was tense and uncomfortable. The serving fellow even walked away for a while. I know these kids get what they want when they want, they're the only child at home. But the entitlement and the shitty treatment of the workers, who are about their same age but from less fortunate backgrounds, is a real appetite killer.
Alas, they are at his mercy. They get their la mian when he comes back around. And they are humbled with waiting. Once they clear, I get my bowl. My appetite immediately returns.
I need lots of tissues to wipe me sweat, cuz I like it hot!
Labels: la mian