Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Yum Cha.

We had to go shopping.

Dreadful, I know, but it had to be done, according to T.

I couldn't see it, but she insisted I needed new shorts for summer and a couple other things, and she needed this and that.

'Just don't make me try anything on,' I warned, ineffectually. (I have an aversion to trying on clothes in shops. If it weren't for women, most men would simply wear the same clothes over and over again until they turned to rags and fell off. Then we'd go right on walking around naked. Until it got cold. But let's deal with that when we come to it, huh? Let's not worry about the future, huh?)

So. Shopping. Jetty Surf. Cool. Billabong. Cool. Rip Curl. OK. David Jones. OK. A few other shops. Hmm. Target. Starting to fidget. Three more shops. Then some other shop filled with exactly the same clothes as the previous three. I'm turning into a zombie.

Fortunately at that point in time T. decided we were hungry and needed food instantly.

We were right there in Little Bourke Street which contains maybe a thousand Chinese eateries, while the laneways off Little Bourke Street are home to maybe a thousand more. That could be a slight exaggeration, but when you're standing in the middle of Little Bourke Street at lunchtime on a Friday, that's how it seems.

T. was in a Yum Cha kind of mood, so we joined the throngs at Dragon Boat, perhaps Melbourne's most popular Yum Cha restaurant.

Yum Cha is great because you can start eating milliseconds after you are seated, if not before. (We had to walk past the broccoli station where the broccoli chef - yes, there is a broccoli chef - prepares magnificent bundles of broccoli stalks glistening - in their special secret sauce - an almost irridescent green. Note to self: stop using so many parentheses.)

Tea comes first, we drank maybe 85 cups during the meal. It helps the digestion. And the powers of exaggeration.

The first trolley rolled past, pushed by a softly-spoken, smiling Asian girl. Sticky rice? Yes, please. Sticky rice encrusted around chinese sausage and all wrapped up in vine leaves. Pull it open, inhale the steamy aroma, add a dash of soy sauce, maybe some chilli, and you're in rice heaven, babe.

Next: seafood on beancurd. Delicious steamed white fish pieces sitting on slippery, moist beancurd mats. More soy. Try to pick that up with your chopsticks and you're in big trouble. Use the spoon. It's OK. You're allowed to.

Then some of that broccoli.

The place was filling fast. Chattering groups of old Chinese women, smiling and waving to the waiters. Business people power-laughing through their chopsticks. Students. Shoppers. Mothers with prams. Teenagers.

Steamed prawn dumplings were next cab off the rank. Then steamed corn dumplings. There were even peanut dumplings - crushed peanut with an assortment of herbs, coriander etc. You can choose fried dumplings if you wish, but steamed is better.

Who am I to criticise anyone else's chopstick technique? I picked up half a dumpling, the corn one, I think. It was drowning in delicious soy and chili sauce. The stuffing, a little round ball of yumminess, dropped out of the skin, bounced off the white linen tablecloth like a soccer ball and completed a perfect dive into ... one of our shopping bags. Oh, great - soy and chili all down T.'s new white summer top. I reached down and fished it out. Phew. Just missed. You can't take me anywhere.

Oh, look - here come the chickens' feet! My favourite! That's funny, the waitress announced the dish twice. Hmm. Maybe because I'm not Chinese. I can imagine diners, not familiar with all the manifestations of Yum Cha, just saying Yes! Yes! Yes! in orgiastic - or possibly even orgasmic - delight to every trolley that comes along and then passing out in horror or running out of the restaurant at the sight of large, gelatinous, yellow, deep-fried chickens' feet being placed before them. So - 'Yes, thank you, yes, I did hear you, and we will have some of the CHICKENS' FEET thank you!' Or rather, I will have some of the chickens' feet. They were just as I remembered, tasty, slightly sweet, delicately spiced and totally yummy. And, anyway, why waste them?

Then the dessert trolley completed its first triumphant lap of the floor, bearing coconut-encrusted goodies, little tarts with glazed custard and other sweets. Not for me. No way. Couldn't fit in another thing. Maybe another little cup of green tea. It helps the digestion.

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