Saturday, November 03, 2007

Taipei, day 15.

My mother's godmother invites us to dinner, and we meet at a restaurant in the basement of Breeze Center, where we've gone grocery shopping earlier during this trip and where I now remember browsing around with my cousins and trying (unsuccessfully) to talk J. out of horrendous Prada shirt that he insisted on buying, before going off to eat xiao lung bao in one of the basement restaurants. My father's mother died when he was six; I only met my mother's mother once, and she died when I was eight. So Grandma H. is the closest thing I have to a grandmother, along with C., another close family friend who lives on the East coast. (That's a story for another time). Grandpa H. had a bad fall not too long ago, and he looks frailer, but otherwise the same as I remember. They both look as they always will in my memory, as they did in my childhood photographs that I flipped through earlier this afternoon. I am leaving tomorrow, and this is my last dinner in Taipei, my last chance to see them until I come back to Taipei again.

My trip ends the way it began, with a bowl of tangled yellow noodles in a clear pork broth. Taiwanese food. There are pig's feet braised with peanuts and red-cooked pork belly with bamboo shoots and a sort of omelet with pickled radishes, a round golden sun. (In the past two weeks I have eaten enough pig's feet and pork belly to decimate a litter of pigs, enough bamboo shoots to populate a small forest). There is three-cup chicken, so-called because the classic recipe calls for one cup each soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar, with ginger to add depth to the sweet-salty-sour richness of the sauce. A bowl is filled with tiny fried fish with peanuts and a few slices of hot peppers. There are vegetable marrows, tiny ones, cooked simply until soft and melting. It is the kind of cooking common to roadside stands, only served in a coolly modern restaurant in the lower floor of an upscale shopping mall. Fruit arrives, a plate laden with guava and starfruit and honeydew melon and that magenta-skinned fruit with the black-seeded white flesh whose name I can't remember, and the sweetest pale pineapple, but I resist the pudding or sweet taro soup or deep-fried bean-paste-filled dumplings.

Soon I will be home again, and I will think about all the things I ate on this trip, and wonder how I can change the way I eat and cook half a world away. I will buy tofu from that shop in Chinatown and ask K. where she gets that dark reddish brown wild rice and stir-fry my leafy green vegetables with shreds of ginger. And I will try to eat more green vegetables and less meat and more fish and try to braise pork belly in soy sauce with wine and ginger and that yellow rock sugar that melts and thickens the sauce until it is almost like syrup. More likely I will go back to macaroni-and-cheese and croque monsieur and steak and roast chicken, with vegetables as an afterthought. But maybe not.

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