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Friday, 11 May 2012

Saucy!

I'm a saucy person.
Indeed I am.

Seriously – I love my sauces.
I'm the kind of person, who, when asked at a restaurant, "what sauces would you like?" says "everything!" quite shamelessly. It's not only because I'm greedy (though that does, I concede, have rather a large part to play in all of this), but because I don't know which sauce will go best with the food on my plate until I try it all. See? 
(I think I might have just given you unfettered access into the warped mind of a greedy foodie......weird huh?)

I also "collect" sauces. 
There's a large tray in my kitchen – you know the flat object that most normal people use to carry teapots and things from one place to another? Well, mine doesn’t move. Mine has made itself a nice, cosy little home in the nook right next to my hob, and it sits there, adorned with a rather stunning assortment of sauces. There's vinegars and mustards and pickles and chutneys and sauces of all shapes and sizes. And really, these have been "collected," lovingly and patiently over the years from here and there. Many have made it to the "repeat category" which means of course that I need replenishment when a bottle gets over. Which, in turn, means that I absolutely have to go back and find that one stall amidst the maze of stalls, on that one street, amidst the maze of streets in York City Centre (or wherever) where I first got my hands on the original. And believe me, I do it too, like a crazed woman on a mission.

Sometimes it’s not possible to go back to these places just to buy a bottle of sauce. I mean, if it were all up to me, everything would be possible. But sometimes, Sid just says no. Like that one time when we bought a bottle of coriander-groundnut paste in the Congo? I really wanted to go back for more, but Sid would have none of it. Sigh.

Which is when, I use all my charm and charisma to get friends and family to bring me sauces from various far-flung corners of the world. 
And when that fails, I lose all self-respect and just beg.

So frankly speaking, if you ever want to give me a gift I will truly appreciate, it really must be a sauce. I mean, feel free to give me anything, I won’t say no – but if is connected, even in the most tenuous manner, to the sauce-family, you’ve scored yourself some major brownie points cause that stuff just makes my heart sing a little song. 

For instance, lookie here: My parents are in the States right now, attending my little sister's graduation. I’m gutted I can't go, but I can’t because the Home Office has my passport (CTM, Mate etc.) But anyway, they keep asking what they should get me (my parents that is, not the lovely folk at the Home Office), and I keep saying – nothing, absolutely nothing, because my London-sized flat is bursting at the seams. BUT...I say, you HAVE to bring me Bo Ky. In fact, you’re not allowed to cross my threshold, have a sip of water or a nibble of stale bread or get so much as a glimpse of your only grandson if you turn up without the Bo Ky.

Blackmail always works wonders.

Right, so now of course you need to know what Bo Ky is. See, they know what Bo Ky is, having had over 34 years of practice in understanding my funny little ways, but for you all who don't - let me tell you what you are missing!

The New Bo KY restaurant on Bayard Street in New York is a little neon-drenched cubbyhole that was introduced to me by my ‘damn-should've-been-born Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Taiwanese’ friends, Horace and Jyo. So, ever since I’ve known Horace and Jyo (which is a long, long time) they’ve always been a bit obsessed by Asia and all things Asian – I’m talking food, travel, furniture, art, artefacts, Mandarin Chinese, The Buddha, feng shui...
But this love for all things Eastern, combined with the fact that they’ve always had impeccable taste, means that when they introduced me to the New Bo Ky, I was more than a little excited. (Oh by the way, they now live, quite unsurprisingly, in Hong Kong…)

And goodness, this is the essence of why life without friends must be one long painful little crick in the neck. No wonder all the friendless people one reads about are always so miserable. Because friends do all these brilliant little things for each other. And one of the most brilliant things any friend has ever done for me, has been to introduce me to the New Bo Ky. So thank you Horace and Jyo, with all my Heart and S(e)oul….

Oh and in case you’re curious, I haven’t the faintest why the good people who own the establishment chose to prefix the place with a “New.” Because I have roamed the streets of Chinatown like a lost Kangaroo, and if there ever was an Old Bo Ky, I haven't found it

In all probability, they are both really the same place. Just under new management. Which must have, I’m certain, done some very good things in its new capacity. Such as replacing the old formica tables with new ones. And covering up some stains on the wall with pictures of very realistic looking dragons. And changing the name of the place to New Bo Ky.  I don’t know, I’m guessing.

Anyhoo, old or new, it could not get more local than this – the clientele is almost exclusively Chinese and the menu is almost exclusively noodle soup. But before you say “oh how dull” and walk away – let me tell you that it offers over 30 different kinds of noodle soup. Yup, you heard me. There’s thin noodles and thick noodles and flat noodles. There’s egg noodles and rice noodles and soba and udon and cellophane noodles (which I think are made from mung beans, but I could be way off). The soups have tofu if you’re vegetarian and duck or chicken or pork or beef or every conceivable kind of exotic seafood, if you’re not. And there’s tons of vegetables in everything – Chinese greens and mushrooms and bamboo shoots and bean sprouts – so it’s all really hearty and healthy and nourishing.

The MO at the New Bo Ky is such: you order your soup and no one writes it down. They just remember it (even if there’s 25 of you) and bring it to you in five seconds flat. Please don’t ask how, because I have no idea. With your soup comes one soupspoon. And that’s all. (The new management pride themselves on minimalism.) Placed on each (formica) table there is a napkin clip (with napkins) and a communal two-pot condiment holder – one of which contains vinegar and the other of which contains something, which to the uninitiated, looks like hot sauce. And you’re meant to just plonk some into your soup and slurp away.

And so I do.

And become – officially – hooked.

I mean, don’t be fooled people, because this ain’t no ordinary hot sauce! This stuff is the bomb. It’s not really spicy you see. It’s just intensely flavourful – it tastes of sesame and burnt garlic and star anise and cinnamon and it kills me, it’s so good. I’m telling you, it’s the undisputed number one, the supreme leader and commander of all things saucy. It’s King Kong from Hong Kong

The beauty of it is that you can use it for way more than just Chinese food. One tiny quarter teaspoonful will transform a pork pie into crusty-heaven. Add a bit to steamed broccoli or beans and watch what happens. I use it to flavour my hummus, spice up my spaghetti, and add ‘groovy’ to my turkey sandwich. I eat it with plain white rice. I dip my pitta in it and I even – and do it before you judge me please – spoon some over Doritos and bake them in the oven. You’ll be hard pressed to taste anything more fabulous. I tell you, its culinary genius.

The first time I ate at the New Bo Ky, I went through two whole jars of the stuff. When I asked for more, they brought me my bill.

Hmph.

Then I realized you can buy the stuff. They sell them for about $4 a pop in neat little airtight jars. So I started buying them. Somewhat on a regular basis. There was only one small, teeny-tiny problem, though. And this is very important to the flow of my story, so please pay attention: this stuff is so damn good that they know it too. And - believe it or not - they won't sell one person more than two jars. I'm totally serious.

It took me a while to understand this. For starters, the language barrier in this place is absolutely impenetrable, but after much sign language and wild gesticulation I indicated that in addition to the two jars that had been so graciously handed over to me, I wanted three more (which would make a total of five jars). First they just stood there and stared at me, making no move whatsoever to reach over for the extra three, in question. I pointed again, smiling pleasantly. Unfortunately, this was followed by a lot of vigourous head shaking and finger waggling and a string of Chinese phrases, which I reckon were not exactly complimentary.

By now, a small crowd had gathered. I don’t know precisely what was causing them so much amusement, but there were lots of Chinese people, laughing and pointing at me and clapping their hands with glee.

This only meant one thing. This meant that the time to preserve any remaining dignity and flee the scene had passed.

I had crossed the Rubicon.

Now it was a question of Pride.

So after lots of equally vigourous head shaking (on my part) and some choice Hindi phrases of my own, all the while still smiling pleasantly, they finally gave me my desired five jars. But not before I was very clearly made to understand that this was a rare exception and that I was a very special person indeed. Because - wait for this - they didn’t want my money.

Now, let me tell you – even after understanding this, I still couldn’t understand it. This was an utterly new and inexplicable phenomenon. Because of all the attributes I would credit to the people of this great and ancient civilization, refusing money would not be one of them. And yet, this is exactly what was happening. They were refusing my money. Could this be possible?

Was there a problem with the money, I wondered for a brief and panicked moment, staring at the greenbacks in my hand. Was it all fake? Have I just been taken by the ATM on Mott Street?

But no - the money was genuine. 

It was just that the stuff they were selling was worth more than money.  Evidently they thought so, anyway. And so they needed to limit the supply. Two jars per person and that’s that. Non-negotiable. This was the saucy equivalent of gold dust. And they weren’t trading.

So now you understand why, when my parents come, I need the Bo Ky (I think you know, by this point, that I am referring to the sauce, not the establishment, yes?) I really, really need it. I’ve been without it too long. In fact, I have a little calendar in my kitchen and I’m counting down the days until the Bo Ky turns up (the arrival of the parents, by the way, is an inevitable incidental.) Honestly, I can barely contain myself.  And if I sound like a druggie needing a fix, that’s about an accurate assessment.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, it is sadly, the only place where you get that exact thing. I’ve searched high and low and sampled half a dozen sauces from half a dozen establishments, all very ethnic and authentic. And they’re good and all. But they’re not that.

So, I’ll be damned if I settle for four measly jars of the stuff (two from each parent) especially if they are lugging it all the way across the Atlantic.
Not a chance in hell.
I want a dozen.

This is logical. See, it’s one for each month of the year. And, a year, I think is a reasonable period of time before some other unknowing chappie comes my way from New York City, and I get to use my charm and charisma…and well, you know the rest.

Anyway, back to the here and now, I’m sure you can appreciate the gravity of the situation I’m in. I have deep and detailed discussions with my parents. We plot and scheme. And then my dad – my hero! – finds a very acceptable work around.

It’s hardly surprising, really. Because you see, if anyone can compete with the Chinese in resourcefulness, it’s the Indians. Tandoori Chicken and Egg Fried Rice are going to take over the world, you just wait and watch.

So: it will be a covert mission of the most dangerous kind.
This is how they will do it…

First he will go in and indulge in much hand shaking and “ni hao” greeting. He’s very good at this, my dad.  He will try to be highly conspicuous and create a big hoo-ha and make friends and put them all in a jolly good mood. He will buy his quota’d two jars and leave.

Two jars under my belt.

Then she will go in, while he lurks in the shadows. She will endeavour to remain discrete. Which means, no unnecessary displays of enthusiasm or gusto. She will buy her quota’d two jars and leave, more or less unnoticed.

Four jars under my belt.

Then they will go away, two blocks down, to this most astounding place (also introduced to me by Horace and Jyo!!) called Jing Fong , which looks like a wedding hall, but serves dim sum instead. And have themselves a hearty meal of dumplings (my treat).

And then they will go back. This time, she will try and merge with the crowd (if you stare closely enough, she does have some small resemblance about the eyes) and he will go in. But he will be disguised this time. He will be wearing dark glasses and a baseball hat that says “NY Rangers.” And he will walk with a swagger and behave very coolly and nonchalantly. And he will buy another two…

Six jars under my belt.

And then 10 days later, this will repeat this all over again.

Twelve jars under my belt.

Here's a noodle soup in honour of Bo Ky. It's not even close to as good as theirs, but what the hey!

I’m doing plain tofu and vegetables, but feel free to add in any meats you like. Or just email me and I’ll inbox you a recipe :)
Here's what you need:

-1.2 litre water
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 star anise
- 2 cloves
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- ½ tspn dark soy sauce (teaspoon please!)
- 1 tspn sugar
- 2 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 250g dried udon (flat wheat-flour) noodles
- 350g baby bok choy, washed and chopped
- 450g fresh beancurd, cut into 3/4in cubes
- 1 carrot, peeled and sliced

Here’s how you do it:

Dry roast the spices – cinnamon, cloves and star anise – in a pot until aromatic.

Meanwhile, place noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand for 20-30 minutes until soft. Drain. (If soaking does not soften the noodles enough, blanch them in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds.)

Separately, add water, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauces, and rice wine to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Add in the dry roasted spices. Reduce to a simmer and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Strain to remove solids. Add the tofu and simmer for another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The tofu will swell, imbibing the flavour of the soup. Add in the other vegetables at the very end, so they are just blanched.

Remove soup from heat and stir in sesame oil. Ladle broth and vegetables over the noodles and serve immediately.

I’ll let you know if my stealth mission is successful.
I’m rather confident it will be – I am, after all, the progeny of a rather ingenious pair of peeps.
But please wish me luck anyway – when you take a break from slurping your noodles, that is.

4 comments:

  1. Absolutely superb. I am such a fan of your blog. The sauce must be divine and you've captured everything perfectly. Great post - laugh out loud great!

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    1. Thanks Dan, you're (always) so kind! In fact, sooo kind, that maybe I'll even let you sample 1/8th of a teaspoonful when the bottles arrive! ;)

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  2. Dear Ami, thank you, you made my day! It took me back to those wonderful friendship moments that become part of our state of being. I still wander into markets and little restaurants in Hong Kong hoping to find little treasures like Bo ky! Hugs!!!
    I have been reading your blog to keep up with your food, travel, friends, life and childhood connections.
    You write with great feeling and draw us back into the food aspect of life. So proud of you. You go girl.
    With love from Hong Kong!

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    1. Thanks so much for this, Jyo-Jyo. I miss you guys a lot and think of you often...I'm so thrilled that you read and like the blog. I try to write not only about good food (at least I hope I do) but also memorable meals. And I think there's a difference...good food is good food, but a meal becomes memorable for a whole horde of different reasons...all the places you guys took me to were so memorable. And I cant thank you enough! And as for you wandering into little markets in HK - haha, I expect no less from you!!!
      xx

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