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Yum Cha Cafe with the Wisconsonites

Will Owen | Apr 13, 200807:15 PM

We took our Wisconsin visitors food-shopping in the SGV yesterday afternoon - they needed ingredients to make spring rolls for a party we were throwing, and we wanted to give them the Asian Immersion experience anyway. Wound up at San Gabriel Superstore, and as we were going in Mrs. O suggested we find some lunch, bless her heart. We hadn't been there hungry in a while and hadn't really noticed how that cafe business back in the corner has grown, and then I saw the sign and remembered reading about the place on this board. Of course it was mobbed, this being early on a Saturday afternoon, and the torrent of talk was all Chinese. With a little help from the only gwai lo not in our party we got the system sorta figured out, and I placed an order (in very slow and repetitive English with a young woman who does not speak it) for a bowl of soup, wide noodle, sliced fish, and a bowl of congee with chicken. I paid (about $8) and she filled out a small form and handed it over - of course I couldn't read it - and I joined another mob passing their slips of paper across the noodle counter. In fairly short order I was handed my bowl of soup, which Mrs. O carried to our table, and then after a longer wait I managed to get my original person's attention, pointing to the bowl of congee sitting back in a corner. She handed the tray over to me, but there was no napkin or tableware. "Spoon?" I asked. She did not comprehend then, nor when I repeated it. An old gent next to me said, "Gotta speak Chinese here!" and said whatever the word for spoon is, whereupon she produced spoon, chopsticks and napkin.

Well, it was worth the effort. How something so simple as ribbons of boiled dough, broth, some gai lan and green onion and slices of tender fish can be so intensely satisfying is a puzzle I'll be happy to work on any old time. Someone had swiped the condiment rack off the table, but visitor John did the same to another one and dropped a big glob of that red chile paste onto his plate. I dropped a lesser glob into my bowl and stirred it around, and promptly entered a whole 'nother level of joy. John and Sharon had done their shopping down at the dim sum counter, he getting some assorted veggie and/or seafood dumplings, she a big plate of gai lan, as well as a plate of sticky-rice, bean and sesame-coconut dessert things for everyone. Now, I am not charmed by gluey, chewy sweet rice things, nor do sweet beans please me, but the gummy rice pod with coconut dusted over it and black sesame paste inside was not bad at all. John loved his dumplings, even though he suspected that one or two of his "seafood" items had contributions from animals he'd rather not eat, but what the hey. And Mrs. O's congee was as satisfactory as she'd hoped.

And then we all went grocery-shopping...

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