Second-hand Memories

They say that I was awful at Cantonese when I was very little. Not that it has improved drastically over the last twenty years.  I had bad intonation and limited vocabulary and spoke to my sister only in English. This, also, hasn’t changed.

Having an older sister is useful in discovering memories of yourself you never had and which your parents have already forgotten. Anecdotes of fevers, whining, fears of monsters at the window… All of the following is remembered by my sister.

When I was one, the two bones in my left arm were broken, my parents were told, while crawling around (very vigorously?). Social workers came to our house to investigate and to see if the cause was child abuse.  My parents had to temporarily replace the padded mahjong table and chairs they were using as my make-shift crib with a real crib they had to borrow from my aunt.

I don´t think anybody really found out what had happened exactly.  My sister told me that I would stay at my aunt’s house during the day at that age; she was unofficially the Chinatown babysitter because she didn’t work.

My aunt also babysat a pair of cousins, a boy and a girl.  They spoke mandarin. My time spent there resulted in me babbling phrases in perfect mandarin at home, one of which I frequently mimicked was: “Bu yao da mei mei.”

My sister remembered asking my mother, “What is she saying?”

“Don’t hit your little sister.” Probably something my aunt used to repeat to the mandarin-speaking boy.  Perhaps that had something to do with my broken arm, who knows really? The resurfacing of these little bits of information after the course of the years is like finding gold. Perspectives change. Memories alter, adding pieces of you to yourself.

Food, food, food

My taste buds have been thoroughly fulfilled this week, even though this sometimes proves to be a challenge in Madrid when eating out. To find good Asian food (the height of good gastronomy), especially, is a task that requires some research, recommendations, adventure, and the possibility of being disappointed. This is the fun, and sometimes annoying, part about living somewhere so foreign — the lack of the options we are so used to as Americans makes us crawl the city looking for something we are familiar with, or something we want to become familiar with.

Three restaurants we’ve been to this week:

Nipon Taro is a nicely decorated, very decent Japanese restaurant located on Calle Serrano 213, very close to where I work. The greatest thing about lunch hour in Madrid are the fixed menus, which can range usually from 10 to 15 euros for a starter, main course, drink, and dessert. I had been to this restaurant before and had tried their sashimi and sushi platter — all very good, from what I can remember. This time I tried the bento menu, which came with miso soup, various maki, vegetable tempura, and chicken teriyaki. Everything was very fresh and delicious, and all for only 12 euros, wine and green tea ice cream included.

We also went to a Korean restaurant called Han Gang, on Calle Atocha near metro station Anton Martín. I had only been to one Korean restaurant in Madrid, near my house, and I usually order the menu de degustación there, which comes with things that are definitely not korean, including tempura and fried rice. En Han Gang, there are actual burners on the tables for you to cook your meat. We ordered kim-chi, bulgoki, some other spicy noodle/ rice dishes, some sake. Food was great, and company was even better. 🙂

P.S. I like how if you read the reviews for this restaurant, there’s one person that says this is a good “restaurante chino.” He might as well have said “Asian food.”

If Royal Cantones restaurant were closer to me, I would become a regular, weekly patron. However, it’s located on the opposite end of Madrid, near metro Almendrales on Calle Olvido 92. The first time I came here last year, I was so comforted by the Cantonese-speaking waitresses and the familiarity of the food — finally, real dim-sum! And dumplings, Chinese veggies, buns, chow fun, everything that I’m used to at home. I felt like I was suddenly not in Madrid anymore. Since then I’ve become a big fan of this place and have come here several times, and the food is always sooo good, so fresh, so yummy, and at an excellent price. The waitresses are also very friendly. This is real Cantonese cooking, and I’ve been so pleased by the food there that I’ve given up on other Chinese restaurants.

P.P.S. And of course, how can I forget the Salon de Té in Antón Martín, which serves us wine, fruit, and shisha as we laze around on oriental rugs and pillows, sharing experiences and shooting the shit…

Next-up on the food challenge… finding a Vietnamese restaurant that serves Pho.