Destination: New York City
Mode of Transport: Roast Duck
I rolled over to get just a few more minutes of sleep as I knew it was early. I knew this, because the fruit market right outside my window in Chinatown wasn’t making the set-up clatter. The apartment was still dark and it felt a bit damp. It must have been drizzling.
It was the first real cool day of the season, and being under the covers for a few more minutes seemed the only agreeable thing to do. Autumn was surely here; my favorite season as a New Yorker.
My wife and daughter awoke not much later and got me up. I put my favorite high gauge shawl cardigan on. It’s navy, and well worn. It’s missing at least two buttons. I think mostly because I purchased this article of clothing many moons ago when I wasn’t so well centered.
Bailey, my daughter, turned on my favorite lamp; the one nearest our bookshelf. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I continue to use those lightbulbs that you can only find at old hardware stores, but there was almost a holiday glow about our apartment that morning.
Outside my window, I adored all the former tenement apartments, that people including myself, are paying top dollar to live in now. But that particular morning, the romantic part of me couldn’t help but think of the neighborhood as somewhat Dickensian.
A neighborhood of humble beginnings. Looking out, I saw the vendors layered up due to the cold, waiting for the trucks to roll in to unload the delivery of fruit for the that day’s business.
A neighborhood of humble beginnings.
My mind began to wander and I imagined being in London . Suddenly I had a craving for some foods that are associated with cool weather, humble beginning, London, and of course Charles Dickens. My stomach called out for something roasted and something in the gruel or porridge family.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to have dined in Fergus Henderson’s St. John Restaurant in London’s SoHo. Being in London, in the Fall, nearing December, I opted for the goose. The preparation was simple and all about the bird.
The skin was crispy and the meat was tender and perfectly medium-rare. You could tell it was basted for hours and the seasoning was just right.
Though my order was somewhat an homage to Mr. Dickens, the setting was far from what eateries must have looked like in Victorian England. This place was immaculate; so much so that if I dropped any part of my meal on the floor, I would have felt comfortable picking it right back up and continue to eat.
Dickens’ Victorian England
Characters from Dickens’ Victorian England probably shared a roasted bird of the size I was eating with their whole family. I felt like Henry the VIII having the whole thing on my own. Anyway, as a young Mick Jagger put it, “guilt was a wasted emotion”, so I indulged in the moment. However, I was well aware that irony wasn’t lost.
What also wasn’t lost, was my cravings. So my wife Brenda, and I, took Bailey to school and went straight out to eat. With the weather the way it was, if I could have been anywhere in the world, I would have loved to have been in London, but I was a long way from there.
It was also just a little before 8 a.m., so I was a long way to lunch. Luckily, we live in Chinatown and it’s not uncommon to have roasted meats available at such an early hour. Moreover, there is a plethora of rice porridge. Oliver Twist would not have had a hard time asking for “more” (gruel) in my neighborhood.
Formerly Wing Wong
Walking down Mott Street toward Canal Street on our way to one of our favorite eateries, 102 Noodles Town (formerly Wing Wong), there was a chill in my bones and couldn’t wait to warm up. I needed some comfort food. As there weren’t any goose on the menu, I decided to order a quarter of a roast duck.
My wife ordered a porridge (also known as congee in these neck of the woods) with preserved egg and minced pork. The duck was spectacular. The skin was less of a crackling than the goose I had in St. John, but still crispy.
The meat was more aggressively seasoned (mostly soy based and five spice). I’ve had this many times, but on that day, it was most comforting. I had a bit of Brenda’s congee and if the flavors were anything like this one, I was able to imagine why Oliver Twist would want more.
What came to mind, is that depending where you are in the world, this selection of offerings may differ in preparation and execution; but the baseline is the same. It’s meant to comfort on a cold, overcast day.
I found myself humming Morrissey songs all the way back home, as I exhumed fond memories of good old Londontown. I was at ease on a cool September morn.
Food is certainly the vehicle for one’s mind to get away, as is reading a great novel. Via Chinatown in New York, I transported myself to London, even if just for a little bit. One day, when I return to London, I will have a roast bird and surely think of my home, New York, and probably yearn for that roast duck hanging in the window of a Chinese Restaurant.
There will be many more chilly days to come; more roasts and porridge to be eaten and many more memories of wonderful towns in the world. This, like many culinary experiences, in some way become a A Tale of Two Cities.
That evening, satisfied with my day. I wrapped myself in my covers again and thought to myself, that “it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have even known.” – Charles Dickens.”
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