An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
17 August, 2023

So at the end of my last post, I mentioned wanting to talk about Shanghai noodles, and that that was somehow important to me.  Well, alright.  Let’s get into it.  Pre-first of all, apparently it was not Shanghai noodles but rather Hong Kong noodles.  So there’s that.

First, Chinatown.  I loved living in Chinatown.  Jared less so, it must be said.  But I loved it.  I’ve written plenty about the location, how it afforded me an easy walk over the Williamsburg bridge to my favorite metal bar, Duffs; or to Niki’s place.  How I could walk pretty much anywhere in Manhattan from there, and usually did.  But also central to the Chinatown experience was just the food. 

So much great food.  Congee, a sort of rice porridge, in the winter or when I was sick.  These fried, log-shaped donuts which were great for breakfast or for dipping into congee.  Hand-pulled noodle soup of any number of varieties.  Five-for-a-dollar dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling (while they lasted).  And so much more.

There was this place, I forget the name now, directly across the street from our apartment on the SW corner of Orchard and Hester.  Last time I was home, I discovered that they’d gone out of business, which kind of broke my heart.  Anyway, that was pretty much my spot for everything apart from hand-pulled noodles and dumplings (neither of which they did).  It was the place I did my most adventurous eating, trying things I’d never had and never heard of before.  Although the truth is, I was never as adventurous as I would have liked to have been; or should have been, for that matter. 

In any case, the food was a revelation.  Even the dishes which were not new to me tasted different.  The flavors were more intense, more nuanced.  I feel like I want to say it was more ‘authentic.’  But a) that’s snobby and b) what the hell do I know from authentic?  What I do know is, it was a Chinatown spot for Chinese people.  Most of the customers in there were Chinese.  The menu was Chinese first, English an afterthought.

The point is, it kinda spoiled me for Chinese food for ever after.  Now, on LI or even just non-Chinatown parts of the city, Chinese food tastes either bland or overly sweet, generally devoid of nuance.  In Berlin?  Well, actually, there’s a place on Kantstraße that does it right.  But apart from that, good luck.  In any case, ‘white-people Chinese food’ just doesn’t hit the spot anymore (though of course I’ll gladly eat it and I still love me a bowl of wonton soup).  And again, I have no idea what relation this food bears to that which is actually eaten in Mainland China (or perhaps Hong Kong?).  But to go back to that troubling word ‘authentic,’ it is at least authentic to Chinatown.  And I miss it all the damn time. 

Fast forward to the present, where I’m constantly trying to learn about and experiment with (ugh) ‘authentic’ Chinese cooking.  I’m learning, albeit very slowly.  And I don’t know if I’ll ever really get it ‘right.’  But am I at least turning out some tasty dishes. 

Now as many of you know, my standard day-to-day lunch is a bowl of miso soup.  This is Japanese, of course, but it’s the same part of the world at any rate.  And as I’ve probably written, I load up my soup with a bunch of veggies.  Almost always some kind of cabbage and then some mix of mushrooms, radish, zucchini, whatever happens to look good/fresh on the day I’m shopping.  And for a long time, I’d whisk up an egg (with chopsticks, not an actual whisk) and drizzle that into the soup, rendering it a miso-egg drop affair.  Which I just love.

But lately, I’ve taken a break from the egg.  See, what I had been doing for the longest was, having a little side-bowl of rice with kimchi.  I did that every day for a long time.  And then I kinda got tired of it.  So I decided to swap out the egg for noodles.  The only thing was, trying to find the right kind of noodle.  I started out using Japanese ramen noodles.  But these tended to be more expensive, come in smaller packages and generally seemed to be more high maintenance.

So then I started experimenting with other noodles.  Now look, I can’t read any Asian language.  But I fancy myself as being able to tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and Korean scripts when I see them.  (Telling the difference between Vietnamese and Thai, on the other hand, is beyond me).  With that in mind, I started experimenting with noodles whose packaging seemed to me to be written in Chinese.

The first ones I tried were too thick.  And because they were too thick, they were also too starchy.  Now, in theory, the solution to this – and not even the solution, but just the right way to do things – is to cook the noodles in a separate pot, strain them, rinse them and then drop them in your soup.  But like, this is my everyday lunch.  I can’t be bothered.

So I went back to the Asian market and tried a different variety of noodle from the same brand, but this time a bit thinner.  Better, for sure.  But still too thick, still too starchy.  So the search continued.

Next time at the Asian market, I spotted this altogether different package.  The noodles were super thin, which is exactly what I was looking for.  But while they were in the general noodle section, they were sorta next to the Chinese noodles rather than with them.  And I notice that the name on the package includes the word ‘Viet,’ although the Asian text appears to be Chinese.  Also, these noodles were more yellowish in color, like an egg-noodle, rather than the bone-white of the previous two I’d tried.  So I figured, what the hell?  I bought a package and brought them home. 

Made my soup and just dropped ‘em right in at the end.  They’re so thin, they cook in like a minute.  And when I say thin, I mean like angel-hair pasta for example, or maybe even thinner.  And they’re just…fucking perfect!  Not only were they the right thinness, they weren’t starchy either.  And the taste?  So good.  But also…wait, what’s this?  Super familiar?  What’s happening?

Rewind to Chinatown.  So we’ve all had Chinese noodles, right?  I imagine most of us are thinking of our favorite Lo Mein right about now.  And you could get lo mein in Chinatown.  But if you ordered a noodle soup, that’s not the kinda noodle you’d get.

Stop.  I gotta talk about the concept of noodle soup.  Noodle soup is quite possibly my most favorite thing ever.  And it doesn’t matter what kind, right?  My mom’s Ashkenazi chicken noodle soup.  Or just a can of fucking Campbell’s chicken noodle.  Or the chicken noodle you get at any diner.  Or Vietnamese Pho, which is a rice noodle.  Or Japanese Ramen.  I live for fucking noodle soup.  And year round, too.  It’s never too hot for a bowl of good noodle soup.  It’s just so comforting, so soothing.  Plus, slurping noodles off a pair of chopsticks is just plain old fun. 

Though apparently there’s science behind that.  Because let’s be honest.  In western culture, we’re taught that slurping is bad manners.  But apparently in many Asian cultures, you pick some noodles out of the soup with your chopsticks and slurp them up into your mouth.  Manners don’t enter into it.  The science is simply, when you do this, you’re cooling them off as you eat.  You know, so you don’t burn your mouth.  It’s fun and practical!

Anyway, early in my Chinatown experience, I see that my spot’s got what they’re calling ‘noodle soup’ on the menu.  Plain noodle soup.  Wonton noodle soup.  A half-dozen other kinds of noodle soup.  So I order one.  Because of course I do.  And I’m expecting…I dunno what I’m expecting.  I guess something familiar.  A normal size portion of soup, just, you know, with noodles in it.  But that ain’t what it is.

These things are huge.  Massive.  If you get it in the restaurant, you get a bowl that’s no joke double the size of whatever ‘normal’ bowl you’re thinking of.  If you get it to take home, you get a quart (or whichever is the ‘big’ size container) of the soup itself, plus the noodles on the side (so they don’t get soggy).  And this is meant for one person!  But also, the noodles are these super thin noodles like I’ve never had before.  And they’re delicious.  They just taste different.  I can’t explain it.

But you see where I’m going with this?  These noodles I found are exactly the same noodles I used to get in my Chinatown noodle soups.  That was a fucking revelation, let me tell you.  And now, that’s my go-to.  Every day, into my miso soup goes a portion of these wonderful noodles.  At some point, I suppose I’ll start going back and forth between egg-drop and noodle, for variety’s sake.  But while this is still new (or old and new again), it’s noodles every day.  Couldn’t be happier about this. 

So then what about this question of Shanghai noodles versus Hong Kong noodles?  First, we need to go back to my old spot across the street in Chinatown.  They had this thing on the menu called Hong Kong Beef Stew.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw that.  Well, actually, I’ve completely forgotten the first time.  But I know the impact it had on me and so I’m re-creating the memory according to what it ‘must have been,’ Thucydides style.[1]  I saw that and was like, “Well, I fucking love beef stew.  So while I have no idea what this is, I’m definitely gonna order it.”  Turns out it wasn’t ‘beef stew’ in the way I had imagined.  The broth, such as it was, was actually rather thin.  The beef in question was, I’m pretty sure, tendon.  As such, even in a stew, it could be kinda chewy.  I feel like there were also carrots, maybe radish or some other veggies.  And of course, these very same noodles.

Well, I fucking fell in love with that.  It was probably the thing I ordered more than anything else at that place.  I would often get it before going out to build a solid foundation (Grundlage) in my stomach in anticipation of a night of drinking.  (Though I’d often also get something rice based, the idea being that the rice would (theoretically/scientifically?) absorb a bunch of the alcohol).  The point is, I fucking loved it and central to it were those noodles.

I also tried to persuade other people as to the merits of this particular dish.  I persuaded no one.  To a person, everybody found the meat too chewy and just overall not so nice.  (If memory serves, I feel like Charlotte would always get this omelet over rice thing with some kind of rich, dark brown sauce I was never able to identify.  C, you remember what I’m talking about?)  I fucking loved living in Chinatown.  Clearly it wasn’t for everybody.  In any case, aside from being central to this Hong Kong Beef Stew (of blessed memory; where will I ever find that again?), it was also in the noodle soups.

Fast forward again to now.  And I find this video on TikTok for something the content creator is calling Hong Kong Noodles.  She’s pitching it as this really easy meal you can make in 15m.  Which you can.  It’s essentially a stir fry.  But there’s no meat or hearty veggies, so it’s easy prep and fast work.  It’s just noodles, green onions, bean sprouts, garlic and the sauce.  The sauce is water, light & dark soy, oyster sauce and sugar.  It’s delicious and easy.  You just gotta be careful not to overdo it with the sauce, which is easier to do than it might sound.  It’s gotta be subtle.  Anyway, I love it.  And key to it all, of course, is these very same noodles. 

So now I’ve got them in my soup and in this stir fry.  And the taste, the texture, the mouth feel, all of it…it’s like being back in Chinatown.  I mean, I don’t claim for a second to make it as good as you can get there, let’s be clear.  But it’s pretty close.  Close enough to make me super happy and to bring back a lot of good memories.  To say nothing of filling the ol’ belly in a very satisfying way. 

Tonight, I decided to improvise a bit.  I’ve lately been playing with a ‘Chinese style’ braised pork belly.  I was gonna write about how I make that, but apparently I did that already back in November.  So, moving on.  Next up, normal stir fry routine.  Tonight, I just used a non-stick pan (too lazy for the wok).  Now the pan’s got all the drippings from the (braised and removed) pork belly.  Tremendous.  Throw in the white parts of some green onions, ginger and garlic.  Then I added some white (daikon) radish and mushrooms. 

While this is going, cook up two portions of these glorious noodles.  Remember, they go quick.  Drain, rinse and toss them into the pan.  Toss back in your pork belly.  Add in the chopped up green parts of the green onions.  Add in your sauce at the very end, not too much.  Stir/toss and you’re good to go.  And let me tell you, fucking fantastic.  Again, I don’t know if it would pass muster with a person trained in the Chinese culinary arts.  But I feel like pretty much anybody else (who eats pork) would be more than satisfied.  I sure as shit was.  But the key, of course, is these fucking noodles.  I can’t stress how happy they make me.

There is, of course, a next logical step to all this.  Namely, to try my hand at my long-lost and still-beloved Hong Kong beef stew.  I’ve googled some recipes.  Apparently there’s a particular sauce I need, but I’m pretty sure I can get it at ye olde Asian market.  And the beef tendon, which will be harder to secure.  I may have to compromise there.  But that’s the next culinary undertaking and I’m quite looking forward to it.  Last post I made a big deal about how finding a community of Yiddish speakers makes me feel at home.  Well, strangely perhaps, so do these fucking noodles. 

Speaking of my love of soup, I was talking to my tandem partner the other day.  And she asked me if I’m still eating soup every day.  I told her I was.  Then she asked, “Even in summer?”  And I’m like, “Of course!  I love soup in any weather!”  (If I’m using Gen-Z slang correctly, I believe “I’m in my noodle-soup era”).  And she’s like, “You’re a real Suppen-Kaspar.”  Um, okay.  Wait, what?

Then she explains that Suppen-Kaspar is the main character/title of this old German nursery rhyme.  And while she couldn’t remember the nursery rhyme itself, she clearly remembered the name.  And just by the sound of it, she figured it was a fitting epithet for a Suppen-fresser such as myself. 

Later, naturally, I decided to look the thing up.  I found it easily enough.  Sure enough, it’s a sort of nursery rhyme out of the Struwwelpeter collection of ‘children’s’ stories.  (They’re fucking horrific and often end in the death of the child in a given story as a way of teaching the listening children a lesson).  Anyway, I find it.  It’s short, just four strophes of 8, 6, 6 and 4 lines, all rhyming couplets.  Turns out, the putative protagonist, the eponymous Suppen-Kaspar, in fact does not want to eat his soup.  Indeed each strophe ends with his adamant refusal to eat his soup.  And of course, this coming from the Struwwelpeter, he gets thinner and thinner until, in the last line, he straight up dies.  Huh, okay.  It seems, if anything, I’m the anti-Suppen-Kaspar.  Who knew?

I went to Chris’ today.  I had talked him and Esma into watching Spaceballs with me and so today was the day.  He cooked us a really nice lunch of goulash to start with, which was pretty great.  Then we watched the movie.  At first, Chris was like, “Are we watching in German?”  And was like, “Are you kidding?  You guys need to see this in the original!” 

(Basically as long as I’ve known him, me and Joschka have been talking about watching Spaceballs together twice, once in English and once in German.  Seems he grew up with the movie too.  But neither of us have ever seen it in the other language.  So that’s been a goal for over ten years at this point.  Still waiting.  Anyway, apparently I’d told Chris about this, which is why he thought I’d want to watch it in German.  But no, it was critical that they see it in the original).

Anyway, Esma asked if we could still watch it with English subtitles.  Why not?  That turned out to be worth it even for me.  There were a couple of throwaway lines I’d never noticed before until I saw them written out.  In any case, it was fun.  That movie never gets old and they seemed to like it, though the things that made Esma laugh were not necessarily the things that made Chris laugh and vise-versa.  Me?  I love the whole damn thing.  Normally, I’m not a huge fan of getting together to watch movies.  They (along with Dženita) have been doing it for quite a while, but I never go.  This one was worth it though.  Maybe I can talk them into more Mel Brooks somewhere down the line.  We’ll see. 

Chris also came by on Wednesday to help me bring home a ladder from the Baumarkt.  Since the day I moved in, I knew I needed a ladder.  But I just kept putting it off.  Then, earlier this week, the light bulb in my living room died and I had no way of reaching it to change it.  The ladder couldn’t be put off any longer.  My idea was basically that we’d carry the ladder home together, one person at each end.  Not so much because it would be heavy, but because it would be unwieldy.  Like, you might turn and accidentally knock over seven people.

In the event, it turned out to be super fucking light – I don’t know if it’s aluminum or what.  So Chris just grabs it and throws it under his arm and is like, “I’ll just carry it.”  Neat, thanks, my dude.  I offered a couple of times to take over, but he was all, “I got this.”  Who am I to argue.  Anyway, it was super helpful.

I sometimes joke about him being like the ‘most German’ German I know.  And in a lot of ways, he so is, bless him.  But in this way too, he’s super German, and it’s not a way that has made it into any of our American stereotypes.  He’s a guy who will often say, “Listen, if you ever need any help with the apartment, bringing stuff home from the store, whatever, just let me know.  I’m happy to help.”  But like, it’s not pro-forma with him.  He really means it.  So then when I texted him to ask if he wouldn’t mind helping with the ladder, he’s just like, “Yup, no problem.  How about tomorrow?”  He was the same way when I moved out of Köpenick.  Just a stand-up dude.

Guitar-wise, the Suite Española is coming together nicely.  I’m up to the fifth movement already.  Not that I’ve mastered the first four.  I’m sorta working on them together.  But it’s coming back to me.  Starting to sound like real music in places.  Still a ways to go before I get to the Canarios, which  is the final movement of the work.  But it’s fun.  I just like the piece.  And the Bach 999 is getting to be fairly solid as well.  Also, I’m starting to get the cello suite prelude under my fingers and even memorized, though there remain a few trouble spots.  I don’t practice as much as I’d like to, but even so, I’m pretty happy with where things are at in that department.  Just gotta keep doing it. 

Greek.  I finally reached out to Josh about doing a bit of bible study.  I’ve written down several questions about things I don’t quite understand that I’d like to discuss.  He still seemed quite open to the idea.  In theory, we’ll do that next week, but we haven’t settled on a time yet.  So I’m quite looking forward to that. 

Also, it’s weird how much of this shit is just in our language.  Okay, not our language, in the NY Jew department.  But like, general English apparently.  So today, I was listening to an interview with the author Barbara Kingsolver.  And she said two things that were direct quotes from the NT (weird to hear them in English having only read them in Greek).  I forget what one of them was, but the other was in relation to her becoming an author, how she needed to put her work out into the world.  And she said something like, “I’m not supposed to/don’t want to ‘hide my light under a bushel.’” 

Now, if I’d heard that a few months ago, my reaction would have been, “Pretty sure I know what you mean, but that’s like a weird way to say it.”  Thing is, I’d just read – and puzzled over – exactly that phrase in Luke (and once previously in either Matthew or Mark; I forget).  It was one of those, “Well, the language is clear, but what does it mean?” kinda things.  Exactly the sort of thing I’m hoping to discuss with Josh.  But now, hearing it context, I was like, “Oh shit!  That’s what that’s about?  Neat.” 

Which was sorta gratifying, honestly.  I mean, back when I started reading this book, one of my stated goals was just to familiarize myself with this text that is so central to Western (goyish) culture.  To just learn a little bit more about the way many of the people around me see and understand the world.  And just like that, boom, something new.  Something I’d either never heard before, or else heard and paid no mind to.  But now it’s like I’m in on the secret.  Not that it’s like a great secret or anything.  Just cool to have added that layer of understanding. 

I’ve written before that one of the things I love about Jules Verne is, every time I go back to him it’s like putting on a pair of comfy slippers.  Like, you read enough of the guy and you just get comfortable and familiar with his style, his voice.  And I’ve read over a dozen of his books by now, so I feel like I know his style pretty well.  But anytime I read a new author in a foreign language, there’s always a warmup period.  A period where I have to get used to the person’s style and vocab.  Which usually means, the first few pages (or even chapters) kinda go by with me not fully grasping all of the finer points.  And then, eventually, I get into the flow of it and it’s fine.

It’s been this way with the NT fellas as well.  Switching to Mark after Matthew, it was like, whoa hang on, what?  It’s the same language, but also…not the same?  To give one example, Mark seems not to like using names when he can avoid it.  Even Jesus’ name.  He’ll just go super heavy on the pronouns.  It’s a whole lot of “And he said to him” or “They said to them” kinda stuff, without actually introducing by name who any of these He’s and Him’s and They’s and Them’s are.  (I’m sorta curious how that gets translated, since it would make for really convoluted English).  It took me a while to get a feel for it, but after a time, I just did.

Now with Luke, it’s a whole new ballgame.  While still well within the confines of what George calls “Dr. Seuss Greek,” I just got the feeling straightaway that his style was more ‘literary.’  Which I guess is another way of saying more grammatically complicated.  It took me longer to get a feel for his style, but I’m mostly pretty good with it now.  Every now and then he’ll write something that I’ll feel the need to check up on in the English, but like 99% of the time, I turn out to be right.  Still though, there’s plenty of times where I’ll need to read a sentence two or three times before it clicks.  Other times I’ll wait til the next day to re-read an episode I wasn’t sure about.  For whatever reason, sleeping on it usually does the trick.

There continues to be strong evidence, however, that reading this shit every day (combined with my weekly Homer readings plus whatever I’m reading with George) is going a long way to just making me much better at reading this language.  I want to give an example, but it’s gonna be way down in the weeds and since I’m pretty sure nobody reading this has studied any Greek it’s gonna be a waste of time.  So I’ll try to keep it short.  But do feel free to skip this next paragraph.

So Luke does this really neat thing that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before and am therefore wondering if it’s specific to Koine (or even just to him) or if I’ve just missed it previously.  But he’ll use the preposition ἐν with a dative articular infinitive and an accusative subject to introduce a temporal clause at the beginning of a sentence.  Or the same thing but with a genitive to introduce a purpose clause.  It’s pretty neat.  But also, I’m pretty pleased with myself in that I figured it out on my own.  Assuming I’m right and I’ve never actually seen these constructions before, I just sorta rolled with it.  The first time I saw it, I was like, OK, it kinda has to mean this, doesn’t it?  But that’s weird.  And as it kept coming back, I was sorta reaffirmed in my reading as it seemed to work the same way every time.  Eventually, I looked at some translations to check my work, and sure enough, it was doing exactly what I suspected.  So to put it another way, it seems my Greek is at such a place right now where I can be confronted with an entirely new grammatical construction and just get it.  That’s a pretty good feeling.  Anyway.

All of the foregoing was written between July 9-13.  A couple of things to catch up on.  First, I had my first bible study with Josh.  We scheduled an hour, and it just flew by.  We had so much fun and both agreed we really want to do it again.  I fucking love Josh.  In advance of our reading, I emailed him a bunch of questions I had that I thought would make for good discussion.  I figured he’d just sorta read the verses I’d singled out and show up with his general knowledge.  (His dad was a preacher, so he kinda grew up with this stuff.  It’s not his personal area of expertise, but it’s kinda in his bones).  Anyway, he actually went a researched a bunch of things.  Dude, came correct. 

I definitely learned a lot from him, though I’ll spare the details.  He also confirmed some of my suspicions, amongst which, Luke is definitely considered the most ‘lyrical’ (his word) of the…what do we call them, gospelists?  I could go on about this, but this post is already quite long.  Suffice it to say, we had a blast and I can’t wait to do it again.

Two other things, both relating to the family vacation.  Because I just got done with this epic family vacay.  Vienna, Prague, Nuremburg, Bamberg, Berlin.  It was great.  Great to spend time with the fam, great to see new places, we even made new friends.  Really it deserves its own post, which I may or may not get around to writing.  But as I say, two things from the vacay that make sense to mention here.

One.  So we’re in the gift shop of the Alt-Neu Synagogue in Prague; the one where legend holds there’s a golem sleeping in the attic.  Anyway, we’re in the gift shop.  And I’m standing in this narrow space between a shelf and the counter.  And this Hasidic dude squeezes in behind me.  Why?  I dunno.  At first I thought maybe he was trying to get past me to another shelf or maybe even behind the counter.  But he just kinda stops behind me and says, “Shalom.”  Um, ok.  “Shalom.”  And then I tried to move out of his way.  But he just kinda stands there and looks at me.  “Ivrit?” he asks.  ([Do you speak] Hebrew?).  “No, English?”  He shakes his head and for a moment says nothing.  Then he looks at me and says, “Yiddish?”  I have no idea why he thought to ask that.  How Jewish do I look, anyway?  But ask he did.  So I’m like, “Yeah, Yiddish!”  Next thing I know, I’m schmoozing with this random Hasidic dude in Prague.  A real native speaker, with an accent I wasn’t used to, there were a couple of spots where I had to ask him to repeat himself.  But overall, I managed pretty well.  I introduced him to my parents, upon which he made a point of telling them they had a voyler zon, ‘a good son.’  (Though ווויל is quite a bit more nuanced than simply ‘good,’ but whatever.  The point was, it was high Jewish praise, albeit formulaic praise).  Turns out he’s a soyfer, a religious scribe.  So by the end, he was naturally trying to sell me a mezuzah, trying to get me to tell my parents what he does in case they wanted to buy anything.  I mean, may as well play to type, right?  I asked him if he had a card, but he didn’t.  So he gave me his number, but like, without a country code.  Honestly, I could do with another mezuzah, and given the backstory, I’d be happy to buy one off him if the price isn’t insane.  So when I have time, I’ll see if I can actually get a hold of the dude.  But all that’s beside the point.  The point is, I randomly wound up chatting in Yiddish with a native speaker in Prague.  That was pretty fucking cool.  For sure a personal highlight of the whole damn trip.

Two.  Saturday night, I went with my parents and brother to the above mentioned Chinese place on Kantstraße, i.e. the only place in town where you can get ‘real’ Chinese food.  I’d been there before.  With the fam, and also with J&Z and Anne on my birthday just before everything shut down for the pandemic.  We chose to have dinner there to show solidarity with our Chinese neighbors, given all the shit they were getting for Corona.  A couple of other times as well.  Previously, I’d always gotten a pork belly noodle soup, which…just amazing.  But this time I noticed – I don’t know how I never noticed it before – they had something on the menu that they were calling a Cantonese noodle soup ‘goulash.’  Goulash.  Beef stew.  Could it be?  Could this be the Hong Kong Beef Stew I’ve been dreaming about for nigh-on a decade now? 

Omg, you guys, it was!  The sauce, the beef tendon, the fucking noodles!  All of it.  It was perfect.  And so fucking good.  Maybe even better than in Chinatown, in that a) it was a proper noodle soup and b) the beef was better braised, so more tender; and the fat…just wow.  I was so fucking happy.  So that’s it then.  That’s my go-to Chinese joint, and my go-to dish.  Just too bad it’s on the other side of town.  For the record, everybody else loved their dishes.  They all agreed it was better than anything back home (on LI, anyway).  Like I said above, more delicate, more nuanced.  So that was a real win right there.

And I guess the last thing – since this is primarily a Berlin focused blogue – last night, the last night before everybody went home, I had everybody over for dinner.  The parents and Justin, but also my aunt Margaret and her friend Renate.  Renate is this Austrian woman who lives in Vienna, but who used to teach with Mag in Brooklyn.  She was kind of our tour guide in Vienna and then came with us to Prague.  We liked her so much, we asked her to meet us in Berlin, which she did.  She’s one of the ‘new friends’ I mentioned above.  Anyway, we were six for dinner.

My first real dinner party in the new apartment.  It went really well.  I was in the kitchen working for most of the first two hours or so.  So people were just chilling in the garden/courtyard, chatting and drinking wine.  Apparently they’re big fans of the garden.  I think Mag and Renate felt a little bad that I was working while they were chilling, but my mom explained that that’s how I wanted things.  And I was glad not to socialize for a bit.  I like cooking for people because I like sharing my cooking, but also because while I’m cooking I get to be left the fuck alone. 

I made bruschetta and caprese for apps.  Tried something new.  I pre-salted the tomatoes and onions for about fifteen minutes and then gave them a rinse.  The idea being that the salt would draw out the excess water and give the tomatoes a more intense flavor.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do a control set of unsalted tomatoes, so I couldn’t really compare.  But it was pretty tasty and everybody seemed happy, so this might be the way going forward. 

For the main dish, I made my zucchini lasagna.  I’d originally planned on doing a saltimbocca, until I realized I didn’t know where to get proper prosciutto.  But this zucchini lasagna always makes a ton of food, easily feeds me for eight nights.  So I figured that would be good to satisfy six people.  I guess it was pretty good, bc that shit got housed.  Everybody had seconds and some even had thirds.  All that was left at the end was a tiny little square. 

It’s a weird dish, in that it’s in no way complicated but also kinda labor intensive.  You’ve got to cook up a big pot of ragu (in this case, tomato sauce with ground beef, onions, carrots and mushrooms.  Brown the beef first and remove.  Then do the sofrito, which is the Italian version of a mir-poix; the mushrooms I just dumped in once the sauce was properly going).  Meantime, you’ve got to slice the zucchini into strips.  And all the while, you’re soaking the lasagna pasta so it’s nice and soft by the time it goes into the pan.  But also, you’ve got to periodically check in on it and make sure the noodles are sticking together.  And in this case, I was prepping the apps while the ragu was doing its thang. 

To put it another way, it’s one of things I love about Italian cooking.  Minimal ingredients, though they’ve got to be fresh.  It doesn’t require a high degree of skill or training, but it does require a lot of attention and ‘love.’  You’ve got to be stirring, tasting, keeping an eye on things.  But it pays off in the end.  I’m always gonna think whatever I cook could somehow be improved upon.  But I was pretty happy with this one.  And based on how everybody else ate, I guess they were too.  Beyond that, just as a dinner party, I felt like it worked out pretty well.  So that kinda gives me some confidence to be doing more of these.

OK, last thing.  Sunday night, we went to this Azerbaijani joint in my neighborhood.  We discovered it basically by accident last time my folks were in, in January.  We were coming back from a concert and we walked by this place which had a picture of lamb chops on the sign outside.  Lamb chops are my mom’s favorite dish, so we decided to try it.  When she got her lamb chops, and tasted them, she was so happy she literally stomped her feet like a little kid with excitement.  Super cute.  So based on that, I figured we ought to go back. 

And we did.  The six of us, plus Esma.  It was great.  Everybody loved what they got.  I mean, this place is really fucking good.  Plus, Esma is chatting up the wait staff in Turkish, which was fun.  She fit right in, too.  Like, sometimes she’ll be giving me the business in German.  And my dad, while he can’t understand what she’s saying, knows exactly what she’s doing.  And he’s basically like, anybody who’s gonna tell this punk to shut up is always welcome at our table.  (He might describe that differently, but that’s the general idea). 

Anyway, it’s a great spot and just one more thing that makes me love my neighborhood.  We did a bit of NK that day.  We strolled through THF and we had cocktails in Schillerkiez at this place me and Joschka like to go to.  We people-watched the hipsters.  We got a lovely bit of Azerbaijani-Turkish culture at the restaurant.  Renate commented that you would never see garbage on the sidewalk in Vienna the way you do in NK but also that it was clearly a place where everybody could just be themselves without fear of judgement.  In other words, I feel like my peeps got a warts-and-all look at my ‘hood.  And I liked that.  Because I love this ‘hood.  Yeah, it’s got warts for sure.  But it’s got personality too.  And as I’ve said countless times, more than anywhere else in this city, it’s the place that feels most like home.  So I’m glad to they got to share in that.

To finish back at the resto.  Everybody loved their food.  Justin got this mixed-meat platter which included chicken wings; he said they might be the best non-Inn Between ז׳׳ל wings he’s ever had.  My mom, of course, loved her lamb chops.  And at the end, she declared that it was official.  This place now needs to be a required part of every visit going forward.  How can you not love that?

Right, well I guess that’s as good a place to stop as any.

זײַ געזונט

[1] Thucydides, 1.22.  He talks about his process for recording ‘speeches.’  He tells us that, since it’s super hard to recall word-for-word what was said (they didn’t have tape recorders after all), he does his best to write what ‘must have been said’ given the context (τὰ δέοντα, lit. ‘the necessary things’).  This was kinda central to my whole Master’s thesis, which is why I’m writing about it here.

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