Monthly Archives: October 2015

Noodle Village

I have no recollection as to how the subject came up, but I will never forget when my friend Sara told me that one way to tell the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is through the sh- sounds of Mandarin. The subject was relevant to me because most Chinese-Canadian communities, up until recently, traced their roots to regions that spoke Cantonese, especially Hong Kong. The “Chinese” I heard in Edmonton was Cantonese. Similarly, when I was in Vancouver. (And for full reference, Sara and I went to grad school together in Toronto.) I remember seeing the word “Cantonese” written on a restaurant menu or on a strip mall sign, but rarely. Ignorance reigned until someone like a Social Studies teacher rightly tried to overturn it by asking your Chinese classmates if they were speaking Cantonese or Mandarin in the hallways.

The difference still seems relevant to me as I almost never hear Cantonese anymore. Maybe that’s a little bit of a post-1997 China reality? At a recent Sunday matinee or in a New York Times video piece, I cannot escape Sara’s sh‘s.  With my newfound interest in Chinese cuisine, I hear Mandarin even more, as the Sichuan, Xi’an, and Fujian cuisines popular in NYC are not handled by native Cantonese speakers. But the sing-song nature of that language (as pointed out by this video), is still more familiar to me and is what exists in my memories: high school and university classmates, old men on the bus; salsa lessons that oddly took place on busy Saturdays at the Edmonton Chinatown Multi-Cultural Centre.

So, it felt a little bit more like home when I sat down at Noodle Village in Chinatown a few weeks ago and heard the language. The restaurant specializes in Cantonese noodles and soups, the types with plump wontons and mild broths. I almost always go brothless with my noodles if given a choice, so I went with the Duet Hong Kong style lo mein. The duet being my choice of two toppings, of which I chose wontons and shrimp dumplings. I could not tell you the difference between the two. One was slightly smaller? And I think one was shrimp and pork instead of just shrimp. Regardless, the snap of the shrimp within the large dumplings/wontons was enjoyable. The water-logged softness of the dough left along the seam was not. I was given the thicker lo mein without asking, but that wasn’t a problem. I so rarely eat egg noodles that their novelty was enough to keep me interested in the plate probably longer than my stomach would have initially allowed. The oyster sauce atop was largely flavourless, so some doctoring with the salty and spicy condiments was necessary. A bowl of broth is included, and I am ignorant of the correct etiquette. Is it to be eaten as a standalone soup? Do I dip the noodles? I was too hungry to ask. I sipped some broth on its own while it was still hot, then used a few spoonfuls to lubricate the relatively dry noodles. The broth was nice, though, delicate and clear, and I’m sure fine for those who like their noodles served submerged. The abundance of seafood in the dumplings, the light broth, the tender greens, and the lack of any notable fat on the noodles made for what felt like a very healthy meal. Flour is my friend, so the noodles and wrappers do not sully that takeaway. The question remains if it was all that memorable a meal. For the food, probably not. For the resulting language lesson, definitely.

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Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop

I have taken a great deal of pleasure in rewatching Seinfeld since its debut on Hulu earlier this summer. For years after its end I watched it in syndication and that’s where my affection/obsession with it took shape, where it solidified as my favourite television show. I could always count on it to be on at some point, and I could catch an episode and enjoy it on its own. But without proper cable the past few years, that comfort no longer exists. I welcomed the Hulu news. Watching sequentially has significantly deepened my attachment to the show, especially now that I’m a single adult, a single New Yorker, to boot. All of the dating jokes and observations are more meaningful and relevant now, and even 20 years later, they are still so on point. Naturally I became a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan, and when I was first watching, the Larry David connection to the older show was undeniable. But now rewatching both, I’m struck with just how much Seinfeld is his, and how you can tell where he might have started to lose steam and then leave. Definitely a lesser form of entertainment post-LD. I can’t deny that I’m more Team Larry than Team Jerry.

This is not the first time I’ve declared my love for Larry. About 10 years ago, in honour of my feelings and to mark new beginnings in a happy apartment setting, I threw a Larry David party. It was just an excuse to have a proper get together with a bunch of friends and to think of as many Seinfeld/Curb foods as I could. (Mackinaw) peach gum, edible underwear, apple pie, Jujy fruit, black and white cookies (I wasn’t ambitious enough to bake babka). And that with the most sustenance, the Larry David nee Ted Danson sandwich: turkey, swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. On rye, please. Although this sandwich wasn’t grilled, for all intents and purposes, it’s really a turkey Reuben.

Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop in the Flatiron makes a decent version. Of course, pastrami or corned beef is the Reuben norm, but the less aggressive flavour of turkey makes for a less gut-busting, and thus more welcome, sandwich experience. The rye looks too dark in the photo, but it was grilled to perfection, stiff enough to hold everything in place well without being too crunchy. The swiss cheese oozed and pulled upon first separating the two halves. The dressing was creamy and kept any dryness from the bread in check. The tang of the sauerkraut balanced the richness of the dressing and the cheese. And the turkey, although salty and flavourful, was just the backdrop. A Reuben for those who want the condiments to be just as punchy as the meat. A delicious sandwich, but it should not be named for Larry. Too many people would like a turkey Reuben. Larry needs a sandwich that only a sandwich artist could love.

Given the chill in the air that afternoon and Eisenberg’s place as a Jewish deli of some repute, I also had a bowl of matzoh ball soup. Hot and just salty enough, the chicken broth was filled with carrots and celery, and a (too) few shreds of chicken. I didn’t need the broth-logged noodles, but they made for a heartier dish. I get their place. The matzoh ball could have been a little firmer, but that’s a quibble. I will happily have another bowl one day.

Now, do we know if there’s a Palestinian chicken restaurant in the city?