I had a late lunch meeting in Chinatown with a couple of my freelance friends today, hence the late post. We had Ramen noodles in a less than salubrious food court rather ambitiously called Eating World. Food courts abound in Sydney, and they’re nasty little places in general, full of mall rats, plastic trays and Golden Arches grime. But food courts in and around Chinatown, well, they are usually a whole lot less offensive simply because the offerings are always so much more interesting, there’s no lingering stench of the Colonel’s deep-fried secret herbs and spices, and there’s less of that horrible feeling of entrapment that comes of being in a place with no windows, because it’s all accompanied by a feeling of displacement and otherness that I always find hugely pleasing, like an especially good surprise. Sydney’s Chinatown – and I know I’ve extolled its virtues in the past, but bear with me – is a really good one, properly alive with a thriving Chinese, Korean, and increasingly Japanese community. And they’re so cool.
For instance. After saying goodbye to the freelance girls, I headed in the general direction of Kinokuniya, a great bookstore that always has everything, including what I was looking for, which was a Wallpaper* City Guide to Shanghai 2009 ($12.94 – now that’s a bargain in any language). Walking up Sussex St, I passed a hair salon packed full of beautiful Asian boys and girls being primped and preened, attended by equally hip stylists in thin ties and Trilbies. I lumbered past feeling oafish and poorly dressed, like I hadn’t made nearly enough effort before leaving the house. These guys had turned hanging out of doorways into some kind of urban art form, and there was more than a hint of performance about the whole scene. In their show, on their street, I was nothing more than a clumsy stagehand, accidentally skidding on a puddle near the curtain, tripping onstage, and then scrambling off again before anyone even knew I was there.
Sigh. I love their youth, beauty, insouciance and style.
The Ramen itself was filling. And famed. The other two girls are both food writers, and D knew about this place Gumshara because it’s been getting some serious press. We were so certain that we’d be fighting off lunchtime hoards that we agreed to meet after 2 pm when the rush would be well and truly over. And we got that bit right. We had a formica kingdom all to ourselves. The Ramen chef was gorgeous, a regal middle-aged man, so sweet, patiently explaining in broken English the difference between one bowl and another as D and I stood studying the picture board menu. Most of them looked exactly the same to the untrained eye.
“Did you know that Ramen has collagen in it?” D asked me while she scanned. “And that Ramen chefs study for seven years before they qualify?”
“No. Really? Collagen?”
“Which is a good thing,” she continued, absently running her fingers across her face, “because I gotta tell ya, after the dust…”
“Yes!” I cried. “Has your skin been really, really bone dry ever since it happened, like the dust just sucked all the moisture out of the atmosphere and now we all look like we’re a hundred?”
D thoughtfully kneaded her face some more.
“So dry,” she said, sadly shaking her head. “It’s been like a rash. A skin disease.”
“We have Desert Storm skin,” I said, feeling my own face now.
The Ramen chef stood patiently waiting to take our order. He didn’t look a hundred. He had perfect unblemished unlined collagen-loving Japanese skin. We envied him his dewy hues for a minute more then finally ordered. J was minding our table, which was pretty funny given the place was almost entirely empty.
When the bowls of collagen soup arrived, we loaded up on Gumshara’s Ramen condiments before doing the foodie thing and taste-testing each other’s orders, also known as the meat and broth swap. It was rich, thick, and tasty. Comfort food. Filling food. In my haste to devour my steaming bowl of goodness, I proceeded to splash vast quantities of Ramen right across my chest area, noodles sliding off my chopsticks and slapping back down into the thick garlicky liquid with juuust the right amount of force to spray out in all directions like a brown fountain. I carefully put my hair behind my ears and studied the brown splotches on my previously white shirt.
“It looks like I’m lactating,” I grumbled, reaching for some water to dab at the stain. “Lactating gravy.”
J watched me soak my shirt some more.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “that’s going to make it sooo much better. Really. Just keep doing that. You’re not making it worse at all, Di.”
I gave up. We all went back to sucking noodles and slurping soup, catching up on all our shop talk and girl goss, Asian food court style.