Taipei Diary. Sunday with the cousins.
We have lunch with my father's family, his two widowed sisters-in-law, and six of my cousins. There are a couple of husbands and sons in the mix, and lately any meal with them usually involves a hotel restaurant with a private room and a very large table. I am the youngest; the oldest cousin is in her early fifties. The next generation of three cousins spans a gap of eight years - another cousin lives in Hong Kong, the only girl - but here they are brothers, the way cousins who grow up together become as close as siblings. It is a precious kind of relationship, one I miss by living an ocean away.
The food moves by in a blur, and what I remember is a selection of sliced meats - kidneys, intestines, gizzards, steamed chicken. There is a whole, giant steamed fish with scallions and ginger and soy sauce, probably rice wine, pure and simple, the classic combination I will have again and again on this trip. Platters of small steamed crabs are passed around, rich and fatty. There are wide, flat, rice noodles stir-fried with beef, scallions, and bean sprouts, rich but not oily like those found in American Chinese restaurants, and a smooth, light spinach soup swirled with a creamy chicken puree. There is more, but this is all can I remember.
For dinner we meet up with my mother's family, my uncle and his two sons, who I grew up with when they lived with us through the rocky pre-teen and teenage years. They are like my brothers. We go someplace simple, a narrow shoebox of a restaurant with three or four floors connected by a steep staircase or a tiny elevator. We start with a soup thick with fat bean-thread (more like bean-rope; I've never seen these thick ones before) noodles. There are cold oysters in some vinegary marinade, a little sweet, a little tart, and quickly boiled shrimp. We each get one whole steamed fish (like the miniature version of the one we had at lunch), one whole fried fish (I like the fried one better; who wouldn't?). Then there is steamed crab (not quite as tasty as the one from lunch), and deep-fried fish balls.
The food is served and eaten quickly, the conversation interrupted by the crunch of shrimp peels and crackle of crab shells. Soon we are finished, saying our good-byes outside in the rain. It might be another year before we are together again.