Monday, October 12, 2009

Taipei Diary. Do It True.

For dinner we head to an old restaurant, Do It True, which has been around since about 1945. It serves Northern-style (Beijing) Chinese cuisine and has pictures of the owners with George Bush (the elder) on the walls. We are having dinner with my mother's godparents, and they have been coming here for some forty years. I always try to see them when I'm here, as they are like my own grandparents. My maternal grandmother died over twenty years ago (my paternal grandparents being dead 13 and 25 years before I was even born); I only met her a few times as a small child and never really got to know her. I have been lucky for a few of my mother's old friends who have stood in her place.

We order, quickly, tons of food, too much food. There are whole-wheat shao bing, round sesame-encrusted biscuits, served hot, which you stuff with sliced braised pork butt (I think it's the butt) or boiled beef shank, like sandwiches. There is a spicy cold salad (spicy like horseradish spicy, not pepper spicy) of celery sticks and another of shredded cabbage and tofu and other unidentifiable things. We have fried pork dumplings that are like potstickers, if potstickers were the size of fat cigars, and sticky dark rounds of sliced red-braised intestines, salty-sweet. A plate of thin pancakes is passed around, to be filled with a chunk of fluffy plain omelet and stir-fried veggies, with a smear of plum sauce and a log of scallion. There is soup with little meatballs and translucent, jade-edged slices of cucumber, a plate of cold hacked chicken, the skin glazed with soy sauce, the meat falling-apart tender.

Soon, all of us are full, declining any dessert save for a plate of sliced yuzu (in other seasons it might be oranges, or apples, or pears). The food is good, but eating with my mother's godparents always makes me a little nervous, because she and her godmother always argue about something. It is hard to watch, but I understand; they're getting older, nearing or just past 90. They are alone in Taipei, their children scattered across the globe. In thirty years I will have the same worries, the same guilt and frustration and sense of duty and love intermingled. It is bittersweet to be with them, but for now, we are together, at the table.

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