Saturday, May 20, 2006

Notes to go

An origami ziggurat lilts forward, its hollow spine a ribbed pagoda of trapezoid flaps as if built by Simon Rodia. Towers upon leaning towers of waxed two-ply cardboard bleached white darken the brown gravy within. Underneath, the thermal heating lamp stutters an order to go.

The mother of chef Ming Tsai breathes heavily, flipping spatula and ladle together in clattering harmony. Her dish, a lunch special of stir-fried steel noodles enough to build a thousand miles of railroad track is overcooked but she needs to feed a billion mouths. Beside the wok on the counter is a Tardis of a take-out carton that a whole emigre nation can fit into. She begins to scoop the subgummed melange of moo gai pai just the way the boys over there enjoy. Fragrant steam rises in a billowy cloud that hides Yan Can who is cooking up a tempest in a porcelain teapot while he wails a Cantonese opera about a plane running out of fuel and falling straight out of the sky over Staten Island.

Inside the party room, a network of Soviet nesting dolls disguised as industrial spies trade kulak artifacts for ancient Chinese culinary secrets over a friendly game of strip poker. Boris Badanoff ups the ante to a liter of Kikkoman soy sauce, hoping to bluff with a pair of deuces. Meat cleaver in hand, Hop Sing calls.