Chinatown-San Francisco

steamed-malay-sponge-cake“Nanny, can’t we just go to this Chinese restaurant? What difference does it really make? We’re in Chinatown, it’s all Chinese food.”

The woman who’s stopped us on the street looks at him expectantly and repeats, we should come to her restaurant.

“It’s very good,” she says, “Dim Sum all day,” she says.

I look at Nanny pleadingly. I’m so hungry, the little man is so heavy. We’ve played the following game for over half an hour:

Nanny runs into a restaurant.  My two-year-old says, “Where Nanny?”

I say, “I don’t know.”

All six foot four of Nanny barrels out of the restaurant, red-faced and blustery.  He shakes his head.  He mumbles in his thick British accent, “no, no, no.”

My son yells, “Nanny! Nanny!”

Then we do it all again-and again.

Luckily, Nanny’s not hard to spot.  He has bright white hair and only brought two shirts with him from England to San Francisco for his entire ten-day trip. The green and white striped one he has on now has burned itself into my son’s brain.  A week after Nanny left,  we saw a tall man with white hair in a striped shirt at the museum.  He cried out, “Oh! Nanny? Nanny?”

“Oh, all right,” Nanny relents, “go on.”

We follow this woman into her restaurant.  Nanny takes one look, turns around and shakes his head, “NO NO NO.”

The woman chases after him, “It’s very good! Dim Sum all day!”

“NO! NO thank YOU!”

“Nanny, what just happened there?” I ask.

“I won’t be plucked off the street and forced to eat overpriced Chinese food in a room full of Westerners.”

“Westerners? What’s wrong with Westerners? This is the west. We’re in the west.”

“What you’ve got to do,” he pauses.  He makes sure I pay close attention, “is find a place where Dim Sum is ONE dollar per item and there have to be loads of Chinese people eating there.”

“Ok. Well, do you think you could do that by yourself tomorrow? Because I need…”

“HANG ON!” he yells.  He bolts across the street-a trolly car just misses him.

“Where Nanny?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.”

I’m stranded for another four minutes at least.

“OH E-LIZ-A-BETH,” I hear in the distance. As the cars clear I see Nanny, eyes wide, face gleaming-he’s a new man.  He meets me halfway across the street and mumbles what I can only describe as the following:

‘NOW! garble not alarmed garble garble not posh garble only a countergerble brilliant girble girble won’t cost anything garble NOW, blahdee blahdee don’t serve beer blahdee gerble blah bring in beer blurbadeegerbledy blah corner shop bladee bladee bla dee blah Wait here!’

“What? No!”

“Where Nan…”


Five minutes go by, maybe six-Nanny flies out of a shop and around the corner.  He whizzes past me with what I can only assume is a bag full of beer. He stops.  He looks at me over his shoulder.

“Well come on! What are you waiting for?”

We step into a tiny shop. Inside are Nanny’s requirements: a dry erase board with the day’s items and prices-none more than a dollar-and Chinese people.  There are six wooden tables, fluorescent lights, not a drop of decoration or ambience. The smell is amazing. The woman behind the counter in a flowered apron is buried behind mountains of bamboo steamers. Nanny drops his two 22oz bottles of Tsingtao on our table.

“These were three dollars each,” he brags.

He heads up to the counter to start negotiations while I take a seat. The little one settles in. He has chopsticks to play with and has made friends with everyone in the room.

Nanny brings back a mountain of Dim Sum: seaweed soup, shrimp dumplings, veggie dumplings, pork buns, rice steamed in lotus leaves all day, something with sesame seeds in it.  At first, I think it’s delicious because I’m ravenous, then I realize it’s delicious because it’s the most authentic Chinese food I’ve ever had.  I enjoy it so much I order dessert and tea as well.  The woman behind the counter makes me order a sesame paste roll, a duck egg roll, and a husband cookie. When I say I just want one thing, she says, “Chinese food is cheap, you take three.”

Feeling sated makes it slightly easier to admit Nanny was right.

“See, it feels like we could be in China right now,” he says.  I agree.

Our friend behind the counter brings out a huge, freshly baked sponge cake. She gives us a piece as a gift. It’s so good, I ask if I can buy a piece to take home with me. She says, “Yes, but you buy two pieces.”

Our whole meal was $15.00.

published on Maison Loup


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