Last week I forgot to post because I was spending so much time doing other things, namely eating. Brunch, BBQ dinner, Dim Dim Sum for the first time (they have excellent chicken feet, really, absolutely delightful), Indian food, Nha Trong, and the most memorable cooked food center meal I have ever had. A friend, Bean, was staying with me, so Tuesday we went for the local experience that she can’t get in Beijing and wandered into the famed Java Road Market.
On the top floor we looked around and went to the most crowded restaurant, the surest way to get the best meal. The specific kitchen is called, I believe, Tung Po; they let you pick live seafood and cook it fresh and their distinctive dishes are deservingly famous. I had heard from various friends (EJ, I’m talking about you) that Anthony Bourdain had tried squid ink pasta in this very place. Lo and behold, there were deep black pasta dishes on multiple tables. We ordered that, spicy snails, grilled mantis prawn and some spinach as a token green.
The food came one dish at a time, as is the way in the markets; you get it when it’s ready, course order be damned. Spinach and snails came first and while we struggled with prodding the meat out of its shell we also drank our ales from bowls and waited for the stunners to arrive. When the mantis prawn arrived, I realized I had never had that variety before because the meat was purple rather than pink. The flavor was deliciously salty. We were wholeheartedly satisfied with our order.
After finishing the prawn, they traded our plates full of shells and exoskeleton for fresh, clean plates. We continued to munch on spinach covered in meat juice and preserved sausage. Then the squid ink spaghetti came.
The ink itself is the utter absence of light. Occasionally the liquid would reflect a bit and shine, the light herbs gave it some texture, and the white meat of the squid peered through the black ink. It was beautiful, Bean took a lovely picture, while I foolishly suppressed my instincts.
We scooped the pasta it onto our plates and watched as the ink stained everything it touched. The noodles left black trails; the serving bowl slowly became a large ink blot. We slurped the pasta from our chopsticks, laughing as we watched each other’s mouths turn black. Our teeth and lips and tongues were covered in ink.
It was fortunate that we were not wearing white. The ink, also fortunately, rinsed off easily from our teeth and faces. It is not a date food.
It was unlike anything I have ever tasted. Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised, though after eating it I realized that it tastes the way it looks it should: distinct but light. It has a powerful note of flavor, a simple and pure one.