Last week, I wrote about our breakfast Ajji.
This week’s post is about our dinner Ajji. This formidable looking lady runs the shop around the corner, which opens late in the day, and stays open late in the night, sometimes well past midnight. The evening Ajji’s place is where we head to, when we are late from traipsing all over the town on weekday nights, or if it is our Chinese take out night (like in the Big Bang Theory). Of course given that my demands are at times Sheldon-like (see the link above), the Scientist thinks it is best to make me come along and choose what I will put into my tang mian (soupy noodles – read: more Chinese show off). For this is like a quick made to order dish, with your choice of ingredients.
For us vegetarian folks, we pile up on our tofu skins and vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, french beans, capsicum, baby corn all go into mine; there are some leafy greens, which I once tried and did not like, and something suspiciously like the lauki, and of course, bhindi when in season, both of which stay out of my stew). For noodles, our particular choice is fried noodles, but there are also these thin and thick spaghetti types which you can choose. All these have to be picked out from the freezer yourself, and lined up in a red plastic strainer and deposited on the counter. Ajji then proceeds to make your noodles, by cutting these up, and boiling them for a few seconds in a pot to which seasonings have already been added. Depending on our choice of spice, some chilly sauce is added, some kimchi, and a dash of chopped green onions.
All this is dunked into a take-away bag, capped with paper bowl. Ajji proceeds to tell you how much it has cost you. You pay, pick up your chopsticks and go home and relish your chow. For a girl who never liked Maggi, and hence never ate it back home, and also hence never understood the hullabaloo over its banning, I must say I love Ajji’s noodles. I didn’t like them right away, and would wonder how the Scientist managed to eat this almost raw dish every time. But with some things Taipei, this sort of food grows on you. All the veggies are very fresh, and still have a bite to them, the tofu skin and noodles have soaked up the water and flavours and are very neatly done. There is no overcooking, the kimchi adds a nice, sour, cabbage-y crunch, so do the green onions. It is most comforting to eat this steaming stew of vegetables and noodles on a rainy winter evenings (we tried eating it during summers, and just didn’t like it – so this is now only a winter/rainy staple). We have tried recreating this at home too, but we lack the special ingredients that Ajji adds to her broth, so it has simply not come out in that manner.
Ajji’s shop also has a small seating section, where folks congregate, but most are take-away customers. As with other Ajjis here, I notice this lady works very hard. The Scientist has seen her well past midnight, scouring and scrubbing away and putting everything to order. Each night, she washes the entire area clean (as so do all shops here). So in the mornings though, Ajji is conspicuously absent, and some other lady mans the shop (pun not intended). We never buy noodles in the morning, so we have no rapport with the morning lady. With Ajji too, the rapport building took its time. Ajji is always so busy, that she rarely ever looks up and talks, except to ask the spice level or declare the bill. It started as nods, then progressed to bye-byes, and then good-nights in English! This Chinese New Year though, Ajji smiled (I think for the first time) and wished us a Happy New Year!! I think the noodles tasted far better that night 🙂