Vol II Happy Endings

He had four wok going simultaneously, not forgetting the four pans on the gas stove. A moment too long on the flame and all would be spoiled. The recipes were unforgiving.

The thin sliver of meat, mushroom, bamboo shoot, and sprouts which Mui prepared could be frazzled on the wok-side within ten seconds. The cornflour staple in the sauces thickened and congealed disastrously in the pans if left unstirred or too fiercely heated. Chen would willingly have discarded the last elements of authenticity about the dishes, fried thick tombstone slabs of meat or entire splinters of bamboo, used clear sauces of pure Knorr stock or thickened with Bisto. But the recipes, alas, were constructed along cynical economic lines. The meat-shavings went further; the thick sauce camouflages, gave the illusion of substance. So sweet-soaked, chronically thirsty, perpetually harassed, sometimes reduced to utter despair by the consequences of momentary neglect of a saucepan’s contents, Chen orchestrated his instruments to the best of his abilities.

– Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo

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