Eating dumplings with a People’s Liberation Army paratrooper in Nanjing.
There can be a certain beauty in food-ignorance. I know that’s passé these days, all the more so because my partner at Roads and Kingdoms is an actual chef as well as a writer and could probably tell you on a nanolevel how these dumplings are made, and make you misty with longing and nostalgia while he does so.
Not me. I am not much of a cook, and sometimes I don’t even fare so well as an eater.
But I can tell you a few things about these dumplings:
1) They were part of the second-best meal I had in Nanjing (the first was a banquet hosted by local military commanders, who are as delightfully spendy when it comes to public money as the rest of the elite in China).
2) These dumplings were at a place called Yinshi Jizhi Tangbao, on Lion’s Bridge, a little pedestrian arcade that is lined with stalls and restaurants, from a Szechuan restaurant to a gigantic KFC to a little bubble tea shop across the way.
3) Despite the name of the place, these are not Tangbao, the specialty dumpling of Nanjing. But at least on this day, I liked these better. That’s why they are in Foreplay today, and the Tangbao is not.
4) These dumplings are filled with noodles. I think. Or perhaps bean pressed into noodles. I don’t know. My translator didn’t know, or more likely she didn’t care. My mouth didn’t know. But it was better that I was ignorant of everything except that these were amazing dumplings, with just the right amount of salt, and of sweet, and the kind of soft that reminded me of things that I love that aren’t food: my little boy’s cheek, a firm pillow, the hip of a girl I lived with in Wyoming.
That’s all I knew about these dumplings, and it was enough.