Monday, January 21, 2013

Black Dragon Eggs

I was hunched over a deep fryer, rigorously shaking the baskets to prevent the fish from sticking to them. A pile of haddock filets the same weight as a small child were thawed in a great metal basin. The steam that came from the fryer carried with it an oily stench that seeped into my clothing. This was how I celebrated the Feast of Theophany.

It was only a couple days since I had gotten back from San Francisco. My vacation was very relaxed and not very exciting. It involved, among other things, hanging around my friends’ house, celebrating a Midnight Liturgy on January 1 (that’s January 14 for most people), and briefly seeing people I knew before they went on vacation. An all-too-brief six days.

Not long after I got back I was put to work. Soon after I arrived at the dorm, I saw Fr. Anatoly, one of the hieromonks, standing around. “John,” he said, “you have kliros with me at four o’clock.” Apparently I got on the list pretty early. Despite having only slept several hours on the red-eye, without (too much) complaint I went and helped sing the service for the Seventy Apostles.

And then there was kitchen. One of the main reasons that many seminarians avoid coming back early is that they will certainly be put somewhere. Nature abhors a vacuum, and our monastery, as needy as it is of physical and material help, needs people to work.

I was on kitchen with Kostya, one of the Chinese seminarians. Kostya was the one who introduced me to Wangzhihei Stinky Tofu Sauce. This time around, he was planning an entire Asian-inspired trapeza, inasmuch as that was possible with the resources we have in Upstate New York. In a big and deep rectangular pan there was some kind of black liquid in which was floating many dark little spheres. On closer inspection, they were eggs.

“These are hardboiled eggs marinated in soy sauce and sugar,” Kostya said in Russian. “Try one!” I took an egg. It was as dark as a cup of tea that had been steeped far too long. The taste was somewhat earthy, with the savory and sweetness of the marinade mixing with the taste and texture of the egg. The earthiness, I found, came from a large pack of tea that Kostya also put into the pan.

Tastier than it looks.

In another pan was a liquid just as dark, with bits of mushrooms and other vegetables that had lost their original form/color. Apparently it was for (Italian) noodles, a sort of reverse Marco Polo if you will. He fixed me up a plate of them. The chewy noodles, already cooked the night before, did not go well with the sickly-sweet and savory sauce. I took a couple bites and set them aside.

For most of my time in the kitchen before lunch, I was preoccupied with frying fish. I experimented here and there with putting different amounts of the fish in the fry baskets, as well as adding some seasonings.

In the end, the most attention was shown the savory tea eggs, which Ivan, one of the guys working with us, dubbed “Black Dragon Eggs.” “BLACK DRAGON EGGS!” Ivan cried out, combining some of the few English words he knew. Fr. Luke, at the beginning of the meal, forewarned everyone in the trapeza to not be alarmed, that these eggs were prepared according to a special Chinese recipe.

“Actually, it’s Japanese,” Kostya told me. I remembered these sorts of eggs floating in bowls of ramen that I’ve eaten before. “But,” he said, “it was my first time making them.”

It was also my first time deep-frying anything. All in all, not too bad for a first time, even if the fish was a little dry, and quite a few of the eggs returned untouched.

That gives incentive to try better next time. If I were head chef, perhaps I’ll sneak the Black Dragon Eggs into your soup, or cut them up into a salad. Either way, you’re going to eat them.

No comments:

Post a Comment