Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By David Sherman
I want to have lunch. With friends. At the basement Korean joint on Monkland. The owner makes a great beef noodle soup and tells me I look good for my age. Which means I don’t. But I still love his soup. My partner and I have driven the 200 kms to get there and back for the soup and to kibitz with the owner and the opportunity to spend three or four hours together in the car and in the restaurant. Don’t know if he’s still open.
I miss a Cambodian joint on Poirier St. in Ville St. Laurent. Menu is thick with pictures of spicy concoctions and the slim Asian woman who runs it is friendly and happy to have Caucasians. I eat there now and then with John. John’s a painter and I like to hear about his work, his ambitions, his family. John is the rare man that wears the weight of existence lightly, smiles at the riddle of it, loves life, asks questions.
I miss lunch at a Chinese buffet in Hawkesbury. The food was a miniature step above horrid. It was called Dong’s and is now gone. It did not survive Covid and I haven’t seen Dane since the plague began. We used to meet at Dong’s and close the place. Noon to 3-3:30, we’d sit and talk I’m not sure about what. The time went fast and he didn’t mind driving the 45 minutes from Alexandria in his battered Toyota and I didn’t mind the 45 minutes from my burg in an ancient Chev. We didn’t mind that the food was evil.
Now, I know these are First World concerns of the bourgeois and privileged and despite inviting a curse and the wrath of unseen forces, I admit I’m a lucky man. I got food in the fridge and a roof over my head and a woman who loves me and keeps me warm and exchanges woes.
There’s a bunch of us that would meet like an aging gang of furniture salesmen. Our clothes are frayed and colourless, we are sometimes slowed by aches or strains, we don’t carry cell phones to place on the table. There are no calls that won’t wait for us to finish our long conversations about everything.
We’ve attacked American-styled barbecue, dim sum, dumplings, culinary school extravaganzas, Portuguese chicken and pork, smoked meat at The Main, Milos for their $25 luncheon special – they sat us in the back where we couldn’t stain their image.
When Covid closed the city down, we met at the park with sandwiches, coffee and soft drinks and sat in the sun around a picnic table. Then started a frantic search for a washroom. There was, in fact, a PortaPotty on a street half a block away. Even had running water. Blisssss.
We all worked newspapers and met at one in particular and remain addicted to but cynically detached from news and a few imposters and wannabes.
We shared years churning out a clunker of a paper and there’s no end to the stories and characters. And no end to our multiplying infirmities or the affronts of the pandemic, with room left over to share news on our partners and the latest visit to doctors.
I miss dim sum with Fred. Though, with Fred, I ate Korean and Chinese and Japanese and Cambodian and Indian and Vietnamese ... it doesn’t matter. What matters is I had lunch with Fred every week for about 40 years. It was our sabbath. Usually Fridays. And, most often, in the bang and crash of a dim sum palace with ladies walking by, pushing carts and screaming “Sui Mai, Har Kow, Sui Mai, Har Kow…”
Here, dumplings and chicken legs and squid in ginger sauce were rolled in pepper sauce and hot mustard for the hair-raising ride down the esophagus. Fred’s eyes would pop when the mustard invade his nasal cavity and he’d hack and hork with a smile on his face.
Tables were cleaned by picking up four corners of a plastic tablecloth, carrying it and the plates, cups, platters and cutlery bagged therein to a central dump and dropped with the aplomb of an orchestral cymbal splash, excellent for escalating tinnitus.
We solved all the world’s ills or agreed they were insoluble but, for a sweet few years, became addicted, actually frothing, over satay soup at the Tong Nam, both of which are history.
Separated by chop sticks and tea cups, spoons and bowls, we picked at the world like one might a scab but only particular culinary fare earned our loyalty. This cauldron of blistering satay soup, 30 ingredients, the owner/cook was proud to say, made from his own recipe, was what we did.
We ached, longed and salivated for the soup between Fridays. The first spoonful would have us choking and perspiring and smiling beatifically. The pain was a unique pleasure that bound us. Spice seared our friendship. Only we knew the bliss of the struggling little place in Chinatown and the unique flavours, brothers by broth.
In four decades, we invited no one to join us for lunch.
We were familiar enough, several joints would refer to Fred as my father.
The difference is only a decade, but Fred’s shrink rate was faster and his fondness of lecturing on subjects he knew well gave him a paternal air. I refrained from calling him Dad. And, I sounded off a few times myself.
We often agree to disagree and but would give a kidney for more satay soup lunches.
We still laugh about our soup ecstasies and ritual noons, though Fred left for overseas and if there is to be another lunch it is a year or more away and probably will be in Morocco, his adopted home.
But, we were never really talking about the soup.
Lunch is a bourgeois, First World concern but gathering for meals is as old as fire. Sharing lunch is sharing life. It’s only human.