Twice-dressed Tofu | 回卤干

By Liu Chengpei, Elm’20

A small restaurant and its owner. This article depicts a normal Chinese person whose entire life is about one single dish.

Chinese

在我出生的那个小城的一个小巷子 里,有这么一家卖回卤干的小店。

这是一家很小的店面。几平方的简易 房间里,也就勉勉强强摆得下三张桌 子。每张桌子间的缝隙里放了几只椅 子,也就算凑活地坐了。房间的另一 边是老板娘的“厨房”。好大的一个 灶台就靠着路口,上面摆着各式各样 的配料。中间一个大锅里乘着炖好了 的汤,被下方的一个炉灶烧着,还略 有些沸腾。

此时已经不早了,小店的生意却还 行,刚来时,屋内就已经坐了一桌, 在我们之后又来了两个人。我们三人 点了“回卤干”吃。看了价格牌,六 元一碗,母亲略有些吃惊:“我们上 一次来时,还是四块钱一碗。”

“去年的时候就五块钱一碗了。”我 愣了一下,转头望向突然插话的老板 娘。

老板娘正在烧我们要的那三碗回卤 干。说是烧,其实是已经把烧好了的 干子和汤和配料放在一起。她熟练地 把三个红色的塑料碗放在炉灶旁,拿 着个大勺从锅里舀出些汤来,均匀地 分到三个碗里。然后,将旁边装着已 经准备好的回卤干的袋子打开,把回 卤干一一放如碗中,顺便再撒点盐和 味精。如果需要,她还可以给你加一 勺骨头汤。这之后,就是在上面加一 下鸭肝、鸭心之类的配料,一碗回卤 干就算完成了。

一边娴熟地做着,她嘴也不闲着:“ 五块钱卖了有三四年了,今年清明之 后才改成六块的。”说着,她就把三 碗回卤干依次端上了桌,“去年的时 候还是用的瓷碗,白色的那种,现在 换了。”接着,她还热心地帮我拿好 了筷子和调羹。做完所有的事情之 后,她默默地走到旁边的一把椅子 旁,坐了下来,若有所思地看着外 面。

我拿起筷子和调羹,望了望坐在炉灶旁的她,迟疑了一下。其实我一开始进店的时候,都没有注意到这个长得有些黝黑的老板娘。她满是皱纹的脸和手仿佛从中可以看到岁月的沧桑。从她的面貌中看,她肯定是过了五十岁的人了。她穿了一身深棕色的棉袄,两臂上戴着深绿色的护袖,胸前也穿着个红色挡襟,一看就是常年在厨房里做活的架势。她并不多说话,但每句话说起都那么有穿透力。我们一家三口边吃边聊天时,她始终都沉默着,唯有当我们提到别的店卖的回卤干时,她插了一句话:“他们卖的回卤干都是干子做的,我家的是用豆腐果做的。”话语中充满了骄傲——这就是她和别人不同之处,她特殊的地方。也正是因为此,她可以在这里卖这么些年。

我边吃边不时地望望她。她只是一个人坐在角落里,并不说话。她的视线落在店外,或许正在遥望远方。她在看什么?又或许她在听我们一家人说话,虽然这和她没有丝毫关系,这样的客人,她这么些年来,不知道看过多少。又或许,她在想些什么,想她风风雨雨走过的这些年,想她见过的形形色色的客人……

不过我想,她应该在想自己烧的回卤干。

English

In a small alley of the small city which I was born in, there is this small neighborhood shop that sells Twice- dressed Tofu (Hui Lu Gan).

It is a very small shop – the simple room of a few square meters can only fit three tables. Between the gaps of tables, some simple chairs are squeezed in, yet the customers seem to be able to squeeze in, too. On the other side of the room is the shop-owner’s ‘kitchen’. The huge stove is situated openly next to the alley, on top of which lies an assortment of cooking ingredients. A gentle stove fire under the pot keeps the soup at a boil.

It is almost sunset now, and business is trickling in. When we enter, there is already a table of customers in the room. After us, there come another two. Three of us order three bowls of Hui Lu Gan. Seeing the price – six yuan a bowl – mother seems a bit surprised: “When we last came, it was just four yuan a bowl.”

“The price rose to five last year already.” I turned in slight surprise to face the shop-owner, who just spoke.

She is cooking the three bowls of Hui Lu Gan that we ordered. Or rather, she is putting the cooked Tofu, soup and other ingredients together. With great dexterity, she puts three red plastic bowls next to the stove, takes a sizable ladle, and scoops the soup from the pot into the bowls evenly. Then, she opens up aplastic bag which contains all the pre- cooked Tofu, and puts it into the bowls one by one. She adds in a pinch of salt, if needed, and she may even add a ladle of pork soup. Lastly, in go the duck heart and liver. A bowl of Hui Lu Gan is ready.

While working, she does not stop talking: “I sold this at five yuan a bowl for at least three or four years now. After this year’s Tomb-Sweeping Day, I changed the price to six.” Three bowls of delicious food magically appear on the table while she’s talking. “Last year, I used those white, porcelain bowls. Not any longer.” She lays down chopsticks and spoons for us. After all this has been done, she quietly retreats to a wooden chair nearby, sits down and looks outside – she seems to be thinking.

I pick up my chopsticks and spoon. Glancing at her near the stove, I pause. When I entered this shop for the first time, I barely even noticed its swarthy shop-owner. From the wrinkles all over her face and hands, I can almost see how much time has passed. She looks at least fifty years old, with her dark-brown cotton jacket, two dark green elbow guards on each sleeve, as well as a red apron – the image of someone who works in the kitchen. She does not talk much, but each sentence is penetrating. She keeps silent while we eat and talk, but speaks up when we mention similar shops

selling Hui Lu Gan: “Their Hui Lu Gan is made of only bean curd, but mine is fried with oil.” Her words are full of pride – this is how she is different from others, how she is special. And because of this, she has been here for so many years.

I glance at her every now and then as I eat.

She sits in a corner alone, rarely speaking. Her gaze is directed outside of the shop, perhaps towards something in the distance. What is she looking at? Perhaps she is just listening to what we are saying, despite it being unrelated to her – customers like us she has seen too many, in many years. Perhaps she is thinking about something else, the years that have passed, or the multitude of customers that have walked into her shop…

But I think, she is thinking about the Hui Lu Gan.

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