By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Once upon a time, in a quaint and quiet hamlet, stood a modest row of shops, unremarkable from any other unassuming row of shops in any other quiet hamlet, yet still serving the needs of the town’s inhabitants, as well as those passing through in their journey through town.
On one recent cool and rainy day, a family of five on their way to a recreational retreat, decided to find respite from the elements and stumbled upon this unassuming row of shops in this quiet little hamlet.
As they approached the row of stores, they came upon one shop in particular that caught their eye — a small eatery called “Sunny’s Noodle Shop,” adorned with colorful signs of various shapes and sizes that enticed not because of the quality of the signs, but indeed, in spite of them. Mismatched signs, such as a white, half-covered sign that read “Lunch Special” that sat above a smaller, translucent sign that read “Special Lunch,” were taped next to signs with the word “Spicy,” a word used to entice, not to warn.
As the family walked in, they were greeted by a short stout man with a relaxed smile on his face, wearing a navy blue shirt and loose fitting dark slacks.
“Hello, my name is Sunny. Please have a seat,” he said.
The family, realizing that they were being served by the actual owner of the shop, sat down and began to peruse the menu, with a seemingly endless list of delectable dumplings, tantalizing soups, aromatic rice dishes, and of course, spicy noodle entrees.
With no one else in the shop, Sunny slowly approached the family and took their order on a pad of paper, taking his time to make helpful suggestions on various dishes to consider. “Please try our spicy beef noodle bowl,” he would say, or “Our shrimp dumplings are also very, very special.”
After suggesting a seemingly endless array of dishes, Sunny excused himself and disappeared into the kitchen.
Within a few minutes, he came out of the kitchen holding a tray with five soup bowls and as he began to serve each bowl of soup, a man and woman walked in with their two children. Sunny immediately grabbed another set of menus and sat the family down at a table near the family of five, and he took their order.
Sunny walked briskly back into the kitchen. Peering through the doorway into the kitchen, one could see Sunny moving quickly about, stirring one pot, while holding a wok up to toss another dish.
Sunny, apparently, was also the head chef. Actually, Sunny was the only chef.
A few more minutes passed, and Sunny came out with a tray full of dishes, three dishes for the family of five, and a plate of dumplings for the second family.
Also, there waiting for him were two more families.
Sunny was now in a perpetual jog, as he bounced from table to table, seating more families (Sunny the host), taking orders and serving dishes (Sunny the waiter), clearing dishes and refilling water glasses (Sunny the busboy), or cooking the meals (Sunny the solitary chef).
At one point, the father from the family of five peered over at the steaming plate of dumplings, and as Sunny passed him by with another set of menus for another set of guests, the father said, “You know what, I think we’d like to order some of those dumplings, too.”
Sunny stopped in mid-step, his eyes widening with a slightly panicked look on his face. A tiny drop of perspiration rolled down his forehead. His only response was, “Uh … OK.”
For the next 20 minutes, the kitchen was ablaze with activity. While not much could be seen outside the flurry of activity when Sunny was at the stove, the kitchen would systematically shift from one set of sounds to another, each sound immediately identifiable. Whether it was the clink and clack of pots and pans (from Sunny the chef) or the sound of chopping on a chopping board (Sunny the sous chef), or the squeak and shush of washing dishes (Sunny the dishwasher), everyone in the dining area could hear Sunny working away.
Dishes came out in consistent sputters. Some tables took it upon themselves to pitch in, clearing up their own dishes. Others wrote down their order on the napkins and walked it up to the counter, as Sunny rushed out with another load of noodle dishes, his shirt drenched from a combination of dishwashing liquid, perspiration, spilled broth, and soy sauce. Other guests patiently waited, so they could pay their bill (to Sunny the cashier).
After about two hours, the family of five finished their last dish, satiated from all the good food and happy to have been able to lend a hand.
As the one who ordered the extra plate of dumplings, I must say I was impressed. They say it takes a village to raise a child. The same might be said for Sunny’s restaurant on that cold, rainy day.
Oh, and everyone lived happily ever after. (end)
Wayne Chan can be reached at email@example.com.