A Bite To Eat
by Dino Zapataria
You would never expect to find such a hidden gem of a specialist cafe out by the fourth ring road, but that is indeed the case with A Siyun's tiny patisserie, which is humorously named "What Do You Mean, What Is It Called? You Idiot".
I discovered A Siyun's mobile caketorium one afternoon when I was deposited at the side of the sihuan fourth ring road by an irate taxi driver, with whom I had incautiously discussed the subject of the Chinese Olympic diving team. Gazing out at the blasted wasteland around me, my eye was drawn to a middle-aged man in an oversized coat and woolly hat, slowly approaching, pedalling a three-wheeled sanlunche. His features had about them something of the steppe. His chin was festooned with grey stubble.
His eyes met mine. Pointing at the orangey cake he carried, he emitted a guttural ethnic grunt. I was struck by the guileless charm of China's rustic population. He stopped. I asked the price: only 12 yuan, a bargain! He cut a slice using a darkly-stained knife (cochineal, I imagine) he kept at his belt and handed it to me.
I bit into the crumbly slice cautiously, like a nervous child, or a man sitting down in front of his parole board. The taste, the texture and mouth feel were exquisite. A wonderful nutty sensation, full of the hopes of spring, and nuts. Delicate hints of Chinese spices, the scent of petrochemicals and - just every now and then - the crunch of a wooden splinter from where the cake had sat on the pallet at the back of the sanlunche. I could just imagine the grizzled vendor eating a cake just like this as a child, before running off to play with sticks and fire in the little village in whichever interior province he hailed from.
Yes, and then perhaps he and his little friends might run off to the mountainside above the village and climb trees. Trees clustering with nuts. Nuts as far as the eye could see. Nuts. Mmm....
The "What Do You Mean, What Is It Called? You Idiot" mobile patisserie is open from 6:30am to 7pm every weekday, and can be found on a rotating basis at several road bridges on the north-west fourth ring road.