Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Serious Dumplings, Serious Responsibilities and a Tragic Radio Prank

That dumplings provide nutrition and joy in the eating is well-established. That dumplings provide satisfaction in the making is also well-established.

It is, however, less acknowledged that dumplings are also a serious matter. A matter of responsibility to oneself and others, as we shall explore.

In Sydney, now in the midst of what a friend calls the dumpling 'meta-trend', that seriousness gets no more serious than where the trending may have started. 

Established around 15 or so years ago, Sea Bay* is a northern Chinese eatery on Pitt Street in the Haymarket section of Sydney's CBD, which specialises in fried pork dumplings. 

The Haymarket's never been glamorous and so it remains. It's flophouses of old - filled with wino's and guys 'known to the Police' - have been rebadged as hostels. They're now filled with Irish backpackers (read building site labourers) snapped in the arse by the tail of the Irish Tiger as he raced out the door.

Squat, dark, narrow and consisting of some dozen small cheap tables, Sea Bay stands in contrast to neighbouring Chinatown's long-established Hong Kong style food palazzos. It's all gold watches at Golden Century. Show and blow and if you don't have 40 fish tanks filled with sea creatures you don't count for nothing... 

Initially catering to newer migrants from the People's Republic of China, Sea Bay just gets on with what it has to do. Eg, continue to make among the city's finest pork and chive fried dumplings.  Dumplings that remarkably keep their firmness on this Westerner's clumsy chopstick rather than the "silky" type that flop about. Dumplings where I have to keep pondering the fine filling even though I obviously know what the menu said. "It can't possibly be just pork and chives and a bit of garlic..."

As I eat them, I also think this is a serious matter. Somebody has made thoughtful decisions to develop the recipe. Somebody has carefully selected ingredients and their suppliers. Somebody has recruited and trained the right cooks. Somebody keeps checking to make sure that somebody else - eg, me - is very pleased indeed with his feed. Somebody wakes early and goes to bed late for the seemingly simple exercise of me being about to nourish myself in a pleasurable way.

Somebody clearly knows and meets their responsibilities to their dish, their business, their suppliers and employees, and their customers. 

Or to paraphrase an acquaintance, somebody's being the adult in the room. 

This week, as I eat my dumplings and write about them, and as I read the really horrible news about a London nurse perhaps taking her own life due to the shame she felt for being radio-pranked, I am thinking a fair bit about "the adult in the room". 

Sure, I'm as interested as everybody else in the 2Day situation's permutations when it comes to the law and media ethics. But I'm more concerned to ask of myself: 

Would I have been the adult in the room? Would I have been responsible enough to ask the hard questions? Would I have been responsible enough to pull things up before they went too far and possibly hurt another? Am I consistently responsible to myself, those around me and the world - or do I just turn up when it's convenient? Am I really and fully present to the stuff that I'm doing so that I can really and fully do the right thing?

And, frankly, I can't say that I am. I seek to honour the memory of a distant nurse, wife and mother by looking at my own responsibilities. I reflect and ask for presence, patience and wisdom. The kind of presence, patience and wisdom that constantly brings me back to my connection to others and their well-being. The kind of presence, patience and wisdom a dumpling maker has shown in her small task that touches my heart in a bigger way than she might know.

* There are now Sea Bays in the 'burbs including at Burwood. The Pitt Street original remains the best - and most serious. Try also: lamb skewers with cumin; spring pancakes with jellied noodles, and; cold cucumber and garlic salad.

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