Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Merci, Mercy

An overcast sky that dewed the tree branches with pearly droplets called for an uncommon pairing of tea and food. I banished eclairs and their fulsome creamy cousins to their respective corners in favor of savory edamame dumplings paired with Iron Goddess of Mercy, an oolong tea. This tea (also known as Ti Kuan Yin) was named after the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion, Kuan Yin, whose representation in statues has alternately soothed me with her soft demeanor and daunted me with her many-limbed grotesquery.

I examined the almost black tea leaves which were loosely coiled, and I placed them in the gaiwan. Then, I poured boiling water over the leaves and watched them unfurl. They uncoiled majestically to their full length rather quickly: by the second infusion, leaves of varying sizes, had elongated their ragged edges and turned from a dusky green to a more mossy hue.

The first infusion yielded a liquor that was toasty. This taste lingered luxuriantly with me as I dipped an edamame dumpling into ponzu sauce. Felicitous, indeed, was this pairing: the little parcel of egg whites and young steamed soybeans, infused with ginger and sesame oil, melded seamlessly with the assertive briskness of the tea.

My flight of fancy carried me to a dim sum restaurant resplendent with Chinese chotchkies. It was at this restaurant in a Canadian border town across from Detroit that I first made my acquaintance with savory dumplings. Variously filled with tender shrimp, aromatic mushrooms, or more hearty pork, they were steamed to perfection. A bite into one yielded a burst of flavors hinting at the presence of chives, garlic, and ginger.

The somberly dressed waitress, pushing the cart laden with small plates of food, briskly deposited the chosen dishes on our lazy susan while my dad expertly scanned the selections on the cart. It was a frenzy of eating, dipping, sipping hot tea, my lap gettting doused with a cold liquid as the waitress sloppily poured water into my drinking glass with lightning speed. All the while, we kept tabs on the activities of the family at the next table lest they got the choice morsels instead of us.

With this Darwinian fray long behind me, I sipped the liquor from the fourth infusion, detecting floral notes that were veiled previously and marveled at the richly hued nature of my many-limbed Goddess.

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