Ahhh November. Finally the temperatures have cooled. It’s time for soups and stews, braises and roasts.
This week I want to thank all of you who stopped by or dropped me a note about a couple of recent columns. I enjoy all of your memories too. I hope to answer some of your questions in this column.
Regarding the China Alley gambling rooms — a typical China Alley gambling house would have a cage-like apparatus in the back of the room where the lottery tickets were marked. Chinese lottery tickets have eighty Chinese characters printed on them, and no two are alike. The characters are from a poem written by the celebrated Chinese poet, See Tsz King. While attending Chinese school, the students were required to memorize this poem. Here is the translation of the poem on the lottery ticket.
“Heaven and earth, dark and yellow;
The universe, vast and great.
Sun and moon, full and setting;
Stars and lunar mountains, arranged and spread
Cold comes, and heat goes;
Autumn gathering, and winter storing.
An intercalary surplus completes the year;
Odd and even pitch-pipes harmonize the Yang.
Clouds rise, and cause rain
Dew congealing form frost.”
Each lottery ticket, in addition to the eighty Chinese characters, had the name of the various lottery companies in Arabic letters printed on top. The gambler selected a ticket from what he hoped was the “lucky” company and marked the ticket. Tickets were marked with traditional calligraphy brushes dipped in metal tins filled with cotton soaked thick Chinese ink.
The gambler returned the marked lottery ticket to the ticket seller, along with the amount of money he chose to stake. The ticket seller marked a duplicate of the ticket for the gambler and kept the original, which he stamped with his “chop” or rubber stamp. The gamblers then waited for the winning characters to be drawn from the cage and hung on the wall.
In her oral history report, Alice Dunn Lock Chow recalls that her father worked the gambling rooms to earn a living for his growing family. His lottery space was located in the Sue Chung Kee building, which eventually became the Imperial Dynasty cocktail lounge.
I was delighted to learn how many of you remember (with great detail) the number of curry sauces that were served in the Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants. It’s true, some days it does seem as though the aromatic essence of tomato curry sauce still hovers and floats along the Alley. I like to think the spirits of China Alley have something to do with that phenomenon. Like many of you, whenever and wherever I am, if I get a whiff of curry, a memory from one of the restaurants drifts through my mind. It’s as though curry has become a synonym for China Alley.
It was a nice surprise to see Stan Vierra, waving a piece of paper, enter the Tea Room from the China Alley door. Over the decades, Stan became very knowledgeable of every electrical nook and cranny of the Imperial Dynasty and Chinese Pagoda buildings and here he was, handing me the paper and saying, “Here’s a real good soup recipe. It has curry in it. And I know you know curry…” Then he was back out the door and strolling down China Alley.
It is a real good soup recipe. Thank you, Stan. Now I would like to share it with you. It’s perfect for the cooler weather. I love how the underlying note of China Alley, I mean, curry, warms my soul.