Sometimes when my friend Jessica W. (confusing for everyone but us) is really busy at Mama Wang’s, her Chinese food stall in King’s Cross, she enlists me to help out during the lunch traffic rush. My official title (self-given) is “Noodle Girl.”
Jessica W. is Noodle Queen (real name). She hand-pulls the elastic dough, bangs it on the table (biang! biang!), and pulls the bouncy dough apart into strings. It’s mesmorizing, and people often stop and gape at her as she bangs the dough on the table and renders it into silky noodle strands with her fingers. She does this for hours.
Meanwhile, she throws the noodles into two big boiling pots of water and my job as Noodle Girl is to stir the water so the noodles don’t stick to the bottom and then scoop them out when they are cooked (it takes less than 2 minutes). I also take people’s orders, inquiring if they want slow-cooked lamb or pork with their meal. Then, I take down their names so that orders don’t get mixed up.
One day, it was pouring rain and we had very few customers in the outdoor market. A man wearing a helmet and a waterproof jacket bravely cycled over and hopped off his bike to order.
“Lamb or pork?” I asked him.
“Lamb,” he said. I scribbled “Lamb” onto the takeaway box.
“And can I get your name?” I asked.
“P,” he said.
“P? Can you spell that?” I asked.
“P-E-E,” he replied. I scribbled it down and realized I had written “Lamb Pee” on his box, at his request.
Then Chris, Jessica’s business partner, set about putting together Lamb Pee’s meal. A few minutes later, Chris handed Lamb Pee his order and he put it into his bike basket and cycled off.
“Guys, that guy’s name was Pee!” I exclaimed to Jessica W. and Chris.
“No way,” they both said. “You must’ve misheard him.”
“His. Name. Was. Pee. I asked him to spell it!”
“Must’ve been some mistake.”
The very next week, on another rainy Wednesday, a familiar figure cycled up to Mama Wang’s noodle stall. The very same guy hopped off his bike and stood in line to order. This was my big chance at vindication.
“Lamb or pork?” I asked him.
“Lamb,” he said.
“And your name?”
“Pee,” he replied.
“And could you please spell that?” I asked very loudly, nudging Jessica W. and Chris.
“P-E-E.” he said. I scribbled “Lamb Pee” onto his takeway box.
“Wait!” Jessica W. said, no longer able to stand by, silently pulling noodles. “Your name isn’t really Pee, is it?” (We’re Americans and Chinese ones at that, so not the most subtle combination.)
“My real name is Piers,” he said.
“Why would you choose to go by Pee?” I asked.
“I’m from Newcastle. You get beat up there if you have a name like Piers,” he said.
I assume this is because Piers is a slightly posh name and people in Newcastle (Geordies) might make fun of someone with an ultra-posh name (or at least this guy). I’m familiar with the North of England because I happen to live with Cooky, someone who was also born in “the North” of England. Except, Cooky’s from a place called Sunderland. Lamb “Pee” Piers is from Newcastle. The two cities have a huge rivalry stemming from football (soccer). I cannot overstate how much these two types of people antagonize each other. Sunderland vs. Newcastle FOREVER.
On that particular Wednesday, I happened to know that Newcastle and Sunderland were going to play each other in football that very Saturday. This is always the biggest, most-anticipated game of the season for these fans (they are truly obsessed with beating each other).
“Big game this weekend, eh?” I asked Lamb Pee, as I stirred his noodles. His eyes lit up.
“How do YOU know that?!” he asked.
“I just happen to live with someone from Sunderland,” I replied, scooping out his noodles and handing them to Chris.
“Poor you,” he said. “They’re going to lose on Saturday.”
“No way!” I retorted. “Newcastle is going down!”
Chris handed Lamb Pee his noodles and he packed them into his bicycle basket.
“I’m not so sure I want to eat here anymore!” he shouted playfully, as he rode off.
That Saturday, Cooky and I watched the match at a pub. Sunderland beat Newcastle 2 to 1. Cooky jumped into the air and pumped his fist. We toasted his other friends from Sunderland.
The next Wednesday, I stood at Jessica W.’s noodle stall and waited in the rain for Lamb Pee. He never showed. The guy always made a point to come eat the noodles every Wednesday, rain or shine, but this time pride won out over his love for noodles.
Newcastle and Sunderland are playing again this Saturday. Even though I haven’t seen Lamb Pee since that fateful day, I know we’ll both be watching.
But I get to eat the noodles no matter who wins. And they taste even better than they look.
Ha’way the lads!!!
photos courtesy of Mama Wang’s Kitchen