Seattle Berlin, a backpack over his shoulders, held up the flag of golden ramen noodles as he paraded down Division Street, a group of seven men and women behind him. He could feel the cool of the box inside the canvas backpack against him. He wanted to take it off and readjust it. What was in there was constantly reminding him of the value of what he was transporting, but he didn’t want to stop the parade he was leading.
Each in the group paid $45 for the exotic food tour Seattle was leading. This tour, advertised on Seattle’s website as Chinatown Unmasked, included a meal at Tasty Fang restaurant. Turning east on Pike Street, the group was in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge above them. Tasty Fang’s was on the corner of Pike and Monroe. Even though it was a warm March evening, steam had collected on the window of the small restaurant and obscured its interior.
“This is it,” Seattle said to his intrepid group. He pushed open the door and allowed them to enter before following them in. A rectangle table was reserved in the center of the restaurant with place settings for the eight of them, including Seattle. John Win, Tasty Fang’s owner and chef, in a grease-stained white shirt and gray pants, greeted them and gestured with his hand to the table. There was a menu on a chalkboard in Chinese. The restaurant was brightly-lit and Seattle could feel the grease under his walking shoes. Despite the grunge, Tasty Fang had a reputation among the lunatic food fringe, of which Seattle was a proud member. The arranged tours and tasting menu at Tasty Fang specialized in the Fujian food of China and was always a sell out.
John Win’s wife, known only to Seattle as Mrs. Win, passed out paper menus. Her smile was generous, though her back was stooped as she placed the menus in front of Seattle’s group. “Take a look at what they serve here,” Seattle said. “But no need to order. Everything has been arranged.”
“Mr. Berlin, have you ever been to the city of your name?” One of the group, a middle-aged woman with blue-framed glasses and bright, dyed-scarlet hair asked him.
“Never,” Seattle said, noticing the Teutonic tinge in her accent. “Is that where you are from?”
“I am not, but Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world,” she said.
“How’s the food there?” Seattle asked.
“Excellent,” the woman said. “You can get anything in Berlin.”
“Anything? Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, Mr. Berlin. Anything,” she said. The woman whose name he forgot when she signed up online, looked at him with an unsettling smile.
Mrs. Win placed a platter of stir-fried browned duck feet, covered with slivers of green onions, ginger, and chilies in the middle of their table.
“Can you get this in Berlin?” Seattle asked the woman.
The woman gazed at the platter on the table and chuckled. “Oh how wonderful.”
Another in the group, the husband of a couple from St. Louis, cradled a duck foot with his chopsticks and examined it closely to see the gelatinous webbing between the toes. There were a few duck feathers near the toes. “Now this is what I would definitely call funkalicious,” the man said.
“Gastrofunkalicious,” Seattle said, never missing an opportunity to plug his website, also known by its shortened domain name, G-Funk. “It’s what you signed up for. Be brave. I know you can do it. If cooked properly, and Mr. Win knows how to prepare this delicacy; the webbing should separate easily from the hard bone of the toe. Dip it in the chili sauce. You won’t regret one bite. And tweezers are provided if you want to remove any stray feathers; they can get caught in your throat so I advise that you do.”
With that, the group attacked the platter, spearing portions with their chopsticks. Seattle had many times experienced the pan-fried duck feet at Tasty Fang and watched as they laboriously gnawed at the rubbery webbing, wondering if any would embarrass themselves and spit out what they were eating. None did.