Theme: The personal rituals shared between lady friends.
by Laura Gene
I like Sundays. Sundays = brunch in my world and anyone who knows me knows that I love brunch. Fluffy pancakes, crisp Belgian waffles, overstuffed omelets, well-done bacon, tart mimosas heavy on the bubbles. However, so-called “brunch” in China is a crap shoot and is simply …crap. Flavorless congee, chewy squid rings, salt-soaked eggs, starchy noodles heavy on the MSG. For such cuisine, I say maybe for dinner or even Lunch, but not for brunch. Brunch is a Western convention lost on China. I’m all for twists on the classics, but you can’t eliminate the essentials and still call it brunch.
My friend M doesn’t like brunch.
I know. I don’t understand it either. She says it’s too ‘egg’-centric. There are pancakes and Bloody Marys, Woman! Crisis averted. Brunch is for all, unless you are allergic to eggs, then maybe not so much. Nobody likes to end a two hour leisurely indulgence of caffeine and gluten with an EpiPen.
I looked forward to breaking (toasted) bread with friends. In Dallas, brunch was a favorite pastime for many and practically a hobby for some. A sweet memory of tipsy afternoons of yesteryear; bottomless mimosas determined the late morning’s destination. If we made ourselves presentable before 10 am, we even beat the church crowd without messing with a pesky reservation. Many a hangover with J or E was nursed at The Original Pancake House in Uptown where I discovered my truest love: the Dutch Baby Pancake.
Other times we’d indulge the hair of the dog and overload our Make-Your-Own Bloody Marys at Ozona with each veggie of the 20 on display – whatever would fit into our glasses or balance precariously on top. Did you know you can add avocado to a Blood Mary? If only I had learned sooner…
Dallas brunch was casual and cozy – a rehash of the previous evening’s antics, or at the very least an enlightening retelling of events to help fill in the blanks. My smoldering smudged eyes were evidence of forgotten makeup remover rather than a showcase of my makeup application prowess. Brunch didn’t necessarily need to be preceded by a wild night on the town; sometimes it was simply a catch up on the week’s events.
Who’s your latest crush? How did your project go? What did you think of Mila Kunis in Black Swan? (Did she suck as bad as she did in Jupiter Ascending?!) Etc.
Sure there was gossip mixed into the fruit bowl of conversation, but it was more than that. Brunch meant friendship – building it, maintaining it, fixing it.
I did not realize at the time what I most enjoyed about brunch was the intimacy. Most people I know didn’t make substantive plans for Sunday mornings. They were not (as) distracted with work or checking off their to-do list; they were present, which is not a thing people ‘do’ much of anymore with e-distractions everywhere. In Singapore, brunch was a microcosm for the little rich city-state: overpriced, overhyped, and total overkill. Brunch life began in high-end hotel chains and ended in rolling yourself out on a dim sum cart. Costs started around S$120+ (~US$90)… for brunch. Of course, that was with unlimited champagne – worthwhile only if you assumed the hotel employed a remotely competent wait staff. Being served required an aggressive restaurant patron with snapping fingers and waving hands. Then there was the smorgasbord of food: giant centerpieces carved using every fruit in existence, stations of three-bite sushi rolls too large to eat properly, an entire pork leg covered in crackled skins roasting on an open metal spit, oysters on the half shell burrowed in ice next to a pile of Alaskan king crab legs stacked like an elite game of Pick-Up Sticks. It was blasphemy for brunch – just an event to write up in my travel memoirs and document with some fuzzy photos. I had been drinking limitless champagne after all. But if you happen to make it to Singapore, and want an overpriced all-you-can-eat ballers’ lunch, then by all means head to the luxury hotel nearest you.
Shanghai, surprisingly, harbors a little bit of both worlds: fancy overindulgent hotel buffets and casual neighborhood eateries. The expat-focused establishments get it right with proper proteins and other options to cater to any sweet tooth. Hotel brunches are more of the same. The most striking difference is the entertainment, or the very existence of such. Hotels try to differentiate themselves via kitsch factor to entice Westerners and the wealthy Chinese. For instance, young Chinese women dress up in risqué nurses outfits to dole out syringes of Russian vodka and cheap tequila into baí de lǎowài mouths, who are peer-pressured by their table to open their gullets wide. Opera singers serenade the brunch from the mezzanine, drowning out any conversation we hoped to share with our new friends of friends. Acrobats defy gravity on a pole as their bodies float up parallel to the ground. Tiny gymnasts hide inside sets of hula hoops as they wiggle their snake-like bodies through all of them at once. Eventually, the extravaganza of randomness finishes with a flourish and prestige that only a raffle can provide. I’ll admit it is fun; and connecting with new people in a foreign land is more than welcomed. It’s still lunch… with fanfare.
I miss the Dallas brunch culture since living in Asia. But now I can make my own Dutch Baby, and I can usually talk Kyle into making me bacon by the time Sunday morning rolls around. I miss the face-to-face time with dear friends who I must schedule on Skype to keep in touch. Fingers crossed this time her face won’t freeze into a box of fuzzy squares. I see my girls only once a year after a 20-hour pilgrimage huíguī (back home) and only if the stars and our schedules align. I keep determined in Shanghai with a list of backup brunch spots to hit up when pancake delivery gets old. Bottomless mimosas are nowhere to be found, but I have located one place that serves free-flow rosé champagne that I will never return to. They can’t all be winners. In spite of it all, I am finding the new friends I’ve made more than make up for noodles at brunch.