Spice Girl
Joanne Faries
Olympic Zhu, was born on August 8, 2008 and like three thousand other babies born on opening ceremony day, she was blessed with that name. Now age seven, her main hurdle was to achieve academically, and then sprint to her family’s shop in the Ashley Road District of Hong Kong.
Sing Lum Khui restaurant featured Yunnan Rice Noodles, and Olympic’s job was to measure spices for custom ordered meals. Light on her feet, she feinted like a fencer, avoiding other family members stirring pots. It was a high jump to reach the tallest shelf for her special smoky spice concoction. Her brothers always hid her decorative cans.
It was exactly fitting that Olympic had vaulted to top spice chef at such a young age. Her grandfather recognized her delicate palate when she was only one, and groomed her for the position. His gray head and her tiny black haired one hovered over his herb garden when she was four. He shared knowledge from the ancestors.
Grandmother Zhu dressed Olympic, age five, in fine silks and they walked to the market, dove in and out of stalls, and immersed themselves in food culture. They swam upstream against the crowds, determined to purchase the best ingredients.
“Never buy inferior,” said Grandmother. “Never lose face with soggy noodles. Never shame Sing Lum Khui restaurant.”
“Perfection,” a solemn Olympic vowed. Her tiny upturned face broke into a smile.
One day an official limousine stopped in front of the humble shop. Hungry folks in line stepped back to allow the local mayor and his entourage entrance. They applauded and bowed, for he was famous and generous in that district.
Mayor Lui said, “I’ve heard of the youngest spice chef, and wish for her to create a noodle dish for me.”
Her father scurried to bring Olympic from the back. She got up on her step stool to greet the Harvard educated mayor face-to-face and ask some questions, “Favorite beer, Mr. Mayor?”
“American football team?”
“Dallas Cowboys.”
She pondered his answers - her young inscrutable face gave nothing away. “It will be an honor. Please sit and I will bring your dish in fifteen minutes.”
The mayor mingled with his constituents, flirted with the ladies, and discussed horse racing with the men.
Olympic worked at her normal pace in the back. She consulted tins and then used one shaker. Her father peppered her with questions. Her mother wrung her apron, and her brothers didn’t tease. Her grandparents blessed her creation and the whole family arrived at the table for the presentation.
She bowed. The mayor wielded his chopsticks, took a huge mouthful, and exclaimed, “Delightful flavors.”
He glanced around.
“Any American ketchup?”

First published: May 2015
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