Reading My Fortune in the Tea Leaf Salad

My good friend Jackie is pretty into astrology; she consults astrologer Susan Miller, and frequently peppers our conversations with advice, insight, and predictions from Ms. Miller’s daily horoscopes.

I tend to be a bit of a cynic; I’ve always been a “see it to believe it” kind of girl, so I tease Jackie all the time about her love of astrology, but the truth is, I love that Jackie is so into it; it’s one of the things that makes Jackie Jackie, just like my cynicism is one of the things that makes me me.  And being that someone has to believe in something, I’m glad Jackie believes in the guidance of the stars–better that than to “believe” that a space ship is coming to take the chosen few off to some distant galaxy, or to “believe” that our president is trying to overhaul health care so that he can kill the nation’s elderly.  But I digress.

So earlier this week, when I got some good news, Jackie was quick to contextualize it in terms of what the stars “say” about the month of March and what it will bring a little Taurus like me.  I can’t remember everything exactly, but I think it was something about Leo’s house moving in to Mercury’s retrograde.  Also, something was “rising,” but I don’t remember what.  I just remember the “take-away,” because it was largely positive, seeming to indicate that the changes I’ve been working toward in my life might now, as Leo rose over Mercury’s best friend, be materializing.

Or, as my friend Katie might put it, “Everything’s comin’ up Sarah!”

But fast forward two days, to Friday, when whatever exciting-positive-energy streak I was on came to a sudden halt.  First, someone close to my family passed away, and really, that’s all anyone needs to end a positive-energy-high.

But then a bunch of little things started to happen, too.  My phone started freaking out, shutting itself off constantly and not wanting to stay on, even though it’s fully charged–frustrating, when you’re applying for jobs and therefore needing things like your phone to be able to work in case job-giving people call.  Then, during a super brief trip to the market in a truck from my car share, I bumped a parked car, causing minor damage (this was after I had to go a full twenty-two blocks out of my way to put gas in the car because the person who used the truck before me didn’t, even though that person was supposed to have done so).

So there seems to be this little bad-karma domino thing happening to me, but this morning on my run, I decided that, despite yesterday’s crappy streak, things would be OK.  (Endorphins have a way of messing with your brain like that; one minute you’re thinking, “Maybe things will work out,” then the next, when the adrenaline really starts surging, you’re planning your campaign for “world leader of everything” and drafting your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in your head.)

So yeah, endorphins are great.  I finished my run, went to the market, and was nearly to the bus on my way back when I realized I had kicked something.  I looked down to see what it was, and it turned out to be a giant pile of dog crap.  And I was in sandals.  So once again, someone didn’t do the responsible thing, picking up after their dog, and I had to pay for it.  I don’t know what annoys me more–the fact that I got dog crap all over my toes (and the front of my sandal), or the fact that this whole scene is like a cliche from some really lame movie: Look the main character’s day is so bad, that she just stepped in a pile of dog crap!  If it had started raining right at that moment, I would have had to listen just to be sure there wasn’t some emo soundtrack playing in the background.

Naturally, I texted Jackie and told her that her astrologers needed to recalibrate themselves; this energy wasn’t good at all, and in fact, it was (quite literally) shitty.

Somehow I decided that the only way to uncross my stars was to order takeout from B Star, a Burmese bistro-style restaurant in my neighborhood.  B Star is the less cool cousin of Burma Superstar, the super popular Burmese restaurant where every night a giant throng of people will be waiting in the (often very cold and windy) San Francisco air for a table.  These people don’t wait outside of B Star, partly because B Star takes reservations, so there’s no need to wait out in front, and partly because B Star somehow has failed to develop the same hipster cache as Burma Superstar, despite the fact that it offers many of the same dishes, and even better desserts.

Unlike many a place hipsters like to flock, Burma Superstar is actually deserving of its reputation.  From the savory garlic and wine braised pea shoots to the hearty pork and pumpkin stew, nearly everything at Burma Superstar is fantastic, especially what is probably its most famous dish, the tea leaf salad.

Tea Leaf Salad Says: Things are lookin' up!

What can I tell you about the tea leaf salad?  It’s lettuce, and tomatoes, and lots and lots of little crunchy things, from the toothsome peanuts and sunflower kernels, to sesame seeds and fried garlic.  Yes, that’s right: Slices of garlic, fried to a nutty brown, provide flavor and the most unbelievable crunch to this salad.  Then there are the fermented tea leaves, somewhat reminiscent of a pickled something, but with a tangier punch.  The wait staff mix the salad at your table, squeezing a lemon over the whole thing.

I have yet to introduce someone to the tea leaf salad who doesn’t end up loving it.  Often people take their first bite and are not sure what to make of it–not sure if they like it; yet they keep going back for another taste.  And another.  By the time there’s nothing left, these people have moved from being non-committal to wondering why the salad is all gone and if we could order another one.  It’s just an experience, this dish–an explosion of all kinds of flavors and textures; it is the perfect salad.

So you can see why I might crave something like this, on a day when it seems like Leo has turned against me, kicked Mercury out of his backyard and told whatever planet was rising to just knock it off.  I realize most experts advise against turning to food to solve one’s problems, but is that really what I’d be doing?  I mean, if I was thinking food could solve my problems, I’d be trying to offer my car share a nice batch of muffins in place of the insurance deductible I now owe.  (Note to car share: I make really good muffins.  Do you like cherry and almond together? Holla atcha girl!)

Anyway, if I’ve had a crappy day and I’m craving tea leaf salad, then tea leaf salad I shall have, dang it!

And so I did; I got it from B Star because they have it there, and I could pick it up without having to weave my way through the clot o’ hipsters hogging the sidewalk in front of Burma Superstar.  With the salad, I also got another of my favorite things, a ginger lemonade, which is the most delightful beverage I’ve ever had.  Very gingery, a little lemony; I know ginger is supposed to be good for the tummy, but I’ve often wondered if it has any effect on mood because every sip of this ginger lemonade seems to release a flood of oxytocin in my brain.

Ginger Lemonade Says: To drink me is to love me; it's the oxytocin!

I hate to be all Bette Midler “Wind beneath My Wings” about it and say that I had the tea leaf salad and all is right with the world.  I’m still sad for my brother-in-law having lost his mother, and worried about how much money I’ll have to pay for the car scrape-up.  But it would feel just as wrong to have eaten this wonderful meal and sipped my very favorite drink in all the world and not feel at least a little bit grateful.  I don’t know what Susan Miller would have to say about this little black cloud that seems to come along lately, but there is clearly a little bit of happiness floating around, too.  I can see it in the fermented tea leaves.

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
This entry was posted in Foodstuffs, My SF and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Reading My Fortune in the Tea Leaf Salad

  1. Raquel says:

    Sorry for the bad; keeping fingers crossed for the good. (And that salad sounds amazing!)

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