Numbers for noodles, digits for dumplings

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Vanessa’s Dumpling House on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn (and, apparently, Manhattan too) is an aluminium clad saviour. Serving good Chinese food in a fast, canteen-style setting, Vanessa’s seemed to readily and purposefully attract a consistent trickle of inebriated hipsters (such as myself).

Behind a languid youth stood at a till was a wall menu displaying incredibly reasonable prices for a wide array of food.

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The great bargains displayed on the board means you can go to Vanessa’s and not spend too much (as is usually this Yorkshire Alien’s modus operandi) or, you can go there and purchase an excessive variety of tasty Chinese food (against intrinsic values, I went for the latter — it was my first time in NY, usual thrift levels had been recklessly re-calibrated).

Then commenced the numbers exchange: I gave my list of order numbers to the lad and he returned the big total number, then I punched in my 4 personal numbers* and he gave me my personal number slip which someone would later shout out when all the smaller numbers I had requested were ready.

*after making sure I had added on a smaller number to the big total number to represent my appreciation for the fluidity of the number exchange, of course.

Like much of this planet called Earth, Vanessa’s is very centred upon the swift exchange of numbers. In fact, you could probably go there and conduct a highly efficient human interaction powered purely by the exchange of numbers. But, brimming with the exceptionalism one grant’s themselves on holiday and because I recognised a song on the radio, I wasn’t going to settle for a purely numeric exchange. So, like an out-of-place middle-aged person at a house party, I strummed up a brief conversation with the young serving lad about whether he felt the singer of the current bop on the wireless (XXXtentacion) would have made it to the big time. The conversation was convivial enough and once we’d concluded a firm maybe, I took my seat amongst the swaying, expectant beards and tattoos, personal number slip in hand, and had a brief self-appraisal that maybe I was still ‘cool’.

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You didn’t have to wait that long at Vanessa’s. Once the first number exchanges had been performed at the till, a team of 5 or 6 Chinese food preparers quickly assembled orders before barking out people’s personal numbers. However, this is where the efficiency of the rapid number exchange hit its most debilitating and perhaps inevitable snag: a reliance on the weary and bleary eyed customers to remember one number that was handed to them a few minutes ago which they are most often still clutching in their hand — or at least a vague awareness that they could check the personal number slip and that it may match the number being croaked out for the 4th time towards the small restaurant by one of the restless servers.

A scene such as the one above is very familiar in British takeaway haunts late on an inebriated Friday evening. The sort of establishments that may also deck themselves out in easy-clean shining aluminium surfaces. However, at Vanessa’s, it was exacerbated by the fact that it was not just standing room only but there was also a reasonably sized seating area in which awaiting customers could rest their legs and get lost in a world of fiddling with soy sauce bottles and slowly grinning at their friends. Of course, these numerical exchange breakdowns made for good viewing as did a toilet key attached to a purposefully oversized wooden block.

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The block’s obscene size seemed to have the purpose of maximizing the key’s prominence in the hope that the impatient drunkards to which it was temporarily bequeathed would not lock it inside the toilet (this did not work, it was locked and somehow lost during my brief visit there amid other confusing exchanges with it which, of course, all made for more, entertaining viewing).

If you were to go to Vanessa’s, you would probably end up delighting in all this people watching. But, then you would probably find that you are the one being summoned, with some exasperation, by repeated outbursts of their personal number. In the fog of your consciousness, one number from the shrill cries will possibly strike a muffled bell of recognition in your memory. You will uncrumple the ticket held safely in your hand, with joy spreading on your face like you have just won a raffle. In fact, you will have just got up to speed with the rapid number exchange you willingly entered into a mere 10 minutes ago.

So, after hampering a rapid, reasonable system (flawed only by the complacency and ignorant bliss provided by alcohol and/or being a millenial), you too could shuffle quickly to the counter with an apologetic smile and finally lay your hands on the delectable numbers selected in the not too distant past.

For myself, they were a sesame pancake sandwich with some pretty decent goyza and bao or 26, 12 and 52 as they are affectionately known at Vanessa’s.

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With your plastic bag of ingeniously containered fare, you can stumble out of Vanessa’s into the Williamsburg night air or stay to eat in and watch more calamitous number exchanges unfold underneath the bright lighting. Either way, you will have eaten like an emperor whilst paying like a mere subject.

That’s it. Go there (if you’re already in New York. Don’t go to New York expressly for this, that would be mental and you also would have, just generally, grossly underestimated how much stuff there is in New York). Until next time, 3, 11 and of course, 17.

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Recording my thrifty experiences of recently landing in the U.S from the frugal planet of Yorkshire. Stay on the cosmic shoestring whilst still being a human.

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