Tasting the Conspiracy, item L14a: Chicken Lo Mein

If it’s not clear what this is or why I’m doing it, check out the intro post.

Chicken Lo Mein

Beige-on-beige. Try to spot the chicken!

What exactly is this dish? Sliced chicken stir-fried in a tangle of round wheat noodles, with a brown sauce that’s reduced down to be basically dry. Veggies are sparse and light: bits of scallion, onion, and carrot are among the more prominent.

How authentically Chinese is it? Well, lo mein (捞面) is a real variety of noodle and a dish made with them, but in the Canotnese tradition it’s apparently some kind of deconstructed soup, with the noodles served on the side and dipped into the soup. The Chinese-American stir-fry dish is a wholly local creation, although it’s not entirely sui generis: it’s not too far afield from, say, Shanghai fried noodles. I’m a bit suspicious of any direct ancestry there though, since Chinese-American cuisine derives more from the culture of Guangzhou than Shanghai

Is it any good? In this particular combination, it’s not really, and for reasons which can’t actually be laid at the feet of the dish itself. this form is a lunch combo with fried rice (or white rice on demand), and there’s no two ways about it: noodles with a side of rice is kind of aggressively starchy. Most of these lunch-combo dishes are driven by protein and veggies, and while there is protein in the lo mein, it’s really in a pretty lopsided balance with the noodles. All in all, this combo taken as a whole is something of a carbohydrate monster with little relief from the bland starchiness. Noodles alone would actually work OK, in a not very aggressive way, but it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for either the main or the side when they have a certain indistinguishable cereal aspect. chicken, the blandests of the proteins, does very little indeed to lift the combination out of the doldrums.

How does it complement the rice? Er, see above. The rice entirely upsets the balance of the meal and turns it from a reasonably tasty tangle of fried noodles into a grim deathmarch through the Land of Starch. The noodles themselves are, while not bone-dry, only thinly coated with a sauce which does not really transfer onto the rice at all.


IFComp 2017: 10pm by “litrouke”

The Twenty-third Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is on, and anyone can play, participate, and judge. There are nearly 80 games this year, and there is no way I’m getting through all of them, but I’ll do my best. This is the first game according to my randomized ballot.

Blurb: 10pm, and dinner is still sitting in the oven.
The TV is droning. The front door is closed.
You look at the clock.
You look at the door.
You wait.

Content warning: Profanity, allusions to sex and violence, unhealthy parenting.
Estimated playtime: half an hour
Format: Web (Twine 1.4.2)

Well, I played through twice, to see what different kind of endings come out. The structure and interface of the game reflects the protagonist’s atypical state: you’re a boy who doesn’t speak, and all of your interactions through the game are by selecting the broad meaning of your hand signs. You’re living with a man (probably your father?) who doesn’t use apostrophes, and things are kind of stressful but depending on the choices during the game they might by either getting by or really fraught. On my first playthrough things were pretty good, and even on the second playthrough the basic premise that these people like and care about each other came through. It’s more or less a vignette, and to some extent you can decide for yourself what the shades of meaning within specific signs you choose to use are.

Apropos of the sign system, one thing which disappointed me is that there seemed to be a more or less ignored complexity in the system: I’d often get two or three signs in different colors to form a sentence with color constraints out of, and the design of the interface suggested that a mix-and-match wold work, but the response suggested that in almost all cases only the first sign determined how what I said was interpreted, and in that case just having one big block to drag and drop seems like it would make a lot more sense and not pretend to a complexit where there wasn’t one.

All in all, though, from a narrative standpoint it basically works and doesn’t outstay its welcome. At times it seems a mite sentimental (on some narrative paths) but never tips over the edge. The narrative leaves a lot of the premise beyond the basic history a bit nebulous: what Ty does, how they live on days other than this one, and what happened to make Bird so troubled. But this is largely a broadstroke work, and curious as I am about the backstory, I get why it’s not really immediately germane to the work and would most likely dilute its emotional force.