During my second year in high school, I used to take an evening math class at a local cram school once a week. Every Tuesday, after school, I would hop onto a bus to the railway station. The cram school was located at the other side of the station, and I used to walk through the underground tunnel to cross over the station building.
My class was between 7pm and 9pm, and I had a few hours before the class to grab my supper. There were many restaurants around the station, but for a high school student who was new to eating a meal outside on her own, there didn’t seem to be many choices. I was mostly looking for a cheap option. I could have bought my food from a convenience store, but I wanted to make sure that my last meal of the day was a hot meal. So, as nervous as I was, I went out to look for a suitable restaurant for my supper.
After trying a few options, I came across a tiny pasta restaurant chain called Copin inside a shopping mall attached to the railway station. The restaurant was located right at the bottom of an escalator with a small kitchen and a white shiny counter table. It was so small that there was only one lady working at this restaurant, managing both the cooking and the customer service.
I would usually arrive at the restaurant at around 5pm, and I was usually the only customer during that hour. I would purchase a ticket for the pasta of my choice, hand it over to the lady behind the counter, and take a seat at the white shiny table waiting for my pasta to be cooked.
I always ordered Bucatini all’Amatriciana – the tomato-based sauce cooked with pork cheek, tomatoes, and cheese (Pecorino Romano cheese, as I learned later!). It was the one recommended to me by the lady upon my first visit. I loved the taste so much that I stuck with it and never tried anything else from the restaurant.
As I sat at the counter table, awkwardly looking around and curiously observing the equipment behind the kitchen counter, the sizzling sound of the oil and the smell of the pork cheek would start teasing my ears and nose, and I would feel a surge of excitement in my body. After a long dull day at school, this was when I felt alive for a brief moment. Within a few minutes, the lady would hand me a steaming bowl of Bucatini all’Amatriciana over the counter, and I would savour it from bite to bite until the very last drop of the tomato sauce.
This restaurant was a fast food restaurant for pasta, and the quality of the food couldn’t have been superb. And yet, the taste of that Bucatini all’Amatriciana is recalled in my mouth and heart with a special sense of attachment – the joy of feeling alive.