Pancake Lady


The hot griddle causes sweat to bead just below her hairline, but it never seems to collect in enough quantity to come rolling down her slightly wrinkled cheek, so if she even notices it, she ignores the sensation. Her black hair is streaked with a little grey, but no stoop, waddle or limp will betray her age. With a nasally bark in Chinese, she gestures to me with the oiled metal spatula in her right hand while flipping a pancake with an identical spatula in the other. When I’m done stumbling through the wreckage of broken Chinese and mangled, affected English, she barks again in Chinese, this time to the young couple working prep behind her. The woman next to her flips her a couple half finished radish pancakes. Sinewy wrists work the flat circles of cooking batter over and over with lightning speed.

When the toppings are ready, the two metal spatulas blur and gleam in the morning sun, fluffing the pancakes and clinking in rapid staccato against the griddle. The metal and wood are extensions of her arm, and she never lets go, bringing anything she needs to the griddle with a flash and clink. When the pancakes are done, the limber wrists roll them up and slide them into a bag. Finally, she lets go of one spatula and holds the bag out, gripping the handles between an iron thumb and forefinger. When I take it and pay, her eyes dart to the next person in line, and she issues another nasally, high-pitched command.

I walk away, and the rapid-fire clinkity-clinkity-clinkity-clinkity follows me down the block.

For A Character Study


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