Health experts will berate you for eating after eight pm. They will warn you that the ramifications include but are not limited to weight gain, irregular eating habits, and a disturbed circadian rhythm. This may all be true, but there are few pleasures and one of them is the late-night supper or more accurately termed 消夜. In primary school, I would come home past dinner time, fatigued and lethargic. With my eyelids heavied, I would spoon heaps of rice soddened in beef and tomato stew. My primary instinct was to sleep, but that was no match for the savory and salty tang of a good meal. In high school, after putting my younger siblings to bed, my guardian and I would steam flat noodles that we would afterward bask in soy sauce, scallions, and sesame seeds. When I took a hiatus from my undergrad and worked late nights, I drifted onto the LIRR with warm char-siu and cabbage over rice. Do not confuse 消夜 with after-dinner snacking. A bowl of cheerios, M&Ms, or Ruffles is incomparable to a warm supper after a life-wringing day.
Eating during the conventional three-meal cycle is obligatory. This is especially so for those who work during meal hours—this is when eating devolves to refueling. What better hour to eat than the soft striking of leisure, an idle period where there are no other tasks to ambush you. Many restaurants close by nine or ten pm, so 消夜 selection is a privilege. Please do not confuse 消夜 as a last-minute dinner. The premeditation and deliberation required suggest that it is the (less revered) fourth-meal of the day.
There is a sense of luxury in eating 消夜. Do not confuse luxury with bourgeois one-bite morsels. Luxury in the sense of the continuous refinement of selection, and eating something simple but rich. There must be some hierarchy established here, the meal must have character and some degree of sincere umami. One of my favorite 消夜 selections is mapo doufu. Any thick, substantial, stew-like dish is a competent 消夜 choice. Remember, the art of 消夜 layering doesn’t only involve the main dish, it must be complemented with side dishes like steamed rice, warm congee, or any well-insulated starch. Another quality choice is Korean Fried Chicken. It is recommended and even law to pair KFC with pickled radish. If your partner dares to turn their nose up at its radial fragrance, leave them. Like I’ve said, there are few pleasures in life, do not let some amateur harsh your 消夜.
These previously mentioned 消夜 options are not cheap. As I’ve mentioned, there is a privilege and deliberateness in selecting your 消夜. However, there are budget-friendly alternatives. Pan-fried spam, steamed rice, and seaweed is a simple but immaculate choice. Once again, 消夜 is not convenience food, it requires a level of decision making. If your intentions are to grab an easy bite, well, you have defeated the very purpose of 消夜.
Lastly, if the very thought of 消夜 triggers pleasure and gladness, then you are doing it right. If Cap’n Crunch or Elios really satisfies your 消夜 cravings, then what does it matter. Disband the hierarchy and just do you—just don’t talk to me about it.