BISTEC AND FLIED EGGAS
Yunnan-Yi, China, is an old, walled city on the Burma Road. It is 6,800 feet above sea level, and is located in a bowl-shaped valley ringed by rugged mountains more than 10,000 feet high. Before the United States entered World War II, General Claire Chennault stationed some of his American Volunteer Group (A.V.G.) Flying Tigers at the Yunnan-Yi Airport. The celebrated band of Chennault's mercenary pilots flew early model P-40 fighter aircraft in combat operations against the Japanese.
In 1944, the town's only link with Allied Forces was provided by cargo airplanes flying the dangerous route over the Hump (Himalaya Mountains) from India to the 5,000 foot long, gravel-surfaced runway at the Yunnan-Yi Airport. The 14th Air Force stationed a P-40 Squadron there with a mission to protect cargo planes from Nippon fighter aircraft based in Northern Thailand and Northeast Burma.
In late August 1944, while piloting a 40th Bomb Group B-29 from our advanced base at Hsinching, China, to Chakulia, India, I was forced to make an emergency landing at the tiny Yunnan-Yi Airport. (See story #58 Four Blown Tires.) Our crew remained with the crippled Superfortress for nine days while its main wheels and tires were being replaced.
The first meal our crew ate at the P-40 Squadron mess hall was bad enough to send us into town for something better to eat. Local fighter pilots recommended a cafe run by a Chinese lady known as Su-Su. When we located Su-Su's Cafe, we discovered that getting inside required a risky bit of climbing. The cafe was located in an old, wooden watch tower, atop a gatehouse in the earthen wall that surrounded the city. To get there, we climbed a rickety wooden staircase made of split timbers set into the wall. There was no handrail. We climbed at least forty feet above the courtyard to get to the cafe. The climb was not a pleasant adventure for the fainthearted.
Su-Su was a very large, amiable Chinese lady, perhaps fifty years old, with skin the color of mahogany. Most of her teeth were gold. Her English was passable. Her French was good. Su-Su's menu was reduced to the simplest of choices -- something she called, "Bistec and Flied Eggas." The meat was tough and stringy. It was topped by two giant eggs with huge red yolks, served sunny-side up with fresh biscuits on the side. Su-Su greeted every customer with the same words: "Hi! You like Bistec and Flied Eggas?" You answered, "Yes." "You like Eggas flied sunny-side up?" "Yes." Her meat, biscuits and fried eggs were never served otherwise, so you answered yes to her questions. You soon learned the routine at Su-su's cafe, so ordering and eating was a known quantity before you hugged the earthen wall going up and down the rickety stairs.
During the nine days my crew spent at Yunnan-Yi, the only four-footed critters we saw around town were large dogs, some scrawny horses, and a few lean mules. Water buffalo are common in China, but the alpine climate at Yunnan-Yi was not suited for them. For some reason, there were no cows either. As for fowl, we observed only ducks and large geese -- no chickens.
We decided that Su-Su's one-cylinder menu was composed of horse or mule meat, topped with red-yolked goose eggs. We had no idea where she got the grain for the "Bistecs." While it may not sound appetizing now, back in 1944 it was far better than the canned food served in the P-40 mess hall. You must remember that American fighter pilots ate at Su-Su's Cafe also.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *