Rumination on chinese food

I love chinese food. This is not a short-lived, little fling, no, not this love. This is one of the great passionate true loves of my life. Actually, let me clarify. I love good chinese food, not cheap suburban overcooked, too-greasy, chinese food cooked by people who have forgotten the history and mystery of the land that spawned the cuisine.

I know saying chinese food is a misnomer. China is a huge place, encompassing many different languages, cultures and foodways, but at least in America when we say "chinese food" we're referring to a general type of cooking. It's likely the food is cut into pieces small enough to be handled with chopsticks, there is a wok in the kitchen and white rice is served. And for me, it includes comfort, variety of flavor and texture, potential adventure and more.

A few nights ago I had wonderful spicy dumplings from my local chinese restaurant, Fuloon. I'm fortunate, this place is within walking distance and is very good. I don't need to go to Chinatown for a fix, though I still love to go. Their dumplings are coated in a spicy sauce composed of szechuan peppercorn oil, some soy sauce, a bit of red pepper and maybe a little vinegar. The szechuan peppercorn has a typical characteristic of both burning and numbing the mouth that is just exquisite, while the dumplings are soft and tender. I can't eat too many at any one time, I'm not that inured to hot food, but it is wonderful. I think of this as intermediate-to-advanced eating.

The first time I ever had chinese food, my beginner meal, was when I was maybe 8 or 9. My parents took me to a place in Philadelphia, one of the one-from-column-A, two-from-column-B kinds of places. I remember being suspicious. I remember the table was round, the restaurant seemed cluttered. And then I tasted sweet-and-sour pork for the first time, in spite of its orange color. There was no going back. While I'm sure, now, I would consider this to be a mediocre example of the dish then it was utterly exquisite. I remember the soft crunch and tear, then the flood of tart sweetness and the oily coating in my mouth. I remember closing my eyes so I could taste it better. My mother laughed when I went "mmmmmm...." as I chewed, unaware.

I still close my eyes and make yummy sounds when I eat something especially delectable.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer


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