Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas, Chinese Food & Me

I was hardly disappointed to find out that my brother had arranged to pick up Chinese food for Xmas Eve. Having it on Christmas Day might have been more predictable for a family with Jews in the mix. But we non-Jews regularly blend right in with all the Jewish customs and are big Chinese food eaters going way back to our Stockton roots...So why wait?

(That same day, I received a very interesting article explaining why Jews eat Chinese on Christmas, a tradition begun on the Lower East Side of Manhattan about a hundred years ago. Among the reasons for that, the obvious: Chinese restaurants were the only ones open on Christmas (though not exclusively nowadays). Also something I had not focused on: Chinese food does not contain dairy. Read the article!)

"Tropical Chinese"
Good Chinese food is hard to come by in some Miami neighborhoods, so just picking up a take-out order from the VERY popular "Tropical Chinese" was a feat -- wading through a sea of folks waiting festively to pick up or sit down. There is a large window looking out from the kitchen into the main dining room if you are willing and able to follow dizzying kitchen action happening around super-hot woks. I watched for awhile, wishing we were home at the dinner table already. Finally we did very much  enjoy our meal -- which included braised pork belly and Prawns in a Basket (oops!) -- before proceeding to "the next phase," as my niece called it: opening Christmas gifts :)  

Peppered Spareribs

While in Stockton recently, I had (sort of) abandoned my constant craving for Mexican food and gone more for Chinese. Twice, the current Chinese restaurant of choice, Yen Du, was closed -- so where to go? In the first instance I picked New Canton Garden  (also 4 stars) from Yelp. It's not far from our old family home, and I must have passed this place hundreds of times. As mentioned in the reviews, it is nothing to look at on the outside. But the food was pretty good, especially the House Chow Fun and Pepper Salted Spareribs. The latter was something that my pal Debbie Buck and I had not been expecting. But the dish was quite tasty/spicy -- and reminded me of the chicharonnes we eat in Miami. The price was right at $7.25. I'll go back.

And just before I left Stockton, I was on the southeast side of town and decided (half-heartedly) to eat lunch at New On Lock Sam's (3 stars) on S. Sutter Street. That's the updated version of where we ate Chinese as kids -- in the original restaurant on Washington Street, after climbing up a flight of stairs and into a mysterious, smoky room of booths hidden behind red velvet curtains. The diminutive, feisty owner Ruthie always used to threaten, "If you don't finish everything, I won't give you as much next time!" Needless to say, we complied.

Dad, Mom, & Thea (1998)
Eating there now could have been very disappointing. Ruthie and her family are long gone. The dining room was nearly empty at 1:30 pm -- and seemed a bit shabby as I looked wistfully toward the booth that I remember sitting in last with my parents, my aunt, Oly Spanos and Anthe Faipeas. Outside in a little rock garden area behind a large window, a German Shepherd was jumping up against the glass. Oy veh! What had I gotten myself into? And what was I going to eat?

Then I saw it: Lunch Combo #2: consisting of sweet and sour pork w/pineapple (my mother's absolute favorite), fried prawns and pork fried rice -- all staples of our family visits so many years ago. The smell, the taste, and the little bowl of Chinese mustard/ketchup transported me back in time. Delicious, actually...and all for the princely sum of $7.90. I was not disappointed!

On the other hand, I just may leave On Lock's at that and quit while I'm ahead.

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