I’m not sure why, but there’s something about Chinese take-out that always makes dinner a special occasion. Keep in mind, grew up in a small Alberta town with the required “Chinese” food restaurant, where the ethnic flair of the food is watered-down enough to be palatable to the white-bread folks who live there. Ours was called the Twin Dragon, and it was always thrilling to dine there, or better yet to take the food home. I’m quite certain pineapple chicken balls are not a traditional Chinese entree, nor do the residents of China finish every meal with a tiny, dry pastry that holds a slip of wisdom with guaranteed winning lottery numbers on the reverse. Nevertheless, Chinese food restaurants continue to thrive in every little community I’ve seen.
I’m not sure what it is that makes it so intriguing. Perhaps it’s eating foods that I know my mom can’t prepare at home. Maybe it’s the fact that all the foods can touch (or –gasp– overlap) on the plate and everything still tastes fantastic. I’m really not sure. I doubt that the magic happens because the food journeys home in styrofoam, but the chopsticks were certainly appealing to me as a kid. Generally, my chopstick technique back then involved a sort of spear and balance procedure and resulted fairly often in a lap full of sweet and sour sauce. The Twin Dragon used to have beef on a stick, which sounds like it should be satay but wasn’t; it tasted more like a 5-spice beef, but it was so beautifully tender that I’m sure the MSG took a week or two to clear my system. These are the special moments of childhood, folks: mystery beef on a skewer for everyone!
I’ll never forget my first time going out for Chinese in the “big city.” I couldn’t read most of the menu and I had to ask for a fork since they weren’t provided like back home at the Twin Dragon. My horoscope was also not provided on a paper placemat (I’m year of the dog, if you’re wondering, loyal, trustworthy, intelligent and stubborn). When the family at the next table over dug into their beef tendon and chicken feet, among other things, I thought I might have been in over my head. Luckily for me, the server spoke English well and was able to direct me to foods I was familiar with. They were listed under the heading, “Combination Plates,” and also had a heading in Chinese characters. I’m quite sure it said “Hick Meals” and it was clearly reserved for the small town customers who had never before enjoyed actual Chinese food.
In my eleventh year of city living, I’ve branched out quite a bit and now have numerous favourites among the actual Chinese food available in Alberta’s capital city. That didn’t stop me from being thrilled to sit down for Chinese take-out with The Electrician’s family in their smallish town last night. There’s something about the steaming squeak of a styrofoam container being opened that never fails to make me grin.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a lottery ticket. I have these numbers that simply can’t lose!
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