Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fortune Cookie Chronicles

I am fascinated by Jennifer 8. Lee's book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles - the history of American-Chinese food.

I love the parts about the sophistication of "chop suey" restaurants in the 20's, the menu wars, the "Golden Venture" disaster, the nasty General Tso chicken, and of course, the mysterious attachment of American Jew to Chinese food.

Remember "Network"? "Jews know two things - Chinese food and suffering".

All this makes me think of my own personal history with Chinese food. It was a long time coming. I have dim memories of my Uncle Don (the educated member of my mother's family, he'd been to Bible College somewhere in the Midwest) telling us about a trip to a Chinese restartant. "They just kept bringing platters of pork and shrimp and vegetables," he said. My mother, with her nose in the air, "If you are willing to eat things like that".

Then there were the meals Suzanne and I shared in the dim recesses of the local Chinese restaurant in Rutherford. It had a generic name - maybe China Rose or something like that. The intimacy of passing the little metal teapot. The takeout iced tea and eggrolls in the hot Jersey nights.

The Yorks cooking Japanese food and guiding us through Chinese restaurants in New Jersey, New York, and London.

And the excitement of Szechuan and Hunan food in the late 70's. Sensations I had never imagined. The glory of HOT!

Not to mention "the you no like" phenomenon that tormented me in NYC's Chinatown in the early 80's. I DO LIKE chicken feet and sea cucumbers.

Maybe we should add the chicken who played tic-tac-toe in Chinatown for over 20 years. Yes, the same chicken. Birds are long lived unless you eat them.

But Jennifer really should add a chapter about Chinese restaurants in Alaska. How every town with a population greater than 400 has a Chinese restaurant. How they are all run by Koreans, and how they have only begun to offer Korean dishes in the last few years. About the practice in Bethel (western Alaska) of including fortune cookies with every order - including cheeseburger and fries.

Then there is the passion of Eskimos for sushi and sashimi- but that is a whole different story.

This book is much too short.

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