Saturday, August 14, 2010

I really wanted really good real Chinese food

Last week, I walked into a Chinese restaurant in Salt Lake a few minutes before they closed.  Here's the exchange I had with the server, as closely as I can remember.

"Are you still open?"
"For take out only. What you want?"
"What's your favorite thing on the menu?"
"My favorite thing? So many things, depends. What you want?"
"Well, I want what your favorite thing is."
"You like chicken, pork, or beef?"
"Chicken"
"You like deep fried or not deep fried."
"Not deep fried."
"I like kung pow or Szechuan chicken."
"What do you like tonight?"
"You like spicy or not spicy?"
"Spicy"
"You sure?"
"Yes"
"You trust me?"
"I trust you."
"Okay, Szechuan chicken. That will be $8.34"

She smiled, and I could tell by her smile that I had, by that sequence of questions, actually stumbled upon what her favorite Chinese dish actually was.

It might not be immediately apparent why this was such a super significant conversation for me. But, I was at a Chinese restaurant yesterday, and I tried to have the same conversation, and I ended up with breaded, deep fried, sweet and sour chicken, which was okay, but not great, and definitely not the server's favorite. It was just what she thinks Americans like. So, the conversation last week was a once in a lifetime conversation.

This wasn't regular Szechuan chicken. It was Chinese-style Szechuan chicken, the kind real Chinese people eat. Not just a pile of chicken with a little Szechuan sauce, but all these great vegetables, perfect seasoning, and just a little bit of chicken, just like they have in China. And the server gave me a little cup of spices on the side. Not just powdered spices, but cool spices that looked homemade. I think maybe she made it just for me, just like she would make for herself.

While driving home, I kept stopping and eating the delicious meal.

I'm really not sure how to have this conversation again, even though I will probably spend my life trying to replicate it. Because I don't think there's a way to say in Chinese, "I have this suspicion that your favorite dish will be the tastiest thing I'll ever taste. So will you please tell me what your favorite thing here is? I will order it!"

Photo courtesy fishwork, purchased from  istockphoto

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