Thursday, October 6, 2022

Diasporic Dining: Were Cantonese Restaurants Wiped By a Meteor?

Jade Mountain (photo: Maisa_NYC)

If you had grown up in the 50s or 60s you would undoubtedly have enjoyed establishments like the iconic China Bowl at 152-4 West 44th Street, where writers like John Cheever, on his way to or from The New Yorker at 25 West 43rd, ordered the number #1, Chow Mein, fried rice, egg roll and choice of wonton or egg drop soup, with their martinis. That was during the days when hot and sour soup like coronavirus had yet to hit these shores. Speaking of which you never think the tsunami is going to hit, even when you see the wave building. Some people were even laughing in the face of Ian and holding hurricane parties in places like Tampa—which shall we say, got rained out. But getting back to the subject of the past and oblivion. Hong Fat in Chinatown is gone, but you can still walk downstairs to the basement occupied for the past half century by Hop Kee, 21 Mott. And then on the upscale side there was Richard Mei’s King Dragon on 73rd and Third where the white jacketed waiters pulled silver covers off your steaming plate of spare ribs. Or there was Jade Mountain on Second Avenue where one letter of the neon sign was always burned out--and oldies courtesy of WCBS FM piped out of the kitchen. The earth was hit by a meteor and the ice age wiped out the Neanderthals. The same thing has happened to the Golden Age of Chinese American Cantonese cuisine which was worth the MSG headache. No pain no gain. Now in fact, old style Chinese or in fact all Chinese is going the way of the once ubiquitous Jewish deli. Wonton soup appears as a footnote in the wasteland of so called fusion cuisine--unless you're able to enter the wormhole leading to Albert’s Mandarin Gourmet in Huntington, an oasis of nostalgia. The University of Texas which has been known to buy the letters of famous American writers should consider starting a collection of defunct Chinese restaurant menus.

read "Diasporic Dining: Combination Plate" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Little China Girl" by David Bowie

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