Of course, down through the ages this orthodox stance has gained some flexibility.
Groucho Marx was the host of the, "YOU BET YOUR LIFE SHOW." He asked an Asian contestant, "Where are you from?" In a strong oriental accent the man said, "Jackson Mississippi." "Oh," said Groucho, "what do you do?" The man said, "I own a Chinese restaurant." Groucho looked puzzled and said, "Why would you open a Chinese restaurant in Mississippi?" The man said, "No competition."
The moral of the story is, no matter where you are from, people take going to a Chinese restaurant so seriously that it becomes a religious experience. I believe this to be true...for me, my family and much of the people where I grew up, (Brooklyn).
Like going to most houses of worship, we ate Chinese food on Sundays. In my neighborhood, (Canarsie), there were several places to choose from but Joy Teang on Rockaway Parkway was the one we flocked to.
BROOKLYN'S ADDICTION TO CHINESE FOOD WAS SO ACUTE THAT AN ENTERPRISING BUSINESSMAN TRANSFORMED A MR. SOFTEE TRUCK AND SUCCEEDED IN SELLING CHOW MEIN IN EDIBLE BOWLS, FOR MANY YEARS
In my youth, the preservation of a family's personal, cozy restaurant became as secretive as the Dead Sea Scrolls. When Crusaders found a worthwhile eatery that fit into their parochial parameters, they withheld this information even from friends and secondary relatives, lest the heavenly body would become an overrun hell.
Soon, it was considered an eleventh commandment to NOT spread the name of such a hot new restaurant. Like a pagan ritual, it got so bad that families threatened their kin with excommunication if they divulged the location of their last supper (of the week).
Like a nomadic tribe, my family criss-crossed our borough and auditioned many places. One was across from the WATCHTOWER newspaper building by the Brooklyn Bridge, another next to Prospect Park looked like a monastery and the one in Coney Island had a Hari Krishna waiter.
I must confess some of the restaurants proved to be false idols (food wasn't good), a couple were unwashed deities in need of redemption and still others were seemingly pure but suffered from the sin of long lines.I HOPED OUR MISSION ENDED WITH THE RESTAURANT BY THE WATCHTOWER. IT WOULD HAVE PASSED WITH FLYING COLORS, EXCEPT FOR THE LONG LINE TO GET IN.
Around 1970, in the East New York section, (on Linden Boulevard across from Gershwin Junior High), we found spiritual oneness with the universe at a cathedral called, "THE HAPPY INN." Immediately, my Aunt Mary sensed that we found our utopia and asked my dad about it. Pop wasn't about to risk fire and brimstone. He patted her husband on the shoulder, admitted nothing and said, "Am I to be my brother's keeper?"
Until recently, I lit a candle of praise every Sunday, in honor of this pagoda of gastric delights. You see, we had gotten in on the ground floor and soon George the owner/manager became a father figure. Inside the door, he'd greet us at an altar-like rostrum and hand us his good book (the menu). In no time, we memorized each sacred passage and eventually, we were ready to chant our order before settling into our reserved pew.
For about five years, my family dined there 75% of all Sundays. We were such devoted parishioners that we had my sister's sweet sixteen there. George became a customer of my dad and the restaurant placed a quarter page ad in my football team's program. The only reason I converted and stopped eating there was, I got a driver's license.
Once I had my wheels, the sacrament of going anywhere in mass with my parents pretty much ended. That's when road trips with my friends into Manhattan's consecrated land known as Chinatown became enlightening.
At first, we sacrificed our time, energy and waistlines in places like the Pell Street Mandarin Inn, The Kambo Rice Shop, Lin's Garden and #8 Canal Street (I can't remember the name). But once we found Mecca in the form of Wo Hop, (17 Mott Street), breaking a fast in any other chop suey joint became sacrilege.IN MY PHOTO ALBUM, I HAVE A PERSONAL SHRINE TO WO HOP. NO CONVERSATION ABOUT EXALTED CHINESE RESTAURANTS IS COMPLETE WITHOUT PLACING THEM NUMBER-ONE. TO PROVE IT, I ALSO HAVE A PRESENT-DAY PICTURE OF NOAH, WEARING A WO HOP TEE-SHIRT AS HE ADMITS ONLY ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT ONTO HIS ARK.
A few years later in 1979, I moved to Las Vegas. I was shocked and dismayed to find out what they called Chinese food. Along the way to seeing the light, three Chinese restaurant incidents in Vegas stand out.
When I first got to town, my initial baptism under fire was when I dealt at the worst job in town, the Slots-A-Fun Casino. I befriended a much older blackjack dealer named Jesse, (he was thirty-eight). Each night, he got picked up by Eve, his twenty-one year old, incredibly ugly, floozy of a girlfriend.
One day, Jesse didn't show up for work. At the end of my shift, he and Eve appeared at the time office. After he quit our serpent pit, he told me that he got hired at a temple of atonement called the California Club. Jesse was all smiles when he said, "This is the gospel, my tip income is going to quadruple." Then he insisted on taking me to dinner to celebrate.
I didn't need to be prophetic to guess that the shithouse he took me to, (an open-air luncheonette with a Polynesian theme), would have the worst Chinese food. Instead of eating at a table, Jesse had us served at the horseshoe bar. He didn't mind the crappy food because he was sucking down God's blood in the form of double scotches.
The following are excerpts from my short story, "FREDDY THE FINGER."
One day Freddy said, "You like lobster?" I said, "Yeah." "Well call your girl, I switched my days off and on Monday, me and Estelle are taking you guys to the Tillerman." He then jabbed one of his nine remaining fingers into my ribs and added, "And for you my savior, the sky's the limit."
Surprisingly, rather than canceling, he changed the plans by groaning, "Estelle isn't in the mood for seafood. How about we meet for chinks at Jung Jie's?" Before I could speak he added, "They make a lobster Cantonese, to die for."
While getting acquainted at Jung Jie's bar, Sue and I discovered that Estelle, a heavyset six-footer, was an over bearing, obnoxious woman who never stopped yammering on about her self. She was a real estate agent and even wore her gold, Century 21 blazer to prove it. She rattled off some of her celebrity clients, the hefty commissions she had earned and handed us her business card. Then she suggested that we come to her office and see all her awards.
Freddy stared at this female Satan, like she was a Goddess as Sue and I rolled our eyes in despair. But Estelle out did herself by asking us a series of personal questions. Afterwards she said, "Now we can talk turkey. Then I'll put you kids into your dream house." While I choked on my Budweiser, I wanted to scream but big mouth Estelle stole my thunder by calling across the room to Cristian, the maitre d. While he escorted our congregation to a table, Estelle spoke in fluent Mandarin with him.
On the way, even the Buddha statue was annoyed by Estelle. When she passed, I saw it crying tears of blood. After we were seated, we weren't given menus. When Estelle saw the lost look on my face she said, "I took the liberty of ordering for the table." She had no idea that I was a connoisseur of fine Chinese food and that Sue was an advanced aficionado.
My last Chinese restaurant incident in Vegas happened when I dealt at the Golden Nugget. The casino had just finished its re-modeling metamorphosis from a saw dust joint to a global destination and every new thing in there was state-of-the-art.
I don't know if the Bishops ever showed up but the hostess stared me down like she wanted me to repent every time she passed. Oh yeah, we made our movie, but we served penance for my transgression, the sanitized food sucked.