The entire angry debate over "cultural appropriation" and authentic food versus inauthentic food went right by me, and I didn't even notice.
I was too busy eating, you see.
Two recent conversations however deserve note.
A friend remarked that he went to a familiar restaurant for lunch, and it was packed because of the rain. They turned four tables while he was hurriedly gasakking his food. He didn't say what he ate. Knowing him, it probably contained pork, chilies, and preserved vegetables.
A couple of tourists in Chinatown asked me for a recommendation. I am white. No, that wasn't "so racist" of them, it was understanding that a white man casually hanging about (smoking a pipe) would be much more likely to have a moment than the rushing Chinese pedestrians passing by, probably spoke English (I do!), and might not have a pony in the race.
And knew what they meant.
And yes, if you were to ask a native or a Mexican in Chinatown for advice you would not get what you want. A white local person, eh, perhaps.
GO THAT PLACE, THERE!
Hypothetical Chinatown Cantonese response: "Oh I don't know, nothing here really, there's a Szechuan restaurant on Jackson Street which is very popular, or maybe you like noodles? Cross the street (points).
Restaurant on Washington has dim sum all day.
That Chinatown person may be holding a bubble tea at the time, and had a baked pork chop with tomato sauce over spaghetti at a strictly Canto-style place a few hours ago. Heck, they ate yesterday and the day before too. But they presumed, based on your appearance, that you probably would not like what they like, it would take too much explanation to make the concept intelligible to you, and in any case the boba lounge where they bought the drink has popcorn shrimp (yum!) but you aren't a casual eater.
You are probably looking for something special.
[Maybe you do like noodles? Word of advice: a plate of noodles should not cost more than ten dollars.]
You want Hunanese? Peking? Dongbei? Um. No. This is Chinatown. We've got Hong Kong. Cantonese. Hong Kong Western. Dim sum. Chachanteng. Deepfried, stewed, steamed, or simmered. Crypto-Viet with noodles. Bakeries. Ho Mong Lei on Jackson, Shanghai one block down, cheap pork chops with gravy over rice in between. Two or three extremely expensive restaurants that nobody ever goes to, but outsiders like them.
Chicken wings, family style, live fish, rice porridge.
Crispy crap, baked stuff, bad coffee.
Many sit down places have a version of general Tso, and sweet'n sour pork. Plus the vegetarian option. Because it is truly authentic to want your business, and hope that you leave happy and come again.
Ho Mong Lei on Jackson does a big steamed bun filled with chicken and stuff. Double A and the Washington Bakery Restaurant have a selection of hot dishes, and excellent milk tea. The steamed Northern dumplings at the Shanghai place are lovely. There are at least four places where you can get baked porkchop over rice or spaghetti, and try the Little Paris on Stockton for a sandwich plus Vietnamese coffee. The folks at the Viet restaurant on Walter Lum will put a fried egg on almost anything, if you want. If you see jung (conical leaf-wrapped rice and meat parcels, called "dooo'oong" by Toishanese speakers), buy a few to take home; they're a great quick breakfast, lunch, or late night snack.
There are a number of places that do claypot rice.
Versions with preserved meat are very nice.
Or the salt fish chicken kind.
For your information, Cantonese people do indeed eat egg rolls, broccoli beef, and sweet and sour dishes. And almost everything else, from several different "cuisines". They see no reason to limit themselves (unlike know-it-all food writers and Chinese Americans with chips on their shoulders), and even the most painfully monolingual person has been exposed to hamburgers, pizza, and French fries.
Now, as regards those snooty Northerners .....
They cook for white people.
In a short while I'm going out for lunch and a pipe. Still don't know what to eat. It might be fried noodles, it might be jook, or maybe a steamed Toishan bao. Something simple. And a cup or two of milk tea (not from a boba place). It's a total crap shoot.
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