Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown

We hopped on the subway — the one, we’re supposed to call it — and rode south, using our new metro cards.  We went to Chinatown to eat Cantonese food, which we planned to refer to frequently, so that New Yorkers — like our friends Marc and Marina, for instance — would realize we’re really quite sophisticated.

After walking a few blocks east, we went from restaurant to restaurant, peering in the windows and checking out the menus.  Since we were starving, we very quickly decided we’d found an authentic restaurant and barged in.  No need to quibble when you’re hungry.

“We have to get Cantonese food, remember,” my husband muttered.  “I’m not fooling around with any of that other stuff.”

The waiter showed up, pencil in hand.  We ordered dumplings as appetizers, then split an entree of curried chicken.

“Can you get us chopsticks?” my husband asked the waiter.

The waiter looked at him strangely and shook his head.

“Chopsticks?” my husband said again.

The waiter frowned and walked off.

Well, chopsticks.  I happen to have a murky history with chopsticks myself.  For years, I made fun of my husband for using them, especially when we ate Thai food, since I’d read that Thais used forks, ha, ha, ha.  The truth was, I didn’t know how to use chopsticks and was too lazy to learn.  But then we went to Japan for a week in 1999, and I decided this was it.  Either I’d learn to use chopsticks in that week, I promised myself, or I’d starve to death.  It would take more than a couple of skinny sticks to stand between me and a decent meal, so I didn’t starve.  I’m pretty decent with chopsticks now, so try to use them every chance I get, just in case someone notices.

Anyway, the waiter brought our dumplings.

“Can you bring us some chopsticks, please?” my husband asked the waiter, who disappeared.

We waited for a few minutes.  We were dying of starvation.  The dumplings smelled wonderful.  We started eating them with a fork.  The waiter moved swiftly past us, dropping chopsticks at other tables.  Everybody’s table but ours.

The dumplings disappeared.  So did the plate.  Our curried chicken arrived, smelling wonderful.  “Can you bring us — ” my husband said, before the waiter bolted for the kitchen.

The curried chicken, I have to say, was sublime, even if we had to eat it with our forks.  We cleaned our plate till it shone under the fluorescent lights.

“By the time we leave New York,” my husband vowed, “I’m going to have the waiter’s attention, by God.  They’re going to bring us chopsticks the next time.”

He said this with Scarlett O’Hara’s “with God as my witness” fierceness.  They’d better watch out the next time we come back.  You don’t mess with Southerners and their food implements.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read more about learning things you’d rather not know

19 comments… add one
  • I’d be the one asking, “May I please have a fork… please… please? A fork?” I have tried, but I’m still incompetent with chopsticks. But I console myself with the thought that I can eat much faster with a fork than with chopsticks.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Eating faster is good?

  • Sure it is, when you’re really hungry. It certainly beats starving to death, which is what I would do if I had to use chopsticks to eat.

  • Short and sweet. I was there with you, wanting chopsticks, although I, too eat Chinese food with a fork.  Great writing!

  • Chopsticks or not, you need Szechuan!

  • Sheryl Link

    Sounds like a Seinfeld episode – no chopsticks for you!
    (what did you do wrong do deserve the waiter’s wrath??)

  • I have no idea what the difference is between the types of Chinese food but would love to learn!

  • Ruth, I think the authenticity card is the fluorescent lights. That’s where you know you’ve found the good food.

  • This is so funny! I guess the waiter did not understand the word?! Maybe next time bring your own. But, honestly, I’m so jealous as I live in a small town in southern Oregon and the Chinese food here is really awful. How I wish we could eat tonight in China Town!!!!

  • Mei Link

    Funny post as always. Chopsticks or not, Cantonese, Hainan & Hakka food taste best! Try it if you haven’t already… Cheers.

  • We have a friend from China who takes us out to eat in Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens. Whenever we go, all of these amazing dishes appear out of the kitchen, things that aren’t even on the menu! My husband and I have tried to order these dishes when it’s just the two of us, but we’re always told we wouldn’t like real Chinese food.

  • uhhhmm…that would be “the 1”

  • I have been trying to master chopsticks for a lot of years. I have finally decided that chopsticks are the reason that the Chinese are so slender.

  • Chopsticks – one of the banes of my existence.  Never did learn to use the things.  My father actually spent a lot of time trying to teach me how to use them.  Everyone else could.  Just not me.  But then I’m one of those people who can’t successfully twirl spaghetti on a fork, either.  I’m dexterity-challenged, apparently.

  • Sheryl is right!
    Usually for me it’s the other way around – I want the fork. Ha!

  • Nice to see that you and Jamie and mapping out the varities of Chinese, next we will have to take you on the 7 Train to Queens which like entering into ethnic food warp drive.

  • Another vote for the fork! But I always try chopsticks first. Thanks for the fun post, Ruth!

  • No, no, no….eating slowly is best, so that I fill up and don’t order another dish that I won’t have room for by the time it arrrives, and then eat it anyway and beat myself up all evening over how much I ate……you get the picture. Oh, and in Thaiand, they eat with SPOONS! Speaking of which, I thnk I’ll make Pad Thai for dinner…….

  • …..darn it, where are my chopsticks?

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