Friday, October 22, 2010

A Life in Chinese Food (in which I provide unwarranted free advertising)

I've been thinking about my life history as reflected by the Chinese restaurants I've known and loved over the years. Each restaurant has a dish it does best.

When I was a little girl, my first Chinese restaurant was Chin's, in El Dorado. They had the most delicious egg rolls I have ever tasted. At Chin's they cut two egg rolls into four slices each, and everyone at the table got at least one slice. Chin's is where I learned how to share something that I really, really, really didn't want to share. That's a pretty tough lesson for a kid who was an only child until the age of 7. Regrettably, Chin's has been torn down. I think it's a bank now. But I can still taste the egg rolls.

When I moved to St. Louis to go to Webster University, I discovered Webster Wok in Webster Groves. Their egg rolls left something to be desired, but their shrimp lo mein was the stuff midnight cravings are made of. Unfortunately, they closed at 8. Near my apartment, there was a place on the corner of Manchester and McCausland in St. Louis that had superb shrimp fried rice, although every time I went in there, I had to squint my eyes just a bit to avoid seeing the less-than-spotless decor.

When I graduated from Webster, I took my English degree out to Maryland Heights, a St. Louis suburb, and starting working for a publishing services company. In Maryland Heights, my colleagues told me about the place on Dorsett just west of 270. They had a particularly great chicken with mixed vegetables, and my favorite crab rangoon. To this day, I haven't found a crab rangoon to top theirs. Plus, they delivered with no minimum delivery fee. You could order one $5 lunch special and they'd bring it to you for nothing but the tip, which meant on those days that I couldn't take time off for lunch (which was a lot of days), I still got a decent meal that held me until I went home at 6pm. Or 7pm. Or 8pm.

The thrill of cheap Chinese food delivery eventually stopped making up for the insane schedule I was working, which, I realize in retrospect, was literally driving me crazy. So I decided it was time to leave that job and go back to school. In Lawrence, I found Plum Tree just up the street from my apartment. And while sitting on my new friend Priscilla's couch, I simultaneously learned to love KU basketball and Plum Tree's spring rolls. There are a lot of things I miss about Lawrence, and at the very top of that list is eating Chinese food with Priscilla while shouting at the TV and laughing hysterically at the opposing teams' faces as Russell Robinson or Mario Chalmers executed the umpteenth turnover in a single game.

Back in Wichita, Master's degree in hand (okay, really, it's sitting unframed on the piano music stand), I'm working in publishing again, teaching, trying to cobble together some kind of life, and eating the szechuan shrimp from the Great Wall at 21st and Amidon. And their egg rolls . . . Well, I can't say that they're as wonderful as Chin's, but they're pretty close. It just figures. I spent 12 years wandering, but couldn't find what I really craved until I came back home.

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