When in unfamiliar territory, finding a good place to eat is a favorite activity of mine. In a rural area you can pretty much count on triple the risk factor. I tend to go “way deep” into terra incognita. Yeah, I’m more or less fearless.
(If you’re the type who, given this situation, whips out a smart phone and starts checking web sites for crowd sourced restaurant recommendations… just shut the hell up. You need to put that thing down and join the non-virtual world.)
At any rate I was cruising from nowhere to nowhere with a hankering for Chinese food. I was about as far from China (or anywhere else likely to have good Chinese food) as one can get. I was depressingly resigned to either a greasy burger or a slimy pizza at the next town. To my shock and surprise, I found just what the doctor ordered. Next to a diesel stop there was a Chinese restaurant! How cool is that?
I had my doubts. The guy tending the place wasn’t what I was picturing. I want to be greeted by either Lucy Liu or an eight year old carrying a calculus book. I’m not sure if a fat bubba in a baseball cap has ever served good Chinese food but clearly I was skating on thin ice. Alas, I was hungry and decided to roll the dice. I deliberately ordered something simple, Mongolian Beef. Even if all they did was defrost it and swirl it around in a pan; that’s usually not too unpalatable
Then, too late, I realized my fatal error. The soundtrack was all wrong. All Chinese restaurants in America play the same background music. I don’t know if it’s a law of nature or what but you’ve heard the music too. It’s that twangy guitar thingamajig, sometimes accompanied by the exotic sounding bow based instrument. (I believe I’m referring to a ruan and a erhu. If you knew that without resorting to Wikipedia you’re smarter than me.) I’m under no illusion that actual people in China listen to this. I presume it’s the Chinese equivalent of Michael Bolton and universally despised on the mainland. For all I know the average Chinese person is listening to bootlegs of Miley Cyrus twerking. Or perhaps Devo? Frankly I’d think it was great if they were listening to Devo.
Regardless, I have a Pavlovian response to the proper soundtrack. Good Chinese restaurants (and most bad ones) know this and follow the rules.
Garth Brooks is most definitely not the correct music for any Chinese restaurant. My heart sank.
The place was also empty. In my haste I hadn’t noticed that before. This was not looking good at all.
When bubba disappeared into the kitchen with my order, the music stopped. Had I been mistaken? I imagined him frantically trying to change the music back to the appropriate setting before he lost their single customer of the day.
Another customer dropped by, he’d driven in on an ATV. He looked like the love child of ZZ Top and a Freightliner. This, unlike the music, which I was sure would soon return to “Chinese Restaurant loop tape #87”, didn’t look like a good development either. He was soon joined by another fellow who looked like a wildebeest had hastily pulled on flannel and went looking for spring rolls. The second guy had arrived in a Honda Civic with approximately fifty million miles on whatever parts hadn’t rusted away. A third fellow arrived. He looked reasonably presentable and showed up in an old but serviceable truck carrying about a third of a cord of soggy firewood. I can appreciate that.
All three seemed to know each other and they soon got into a heated discussion about fishing bait. They ordered quickly. I couldn’t hear what they choose. I was wishing I could switch to whatever the locals were eating.
The music returned. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Time for a Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:
“Nothing good comes from Chinese food cooked to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
If it had been Freebird I’d have ran.
I should have ran.
The food came. I ate it. I paid for it. I’m still paying for it. I don’t think I’m going to eat redneck Chinese again. I might not eat again. Ever.
I’m reminded of Jonah Goldberg’s classic example of faint praise:
“Best gas station sushi bar in the southeast!“
Conversely(obversely? whatever) I stopped with high hopes at a gen-you-whine Tex-Mex eatery in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois (pop. 6, literally) where the proprietor was a good ‘ole boy and my fellow diner was a cute Irish lass with a pronounced brogue. Got sooo sick. Never again. I feel yer pain, AC.
I have corrected the errors of A.C.’s ways on this one. Updated to the correct spelling. Thank you.
A few personal, general rules of thumb for finding good restaurants in out of the way locations:
-Look for work trucks. This is usually best for breakfast or lunch.
-A hole in the wall place with a full parking lot is also a good sign.
-Also, check near the shores of large bodies of water.
RE: Chinese food- if there’s not a lot of Asian businesses in the area, the chances are the Asian food won’t be exceptional.
Techincally, this meal was exceptional.
In the course of a lengthy job that involved a lot of people from PRC – and eventually a trip to PRC – I learned that Chinese people don’t agree with one another on what is “Chinese food,” either. For example, when dining in a high-end Chinese restaurant in actual China, it is vitally important not to order rice. It’s the rough equivalent of sitting down at a five-star American restaurant and asking for a bowl of Cheerios.
In a similar vein I’ve always wondered if the proper translation for “fried rice” was “leftovers”. (I prefer fried to steamed but assume I’m just eating yesterday’s cold rice.)
Will keep you in our prayers pending next post. I figure it must be the chi or fung sheu? re the beef but how did they foul up Mongolian Beef?Lynard Skynnard cant be that bad for chinese food
I don’t know how they fouled it up. But they did.
Rule #1 for me in an unfamiliar Chinese or Mexican restaurant is never, ever order anything beef or pork. Order the chicken, If they get that right, then I get adventurous from there. Hubby has had a bellyache more than once because he invariably orders something beef.
Reminds me of the time I had “Chinese” food late one night in Greybull Wyoming, because it was the only place still open (or, being Greybull, possibly the only place).