I swear that the following is absolutely true. I have also submitted it to Behind Closed Ovens.
So, there’s this Chinese restaurant near me, about three blocks’ distance from a massive oil refinery. I thought to myself, “Well, I should go and try it out, and see if they’re any good.”
I am not a smart man.
The exterior of the place is… interesting. White stucco with some faux-chinese roofing, though it’s a flat roof. My first warning sign was when I realized that the place did not have a parking lot, just about a car’s width ‘alley” between the building and a wall separating it from some houses. It is also on the side of a steep hill, too – there’s no real sidewalk or curb to speak of, but I noticed a few cars haphazardly parked on the street, and managed to squeeze in. Hey, with all those cars parked, maybe the place was busy! A real, secret hole-in-the-wall masterpiece!
ha ha ha. oh ha ha.
Inside the dimly-lit restaurant, several things immediately came to my attention:
1. There was a partition two feet in front of the door, forcing you to turn right, and almost into the wall.
2. There was a massive laundry basket full of assorted (old, broken) child’s toys, much like what you would see in a doctor’s waiting room, provided the doctor had no budget.
3. There was a large round curtained entrance into a darkened room with a sign that says, “NO ENTRANCE.” Dunno what’s back there.
4. There was a very old, very small CRT television sitting on the counter, facing the main dining room it wasn’t playing any actual show I knew, not even a Random Chinese soap opera. Instead, it showed a montage of… old-timey baseball games, kids in Huck finn outfits fishing, people crossing the street, and other strangely surreal faux-old timey footage accompanied by Old Man River. I think I saw a sign that read “Chicago” at one point. I don’t know!
5. Rusty saws on the wall.
There was nobody at the counter, of course. As I awkwardly waited, I took note of the other patrons scattered around in the restaurant:
1. A very old white man who looked like the veteran of some war – not quite old enough for WWII or the Korean War, and certainly not young enough for Vietnam, so he may have just been generically grizzled. He had two empty bottles on the table with him – one empty gallon jug of orange juice, and one empty glass bottle of… I don’t know. It did not have a label. It was roughly the size of the orange juice jug.
2. A white, middle-aged bald man with a round face, round nose, round ears, and a hat. He may have been Elmer Fudd.
3. A very large, fat late-middle-aged black man. He was shaped roughly like a pear, breathed loudly through his mouth, and the few times I heard him speak, he seemed to only use the syllable “Ah” and the consonants “Rrrrrrrn” and “Hmmnm.” At one point I was afraid that he might be having a heart attack, but he was just groaning as he stood to his feet. “Ahrrrnnmmmnmnrrnnah.”
A waiter (or perhaps the sole proprietor) emerged from behind the counter and told me to sit anywhere, and so I did. My place setting had two napkins, one cloth and one paper. It also had a fork, a big chinese soup spoon, and an empty tea cup. the fork was caked with grease. The spoon was caked with grease. The teacup was caked with grease. Miraculously, the (paper) napkin was dry, so I put it on my lap.
The waiter soon returned and handed me a menu, which was a greeting-card-sized photocopied page (covered in black photocopier specks) that had the prices handwritten on it in blue ink. I hesitated for a moment, and then ordered fried wontons (appetizer), egg drop soup, and sweet & sour pork. I like to live life on the edge.
The tea arrived, and I wiped down the inside of my teacup before pouring it from the (greasy) teapot. It was colored gray. gray tea.
Soon, the waiter returned, and served me the wontons. He also gave me some chopsticks, which as you could imagine were quite greasy. The fried wontons were rather interesting – at first, I couldn’t figure out why they tasted wrong, but then I realized that they were not cooked in sesame oil or made of rice flour, they seemed to just be scraps of fried dough. they were also charred on the outside and raw batter on the inside. I’m not quite sure how they managed this.
Next up was the soup. Egg drop soup is not hard to make… for most people. With this one, it had plain water instead of broth, the eggs were in little round-ish gelatinous clumps, and the vegetables were uncooked. After eating a little bit of it (and marvelling at it), I noticed something pink. Pork. Raw pork. Somehow, they added uncooked meat and then just… forgot to cook. I politely said that I would take the rest home – honestly, I was afraid about what would happen if I had not been polite.
And then came the Sweet & Sour pork, with a side of steamed white rice. At first glance, it looked fine. just fine and dandy. I spooned some of the rice on my plate, and found that it wasn’t greasy – just cold, clammy, and sticky in ways that steamed rice shouldn’t be. Oookay. I then spooned some of the pork onto my plate (why? why?), picked it up with the (greasy) chopsticks, and took a bite. My sequence of thoughts were:
1. “Well, it tastes like pork, and the sweet & sour sauce seems all right.”
2. “Hey, something seems off about the texture.”
3. “Wait, what did I just bite into?”
I carefully extracted the piece of pork from my mouth, and found a bone nestled right in the middle of the nugget. And since I had just been chewing on it, the breading was gone, revealing… uncooked pork. It was warm, but the color was clearly raw meat, and the weird texture was… raw meat.
I studied this for a little while before the waiter returned and asked how I was. I very carefully smiled and said that I would like to take my food to go, and thank you very much for the kind service (I’ll give him this – he was a very nice, polite man).
He gave me one to-go box and a styrofoam cup for the soup. The cup had no lid.
He seemed to realize his mistake, and brought me the lid along with the check. The check was on a greasy metal tray. The check was also greasy. The lid, however, was not. And the (pre-packaged) fortune cookie was all right. It said, “How you look depends on where you go.” I don’t want to know how I look.
I paid for my meal, drove home, dumped the takeout in a dumpster outside, and promptly went into the bathroom because, thankfully, the “food” I had eaten decided to exit my body rather than poison me to death.
I ran out of toilet paper.