Eating out. Made in Kitchen.
I don't much like eating out in Chinatown. It is impossible to find parking, and I have a deep-seated, profound fear of Chinese restaurants. I find them depressing, the décor garish, the tanks of sluggishly swimming fish sad, the vinyl-padded chairs uncomfortable, the menu undecipherable...These days I seldom venture down there, now that my parents live half a world away and my grandfather's visits have become rarer and rarer. Those years when my cousins lived with us and we would all pile into one of a series of vans and SUVs that drove into and out of our lives to head out to dinner are long past. Now there is only me. Now I only come down here when friends are having dinner at one of the restaurants they frequent; they gather around, ten or twenty people, and enormous platters of food keep arriving on the round tables, ending with hot sweet soups and plates of orange slices and dishes of mango pudding, the kids at one table, the grown-ups at the other.
Over the course of several years the landscape of Chinatown has changed. Now there are new apartment buildings and condominiums springing up around the periphery; there are karaoke clubs and bubble-tea shops in-between the old restaurants where we have been eating for some twenty years. New places appeared, the bakery where we order mango cakes for birthdays, a Hong-Kong-style café where we go for pork chop rice and club sandwiches, seafood joints where we go for live crab. And then there is Made in Kitchen.
Made in Kitchen is a little different, owned by a Chinese-Vietnamese couple; their grown daughter and her husband move through the restaurant greeting diners, some of them old friends. The décor is modern and clean, lacquered wood and high ceilings, the menu a combination of Asian influences. The clientele seem to mostly be people who live or work in the neighborhood, younger; and then I realize, my generation has come of age. We are grown-ups now. But I am here with A. and her family who we have known for twenty years, and my mother, for whom I am always the small child in a red-and-white pinafore and pigtails.
A. does the ordering, as she always does, and a steady procession of dishes comes parading to the table. There are crisp rolls of what seem to be ground pork wrapped in taro threads (fried) and soft rolls of vegetables and rice (or bean-thread) noodles wrapped in rice paper. A salad of cold beef and lettuce has a bright, tart dressing; pork chops are pounded thin, fried, placed over a tangle of white noodles and topped with a fried egg. There is a clay pot of braised ginger chicken and another of vegetables and tofu and yet another of Shanghainese-style pork belly, soft and rich and different from the multi-textured roasted pork belly I had at Volterra - this is the braised pork belly of my childhood.
All the dishes are drawn from different styles of Chinese cuisine, with influences from Vietnam and Indonesia and other points southeast. I can't eat any more but dessert arrives, the shaved ice that you see everwhere in Asia - creamy with coconut milk, with sweet beans and some kind of lurid green jello. It so reminds me of other ices I have eaten during summers in Taipei and Shanghai that I almost expect to be hit with a blast of humid heat when I step outside, instead of the cool night air.