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Worst Banquet Brings Memories

by Harley Spiller

Personal Perspectives

Winter Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(4) page(s): 34

Please thank Leonard Newman for writing the aritcle titled: My Worst Chinese Banquet Meal which appeared in the Volume 16(2) issue of Flavor and Fortune. Many folk never express frustrations publically, and maybe if they did, we would need to eat fewer food failures. I do not blame him for being upset at the cavalier treatment he and his colleagues received. With all the great Chinese food in San Francisco it is a shame; that dinner would not even pass muster in a one-horse town.

That saga brought to mind the worst Chinese food I have ever had. It was a dish of (purported) Mu Shu Pork, the town: Holly Springs, Mississippi. I can still envision the chunks of meat, which might be just fine on their own, but they shared a large oval platter with crudely cut big hunks of yellow onion and green bell pepper. Where were the fine slices of half-dozen or so vegetables, and mushrooms, wood ears, scrambled egg, and other ingredients in a proper Mu Shu? Where, for that matter, were the pancakes? The real kicker though, was that the entire dish was bathed in a brick-red duck sauce.

I requested pancakes and about twenty minutes later a plate was delivered with great pomp and wads of wheat flour which in no way, shape, or form could be used to wrap the ingredients of this famous dish created for Chinese court eunuchs of yore.

Unlike his experience, here the staff was very friendly and made what felt like genuine concerted efforts to please; they did aim to please their mostly Western customers. But what was wrong? For one, when I watched the other customers, ALL were using squirt bottles to douse their food in the sickeningly-sweet duck sauce, even on candied dishes like Sweet and Sour Pork. I can only imagine that whoever ordered Newman's banquet had similar non-Chinese tastes. Did they think he and his colleagues would not know better? That is unacceptable. Was the person who ordered it not Chinese and the restaurant staff sensing either indifference about the cuisine, a preference for sweet, deep-fried Chinese-American food, both, or even worse.

Still, that is no excuse for serving hot dishes at room temperature, for inadequate portions, and disdainful, disorganized service. Even though it would never pass muster as an authentic Chinese banquet, I am sure it would be possible to serve a great banquet consisting of Chinese-American standards like Roast Pork, Spring Rolls, Wonton Soup, Shrimps in Lobster Sauce, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Barbecued Spare ribs, Lo Mein and Fried Rice. Too bad the Empress of China Restaurant failed so miserably and was so far from being regal. I hope next year someone will negotiate with the chosen restaurant well in advance, and that all will be able to eat like royalty!

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