Sunday, May 2, 2021

HURRAY FOR HOLLYWOOD Chinese Food

As I had written many times, until quite recently Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles had been marked by the presence of good, authentic Chinese restaurants being located in a small number of specific regions, originally Los Angeles Chinatown, and subsequently locations such as the San Gabriel Valley, with wide expanses of the region being a total wasteland for Chinese food.  Changing demographics have removed some areas being reclassified out of wasteland status, most conspicuously the Westside of Los Angeles, whose transition was aided by the influx of Mainland Chinese students attending school at UCLA.

When we moved into the Hollywood Hills some 30 years ago, Hollywood was one of the most barren wastelands when it came to Chinese food, not surprising since there were very few Chinese residents in the area. I remember that when we arrived, the closest Chinese restaurant to our house wasn't even identifiable as a Chinese restaurant when you drove or walked by.  It was called The Inn Place, on the corner of Bronson Ave. and Franklin Ave., one of the subcategories of Chinese restaurants where somebody buys an existing restaurant and doesn't bother to change the name even when converting the restaurant from non-Chinese cuisine to Chinese fare.  (How else can you explain Chinese restaurants with names such as O'Toole's Roadhouse or Bavarian Gardens?)   From what I can tell, The Inn Place was previously a soul food restaurant before turning into a Chinese restaurant.  It touted itself as a Mandarin and Szechwan restaurant, the type that sprang up beginning in the 1970s serving new wave non-Cantonese Americanized dishes like hot and sour soup, kung pao chicken, mu shu pork, and double cooked pork.   But it also served old time Cantonese Americanized dishes like egg foo young, egg drop soup, shrimp in lobster sauce and paper wrapped chicken.  I know I only ate there once back in 1991, and I have no idea what I might have ordered.

Over the next 25 years I ate at several dozen Chinese restaurants in Hollywood, all aimed at tourists or local denizens.   There was actually one pretty decent place that was on Cahuenga Blvd. in the early 1990s called Diamond Seafood and BBQ, but it didn't last very long.  One whose memory sticks with me was a place called Lam's Kitchen, I believe on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Wilcox Ave., with the most awful chow fun ever, seemingly merely soy sauce poured over chow fun noodles that had not been fried.  

Unlike areas like West Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Thousand Oaks where demographic changes have spawned the opening of numerous authentic Chinese restaurants, no such movement has taken place in Hollywood.  Consequently I was stunned five years ago when ixlb Dimsum Eats opened up on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Bronson Ave., and in light of the demise of The Inn Place, becoming the closest Chinese restaurant to my house.  And along with the disbelief that a place like that could open up at that location, I along with others were suspicious that either they were peddling factory made dim sum, manufacturing their own low quality dim sum, or creating a product geared towards the tastes of tourists and local office workers.  Indeed, positive reviews from legitimate Chinese restaurant reviewers were dismissed by message board critics.  But five years later, ixlb is still in business and I can say that their crispy baked bbq pork buns (i.e. Tim Ho Wan style) are the best in town, and a number of their other offerings, all definitely made in-house, are quite good.  Not that I'm a regular here as many of their items cost double what you pay in the San Gabriel Valley, and what distinguishes their Tim Ho Wan style crispy buns is the extra buttery taste which is something I should probably avoid.  But it's nice to know ixlb is there when I want it.

Moreover, last year a branch of San Gabriel Valley's Northern Cafe opened up just off the corner of Hollywood and Vine.  Northern Cafe is largely responsible for the spread of great, authentic Chinese food into West Los Angeles.   For many years Westside Chinese food aficionados were clamoring for (or perhaps just dreaming of) a major San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurant player to open up on the Westside.   They got their wish when Newport Seafood opened up their Beverly Hills branch in 2014, only to quickly crash and burn.  But in 2016, the little known Hacienda Heights based Northern Cafe opened up right smack in Westwood Village, and was a smash hit.  Northern Cafe now has three separate branches in Westwood Village, and numerous other authentic Chinese restaurants have opened in Sawtelle Japantown and other parts of West LA since 2016.   So despite the lack of Chinese university students in the vicinity or any significant demographic changes in Hollywood, Northern Cafe rolled the dice again and opened up in Hollywood, mere weeks before the start of the pandemic.  They did have to close during the pandemic, but also were able to reopen, offering the same dumplings and noodles in Hollywood that they offer in the San Gabriel Valley and the Westside.  They still seem to be hanging on and if tourism returns to Hollywood they might hit the jackpot again.  And for now it's just great to have this option in the neighborhood.  If only parking wasn't such a pain.

Perhaps the most surprising Chinese food foray in Hollywood has been Love Boat Kitchen, a Taiwanese vegan restaurant at the corner of Vine St. and Fountain Ave.   This is sort of a pop-up and is currently on hiatus, but given that I'm not aware of any vegan Taiwanese restaurants even in the San Gabriel Valley, this Hollywood location was all the more remarkable.  It's "sort of" a pop-up because the Taiwanese operators of Love Boat Kitchen were the owners and operators of the existing restaurant at that location, Cocobella Creamery, specializing in vegan ice cream.  So Love Boat Kitchen was more of an alternative weekend menu to the regularly operating restaurant than a true pop-up.  Dan dan mein made with impossible burger "meat" anyone?  And also a shout out to Maxim Chinese Food on Hollywood Blvd. at Gower Ave.  Yeah it's typical steam tray Chinese fast food, but with one interesting extra--char siu!

Of course Hollywood is still Hollywood, serving inauthentic and often overpriced Chinese food.  I can't finish this article on Chinese food in Hollywood without a dishonorable mention to the Hollywood branch of Tao on Selma Ave., just south of Hollywood Blvd.  The Las Vegas branch of Tao was for many years the perennial highest grossing independent restaurant (any cuisine) in the United States, until they opened a sixth branch and no longer qualified as being an independent restaurant.   With such a pedigreed Chinese restaurant so close to home I had to go there no matter what the cost.  And that cost was ridiculous.  My order of orange chicken set me back $39.  It looked pretty but it was awful.  

 

And it was smaller than the fabulous orange chicken I had at New China Mongolian BBQ on Crenshaw Blvd. in the hood a few weeks ago, which cost me $4.50.  Tao was also almost costlier in a different way.  This was the most poorly lit restaurant I have ever stepped foot in, and having gone there prior to my recent cataract surgery which now allows me to see at night again, I barely avoided tripping over unseen obstacles, stumbling but not falling down while trying to maneuver around the premises.  Perhaps their plan is to make it so dark that you can't see what you're eating.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Riding The Instagram Wave

 

As those of you who have followed me for a period of time know, I am not a traditional foodie as I don't talk about Chinese food per se on a micro level, but rather more on a macro level with Chinese food being discussed in a historical and cultural context and in the environment we live in.  The reason is that I began my amateur writing career some 50 years ago not about food, but about the history and culture of Chinese Americans.  My interest in Chinese food developed much later, although borne of my interest in Chinese-American studies.

Even as I was eating at thousands of different Chinese restaurants over the decades, I did not take pictures of my meals.  Even when I started reporting what Chinese food I was eating back in 2009 when I joined Twitter, I was only posting descriptions, not pictures of the food, and even despite the complaints of Twitter followers who wanted to see what I was eating.  It was only in 2016 when the complaints about no pictures got louder, and my old smartphone which had a inferior camera broke down, that I bought a new phone capable of taking pictures worth posting on Instagram.

When I started on Instagram it was only with a few dozen followers who knew of me from Twitter.  Occasional mentions in various media articles enticed the more curious observers to seek out my Instagram account, such that in three years I had accumulated 500 followers.  Not as many as the 1,500 or so Twitter followers I had built up over 10 years, but still a number I considered impressive since I was making no effort to increase my follower base.  

However things were about to quickly change.  Clarissa Wei, who first introduced me to the world in 2012 as the crazy lawyer who had eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants, had moved on to be a senior editor at Goldthread 2, the video arm of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.  Two years ago Clarissa was coming from Hong Kong to do some video interviews in the Los Angeles area, and she thought it would be fun to do an update on my eating adventures and present them to a more international audience (although her 2012 profile of me certainly did spread to the four corners of the world).  So we spent a day touring San Gabriel Valley dining spots, and two months later Goldthread released her 10 minute video interview with me.  BOOM!  Not that there was a link or anything to my Instagram account, but new followers started appearing out of the woodwork.  In two weeks time I had added 1,000 new followers, pushing me up to 1,500 followers.

After that things settled down.  Basically my experience with Instagram paralleled that which I had with Twitter, meaning on a daily basis new followers and unfollowers cancelled out each other, but whenever I received some kind of media attention there would be a corresponding increase in followers.  Doing regular self-Googles would pinpoint the triggering event for an increase in Instagram followers.  However with the onset of the pandemic, I pretty much hit the sidelines as food writing and other media attention as traditional food writing topics became irrelevant and/or unimportant.  But a couple of times during 2020 there were surges in my follower base.  With no current publicity coming to my attention I was puzzled.  So I decided to contact a few new followers asking how they managed to find my Instagram account.  The answer turned out that Clarissa's Goldthread video was being rediscovered over and over on different Facebook groups, such as Subtle Asian Traits and San Gabriel Valley eats.  So that explained the total number of new followers despite the apparent lack of any new exposure, pushing the total of Instagram followers early this year to about 2,300.

By then most of the members of the Facebook groups were already aware of the Goldthread video, so I expected things to revert to stability.  But after a brief pause, there was another a new surge of followers.  Again I was puzzled, and with unproductive Google searches I once again turned to polling new followers.   The first response was "Oh I saw the video on YouTube."  Well, the video was posted to YouTube back in 2019, but it had only garnered 40,000 views in two years, mostly when the video was first posted, with most viewers catching the video on Goldthread's own site, where there had been nearly 800,000 views.  But then I noticed the YouTube count for the video started going wild, jumping by 4,000 to 5,000 views every day.  Refining my inquiry of new followers, I found that the new followers were watching Chinese food videos on autoplay and that my interview just happened to show up.  So being part of a YouTube autoplay rotation I was gaining a hundred new followers on some days.  The number of new views on YouTube have settled down to perhaps a 1,000 a day now, bringing the YouTube cumulative views up to 250,000.  My Instagram follower count is now 3,400, with another 100 followers coming on board every two to three weeks.  All this is amazing since the new followers have to take it upon themselves to find where my Instagram page is.

This and other episodes have given me an interesting insight on how the internet works, one you can't learn just by reading books or even the internet itself.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

John Wooden Picks Baylor to Beat Gonzaga in Monday's NCAA Basketball Championship Game

Of course, John Wooden passed away several years ago and didn't make this specific prediction but the wisdom of his principles live on.  Everybody knows legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden both as one of the greatest coaches ever, and also as one of the most insightful minds ever associated with athletics with sagacious observations both as to life and athletics.  In my opinion the most insightful thing he said, and probably considered heretical by most people with associated sports is that under the proper circumstances, a loss may actually be a good thing for a competitor's experience.  In particular, when a team is on a long winning streak, he noted that the quality of its performance begins to diminish.  Wooden referred to winning streaks as becoming burdensome, which often leads up to an unexpected losing performance. It's not clear exactly why, but it's probably a combination of different factors.    Maybe the team starts playing not to lose, rather than trying to win, with keeping the streak alive becoming a distraction, whether conscious or not.  Maybe the team becomes overconfident.  Maybe opponents dig down deeper.  Maybe it's something totally subliminal.  And even if the team with the winning streak continues to win, quite often it's clear that the team is laboring under the pressure of the streak.   But whatever the reason, it is not unusual for teams on long winning streaks to stub their toe against an opponent that seemingly doesn't match up.  Indeed, this is borne by the fact that no team that has entered the NCAA basketball tournament unbeaten has gone on to win the championship and complete a perfect season in 45 years.  The last two superteams to reach that point, UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015 suffered stunning losses in the national semi-final game.

Now if the loss is suffered in a relatively meaningless game, the loss can be beneficial, as in today's parlance it's like hitting a reset button and you can again return to your former level of excellence.  But if that loss occurs in the sudden death NCAA tournament, it can't be remedied.  To me it's clear that if that the 2015 Kentucky team, which reached 38-0,  had suffered a loss, say during the SEC tournament, that there's no way that anyone would have come close to them during the NCAA tournament and they would have sailed to the championship.

Of course things are a little more complicated than saying teams are more susceptible to a loss when on a winning streak, as there have been some impressive winning streaks in sports history.  One corollary rule is if you are vastly superior to your opponent, that opponent won't beat you no matter how badly you play.  Given that the college basketball season ends with the sudden death NCAA tournament, entering the tournament on a long winning streak is not a good thing, as the team will be facing a string of high calibre opponents.   Another corollary is that consecutive wins from a prior season probably shouldn't count because each year's team is a different entity.  And of course, if two teams with long winning streaks meet, one of them will have to win.


So yes, a loss can be therapeutic.  In John Wooden's last season as UCLA coach in 1975, they suffered a humiliating 21 point loss to a mediocre Washington team near the end of the regular season.  Now they weren't on a long winning streak at the time. But after that loss many observers concluded that the 1975 UCLA team wasn't that good and it wasn't going far in the NCAA tournament.  But indeed that team did win it all with some great play in the NCAA tournament.
 

So based on this, 31-0 Gonzaga is ripe for a loss,  Indeed it could be argued that UCLA' close loss to Gonzaga was made possible in part by Gonzaga being weighted down by their winning streak, and had Gonzaga suffered a loss, perhaps in its conference tournament, it would have been refreshed and played better against UCLA.  

In addition, Gonzaga's win over UCLA was highly emotional, and with a quick turnaround to the championship game there could be a reduction in focus further increasing chances of a win by Baylor.

Spotlight On Uighur Food

With all of the attention being given to the treatment of Uighurs in Mainland China, it's not surprising to see that focus is also being drawn to Uighur cuisine.  This was evidenced by a message recently received from my friend and food journalist Clarissa Wei, who asked me if she might add some quotes from me on the topic for an article she's writing on Uighur restaurants.  I'll leave Clarissa's article for a substantive discussion of Uighur food in Southern California, but it did bring back memories of my earlier quest for Uighur food when I first heard about it roughly 15 years ago.

I believe my interest in Uighur food started with comments on the old Chowhound food message board, where somebody brought up the topic of these non-Han, Islamic minority peoples in Northwest China, and how some of them had made their way to Northern Virginia, outside of Washington DC.  While there were no Uighur restaurants in the United States at the time, there apparently were events where Uighur food was served.

I caught a break in 2007 when we decided to do a fly and drive vacation starting in Portland, ME and then hitting Quebec City, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Niagara Falls.  In Montreal we encountered what was then the only Uighur restaurant in the Western Hemisphere, Restaurant Uyghur, in Montreal's Chinatown.  It was truly an adventure, seeing the Central Asian staff, none of whom looked "Chinese" and eating handmade noodles and dumplings.  Indeed that trip to Montreal Chinatown was a real event for me, seeing what, like Los Angeles New Chinatown in the 1950s, was an inauthentic tourist trap (the layout of Montreal Chinatown was eerily similar to the central plaza of Los Angeles Chinatown), yet which boasted the only Uighur restaurant in the hemisphere, along with one of the few dragon beard candy shops in the hemisphere to boot.

As a result, I was well prepared for the arrival of Uighur food in the Los Angeles area.  The first entrant, and still the O.G. of Uighur food today was Omar's Restaurant on New Avenue in San Gabriel which opened in 2010.  To this day I remember that first meal there with the homemade noodles that were at least a foot long, maybe 18 inches, and a proprietress who bore a striking resemblance to HAPA actress and comedian Amy Hill, an observation which was also echoed by a restaurant reviewer.

My next Uighur food encounter was also the most interesting.  Both Restaurant Uyghur and Omar's Restaurant were located in Chinese communities and were classified generically as Chinese restaurants.  However my 2012 visit to Kashkar Cafe in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn was completely different.  Brighton Beach is the most interesting community I've visited in the United States.  Walking down the main drag Brighton Beach Ave. and then over to the beach, nobody was speaking English.  Everybody was speaking Russian.  Now I know how non-Chinese feel when walking around Chinatown, but you hear more English in Chinatown than in Brighton Beach.  Even most of the young people were not speaking English.  I made my way down to Kashkar Cafe.  The waiters and staff were European looking, consistent with reports I had read that it was not a truly Uighur restaurant, but owned by Uzbeks.  I looked at the menu and it didn't look like the Uighur menus in Montreal or San Gabriel.  My guess is that there was more Central Asian food at Kashkar.  Anyway, the manty I ordered filled with equal parts of ground meat and onions was the perfect dish--the best dish of the trip and also representative of Uighur food.  I walked a couple of blocks to the beach and ate them up there.

Since that time Uighur food has begun to spread.  In the Los Angeles area a second branch of Omar opened in Artesia, Silk Road opened in Industry and Dolan’s opened in Alhambra.  Mr. Lamb opened and closed in Rowland Heights as did Kashgar Grill In Irvine, pictured here.   

 


Kroken opened in San Diego and a number of Uighur restaurants opened in the San Francisco area, including the China based Eden Silk Road restaurants which operate in China under the Herembag banner.  An interesting episode was my visit to Uyghur Taamliri in San Francisco, which was among the most difficult eexperiences I ever had finding a Chinese restaurant.  The directions were simple--it was on Lincoln Way, right across from Golden Gate Park  But when I got to Lincoln Way, there was no restaurant across from the park.  The only business in the vicinity said Chug Pub, but then I saw another sign on the building that said Central Asia Uyghur food, so I thought to myself this was like a pop-up in the bar. However, when I walked in all I saw was a bar with pool tables, full of ordinary looking people  I had walked almost to the end of the bar and was about to exit when an Asian guy asks me if I was looking for the restaurant.  I said yes and he handed me a menu

There are naturally now Uighur restaurants in the Washington DC area, including Dolan’s Uighur which is unrelated to the identically named restaurant in Alhambra.  Apparently Dolan is a common Uighur name.  My greatest regret was never getting to eat at Uyghur Bistro In Houston just based on the incongruity in the name.  And thanks to the Uighur restaurants we now have foot long noodles joining foot long hot dogs and foot long submarine sandwiches.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

My First Live Music Shows

For some reason I was recently reminded of one of the earliest live music performances I had ever attended while in high school, which then triggered memories of a show I saw previously in junior high.  Thanks to the internet I was able to track down some information on the performers, much of which I was unaware of at the time.  Armed with this additional information, I figured I should do this write-up while I still remembered some portion of these events.


I attended Mount Vernon Junior High School is Los Angeles from 1959 to 1962.  (The school has since been renamed Johnnie Cochran Middle School.)  I remember one school assembly where there was a special outside performer.  Mind you this was the early 1960s when rock n’roll was changing the face of music.  Nevertheless all of us as this predominantly minority school were thrilled by the appearance of Eugene List, famous classical pianist, and Mount Vernon alumnus.  They probably told us that List gained fame playing for President Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin at Potsdam, but I had forgotten that.  Later he also appeared in the movies and on the Ed Sullivan Show.

I moved on to Dorsey High School in 1962, probably the most diverse high school campus of its day with a population almost evenly split between Asians, blacks and whites.  Indeed, Indonesian strongman President Sukarno was taken to Dorsey on his US tour to see its diversity.  This is where on a Saturday evening my pal Gary Fugita came to my house and we walked the three blocks to Dorsey to see my first show with big name entertainers, the Lennon Sisters.  Yes, the rock era was well under way but it was still a big deal that the featured act of Lawrence Welk’s weekly TV show were making an appearance at our school.  Strangely over the years I had forgotten that the Lennon Sisters were at that performance and associated that evening with the appearance of a band fronted by Marshall Cram, whom I had never heard of.  Now you’d think that a band playing at a high school well into the rock era would play rock music.  But actually as I just discovered Marshall Cram was a late swing era session musician, which explained his music which I would describe as big band music with a bit of a rock beat.  And as I also discovered, though Cram was fairly young he died a year or two after he performed at Dorsey High School.  

Back then live music concerts as we know them today were unheard of, so it's interesting to look back at those early shows at school.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Long Distance Chinese Food Delivery

Within the past decade we've seen a few Chinese food delivery services offering to deliver Chinese food far beyond the location of the particular restaurant involved.   At first this sounds like a strange proposition.  Why would there be a critical mass of customers to make it economically viable to deliver food more than two to five miles away from where the food is cooked?  The answer is that we're talking Chinese food, and the fact that good authentic Chinese food tends to be concentrated in certain geographic areas, rather than being randomly spaced throughout a metropolitan area.

As it is, Chinese food and home delivery in the United States are synonymous.  Indeed historians agree that restaurant delivery was invented in 1922 by Kin-Chu Cafe, located on Brand Blvd. in Glendale, CA.  While though restaurant delivery did not become commonplace in America for decades, it was originated and mostly widely used by Chinese restaurants.

 

 

So it's no surprise that the Chinese are pioneering again. Long distance Chinese delivery appears to have surfaced around 2014, and can be tied in part to the surge in enrollment in Mainland Chinese students at American universities and colleges.  Unlike prior generations of Chinese foreign students from Hong Kong and Taiwan, many of whom came to the United States with the intent of staying here after graduation, most of these Mainland Chinese students come with the expectation, if not the requirement, of returning to China after completing school.  In such case these students have a lesser desire to adopt American cultural norms, and hence are more partial to eating the same food they ate back home.  One of the most popular schools in the country for Mainland Chinese students is the University of Southern California.  While USC is close to Los Angeles Chinatown, most of the Mainland students are from the non-Cantonese parts of China, and Los Angeles Chinatown serves mostly Cantonese food and where only one small Mainland (i.e., non-Cantonese) regional style restaurant can be found.  Enter businesses like To Go 626 and their website togo626.com, which offered the food from the best San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants on a sliding delivery fee schedule which worked out to $1 to $1.50 per mile.

To Go 626 made an immediate splash, even receiving a write-up in the Los Angeles Times.  It became popular with the Mainland Chinese students at USC who could have their food delivered for around $15 an order, particularly nominal if a number of students pooled their order.  Surprisingly it also became popular with students from UC Irvine, which given its distance more than 40 miles from the San Gabriel Valley, resulted with a delivery tab around $50.  Who would pay that much to have Chinese food delivered?  Well given that so many Mainland Chinese students drive a Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari, or other super-luxury car (or two), what's $50 for restaurant delivery?   However, To Go 626 was a short lived phenomenon.  Food trucks offering Mainland style Chinese cuisine started popping up on the USC campus and USC Mainland students from Northeastern China started gravitating to Koreatown restaurants serving cuisine similar to what they were familiar with.  Meanwhile, Irvine saw an explosion in Chinese restaurants serving Mainland style cuisine, so there was no longer a need to import food from the San Gabriel Valley.

A much greater success story has been that of Yunbanbao in New York.  Established around the same time as To Go 626, its primary impetus was not Mainland college students, but rather a sizable corps of Mainland Chinese workers on Wall Street, and originally only involved lunch.  Once again, there was Chinatown nearby, but it lacked the regional Mainland style restaurants familiar to these workers.  Rather, all these restaurants were located in Flushing Chinatown in Queens.  Yunbunbao was founded as multiple 500 member WeChat organized pods which were connected to Flushing Chinese restaurants that provided rotating menus for bulk orders.  Lunch was ordered a day in advance, prepared in the morning, and delivered to Wall Street in time for lunch.  The sight of crowds of Chinese office workers lined up in the street and grabbing lunch bags from unmarked vans and SUVs garnered such puzzlement and attention that the Wall Street Journal ran an article on Yunbanbao to explain to the rest of the world what was going on. With such success, they expanded their deliveries to other concentrations of Mainland eaters in Manhattan, such as hospitals and universities, as well as back office financial workers in Jersey City.  And with the pandemic they further extended their geographic reach and have begun to deliver groceries, too.

The latest long distance Chinese food delivery platform arises from a completely different direction.  In Los Angeles, Mama's Drive By Kitchen is borne of two of the most current societal concerns, the pandemic and multiculturalism.  Mama's mission is to preserve immigrant cultures by sharing their cuisine to a wider audience. Under the drive by kitchen model, food is ordered from participating San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants, as well as other ethnic restaurants, with designated pickup locations in West Los Angeles, Koreatown and the San Gabriel Valley.  The West LA pickup site is the most noteworthy. While the Chinese restaurant scene has greatly improved in West LA in the past five years, the choices are still limited, and the drive by kitchen gives local residents an alternative to making a 25 mile drive in Los Angeles traffic.  For each order received, Mama's will buy a second order to be donated to needy community members, helping both restaurants and the community in these times of stress.  At this point, the program only operates on special days but hopefully the service will expand.  

While we might not see $50 restaurant deliveries again, it would not be surprising to see long distance restaurant delivery grow in the future.  And like restaurant delivery itself, Chinese food started it all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Call Me Maybe...What?

As you all probably know I did not enter the food scene the way typical writers, chefs and other industry personalities have done.  Rather I stumbled in by accident, much like the scene in the movie Blazing Saddles, where cowboy brawlers on a sound stage crash into the adjacent sound stage where a dance musical was being filmed.   Not having the traditional credentials has created an interesting dilemma of how I should be described online and in the press and has resulted in a wide variety monikers to describe me and the things I do.

The issue first arose when I retired after 45 years as a CPA and Attorney.  I had always carried a supply of business cards wherever I went and even though I was retired I didn't feel fully dressed without a business card.  But how would I describe myself?  Well this is what I came up with, with the "history" reference encompassing both my writings on Chinese-American historical topics in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the integration of those topics into my articles on Chinese restaurants in America.


A completely different issue is how I would be described by others mentioning my name in food circles.  Of course, there is the ubiquitious term "blogger", and while I have been described on occasion as a Chinese food blogger, that's really not an accurate description.  Yes, you are reading my blog which talks about Chinese food.   But the fact is that this blog was not originally intended to be a food blog, and if you go back to its start a dozen years ago, only an occasional posting had anything to do with Chinese food.  The first move towards weighting this blog to more food content began when I did a Google search for "Cantonese Food Blog" and found my blog listed on the first page of results.  Shortly thereafter the Chinese food content increased further when I had my "Blazing Saddles" moment, stumbling into the food world via Clarissa Wei's article introducing me as the man who had eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants.  It is true at that point I needed to make the lead posting on this blog being about Chinese restaurant food.  But the fact is while that article immediately led to a demand for me to write articles on Chinese food topics, these articles were published by third party websites like Menuism, and not my own blog.  If you look at my own blog, the topics are odds and ends, rather than major works, and I only post to this blog once or twice or month.  So clearly, I am not an active blogger. 

Personally, my favorite description is "Celebrity Diner" because it evokes the incredulous nature of the attention drawn to my dining adventures, while at the same time providing a highly accurate description.  When Clarissa's article was first released I appreciated the fact that my story might be newsworthy in the foodie world, but I was totally unprepared when days later it was briefly the lead story on People.com until replaced by an update on Britney Spears.  Quite telling is the website's categorization of the story as "Celebrity" news.  While a couple of people had gained notoriety for eating at Subway and McDonald's, this was the first time that the words "celebrity" and "diner" had been used in concert.  This was not a reflection of anything I had done differently but rather as an indication of how celebrity status had been extended to new categories of people.  Along the same lines are descriptions such as "Chinese Culinary Celebrity," "Social Media Celebrity" and "Unlikely Food Celebrity."

Otherwise there's been a whole range of descriptors used, which in itself demonstrates the difficulty in finding an apt characterization.  In no particular order they include legendary eater, food historian, Chinese food enthusiast,  roving diner, Chinese food aficionado, prolific Chinese restaurant chronicler, food historian, Chinese food expert, Chinese food hobbyist, iconic eater, Chinese restaurant obsessive, prominent Chinese food writer, Chinese food chronicler, Chinese food maven, and author.  But as the old saying goes, I don't care what you call me as long as you call me.