Before I get started on this amazing place called Dar, I want to revisit a few favorite places from back home – whatever that word means these days. As an aspiring writer, as a versed traveller, and I suppose inherently as an American, I often find the US all too familiar and all too bland in its everyday, and consequently will fall off the blogging wagon – or get on, whatever the one that’s not a good thing. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there are just as many thrills and just as much to explore during our everyday lives in the US as there are living in an exotic place. Apparently, it takes being away to realize this, because I sure as hell wasn’t this inspired four months ago. Alas…grass….greener….you know.
Looking back, I smile when I think about the places I was able to visit and the new friends I acquired, and as a whole about the entire newness that was living in DC for eight months, all of which, in between these amazing new experiences I’m having, I do find a little bit of time to miss.
I’ve been wanting to write about them for some time, so I suppose now – when I have 20G of internet connection slowly ticking down (will explain that reasoning later), a houseful of ugly furniture and even uglier tile (whyyyyyy kitchen tile, whyyyyyy), and a high sun that shines on me like hell hath fury on my straight black hairs and cluster of Asian freckles, I supposed now is as good a time as any to stay inside under my ceiling fan and A/C and write.
In the nine months of living back in the states, excluding a week here and there when I was home visiting my parents, I could count the number of times I ate Chinese Food. That number was two. A pretty lousy, pretty lonely, pretty sad number of a number, no? I suppose after two years of living in China, all the Diploman and I wanted to do was alternate between tacos al pastor and trips to Sweetgreen….sort of joking, but it did happen more than once where we would have lunch at Sweetgreen and dinner at El Chucho, and the next day have lunch at Sweetgreen and then dinner at El Centro, and the day after that, lunch at Chipotle and then dinner at Sweetgreen.
When I wasn’t eating gourmet salads and slow roasted marinated pork, I tried to venture out of my bubble. Peking Gourmet Inn was one of these adventures.
Adventure Task Number One: Leave DC, via the freeway, which –holy cow I live in a bubble– is definitely a new adventure in itself. And then you take one of the exits, which spits out into stripmallville, which is precisely Adventure Task Number Two: Balk in Awe at Stripmalls. In case you’re wondering, these stripmalls look the same as they do in Southern California as they did in the nether-wheres of Virginia and/or Maryland (because to me, the two are still somewhat a blob). Predictably, stores like Vitamin Shoppe (with an “e” thank you very much) and Best Buy and Target and video-rental-stores-slash-adult-video-stores all laid out in perfect little plots.
Finally, after passing about five strip malls that weren’t the one, we found the one strip mall that was the one! Adventure Task Number Three: Arrive at Peking Gourmet Inn.
Walking into the restaurant recalled a mish-mash of every other Chinese restaurant I had ever been to, whether at home in the States or during my two years in China. Middle-aged waiters dressed like penguins, stern-faced and very quick with movements. Knick Knacks of gold and red adorning the walls. Walls covered with framed photographs, of people who were presumeably owners or investors or perhaps just waitstaff, shaking hands and getting chummy with politicians and movie stars – definitely more the former than the latter, we are in DC after all. A matronly hostess, acknowledging our presence but somehow managing to make us feel ignored, belittled, and having to pay her respect just to get a table, even though we did have reservations. Adventure Task Number Four: Get the hostess’ attention!
Because we have a 6pm reservation, we’re one of the first ones to arrive. We are shown our seats through the maze of a restaurant (though all walls of the maze are filled with decor and picture frames) and then given menus the size of the Declaration of Independence. Adventure Task Number Five: Ordering Food from a Giant Menu. Flipping through, I come to a happy realization that I am now in the Virginia suburbs, which might as well have been a mini China in-itself, and can finally feast on great Chinese Food again. Because Chinese Food has a bad rap, it has many many bad imitations, and good Chinese Food is truly something angels could possibly sing about.
I happily chirp in with my suggestions (Family Style Tofu!! Sauteed Garlic Sprouts!!!) and we agree on a handful of dishes as well as two orders of Peking Duck for the five of us. That’s almost one duck between me and my friend, but who’s counting? After all, at a place like Peking Duck Gourment Inn, you cannot miss the duck, and ordering one just seemed silly.
The duck was brought out and carved tableside, breasts gleaming and oozing with oil each time the expertly-wielded machete made its way into the meat. Skin and Meat were grouped alongside each other on a porcelain dish, with the fat scraped and patted down between carving.
Each dish that came to our table was served to us in a manner as if we were either children incapable of serving ourselves, or else we were high kings in an ancient court. Either way, we were just shy of being spoonfed our first bites. Waiter rolled our first peking duck pancakes for us. They spooned our veggies onto our plates. They poured our tea. Our head waiter would come up to us in between bites, leaning in very closely to ask, “It’s good, yes?”
We would reply, “Mmmmm, yes!”
And he would say, feigning a very convincing surprised, “Thank you!”
This went on throughout the entire dinner, after every dish was brought out. Adventure Task Number Six: Stuff yourself silly.