Mouth Scars and Fortune Cookies: A Chinatown Dinner at New Green Bo

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I am embarrassed. I have lived in New York for two years now and how often have I taken advantage of the cultural opportunities just outside my door? How often have I journeyed up to Queens for Greek food or to try the famous arepas from the mythical arepa lady? How many Indian supermarkets have I been to? How many jaunts have I made to Chinatown?

The answers are humiliating–especially for a self-described foodie such as myself. The last question especially: my food writer heros (Calvin Trillin in particular) wax poetic over Chinatown like it’s a food lover’s paradise. And what’s the answer to that last question–how many times have I been there since I moved here? Once–for the video I shot with John and Lisa last year. Only once! I hang my head in shame. I’m no good for you—you should find yourself a better food blogger.

Or wait. Who’s that coming to our rescue? It’s Craig, the new man in my life, and he has friends from out of town visiting and meeting him in Chinatown. Would I like to come? Would I ever!

We arrive at New Green Bo on Friday night and Craig’s friends are not only at the table, they’ve already ordered. This is actually a blessing because ordering for a group this big can be a challenge. And Craig’s friends did an excellent job. There was cashew chicken:

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Fried rice:

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Some really cool noodles that had a texture unlike any I’ve had before:

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Beef and broccoli:

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Yes, it was all a success. Maybe, you might say, a bit too safe. These dishes are pretty standard American-Chinese fare. Where’s the danger? Where’s the intrigue? Where’s Kurt Russell battling a man with a puffy face?* [*”Big Trouble in Little China” reference, for those not in the know.]

Bang the gong and bring on the soup dumplings:

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Soup dumplings are all the rage in dumpling-loving communities. I have had them only once before: I had them delivered from Grand Sichuan and they arrived at my door perfectly packed and perfectly tempered. Each one was a happy soup explosion in my mouth.

“You have to be careful with these,” said Craig. “They’re VERY hot.”

I raised my eyebrow. How hot could they be?

“Here’s what you want to do,” he said, lifting a soup dumpling to his mouth. “Tear a little hole in it and then blow into the hole.” He demonstrated for us all.

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“Ok,” I thought. “I can do that.”

I lifted a soup dumpling with a spoon and as I lifted it to my face I began to wonder how they got the hot liquid into the dumpling. Did they inject it in? Did they form a little dumpling sack and ladle some in? Or didn’t I read somewhere that they make the broth into a gel and wrap the dumpling around the gel and boil it so it becomes a liquid?

As I pondered all this, I put the entire dumpling in my mouth. I bit down and the hottest liquid ever known to man squirted all over my tongue, my cheeks, and my uvula.

“Ahhhhh,” I whimpered. Craig and his friends all lifted their heads in horror.

“I told you not to put the whole thing in your mouth!” shrieked Craig.

It was too late. I was like the guy at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who drinks from the wrong chalice. I literally expected my lips to melt and dribble down my face. Tears welled in my eyes.

When I finally got it down I managed to say: “Dah wath horrabuh.”

But everyone was too distracted eating their nicely cooled soup dumplings which they enjoyed tremendously. “Mmmm,” said a dumpling eater. “Let’s order more.”

They ordered more and I nibbled on fried rice which I struggled to lift with chopsticks. Lifting rice with chopsticks ain’t that easy. And it’s difficult to chew when your mouth is a blistering burn scar.

I suppose taking advantage of New York’s cultural opportunities takes work. On my next visit to Chinatown in 2008, I promise to be more careful.

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