I have many fond memories of eating take-out Chinese food
with friends and family. I prefer the freshness of the dishes I make myself, or have had served to me in favourite restaurants. You know how the cardboard
packaging of take-out food adds that certain pulp-and-paper flavour, and the food steams inside the box for half an hour at least before you get it. But that's all part of the fun of a get-together: The careful pondering over a menu, the wait, the arrival of paper bags filled with cardboard cartons; plates, bowls, hashi
, bottles of sake
, cups whisked from this cupboard and that, and a feast is created. Good flavours, good conversation, good sake, good time.
So when my now ex-in-laws suggested we (my husband, myself, and the two of them) order Chinese food, I thought:
GREAT! We have something in common after all. We're going to do a common thing. Yay! (Or at least: What a relief.)
She ordered Almond Guy Ding and he ordered Spareribs. Not half orders, but full orders. That's lot of ding and spareribs for four people. My husband requested a whole order of chicken balls with sweet pink gack. Ack!
Looking at the menu, I said, "I wouldn't mind some Shanghai dumplings…do you like Shanghai dumpings? Or maybe rice noodle rolls?"
No response, tense air.
So I asked, "Ahhh, what else do you like?"
Becky sniffed and said, "Chop suey."
I balked at the image of overcooked bean sprouts in cardboard, but trying to preserve the spirit of the thing said brightly, "Sure."
The order was called in, four plates and forks laid, Sammy turned on the kitchen TV, and we sat in silence at the table watching golf.
The kitchen was undoubtedly the most sterile room I've ever eaten in. Everything was white: the ceiling and walls were white, the ceramic tiled floor was white, the appliances were white, the counters were white, the cabinets were white, the table and chairs were white, the dishes were white and it was lit with recessed white fluorescent tubing.
When the food arrived, Becky grimly lifted the first carton from the bag by its wire handle, opened the lid, peered in, announced "spareribs", and proceeded to dump the contents of the entire box on Sammy's plate.
I was amazed as one-by-one she filled our plates with only those items we had ordered.
Instead of the communal “Try some of this” or “I’ll have some of that” which I expected, the rule here was different. You get what you order. And only what you order.
I sat looking at the mound of watery chop suey on my plate in dismay and said, "Would anyone like to try my chop suey?"
"No," said Becky.
The offended tone with which she said this made rule number 2 clear: Eating something that came from someone elses’s cardboard container was somehow disgusting.
To show there was no hard feelings Becky asked, "Something to drink?"
I said, "Yes please."
She stood up, fetched four tall glasses and four cans of Coke from the refrigerator. What, no sake? No beer? I know a lot of people like to drink Coke with Chinese food. Including Chinese people. But you have to actually like coke for that to work. I don't.
Apparently, neither did Sammy. He said, "I wanna ginger ale".
She hissed," Always you want something different."
I thought about asking for water, decided against it, and began to eat my chop suey and sip Coke.
Sammy, sitting opposite me, picked up one of his spareribs and gnawed on it and when he'd stripped it to the bone, tossed it on his wife's plate. She glanced at him malevolently and then pushed it to one side. She didn't say a word.
I looked at my husband, but he had retreated into his sweet and sour chicken balls.
I said, "Um, so do you play much golf?"
Wrong question. That evoked 5 minutes of tit-for-tat between Sammy and Becky over whose fault it was that they didn't play golf anymore.
After that there was silence, except for the drone of TV golf.
My husband finally pushed back his chair and announced that he was going into the other room to watch TV, and my father in-law followed suit, leaving Becky and I to clean up the relentlessly white kitchen.