Fantasy Restaurants

Maybe you’re like me, and dream sometimes of opening a restaurant. I actually realize that it would be the worst thing I could do with my life – I’ve worked in restaurants and know that running one is not unalloyed fun – but it’s nice to fantasize.

And what type of restaurant would it be, you might ask. Well, sometimes it’s a Chinese restaurant. I live in Chicago, which is not a good Chinese restaurant town. There was a brief flare-up of Chinese-dining excitement back in the early ’70’s, when “Mandarin” cuisine was first introduced – but since then, things have not gone well. There are now only a handful of good Chinese restaurants in town (and a few more that are pretty far outside of town) – none of them anything like the old original, The Dragon Inn, which combined new and exciting food with a white-tablecloth ambience.

These days, if we want an outstanding Chinese meal, we have to cook it ourselves. Here’s a favorite dish that I’ve never seen in a restaurant – my adaptation of a recipe from “The Chinese People’s Cookbook, by Mai Leung:

Sliced Beef in Black Bean Sauce on “Two Sides Brown” 

And another favorite:

Mapo Tofu (Pork and Tofu with Hot Bean Sauce)

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Fantasy Restaurant #2

Sometimes my Fantasy restaurant is Lao. Chicago is home to quite a few Lao people, but no Lao restaurants. The closest we get are some Issan dishes in some of our Thai restaurants. So, we have to cook it ourselves – and fortunately we can. In the late 70’s we sponsored a family of Lao refugees, and I learned Lao cooking from them. Naturally, there were some limitations to how authentically they could reproduce their traditional dishes – many herbs and meats routinely used were not available in this country (no dried buffalo skin, for instance). So the Lao food I learned to cook is a bit different than it would be in Laos – it’s the cooking of the Lao diaspora, I guess you could say.

Here’s a recipe for my favorite Lao soup:

Kaopuhn Sai Nam (Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup with Noodles and Cabbage)


Laab Kai (Chopped Chicken Salad)

These crispy Spring Rolls go nicely with Laab Kai or Kaopuhn:

 Pan Gai Yoh (Fried Spring Rolls)

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