The Kung Pao Exception

You might have noticed that I am big on people treating each other right. Life is too short to fool with someone who is impolite. Usually, if I find a business person unpleasant to deal with I do not patronize their establishment.

I am such a liar sometimes.

The Exception

Ding Baozhen (simplified Chinese: 丁宝桢; traditi...

Kung Pao. Best governor ever. (Image via Wikipedia)

I love Chinese food. Chinese food is one of my major food groups. I may actually be Chinese. I don’t think my parents know that. I think that they are proud I am their son and I feel certain they will accept me as their only Asian child.

My parents raised me to stand up for myself and my principles. Mom and Dad, when you read this, I hope you know that I mostly do what you taught me. There’s this exception though. The Kung Pao exception.

Where there is good Chinese food, there is room for compromise on my principles. Where the Kung Pao Chicken is exceptional, I am willing to deal with indignity and rudeness that I could never tolerate in any other arena. I can not explain this. I can’t even think of a similar exception in any part of my life.

New Chinese Take Out, New Indignities.

Not long ago, a new Chinese restaurant opened near my house. The food is so good that if I went in there to pick up dinner and the owners beat me with heavy chains (which I think we can all agree is very rude) I would call in another order as soon as I healed enough to drive myself back over there and get it. I don’t care how they treat me, I just want my fix.

As best I can tell, the place is run by four people – two men and two women. I have never seen any other people behind the counter. In my mind, I have made them the sole owners of this establishment and have paired them off into couples. It does not matter which  couple is working when I go in, the man is always cooking, the woman is taking orders and running the register.

Chef cooking with fire!

This man would be fired for smiling (Image via Wikipedia)

Walking into this place is like walking in to hell. It is always unspeakably hot. Nothing but the front counter separates customers from the kitchen where huge flames erupt from the giant woks. I know there is a cooling system in the place because I can see a thermostat on the wall. I also know that they do not use the cooling system because it is so hot in there that I start sweating when I call my order in from home. When I arrive to get my food, I open the door and get blasted by the heat pouring out. Even on a 95 degree day, I feel cooler when I walk back out to my car. It is hot in there.

The people are ridiculously rude. They are so over the top in the brusque way they interact with their customers that the rudeness almost becomes luxurious.  Customers are greeted with a contemptuous stare and dismissed with a handful of change and a fast bye-bye. Smiles and waves are never returned.

Once, I was too eager to bask in the rudeness and partake in the deliciousness. I went to the counter. The woman looked in the notebook she takes orders in, had a conversation with the man in the kitchen then turned to me and said SIT! Nothing more. SIT! I sat and thought I would never have put up with that anywhere else, then I waited patiently until she slammed my order on the counter and dismissed me.

I could go on and on about how harsh the people who run this place are. Please know that I am saying that after factoring in that they are very new to the US and that things I do would be considered rude in their home nation. This is rudeness that transcends culture. They are even bad on those things that are universal across borders.

…And Yet…

I got dinner there last night. I can’t, or won’t stop. The food is fantastic.

I asked for the homemade hot mustard because it said right there on the torn piece of cardboard stuck on the wall to ask for it. The woman made me sorry I asked. It was so worth it.

The food, the mustard and the delicious rudeness. I reveled in them all.

I’ll be back. They know it.


57 Comments on “The Kung Pao Exception”

  1. Todd Pack says:

    Sometimes, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and if you’ve gotta put up with an egg-drop soup Nazi, well, you’ve gotta put up with an egg-drop soup Nazi.

    P.S. Seinfeld went off 13 years ago. Can I still make Seinfeld references?

  2. AiXeLsyD13 says:

    I know this feeling… ha ha. Well stated, great story.

  3. So funny! Now I want to go 🙂

  4. shoutabyss says:

    Maybe you mispronounce the name of the dish, thus insulting them and their ancestors, so they hate you. At least they still have the honor to make a delicious meal. 🙂

  5. madtante says:

    This reminds me of (only in that it was an … odd “Chinese” place) a place that was open for some years and yet not known by many — or frightened away those who walked through the doors. It wasn’t the BEST food but it was alright and you got a lot for very, very reasonable prices (which explained why I was the only white kid in this hovel on the edge of a black ghetto).

    If you ever ran across anybody else who knew it, oh, the stories!! Great experience of Kafka-esqueness.

  6. Spectra says:

    Me vely sad you haff rood eshperlience aht dis vewy fLine prace. Yoo com bax soon, yes?

  7. Amy says:

    “The woman made me sorry I asked. It was so worth it.” Oh my gosh, this cracked me up. What we will do for good food we don’t have to make ourselves.
    I haven’t had an experience with rudeness, but there was once one mexican joint that I loved even though their health rating was nearing single digits. I didn’t care. The food was awesome.

  8. Blogdramedy says:

    Chinese food with a side of abuse. Ah…it’s the spice of life. 😉

  9. haha! they probably are one family, either parents and children, or brothers and sisters or something. being an asian myself, i’ll say that most chinese or asian businesses are run by family members or at the very least friends. that’s why if the owner is asian, most of the employees are asian too.

  10. jacquelincangro says:

    Reminds me of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld episodes. You’d better follow that lady’s orders, otherwise next time, “No Kung Pao for you!”

  11. Katybeth says:

    We had an Italian bread store like your restaurant–they loathed Joe (all men really) and tolerated me because I was terrified of the little-spoon-wielding-Italian mama’s behind the counter.
    Your week but your priorities are in the right place….you want the food and dam the impolitness.

    sett, be quiet, eat well.

  12. Laura says:

    I can only hope that, one day, you’ll run into 12a and 12b there.

  13. We found him Captain!! says:

    The lady at the counter is known as Wohnchu which means The Dragon lady in English. She used to cook for Chairman Mao. If you think she is tough now? Wait until next year when she gets her green card. Your ass will be grass and she will be the lawnmower.

  14. Lafemmeroar says:

    You masochist 🙂 This post reminds me of the Soup Nazi episode on “Seinfeld.” One of the best posts I’ve read this week …

  15. spencercourt says:

    But is Kung Pao Chicken really Chinese? I guess as long as it’s good, authenticity is irrelevant….

    Ask them for sliced, fried pig ears and see what their reaction is….My wife had that in Hong Kong, at a hole in the wall in Wan Chai where nobody spoke English (but the menu was bi-lingual). She loved it!

  16. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    You are like the salmon swimming upstream to spawn – the desire to breed is so great that it will risk its life to reach its goal.

    Well, you’re sort of like that. You’re also a glutton for punishment and kung pao, and yet, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing.

  17. Funny, I usually find the employees at Chinese restaurants so over-the-top polite it’s almost uncomfortable the opposite way! There’s a place around me that they say “thank you” between like every 3 words they speak. The other thing they do is when you pay with cash they don’t ring it into the register, they just put the cash in and give you the change back… hmmmmm!

    • omawarisan says:

      YES! I go to a place where they have this complex computerized register they never use. You can go there with 5 people and they’ll tell you how much it is with tax and never ring it in? What the hell?

  18. gmom says:

    Great post.
    My husband who picks up contracts in this restaurant business for oil biofuel prodiction also runs into the cultural differences and has overcome it by learning a bit of chinese or japanese mandarin or cantanese. But ya gotta get an idea of which dialect you are dealing with or you are just another big toothed stupid loud American.
    They are a people easy to win over with a bit of modesty and a show of gratitude. Try a “NEE-how” next time you go in. you may get laughed at but the rudeness may disapear and be replaced with an extra eggroll. They love my husband’s wacky attempts at their language they laugh and love him.

  19. linlah says:

    If you don’t go into the cave of the tiger, how are you going to get its cub?

  20. KathiD says:

    I would do anything for good Kung Pao chicken. Well, almost anything. I would endure rudeness, no problem. I’ve endured rudeness for less.

  21. Jane says:

    I’ve never had Kung Pao chicken. I have been unaware of its power. I do have a similar problem with good onion rings. Luxurious rudeness isn’t too much to bear for a heaping plateful of pale gold, cruncy yet juicy rings.

    • omawarisan says:

      Jane – it is crunchy, it is vegetably, it is hot and spicy. Go to it. Be one of us.

      Oh yeah on the onion rings. And they have to be real rings, not that chopped stuff.

  22. Pie says:

    Sir. Your masochistic tendency has come to the fore with this post. It made me laugh out loud and reminded me of a restaurant in Chinatown in central London. it’s called Wong Kei (pronounced wong-key) and the staff are well known to be rude to their customers. People love it and come from all over the world to experience the bad attitude. If the next massive recession caused every restaurant in town to fold, Wong Kei, like a cockroach would still be standing and thriving. I think your Dragon lady should look into expanding abroad. London will love her. Especially as she does a mean Kung Pao Chicken and fantastic mustard. I know it’s Japanese rather than Chinese, but I personally like the fire in a good Wasabi paste.

  23. Classic case of Kung Pao Co-dependency.

    I feel sorry for them. Maybe rudeness is a side-effect of extreme heat exhaustion.

  24. As Master Po said to Young Caine, “Snatch the mustard from my hand.”

  25. […] of life. Last week, opportunity knocked and he picked a Chinese restaurant we both like. No, not that Chinese restaurant, it was this […]

  26. […] enough of it that I consider Chinese food part of my personal food pyramid and have declared myself my parents’ only Asian son. Once, a friend and I were discussing where to go for lunch. I suggested Chinese. The response was […]

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