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September 04, 2007


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The anti-Ponce! You didn't see the right parts of Ponce.

Somehow genuine Sichuan might be a revelation for you, Noel.

There was this little restaurant way to the south of the Zhangguomendajie, far, far away from the government/office monobloc strip, where I was the only westerner and I ate the most fantastic Sichuan in four courses for three dollars.

Sautéed chicken and red chiles, long beans, hot and sour soup, dumplings, and Beijing's fantastic lager.

There was this other restaurant, of the Shanxi regional cuisine, in an old Manchurian library, in a block slated for Olympic demolition, where we had noodles in vinegar/pepper sauce, with stewed black mushrooms - fantastic.

Now, the Peking duck restaurant was eh and eating at the Friendship stores got way boring - But the genuine regional Chinese fare, in real restaurants - that's something you cannot beat, and I do desperately miss the one real Shanghai takeout we had in Rego Park.

D.G., or should I say NYCMT: You will need to show me these places. I am willing to try the experiment once again, especially considering that all of the reverse-peristalsis-inducing authentic places served Cantonese cuisine. But I must repeat --- Cantonese cuisine simply tastes bad to me, even when it's awesomely superlatively great to a Cantonese palate.

I'm sure that there are many Americans who feel the same way about Mexican food, or Italians who get ill thinking about even the yummiest mac and cheese. And we won't talk about croquetas or mofongo except to say that I like 'em and can completely understand why other people don't.

Adjusting for that, and what I know that you know about my tastes, are you sure that I'd like genuine Sichuan?

And if so, where can I get it? China is a bit far, although if Amma's brother makes it to the '08 Olympics for Trinidad we might have a good excuse to go.

Amma's got lots of family in Queens Village, so it isn't like we don't have an excuse to get out to your part of the woods.

(Insert annoyance at Entourage writers here.)

Michael: after reading your other comments, I'm sure that you're correct! The comparison should be made clear: it's the center of Ponce (which is pretty, but only has a small amount of laid-back human activity) with the center of Sando (which is butt-ugly, and has way too much hyperactive human activity, both on foot and using the internal combustion engine).

BTW, if you don't mind me asking, what brought a Hoosier family to Ponce?

There are people that don't like croquetas? Humanity continues to surprise me in its variety.

There are people that don't like croquetas? Humanity continues to surprise me in its variety.

Bernard, my friend, given our similar family origins on that strangely-shaped peninsula hanging off the southwestern edge of France, I'm not sure that we're really qualified to judge the attractiveness of the croqueta.

Especially when covered in tartar sauce, as God intended. People don't always seem so fond of that.

Which is not to say that I don't share your surprise.

(Say, what causes the double posting?)

It can't be Manhattan Chinatown Chinese because I know very little about good Chinese in Manhattan Chinatown.

Flushing I know better. There's this Flushing place on Prince and 37th Avenue whose name I forget - it's "Spicy and Tasty" - which will knock your socks off. Joe's Shanghai is very good - but it's more saucy/unctuous.

You like spicy and salty, as I recall from many a dinner out - which is the definition of Sichuan cuisine. Not so much the cloying sauce, nor the unreasoning dependence on Magic Taste powder. But- physical heat, sensory heat, savoriness, and richness - that's real Sichuan.

Do you like Thai? There's a place right off the BQE on woodside and 61st which is the best Thai restaurant at which I have ever eaten. Sripraphai - right off the 7. Still haven't convinced the big C to go - but he doesn't like Thai. However, I have convinced Mrs. NYCMT to go back again and again, and she thought she *hated* Thai food before she went there, so that's a plus.

re: double-posting

My own damned fault. My instinct is to use the back-button after commenting to go back to the home page and browse. On HTDT, this results in a re-post of what I just wrote. I can't seem to break the habit, particularly since it doesn't happen anywhere else.

NYCMT, ever try Vong? Not "authentic", but I enjoyed it a great deal even after adjusting for the price.

? I like Thai just fine, thank you. (Which makes the general awfulness of Filipino food so much more striking, since they use roughly the same ingredient base.)

I grew up with too much bad Chinese food made with Wisconsin ingredients to ever warm to those cuisines, but here's the thing: China had its own version of molecular gastronomy a few hundred years ago, and the crazy, way-out dishes and flavor combinations became part of the standard repertoire. (Shark fin soup? That's a stunt dish.) And the Cantonese are the worst: even in China, they're known as the people who will eat anything.


Vong? Sorry. The wallet no go there. We rarely eat out in the spectacular strata of the name places for that reason. Mi sposa is too familiar with the kitchens of the high-end eateries, with her culinary ed background, so when she's confronted with a spring greens salad for $18, she laughs. Economics and value for money and comfort. The last time we broke $100 for two was in Boston at the Excelsior two years ago, and she was kicking me for excessive wine ordering.

Do you know about Il Cenacolo on Rte. 52 outside of Newburgh, Bernard? There's a good feed. A damn good Northern Italian.

Well, the family is only half Hoosier, and half Hungarian (the better half, one would say) -- making the logo of this site doubly fascinating to me, of course.

But, well, it turns out after we left that papers have been written about the allergies of the Ohio Valley. Go figure. In our case, we just noticed that our son didn't need his allergy medications on beach vacations. So we did an online price comparison of various beach-y venues. We can't afford any in the States per se, but we knew Puerto Rico from a month stay long, long ago, and knew that the south side of the island is dry due to the rain shadow of the Cordillera Central. (USGS precipitation maps also help in this sort of research.) Add to that the fact that construction here is concrete instead of wood, and floors are tile instead of carpet, and you end up with a fairly hypoallergenic environment.

You wouldn't think that avoiding allergy would be that high-priority, but when we discovered that his allergies are affecting his kidneys, well, that kind of rearranged our priorities.

Fortunately, I work online. God forbid I should need to find work locally. There isn't any. To speak of.

Well, so we came down here and stayed a while. His allergies improved vastly and he didn't need medications, and we slowly started the process of following up on his kidney issues.

Then we tried Hungary for a while because the schools are better there and we thought, well, it's not the Ohio Valley -- but something there truly disagreed with his allergies, and his lab values got a lot worse. So two years ago we came back (flying through Miami the day after Katrina did). And his lab values went back to their pre-Hungary levels.

Not entirely convinced, a year later we returned to Indiana -- and his values went up again, but not to Hungarian levels. We tried some medication, to no avail. So in March we came back down here -- and it will surely come as no surprise at this point in the story that his lab values returned to their "Ponce level". So we put the Bloomington house on the market (where it has unbudgingly remained since then), packed all the stuff up, and moved down here for real.

Included in "stuff" is a whole lot of books. One of our culture shock components was that Ponce, a nominally American city of 200,000 souls, has (1) no public library (since corrected) and (2) NO FRICKIN BOOKSTORES. None. Unless you count Catholic ones, which I don't, because they are not bookstores, but icon stores with a Bible sideline.

There is a textbook store. That's sometimes enough to restore my equilibrium in times of severe withdrawal. And of course we can drive to San Juan or Mayagüez to Borders, which we do on a regular basis. Rumor has it that Borders is opening a store in Caguas soon, and Ponce will follow -- eventually. I'll believe that when I see it.

Ponce is an acquired taste. But it's a good place to be stuck in, provided you have a job.

Michael: the Borders in the Plaza de las Américas? Great bookstore, great selection of everything ... but parking at that mall is not fun.

I was in Fort Lauderdale when Katrina came through. I spent the day before at my cousin's house re-routing a gas line from a stove into a small generator. No permit, of course, and of dubious legality. But that was South Florida. Lots of things of dubious legality occur in South Florida on a regular basis.

Only place to have air-conditioning after the storm. Very nice, especially since he wound up refreshing the entire neighborhood as they worked on branch-removal duty.

Which made me wonder: why they don't they bury the power lines in that part of the world?

NYCMT, Vong used to have a prix fixe lunch for under $30 (not counting drinks). Didn't I suggest it once? I know I did.

Michael, let me officially welcome you to Halfway Down the Danube! The original proprietors are Doug and Claudia, who used to live near the Danube in Belgrade (and now live in Yerevan, Armenia). I was Doug's best man, and Noel is an old friend and co-author. Doug does development work, Claudia public health, Noel's an economist, and I do whatnot.

Anyway, I think you've discovered two of the conversational attractors for the people who read this blog: food, and books.

Noel, I forgot to mention: Sichuan (Four Rivers) is the original place where they invented salt-and-pepper as a combination. So I'd agree with the NYCMT that you'd probably like authentic Szechwan. I've seen you with the condiments.

Yes, food. I will need to post something about Trinidadian food --- it's, like, totally excellent. The bad food is good.

Bernard, your mention of croquetas reminded me that Amma has never had real tortillas. I don't mean wheat tortillas like I like to eat in the U.S. of A., and I don't mean corn tortillas like the ones I used to eat in Mexico. I mean real honest tortillas españolas, just like granma used to make.

Oh, man, yummy. Luckily, we will be going to the madre patría in December. Of course, Amma (along with almost everyone else who's met either me or my father) remains convinced that Italy is my real mother country, genetics be damned.

She has a point. Carlos, have I ever taken you to the original Patsy's, or that restaurant on East 109th? (Not Rayo's, that's 114th.) Next time I'm in town.

Which reminds me of another thing that I have to work into a post: for a country that lives in the shadow of an imposing Spanish-speaking neighbor with a vaguely hostile government, a very active popular culture, and a longtime territorial claim, it's strange that the Spanish language may as well be Yoruba to most Trinidadians. (Amma excepted --- she lived in Mexico for a year, and speaks it very well.) To the point that we had to start calling huevos rancheros "salsa eggs" when Amma made them for her family because the syllables just wouldn't register to Trinidadian ears.

Parking at Plaza las Américas is easy -- you just drive up onto the top floor of the parking garage. You're then a five-minute walk from Borders. Or, if it's the food court and Toys'R'Us you want, you park on the top floor of the parking garage on the other end.

Nobody ever thinks of the top floors of parking garages, and yet they give you such a nice view of incoming planes. (The other reason to go to San Juan.)

Wal-Mart here in Ponce has imported Spanish tortillas -- very tasty for a cheap lunch.

As to food -- well. I'm married to a Hungarian. Hungarians kick everybody's ass when it comes to cuisine. Unfortunately, both kids have these allergic problems and we think diet has something to do with it, so we're experimenting a lot -- so true Hungarian moments are few and far between. (On the other hand, sometimes we think we're making progress with the kids' health.)

Say, Doug, Carlos, is there any way to get a "Caribbean" and "Latin America" tag added to the list of categories?


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