Wontons as far as the eye can see. Who knew they were so versatile or addictive?
I’m having a slight problem with wontons.
I’ve got a horrendous cold, and the only thing I want is wonton soup from my favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s the only thing I’ve eaten for three days. I even ate wontons that ended up in egg drop soup.
I’d like to say this craving is limited to soup, but that’s a lie. I’ve feasted on pan-fried Szechuan wontons, a decadent concoction featuring tender wontons smothered in spicy sauce. And last night: deep fried wontons, a gift tucked in an insulated bag from the generous restaurant owner who’s becoming my best friend.
“How are you feeling?” he asked when I crawled in for my order last night. “Did the soup help?”
When I told him about the cold the previous day, he suggested hot and sour soup. “You want it extra spicy?” he asked, a gleam in his eye. “The secret is white pepper. I’ll put a lot in there for you.”
He sneezed a few times while preparing the soup, which ordinarily would have alarmed me. But he turned away from the stove when he sneezed, doubling over from the force. And honestly, I was in no position to worry about germs while contaminating his restaurant with the world’s worst cold.
“Ah, it’s the pepper,” he shouted. “I told you it will clear you up.”
I tried the hot and sour, but quickly switched to wonton. It’s all I really want when I don’t feel well. There’s something terribly appealing about Chinese dumplings. Well, any dumpling. Even the name makes me smile. Dumpling is one of those words that sounds like what it is. Dumpling: a satisfying pillow stuffed with goodness, just what you need when you’re feeling lousy.
A dumpling is the perfect comfort food, the ideal melding of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging from meat, cheese or fruit. It’s no surprise that dumplings are featured in nearly every cuisine, even ranking as the national dish of Lithuania. I’m pretty sure you can’t be in a bad mood eating dumplings, though I suppose it’s possible. There’s only so much dumplings can do.
I don’t eat wontons often because the Curmudgeon hates Chinese food. Let me clarify that: he doesn’t like when I order out and he really grouses when I get Chinese food. It’s been this way for about 20 years. I don’t know what came over him because he liked it when we first met at the Milford Citizen, a small daily newspaper in Milford, CT.
In the old days, we’d escape to Golden Joy or China City for a leisurely meal after putting the newspaper to bed. We were an afternoon paper, and deadline was around 11:30 a.m., making lunch a perfect time to escape and regroup. We went out to lunch every day, and Chinese food was in the rotation along with Mr. Sizzle, the International Hot Dog Ranch, Paul’s Drive-In, Nick’s Hamburger Inn, which served Afghanistan food until the owner had a screwdriver shoved into his head, and El Torero, the Mexican joint in front of the hot sheets motel.
Those were heady days of long lunches and happy hours that began at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. Today, most people I know grab lunch and eat at their desk, but this was sort of the golden era of lunches, and our jobs almost demanded we go out. Our workday was split in two: crazy mornings running around to meet deadline, and afternoons and evenings gathering news for the next day’s paper. Lunch was our only downtime, the one chance to catch our breath before gearing up for the next issue.
Going out to lunch is often dismissed as a waste of time, an indulgence for people with nothing better to do during the day. I’m not sure where the expression “ladies who lunch” originates, but it’s derogatory and superior, often code for women who don’t work outside the home. “You’re not one of those ladies who lunch, are you?” I’ve been asked on occasion.
Well, no. I occasionally grab a bite out, but for the most part I eat lunch alone and have since I stopped working to raise two kids. On the rare occasion that I do go out to lunch, it’s quite lovely and civilized, and I wonder why I don’t do it more often. But most stay at home mothers are not lunching out. They’re grabbing it on the run like everyone else.
I enjoyed our Chinese lunches because they were so predictable: hot tea served in a tiny pot with teacups with no handle, and crispy rice noodles and dipping sauces served while you studied the menu. We always ordered the lunch special: a cup of soup (wonton, of course) with an egg roll and entree with rice for $7.99. Oh, and two fortune cookies that came with the check.
But somewhere along the line, he stopped liking Chinese food. He made it clear Chinese food was no longer welcome on the menu. Unlike his disdain for Heavenly Hash ice cream, which he dislikes because he once got a “bad batch,” he gave no explanation.
We stopped going to Chinese restaurants and I stopped ordering it. The only time the kids and I had it was when he was out for the evening. I can’t tell you how much we looked forward to those nights.
The only time I can order it without grief is when I’m sick, and it’s the only upside to being down for the count. He eats his chicken and broccoli without complaint, knowing not to mess with me. But he usually slips in a comment the next day, just so I don’t get in the habit of ordering it.
“Wow, Chinese food,” he announced today out of nowhere. “Yea, what about it?” I said. “No, just Chinese food,” he said. “Boy, there was an awful lot of it.”
Full disclosure: I spent $42.17 on Chinese food for three people. All of the dishes except one featured wontons. My bill usually hovers around $25, so this is clearly getting out of control. But let’s not tell the Curmudgeon the cost. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, at least until he sees the canceled check.
An intense craving for wonton soup is a sure sign that I’m sick. I could try to justify it by saying it’s chicken soup, but it’s the wontons. The broth, bits of pork and scallions floating on the bottom are nice, but they’re not what’s driving this train.
All you want when you’re down with a cold is to feel better. Often, food is the best means to that end, at least if you’re lucky enough to retain your sense of smell. I’ve had colds where I can’t smell or taste anything for three days. It’s really tough to find the silver lining when you can’t even taste your food.
Most of us are lucky to have our sense of smell and taste. I pity anyone who can’t taste their food, or who can’t eat by mouth, because it’s one of the basic joys in life. The only upside to this cold was I retained a sense of smell and taste after snorting Zicam nasal gel for extreme congestion.
I made another wonton run today. When I walked in, the owner shook his head.
“Yea, I know, more wonton soup,” he said. “You and everybody else. I should run a hospital.”