There are so many American Chinese restaurants in this country. I must emphasize on the ‘American Chinese’ part, because only a few of them really serve authentic Chinese cuisine. What started as a way to cater to railroad workers, in the 19th century Chinese restaurateurs developed American Chinese cuisine. They modified their food for American tastes, such as chop suey and sesame chicken.

There are so many of them, that I got jealous. If only the number of Indonesian restaurants are that many, even half of it, wouldn’t that be nice. In the Midwest, there are only a handfull of Indonesian restaurants around. I’m so lucky to have one in our little town of Ames, Iowa. Last time I checked in 2006, Chicago doesn’t even have one. I’m not sure about Minneapolis either. Madison, WI, has one (Bandung restaurant) which we visited in 2001 and is still in business!

Back to Chinese restaurants. There are approximately 9 of them in this 50,000-population college town (not to mention the HyVee ones). In my humble opinion, there’s only one that I’d consider ‘authentic’ and it’s ‘Little Taipei’. This is my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. Located in Campustown, this restaurant is never slow. Always full of customer; Asian or not. Moved recently to a nicer building, Little Taipei is always constant in providing good food. Like [most] Chinese restaurants, you shouldn’t expect too much of good service. They don’t have waiters who’d take your order, keep checking on you every 1o minutes or so, or bring you the bill.

You come in, go to the counter, and be prepare to answer these questions:

  1. “For here or to go?”
  2. “What do you want?”
  3. “Spicy, no spicy?”
  4. “What to drink?”

For question number 2, if you’re not a regular or if you happen to miss the big list of menu mounted on the wall (right after the entrance door in the alley, and again inside the restaurant), you’ll get flustered. They have so many categories; under ‘Rice’, ‘Noodles’, ‘Chicken’, ‘Beef’, etc. I usually go with the ‘Specials’ like Bulgogi Pork, Teriyaki Chicken, and Angry Catfish. The official menu on the wall is in English. The unofficialone is written in Chinese characters, and more… challenging. I don’t remember quite exactly what they called but there is one I’m particularly intrigued about: ‘Sour Stomach’. That’s right. I’m not sure if this dish will make your stomach sour (sick) after eating, or it’s an inside lining of an animal stomach (I’m guessing cow?) cooked in sour sauce. Well, that doesn’t sound very convincing either

Anyway…

After you decided what you’d like to order, then you pay (they no longer accept checks). Then, the cashier/order-taker would -which I probably am the only one who find this interesting- yell out the order into a microphone. Now, what would be the purpose of a mic? I’m guessing it’s for the cook back in the kitchen. But why yellling? You could just talk normal into the mic, and they should be able to hear it. The kitchen is just right behind the wall. Plus, there’s a window on the wall so they could definitely hear the yelling. Plus, after the customer pays, the cashier/order-taker would put the order slip up on the ‘thingy’ on the other side of the window.

So, expect to hear a loud,”CHICKEN FRIED RICE!! TO GO!! NO SPICY!!” or “MAPO TOFU FOR HERE!! SPICY!!” every now and then while you’re eating there. On a slower time of day (around 3:00 or 4:00 pm), you’ll hear less. But this doesn’t seem to bother the patrons at all. As most of them are college students, who don’t expect to dine in a fancy restaurant and just want something good, cheap and fast. Most of the dish is $5.00 and you’ll get plenty of white steam rice.