Several years ago I worked in the International Division of a software company, and it was my very good fortune to be able to make frequent trips to Hong Kong, where the locals gave me impromptu training in Chinese Food Appreciation. We could expense our meals so a visitor from headquarters was a good excuse to eat at some really fine restaurants and let the company pay.
I would have expected the gourmet of the HK office to be the salesman from a prominent family who through his social standing had entrée to all the elite corporate decision-makers. But the real gourmet there was a guy from a rougher background, and he was my most frequent dining companion. I asked him one night if he would take me some place that was kind of a dive, a place common people ate, but with great food. He took me down an alley in Central, to a basement restaurant with a dirt floor that was entered by stooping through a small, low opening into what had apparently been intended as a crawl space rather than a room.
The floor had been dug out a bit but the ceiling was still very low. The décor was bare light bulbs and roughly made and crudely painted tables. The food was delicious and the dishes had lots of bones. The custom was for patrons to spit out the bones onto the table. Someone came by every few minutes with a dustpan and swept the bones away. It took a few minutes to let go of my inhibitions but soon I was loving the freedom of not having to worry about manners. It greatly added to my enjoyment of the meal.
I occasionally think of that experience when I’m in a restaurant trying to eat something delicious that has lots of little bones or other issues. If I could just grab the food and munch away I would get all that deliciousness but I would also look like a total slob. So I pick at the food and even if I eventually get most of the good parts out, the constraint really interferes with my full enjoyment.
Tonight I had no food in the larder and decided to order take out from Cooking Papa, the nearest restaurant to my home in Foster City. I’d had their duck jaws 3 or 4 times before, but wasn’t really in a duck jaw mood. I ordered it anyway, because I wanted to remind myself what it was like so I could compare it to Great Eastern’s version in my posting about Friday’s Chowdown at GE. Also since I was going to be eating take out alone I wouldn’t need to worry about manners in dealing with the myriad bones in the dish.
Alone at my dining table, in the privacy of my home, with no witnesses, I greedily devoured the jaws (which were even better than I remembered) and quickly generated a full dinner plate of bones. With table manners not an issue, they are easy to eat, though you have to be willing to get your fingers very oily ripping the bones apart.
Unlike GE, CP retains the long slender jaw bones around the tongue, and when you tear them off you get some really delicious meat at one end. The jaws were fried with scallions and onions, and though I had remembered them covered with crispy fried bits of stuff the onions were merely well cooked but not crispy. The flavor was intense, delicious, and addictive. I had ordered enough dishes for two meals and intended to save half of the jaws for later but I couldn’t stop until only two were left. My fingers and lips dripping with oily goodness, with a smile on my face, I said a prayer of thanks for Cooking Papa being a mile from my home, and for the pure joy of eating like a savage.
If you’re interested in trying this dish, it’s on the Seasonal Specials page, where it has been for several months. It’s now called Duck Tongues in Maggi Sauce.