Kwong Ming is a local legend. Everyone around here knows it, everyone has eaten there, families still make a tradition of gathering there for Chinese food.
I hadn’t been to Kwong Ming since 1972 until last night.
30 years ago. I was there with my family; my parents and sisters, a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles.
I ordered the chow mein.
Within ten minutes of digging into my chow mein I came down with a raging headache, the kind of headache where you imagine there are little monkeys in your head hammering away at your skull. It came on so fast and furious it made me nauseous.
“We need to leave. I’m going to be sick.”
Everyone ignored me and kept eating.
To be fair, they always ignored me when I said I felt sick because I had a tendency to feel sick every single time we were out.
The more things change, right?
It wasn’t until I got up, ran to the bathroom and didn’t come back that they realized I wasn’t faking it just to get out of having to socialize.
I don’t know if it was the chow mein itself or the MSG or just a coincidental migraine, but it didn’t matter. Chinese food was ruined for me. I would forever associate the food with feeling sick.
Forever being 20 years.
20 years I did not eat Chinese food. Not a steamed dumpling or chicken with broccoli or anything one might find at the local Panda Palace. And most certainly not chow mein.
When I was pregnant with my son in 1992 I got a craving for Chinese food. You don’t ignore pregnancy cravings, even if they are for things that you have sworn off forever. So I ate Chinese food - chicken and broccoli - and guess what? I got sick.
It was another ten years before I ate Chinese food again. In 2002 my family was ordering take out and I said, what the hell. I tried it in 72. I tried it 92. Might as well keep on the twos and order it in 2002.
I didn’t get sick. I was back on Chinese food again!
But I would not eat chow mein. And I would not go to Kwong Ming no matter how many times I was pressured to join a gathering there.
“You just don’t want to socialize.”
“It’s the 1972 Chow Mein Incident. I’m still post-traumatic.”
We’d be at the shopping center across the street from Kwong Ming, getting quick Mexican takeout from Green Cactus or spending too much money at the Italian deli. Todd would say “Why don’t we ever go to Kwong Ming? Your family really seems to like their food.”
“Bad memories” is all I would say. He’d leave it at that.
There’s another Chinese restaurant - Jani - less than a block away. You can see one from the other. That’s the hallmark of Long Island. A Chinese restaurant on every block. I think the ratio of Chinese Restaurants to humans on Long Island is 2:1.
I had a craving for Chinese food last night, which doesn’t happen very often. We decided to act on that craving and go to Jani because it’s in the same shopping center as the Starbucks where my daughter works and I hadn’t seen Natalie in about five days and wanted to make sure she still existed and I wasn’t just imagining I had a daughter who actually lived in my house.
The host at Jani stuck us at this tiny table that seemed to be wedged in between larger tables where large parties of loud people were eating. We stared at the menu for fifteen minutes and when no waiter had made an appearance by then we gave each other the look. The one that says “You want to get out of here? Let’s get out of here.”
We stood outside, wondering where to eat when Todd said “What about that Kwong Ming place over there?”
I was just hungry enough and tired enough to push the Chow Mein Incident of 1972 out of the way and give Kwong Ming another try. 2012. On the twos.
We walked in the place. I waited for the memory induced headache. Nothing. Even though the interior looked exactly the same, like not a thing had changed since 1972 and if I peeked into the corner booth I’d see my ten year old self sitting with my family and I’d run over and yell DON’T ORDER THE CHOW MEIN. Time warp.
We sat down. Ordered two Tsingtao. Opened the menu.
“They have Hong Kong style lobster!”
Todd had been looking for Hong Kong style lobster since he had it on a business trip two years ago. We’d tried a hundred different Chinese restaurants and not one had it. And here it was. Right at Kwong Ming. The one restaurant we actively avoided until now.
I knew then it was going to be ok. We ordered the lobster. And Chow Mein.
Granted, we ordered the Cantonese style Chow Mein and not the kind that made me sick but, still. This was a big moment in the slaying of the bad memory dragons.
The lobster was excellent. The beer was good. And the chow mein did not make me sick.
As I was waiting at the register for Todd, the owner told me they would celebrate their 50th birthday in August.
“Hey, me too,” I said.
And that’s what we did for my 50th birthday.
Chow mein, socializing, forgetting the past and enjoying the present.