Diner in disguise: Fortune cookies and battered chicken
Most mythical stories, or legends, are often entwined with history. Chinese mythology in particular reflects life balance, self-sacrifice, encourages good deeds and warns about the dangers of oppression.
Myths surrounding Chinese food are everywhere, and one of the most pervasive is that of the fortune cookie and, in particular, its origins. These oddly shaped, crunchy concoctions that come with your Chinese take-out were reportedly “invented” by Makoto Hagiwara of Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco sometime around 1890. Whether or not the paper fortunes were inserted at that time remain a mystery. Just for fun, here are a few of my favorites:
“Help! I’m being held prisoner inside a Chinese bakery!!”
“A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you’re in deep water.”
“Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.”
“Love is grand; divorce is a hundred grand.”
I tell you this to illustrate how Chinese food, as we North Americans know it, has changed to reflect our sensitive palates, with battered and fried meats and sweet sauces replacing the traditional fare of vegetables as the main ingredient. That being said … man, how I love those battered and fried meats and sweet, tangy sauces!! My considerable girth is testament to my love of this type of cuisine. Sure, most Chinese restaurants offer a multitude of low fat, healthy dishes, and China City is no different. I heard that China City serves up the finest Chinese food in El Dorado County and I arrived today with the highest of expectations. I must tell you that this is a very well hidden jewel that, from all appearances, would normally have me worried about their survival. Location, location, location is apparently not a concern for the owners, who are doing very well due to extremely happy customers who spread the good word.
The ambiance is no-frills, very sparse but also open and inviting. Our server was quick to bring us our egg drop soup, which was piping hot and nuclear yellow in color (due to the addition of curry, I believe), and our tea.
I am joined by Gambit today, who ordered the Mongolian beef and steamed rice. After her first bite of beef she remarked how absolutely tender it was. “Melt in your mouth delicious” were her exact words. Her steamed rice, which can be kind of tricky to get right, was fluffy and plentiful. Her only quibble was the fact that they use peas in their rice. Apparently she hates peas as she picked out each and every one from her mound of rice before digging in.
I ordered the sweet and sour chicken dish, which was so beautifully appointed I simply gazed at it for a while before digging in. The sauce was sweet but had a little zing to it, which I like, and the chicken was lightly battered and very succulent. Perhaps the most important part of my meal was that it came and remained hot until I finished. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten Chinese food and been disappointed by cold dishes that had probably sat under a 12 watt heating element. Not here, that’s for sure. Everything tasted like it had been prepared to order. Each dish came with a “bonus” spring roll, which we demolished in record time.
The meal ended with our check and two fortune cookies. I cracked my cookie and found no fortune. Are they trying to tell me something? I mentioned this to our server who simply smiled and brought me a new one, which contained the following: “You are very lucky with the choices you make.”
China City is located at 4100 Cameron Park Drive, Suite 114, in Cameron Park. Their phone number is (530) 672-9888. They are closed Tuesdays.