Archive | December, 2012

Eat Your Luck

31 Dec

Every New Year’s there’s another food I’m supposed to eat that will bring me good luck. I think I’ve tried them all.

New Year 1

I’ve done the Southern thing with the black eyed peas.

Southern luck thing.

Southern luck thing.

I’ve even tossed in a ham hock to make sure the Hoppin’ John concoction would be more effective.

The ham hock luck guarantee

Ham hock luck assurance

Based on something I read,  I once tried collard greens on New Year’s.

Collard greens

I can’t say that eating greens brought me any luck. And I know if I ever hit the numbers, I would have remembered. Whatever, the greens were delicious…and healthy too.

Collard greens

As long as you have your health….

The Italians have their superstitions too, that’s for sure. I bought into the lentils and sausage scam a few times thinking that maybe by eating them on New Year’s,  the following year would be truly remarkable.

A lucky legume?

A lucky legume?

If the year after the lentils and sausage was particularly amazing, I can’t remember.  Not that it mattered. They were so good I would eat them again even if they meant a mess of bad luck.

Eating fish on New Year’s is another superstition. I tried that one too.

Eat a fish head, get good luck.

And you would think that eating a fish’s head would give me some serious good luck mojo.  Sadly, though the fish head was memorable, any luck derived from eating it was not.

Since I’ve tried them all, this year I’m going with something not even on the New Year’s luck radar.

fried dough1

And I promise, if I have a particularly bad year, I’m not pinning it on fried dough.


When it comes to luck,  in reality that old sports cliche, “you make your own luck” is probably most  true. Just make sure that whatever luck you make tastes good.

Happy New Year!

A China y Latina Christmas Carol

21 Dec


I woke with a start when I heard the honking of a car horn. It had been awhile since I’d heard car alarms. Maybe they got wise to the uselessness of them and didn’t bother making them anymore. Whatever, the one out my window was pretty loud.

I looked around the room. I didn’t know where I was or what time it could be. Outside the window, the sky was dark grey. How long had I been sleeping? I was confused.

Soon it came back to me. I remembered taking a nap after devouring three tacos; two lengua and one spicy chorizo. I washed them down with a big glass of cold horchata. The lunch had immediately made me drowsy and my belly wasn’t feeling quite right. Could the horchata been spiked with tequila or mescal? Was the lengua spoiled?

I sucked down a double espresso in hopes of reviving my energy. There was Christmas shopping to get done. There was baccala to soak. I had no time for a nap. But it was no use.

It was daytime when I lay down and now the sky was dark. How long was I out? I was still trying to get my bearings.

As the sleep slowly drifted from my eyes, I noticed a wisp of haze at the foot of my bed. I immediately panicked. Did I leave something on the stove? I sniffed. No, it wasn’t smoke. I sniffed again. There was the distinct odor of grease—one made by overcooked lard. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell—at least not to me. I was drawn to it.

I pulled myself closer to the wisp and it quickly enveloped me The haze was so thick I couldn’t see through it. What the hell? I had to still be dreaming. Either that or I was on some sort of drug trip. But I hadn’t taken any drugs. Just the tacos and horchata.

I don’t remember putting on a coat and hat. I don’t remember getting on the subway. But there I was at a place I hadn’t been in many years: a restaurant called Dinastia China or La Dinastia or derogatorily referred to by one particular hater as La Di Nasty. It was the first restaurant I dined in when I moved to New York in the final quarter of the previous century.

The wisp was by my side. I looked around me and noticed the hot dog joint on the corner of 72nd and Broadway and the subway station across the street. Beyond that it was too dark to see anything. A decorative Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was in the window of the restaurant. I peered through the glass. The counters with the stools in the front were exactly as they were decades ago. There were liquor bottles behind the counter and a cash register.

Rudolph was the lone window decoration.

Rudolph was the lone window decoration.

I pushed the door open. Nat King Cole was singing “The Christmas Song” from the restaurant’s loudspeakers as I entered. The front wall was decorated with autographed photos of celebrities I had never heard of. Next to them was a calendar. I glanced at it and then looked again. That date couldn’t be right. It was an ancient December date I was looking at. Not 2012. I was suddenly chilled.

I turned to the wisp by my side. It just hovered there. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. But I noticed now that the greasy lard odor was gone replaced by the enticing smell of grilled red meat. It moved forward and as if I were a hound on a scent, I followed.

There were a number of waiters in white button down shirts scurrying about. None of them stopped to ask me if I wanted a table. I hadn’t been to Dinastia China since the last century, but I remembered that as soon as I would enter, a waiter, menu in hand, would appear and immediately escort me to a table. Choice tables were always available. Reservations were never necessary. In fact, they were probably discouraged.

I slowly moved past the front area into the dining room. To my right was the commander’s station just as I remembered it. A cluttered desk with a big microphone facing toward the front entrance. One of the waiters was there now and barking orders into it. From the microphone, I knew the orders were relayed to the kitchen and the chef.

The Commander's Station

The Commander’s Station

“Ropa vieja, arroz amarillo, frijoles rojo, platano frito, wonton soup,” I heard him say.

I didn’t speak Spanish, but I was proficient in China y Latina restaurant speak and knew that the order was for shredded beef, yellow rice and red beans, fried plantains, and wonton soup. Despite the leaden effect of the tacos I feasted on earlier, my mouth, I realized, was beginning to water slightly. The order passed on to the kitchen was one of my favorites. It was what I ordered countless times at Dinastia.

There were a few solitary men and women sitting at tables in the expansive dining room. Their heads were down and there were huge platters of rice, beans, beef stew, fried chicken and other Dinastia specialties in front of them. None of them bothered to look up from their food as the wisp and I moved through the room.

The dining room that time forgot.

The dining room that time forgot.

I followed the wisp, despite it’s delicious smell, reluctantly now, sensing I should stay back. That what it was drawing me to I should not see. Frank Sinatra suddenly began to sing over the loudspeakers.

     Oh by gosh, by golly,

     It’s time for mistletoe and holly

A waiter juggling three plates; a big platter of chuletas asadas (center cut pork chops), separate bowls of black beans and yellow rice, and another plate cluttered with fried plantains whisked by me as if I did not exist. I turned and followed the waiter’s progress as he deposited the overflowing plates in front of an older, heavy-set woman, a copy of the New York Post spread out in front of her.

Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents
                                Countrysides covered in snow

 The wisp spun around and around me forcing me to look away from those juicy pork chops and to follow it forward. And then there at a table in the back, near the familiar rest rooms, was another lone diner. I hesitated. I could only see the back of the diners’ head. It was a man and he was hunched over his food. The wisp prodded me closer.

Oh by gosh, by jingle
               It’s time for carols and Kris Kringle

I looked at the table. It was a mess. A disgusting mess. There were pieces of yellow rice scattered on the glass top of the table along with a stray black bean or two, napkins were all over the place. Some of the broth from what was left of a bowl of wonton soup spilled onto the table.

"it was a disgusting mess"

“it was a disgusting mess”

I couldn’t look anymore. I wanted to turn away, but the wisp would not let me. The aroma of fresh baked baguettes that now came from it forced me closer.

There was more. I could see crumbs from the dried noodles. Just a few broken pieces remained in the wooden bowl. There was even a lone noodle that had drowned in the accompanying duck sauce.


And there were bones…fish bones. It was a king fish—serrucho—and it was pan fried. I could see the brown, burnt bits of garlic and the fried pepper strips. There were a few red blots of hot sauce on what was left of the fish. And then I noticed that some of the tender white flesh still clung to the big center bone. Who would waste such a treat?

merry greetings…

Again I tried to turn around and get out of there. I could see no more, but the wisp blocked my way. I smelled fried chicken and was paralyzed.

     From relatives you don’t know

  I looked again at the table and knew I had to see who would create such a mess. At first I noticed the fingers. They were slick with grease. And then I saw the distinctive swirl of light brown hair on top of his head. And I heard myself gasp.

I turned to the wisp in shock.”How can this be? So…young…yet…such a slob.”

The greasy fingers reached into the duck sauce and fished out the drowned noodle.

“Please,” I pleaded. “Please don’t let me look at anymore. I can’t watch. Don’t make me watch. Please…”

   Oh by gosh, by golly

    It’s time for mistletoe and holly

 I wasn’t sure if I was crying or not. If I was, the waiters didn’t care. They just continued to go about their business as if I was invisible.

Fancy ties and granny’s pies,

       An folks stealing a kiss or two

      As they whisper

 I shut my eyes tight. I wanted to cover my ears.

   “Merry Christmas”

   to you

When I opened my eyes, I was just outside the same restaurant. I looked around. There was no wisp by my side. I sniffed. No baguette, grilled beef, fried chicken, or lard grease odor anywhere. I heard a car honk. It wasn’t a car alarm. Just a normal impatient honk. I turned toward Broadway. The hot dog joint was there on the corner, but beyond the subway station I could see a gleaming glass high rise with a Bank of America branch and a Trader Joe’s market.

dinastia 002

I looked into the window of the restaurant. Rudolph was where it was before. The tacos and horchata drink I had for lunch seemed to have been properly digested. I was now ravenous.

I pushed through the doors and walked briskly through the bar area glancing quickly at the photos of the unknown celebrities but making sure not to look at the calendar.

As I approached the Commander’s Station, a waiter met me, laminated menu in hand. I looked past him at the mostly empty tables. There was a family sitting at one of the big, center table and a policeman and policewoman in uniform at another. The other tables were empty.

“Table?” the waiter asked me.

I looked at him. He looked at me. I nodded.

“Just one?”

“Just one,” I said and he led me to a table.

Rod Stewart was singing a cover of the great Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” as I sat.



After devouring a meal of wonton soup, accompanied by dried noodles and duck sauce, followed by the serrucho ajillo (king fish with garlic and peppers), yellow rice and black beans, I wiped my fingers clean.

y Latina

y Latina

“Coffee?”my waiter asked.

“No, just the check,” I said.

A few moments later he returned with the check and a rolled up magazine, or something like that.

“What’s this?” I asked as I opened it up. It was a calendar with the restaurant’s name on it. I glanced at the date.

I looked up at him. “2013,” he said with a knowing smile.

As I gathered my belongings and headed out with the calendar in hand, he turned to me as he wiped the table clean. “And I see you next year.”

“Yes,” I said with a nod. “You will.”

dinastia 024

Living La Pupusa Loca

18 Dec

pupusa loca 050

Sometimes the third time is the charm. At least that was the case for Mike from Yonkers who had to go to plan C for our latest outing.

Plan A was a “hot tip” on a place in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He kept the tip to himself, but we nixed schlepping to Bloomfield during the “gridlock alert days” we were currently experiencing.

“I’ll save that one for next time,” he slyly added, still keeping us under wraps on what we might encounter in Bloomfield.

Plan B illustrated that Mike from Yonkers was experiencing much holiday duress. Under pressure to select a destination, he mistakenly consulted New York Magazine and choose the wildly popular Brooklyn Thai  restaurant, Pok Pok. That he didn’t realize that a place given multiple stars (whatever they mean) by New York Magazine wouldn’t be mobbed by voracious foodies can only be excused by a combination of work and holiday stress. To make it clear to him, we sent him links with actual photos of some of the long and legendary lines waiting to dine at Pok Pok.

One thing Mike from Yonkers did know, at least we hoped he did after almost eight years as a member of our group, was that we never wait on line to dine. The options are too many for that. So one look at the links and he knew he had to go to Plan C.

Now, under immediate pressure, he went to his own backyard.  His pick: a Salvadorian place just over the Bronx border in Yonkers called La Pupusa Loca.

Welcome to Yonkers

And despite it not being in the five boroughs, La Pupusa Loca fit right into our criteria. A brightly-lit cafeteria where English was very foreign and Spanish novelas blared from multiple televisions, La Pupusa Loca featured large tables offering our group of five—Rick being absent after the very recent birth of his first child—plenty of room for food and flesh overflow.

Serious happenings on the tube.

Serious happenings on the tube.

Mike from Yonkers and I were the first to arrive, followed soon after by Zio and at that time, the lone waitress was ready to take our order. I started with a Pilsener, a Salvadorian beer, but waited on ordering food until the others arrived. By the time Gerry and Eugene arrived, however, the waitress was occupied with others and the wait seemed interminable.

“Is this the longest we’ve had to wait,” Eugene asked.

“I’m hungry,” Gerry bellowed. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

Finally, visibly harried, the waitress came to our table and took our orders. I needed to discover what the restaurant’s namesake, the pupusa, tasted like and ordered a bean and cheese.  Foolishly thinking it would be too much for me, I passed on what I saw someone else in the restaurant getting: the “mariscada especial;” an enormous bowl of fish soup where, lobster, shrimp with the heads on, and crab claws overflowed from. Instead I went with a seafood combination of shrimp and fried fish, casamiento, a mash of beans, rice, garlic and other herbs, and chimol, a Salvadorian salsa.

Gerry and Eugene both also ordered fish; Eugene the whole red snapper with onions and Gerry the fried porgy.

“Where does porgy come from?” I asked.

“Long Island Sound,” Zio answered.

“Yeah and that’s why I ordered it. To support our local fishermen,” Gerry cracked.

An enormous platter of pork chops passed our table and Zio’s weary eyes were immediately drawn to them. “I’ll have what they’re having,” he said repeating the oft-used line.

After studiously perusing the menu, Mike from Yonkers went with the steak combination which included an egg, scrambled according to the waitress.

“Can I have it fried,” Mike from Yonkers pleaded, giving her a look she could not refuse.

The pupusas arrived first, which came with a tomato sauce on the side and a big container of homemade pickled cabbage. Our waitress said the cabbage was eaten as an accompaniment to the pupusa.

“Its Salvadorian sauerkraut,” Zio announced after trying the cabbage. And so it was, but not really needed, in my opinion to enhance the already deliciously crazy pupusa.

Salvadorian sauerkraut

Salvadorian sauerkraut

The platters began to arrive. First were Gerry’s and Eugene’s whole, fried fish, both smothered in onions. Next were the super-sized pork chops. After inspecting their enormity, Zio groaned realizing what he was in for.

Only Mike from Yonkers’ family-sized combination platter exceeded Zio’s. On the platter was a selection of beef cuts, two long “maduros,” sweet bananas, a wedge of salty hard white cheese, and a mound of rice and beans; all of it topped with the requested fried egg.

Meat combo with fried egg.

Meat combo with fried egg.

When my comparably miniscule plate arrived, the discrepancy was noticed by all. On it was just a small wedge of fish filet and a few “medium” shrimp, along with the casamiento and chimol. It was as if I ordered from the kids’ menu, if there was such a thing at La Pupusa Loca.

“Don’t worry, you can have some of mine,” Mike from Yonkers generously offered.

But I had my pride. I figured I would finish what was on my plate first before I began scavenging for more. It didn’t take long; only the dense casamiento slowed me down.

The kids' platter; fish and shrimp.

The kids’ platter; fish and shrimp.

Mike from Yonkers had hardly made a dent in his platter by the time I finished. In fact,  Zio polished off the monstrous pork chops before Mike from Yonkers even touched the cheese.

Finally, I conceded. “I guess I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said to him. It wasn’t really that I was still very hungry, it was more as a prod to get him to work with a little more purpose on his platter.

He cut me a sizable wedge of “bistec,”  thinly pounded grilled steak, but by the time I got to it, the meat was cold and tough as a hockey puck.

I wasn’t the only one to notice how long it was taking him to finish the gargantuan platter “Geez, we’ll be here all night,” Gerry barked.

Sensing pressure from the group, Mike from Yonkers pushed the platter away from him. “Okay, that’s it. I’m done,” he announced.

A snapper drowning in onions.

A snapper drowning in onions.

While we waited for the check, I walked around the restaurant and noticed that the placemats under the glass tabletops all had maps of Honduras. This was a Salvadorian place, wasn’t it? Was there a difference between a pupusa from Honduras and one from Salvador? Frankly, I didn’t care.

La Pupusa Loca

297 S. Broadway


It’s an Oxtail World…

14 Dec

Ox 003



oxtails (8)

oxtails (10)

Sylvia's and stuff 002


oxtail7 (2)

Ox 007


We just live in it.


The Happiest of All Hours: Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

12 Dec

winnie's 018

I’m not one to partake in karaoke. In fact, I don’t recall ever being present during karaoke hours at a bar or club, though maybe I have been. I’ve probably actually gone out of my way to avoid karaoke and if a local pub I had been frequenting began to institute karaoke sessions, that pub would most likely be crossed off my list. Thankfully, it’s a long list.

My feeling is that I would rather put my dime (a figure of speech) in the juke box and hear the real deal than listen to amateurs obliterate the same tune.

I know it’s a cranky attitude to have. Why should I care if people have fun making fools of themselves? I don’t really. I truly believe there is place in this world for karaoke. There’s also a place for restaurants where you need to make a reservation a month in advance. It’s just that neither are my kind of place.

But though at times I’m intractable, I can make exceptions and recently I found myself sitting at the bar at Winnie’s, a Chinatown institution best known for its wild karaoke nights. Of course, I was at Winnie’s during the Happiest Hour, which, for me, is much earlier than the 8pm starting time for karaoke.

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

Instead of listening to inebriated folks doing their best to cover already bad pop hits, the place was practically empty and the only sound was from the “People’s Court” on television.


While I sipped my very cold $6.50 Tsingtao, two hapless couples were haggling over an altercation that occurred because of a faulty refrigerator bought on Craig’s List. Though the beer tasted good, I began to think that maybe even an amateur with a microphone might be a better listening alternative than to the drek coming from Winnie’s only TV.

I finished the beer but didn’t order another. The dispute had not yet been resolved on the People’s Court, but I wasn’t sticking around for the verdict. Outside there was a drizzle and across the street people were huddled under cover within the atrium of Columbus Park. Winnie’s was surrounded by court houses and the next time I’m summoned for jury duty, I’ll know where to go to relieve the agony of fulfilling my civic responsibility.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

For now, though my stay inside Winnie’s was brief, I figured I could extend the happiest of hours. In a way, I might actually discover “double happiness.” After all, I was in Chinatown. The possibilities were endless.

Double Happiness at Winnie's.

Double Happiness at Winnie’s.

Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

104 Bayard St


The Fusion Files Follies

7 Dec


curry king 003

“I’ll have a large General Tso’s Chicken,” I said into the phone.

There was silence on the other end and then: “Chicken? What kind?”

“General Tso’s,” I repeated, looking at the menu for Curry King that advertised Halal Chinese food. I was excited. I wanted to see if there was any difference between the standard Chinese rendition of General Tso’s as opposed to the Indo-Pak Halal version that Curry King was promoting. Besides the halal meats, what made Halal Chinese food unique? Would Indo/Pak/Bangladeshi Chinese automatically be spicier?  I wanted to know.

“Chicken curry?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“No, General Tso’s chicken,” I asked again. “From the Chinese section of your menu.”

“Oh, that’s no more,” the voice said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, the deflation apparent in my voice.

“We don’t make the Chinese food anymore,” he said.


“No one wants it.”

I wanted it, but I didn’t tell him that. Would it have done any good?

“What about the hot and sour soup?”


“Yes, the hot and sour soup.”

“I have that,” he said.

I was puzzled that the hot and sour soup was available but no General Tso’s.

“I’ll have it,” I said. And then I went on to order a number of either Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi items—I wasn’t sure what distinguished one from the other.

When I arrived to pick up my order, I glanced at the Indian/Pakistani and/or Bangladeshi items in the steam trays behind the counter.

Pakistani? Indian? or Bangladeshi?

Pakistani? Indian? or Bangladeshi?

“Is that the soup?” I asked, pointing to what looked like chicken soup.

“Yes, chicken soup,” the woman behind the counter told me.

“Hot and sour?”

“Chicken soup,” she repeated. “It’s fresh and very good.”

I had no doubt of that. “But it’s not hot and sour?”

Chicken soup on far left.

Chicken soup on far left.

“We can make it hot,” she said.

I nodded,  but didn’t ask if she could make it sour.



The Ring of Fire on Roosevelt Avenue

4 Dec

Little Pepper Hot Pot

Little Pepper Hot Pot
133-43 Roosevelt Avenue
Flushing, Queens

“I don’t think I like hot pots,” Gerry wrote in an email after I told him Zio and I were going to spend a Chow City interlude at the Little Pepper Hot Pot in Flushing.

Despite his hasty judgment based on one hot pot experience (Minni’s Shabu Shabu), Gerry agreed to meet the two of us there.

After reading blurbs about the restaurant, I learned that I could park in the garage of the nearby Sky View Center for free for up to three hours. I didn’t think it would take us longer than that to make quick work of Little Pepper’s hot pot so I pulled into the multi-level parking garage and walked through the gleaming, glass enclosed, Taipei City-like mall, passing such culinary stalwarts as Applebee’s and Chucky Cheese on my out to Roosevelt Avenue.

Where am I?

Where am I?

I found Little Pepper Hot Pot across the street from a 1960’s housing development and then recognized it as the location of the great and original Little Pepper (A Cold Sweat in Flushing), which has since relocated to  College Point Avenue.

The tables of the narrow restaurant were all adorned with an electric stove top heater. The menu was attached to a clipboard. What turned Gerry, and most of us off about the other hot pot experience was the chaos for first timers. We had no clue what to do and the servers at Shabu Shabu were just too busy to deal with our hot pot virginity.

The hot pot heating device.

The hot pot heating device.

At Little Pepper Hot Pot our waiter spoke perfect English and was patient with our ignorance of things hot pot related. Still, the three of us, sadly, are not quick studies and at first it was a struggle, especially for the menu-challenged Zio.

“I just have no clue,” Zio said, shaking his head and tossing the clipboard.

I took the menu and studied it. It reminded me a little of the SAT tests where you need to blacken little circles next to the correct answers. Where was Mike from Yonkers, the SAT specialist, when we needed him?

Finally, I think I figured it out and explained to Gerry and Zio that for the table we needed to order one hot pot for $25, which would serve as our cooking device. From there we could choose other meat and vegetable items from the menu to toss into the boiling cauldron.

There were three hot pot options: Szechuan (all spicy), half Szechuan and half “Original” (mild), or all Original. We like to think that we are very brave when it comes to spice. No one can tell us something is too hot for us. And there have been instances when condescending waiters, assuming because of our vanilla visages (speaking about my own only) that we cannot tolerate the same heat as those born with the spice resistance gene.

This was, however, an offspring of the original Little Pepper where they definitely did not pull any punches when it came to spice. So in this instance we decided to take the safe route and go with the option number two: the combination pot.

The pot was brought to the table, placed on the portable stove top and turned on. On one side was the chili pepper red Szechuan while on the other was the clear, milky Original—the two separated by a divider. It wasn’t long before both broths were bubbling furiously.

The yin and the yang of hot pots.

The yin and the yang of hot pots.

A gigantic tray of vegetables came with the pot: watercress, wood ear mushrooms, corn, bean sprouts, cabbage and a plate of “fatty beef.”

The veggies ready for the pot.

The veggies ready for the pot.

Fatty beef

Fatty beef

Using chopsticks, I started to drop the meat and vegetables into the hot pot.

“Use your hands,” Gerry barked. “You’re taking too long.”

I did as commanded and then the waiter appeared with the other items we ordered: fish, parsley meatballs, king oyster mushrooms, lotus root, cabbage, and enoki mushrooms.

More to go into the pot

More to go into the pot

“Now what the hell are we supposed to do with these?” Zio wondered, holding up one of the slotted, net-like spoons that came with the hot pot.

“Fish out the fish,” Gerry said.

I tried to fish out the fish from the Szechuan side of the pot and came up with something—maybe the wood ear mushrooms and some of that fatty beef. I shoved whatever it was into my mouth and almost immediately my eyes watered and nose ran and I quickly spat it all out. I examined what had flown out of my mouth and was now on my plate. In my insatiable haste, I almost ingested countless pieces of dried hot chilies.

“Next time maybe you’ll be more careful,” Gerry scolded.

And the next time I was able to fish out the fish and the other ingredients that were now all cooked through and deliciously infused with the accumulation of flavors the multiple ingredients gave the broth.

A bubbling cauldron

A bubbling cauldron

The piles of napkins on our table were dwindling at the same rate as the honking noise from our collective noses was increasing. Scooping the meats and vegetables from the “Original” side of the hot pot did little to ease the self inflicted pain from the heat of the Szechuan side. But no one was complaining. It was what we wanted. What we came here for.

Soon, with the exception of the dried chilies and a few enoki mushrooms, there was nothing much left in either side of the pot.

“I’ll be back,” Gerry, who was originally skeptical, said inferring that another trip to Little Pepper Hot Pot was needed.

“Yeah, me too, but not with the Colonel,” Zio said. The Colonel, who was Zio’s partner, had, as Zio made it known many times, a zero tolerance policy when it came to spice. “One sip of this stuff and her tongue would be fried. She wouldn’t be able to talk for a week. Though that’s not a bad idea.”

As I made my way through the enormous mall to try to locate the car somewhere in the bowels of the indoor parking garage, I could feel a burn in my gullet. It made me think of the song “Ring of Fire,” by Johnny Cash. I hummed it in the car driving back home.

The next morning the tune was still in my head, but it was no longer the Johnny Cash version I was humming. The burn had lingered overnight and the effects I was feeling the next morning were closer to how Ray Charles handled it: slow and deliberate and with a raw blast of the blues (see below). The burn and the accompanying pain, I knew, would fade but it wouldn’t be long before I, like Gerry and Zio, would eagerly go back for more of the same.

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