The Washington D.C. Chinatown Experience

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I spent most of last week in our nation’s capital, where the local residents had pained expressions plastered onto their faces due to the frigid temps.  I don’t think they’re used to this weather like us folks from the Northeast.

A busy schedule put a cramp on the food exploration, and I really can’t say I ate anything of note. Did have one interesting experience to share, though:

I was taking a lunch stroll through D.C.’s Chinatown in search of a quick bite. Perusing the restaurants along “H” St., I stopped at one window to check out the menu of a basement restaurant. Nothing terribly appealing, your typical Chinese-American fare. I began walking away. A man popped his head out the door:

“You want Chinese food?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, that’s okay,” I said.

“You come for lunch.”

“That’s okay, thanks.” Started to walk away.

The guy bounded up the stairs like a cat. “Very good Chinese food.”

“Yeah, I’m just looking around,” I responded. Still walking.

Now he was following me down the sidewalk. “Very good lunch. You come eat.”

I was getting creeped out. Why did this guy want me there so badly? What was going on in that place? I imagined the outcome: me giving in, walking into the restaurant, and the next thing I know I’m tied to a chair in a back room with a gag ball in my mouth like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction.

Lying through my teeth I said, “Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow.” Then I scurried away. And I could feel the guy’s eyes burning a hole through the back of my head.

Anyway, after almost being a part of Chinese human trafficking, I settled on a small spot where there was a man in the window making lai mein, or hand-pulled noodles. Fresh noodles sounded great on this cold day, so I went in.

Even by Chinatown standards, the place was a little grungy. I often write notes on my phone to help me remember restaurants later, and this is what I wrote: “Is it clean? Dingy.” It was the sort of restaurant where one really doesn’t want to see the kitchen, for fear of what might be found.

But the food was cheap, and it arrived fast. (Remember how for the Beijing Olympics the Chinese had finished building the venues like two years ahead of schedule? My people are efficient.) I ordered one of the $6.50 noodle soups that came with the freshly made noodles.

This jarred condiment sauce was sitting on the table. I’d never had it before, but it was really good — some sort of mix of scallions, ginger and garlic.

And here’s the noodle soup, with chicken and bok choy.

The broth itself was nice, and with the fragrant green sauce and sriracha, it certainly hit the spot. But those noodles? Handmade? I’m not so sure. They were too soft and pliable, nothing al dente going on. Tasted no different than anything you’d get from a package. Maybe I got the bad batch, who knows.

So that was my D.C. Chinatown experience. This much is clear: no matter where you travel, Chinatowns are never boring.

Chinatown Express
746 6th St.
Washington, D.C.
202-638-0424

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