I’m visiting friends Joe and Judy here in New Philadelphia which is in the anthracite coal mining region of Pennsylvania, about 35 miles west-northwest of Allentown as the crow flies. Last night, the cook (Judy) declared that she was tired, so we decided upon Chinese take-out food.
As I have a cold, I chose kung pao chicken, as I thought the spiciness would cut through the fog of snot, allowing some taste to blast through. My hosts took off for parts unknown to pick up the vittles, but first issued a verbal disclaimer, “This is coming from Port Carbon, so don’t expect too much!”
Port Carbon is two towns over on Highway 209. First, one must pass through Cumbola, the smallest of the three towns, which by legend was named after a cow. The cow’s name was Bola and when it was time to bed down for the night, her owner could be heard yelling, “Come, Bola!” But I digress.
I’m open minded about food. I’ve eaten some strange things in some strange places. I figured Cantonese food—Chinese-American take-out—was pretty much the same no matter where in the U.S. (soon to become the People’s Republic of America) one roamed. Thus, I did not take the disclaimer seriously.
I should have. When I opened the container, I noted that the nuts employed in the Port Carbon version of this recipe were peanuts, not the traditional cashews. I further noted the absence of anything reddish in the concoction, namely the hot peppers that characterize this spicy delicacy, an absence I confirmed with a taste test. My complaint prompted Judy to bring out a gigantic bottle of crushed dried red chilis with which I could amp up the spiciness. It didn’t taste like kung pao chicken, and the chicken itself was a little off (which, in fairness, could have been due to my rhinitis-impaired taster), but any port in a storm…
Then, I got to thinking. If the proprietor was so cheap as to change the recipe to substitute peanuts for more expensive cashews, what the hell kind of “chicken” might I be eating. Coincidentally, I heard that Schuylkill County’s cat population recently began to decline. Hmmm.