I missed Chinese food when I was in Pittsburgh. So did my family. There was however a dearth of good Chinese food that catered to our Singaporean tastebuds, served at reasonable price at Pittsburgh.
We tried a few Chinese restaurants. Among the few, I could now remember Lulu's Noodles and Orient Express. Both were value-for-money restaurants which catered to the campus crowd. There was also a Golden Palace Restaurant which was a slightly higher-end one but food being a highly localized product did not appeal to us well. The Chinese food there was somewhere in between Americanized and greasy which locals associated with authentic Chinese food. Consequently, I became the go-to person when my family craved for a taste of home.
That Fuzzy and Warm Feeling
While the Chinese food may not be the main cast when we visited the Chinese restaurants in Pittsburgh, there was a certain warmness in the atmosphere. It might be the loud greetings that one received upon entering the restaurant. It might be the similarities in look that we shared. Then there was a certain feel to the restaurant which drew me in. I felt that I was well taken care of.
It probably had to do with the way the restaurant was laid out which was influenced by the owners. I inferred that the owners were to be some hardworking Chinese migrant family eking out a decent living. The kitchen was set in the background but yet not totally shield from the prying eyes of the diners. This allowed the owners to multi-task - tending to food preparation in the kitchen and yet able to see needs of the diners. This included the times when diners asked for replenishment in certain food served on the stainless metal containers in the buffet section.
Deja Vu at Da Chang Jin in Singapore
Recently, I relived that experience when I dined at the two Da Chang Jin Restaurants in Geylang - one was touting northeastern Chinese food, the other Korean BBQ buffet. While the food was different, the feeling was distinctively the same.
Like in Pittsburgh, the servers were loud. The food was also a tad greasy for our palate. The arrangement of the kitchen and dining areas were strikingly similar as if the owners knew each other's mind. One glance at the place, you knew it was not slick, neat or polished as the upmarket restaurants. But somehow, you also knew that the owners would take care of your dining needs to their best of their abilities.
Unlike Pittsburgh however, I felt that I was a foreigner when I was in the restaurants. The main cliente appeared not to be Singaporean Chinese but mainland Chinese. Notwithstanding, I still had that warm and fuzzy feeling that I was dining in good company. Maybe, this time round, I felt that I was transported back to a Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh.