Today, it was surprisingly easy to meet my writing goal. I woke up earlier than usual (thank goodness for the heat), and after having a light breakfast I sat down at my desk, ready to write. It really was quite a lovely day: hot but not obscenely so, and a cool spring wind swept through the house at all hours of the day. An added bonus: complete and uninterrupted solitude from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Even better, my family decided to re-do the pool’s tile work. The water had to be emptied as a result, and all day I’ve had the most beautiful sound in the world just outside my window: water babbling as it rushes by. Maybe this is why I felt so creative today, I wonder. I should probably get a little fountain and see how I feel.
Today’s writing exercise was prompted by the article I’m working on for Being Latino. I’ve been wanting to write about the Bamboo Inn, a little Chinese restaurant that’s a bit of a traditional haunt in my family. I decided to write about it for BL, and this is the result. Enjoy! Off to the next day…
SHARING CULTURA: FRIED RICE, TAPATIO, AND EGG FOO YOUNG
There are many things I love about Los Angeles: the murals in the Melrose back alleys, the curves and lights on Sunset Boulevard, strawberry raspados at Griffith Park, not to mention the perennial beach weather – where else can you wear chanclas 300 days out of the year?
Of course, there’s also the endless restaurant choices: Peruvian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, Nicaraguan – L.A.’s got it all. There’s one spot in particular that takes the prize in my book, though: a little Chinese restaurant called the Bamboo Inn, so close to MacArthur Park you can hear the elote lady calling for customers.
The restaurant’s one of those hole-in-the-wall, “cash only” places. It’s had the same varnished wood paneling and red vinyl seats since the early 1970s, back when my grandma first discovered it. Just arrived from El Salvador, she was job searching and needed lunch. Ever since that hot July afternoon, eating at this restaurant has been a tradition in our family, right up there with having tamales at Christmas.
But what I like the most about this restaurant is how everything Chinese and Latino mixes together, both in the cuisine and ambiance. Since most of the customers are Latino, the restaurant adapted. Take, for instance, the fact that there is a tall bottle of Tapatío at every table. Spend an hour at the restaurant, and you’ll see plenty of señoras drizzling Tapatío on their sweet and sour pork or in their won ton soup. One of the cooks makes his rounds every half hour, offering freshly-picked avocados to each table to accompany someone’s chow mein or another’s kung pao chicken. Need ketchup with your egg foo young? (Say what?) No problem. Oh, and did I mention that you can order your food in Spanish, too? My personal favorite is a número dos, con un chow mein y una Coca, porfa-please.
And the exchange goes both ways, mind you. I’ve heard that a little bit of soy sauce really puts a kick in your chilaquiles, for example. (Say what?) Go there a couple of times and you might catch one of the waitresses teaching a Mandarin phrase or two to one of the eager patrons (“xie, xie” means “thank you”) or hear one of the busboys sharing his immigrant experience.
Every time I eat there, I’m reminded of what a beautiful thing it is to share one’s culture with others; only good things can come about. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we could all stop fighting and celebrate, rather than criticize our differences? We as Latinos have such a rich, varied cultura that has been influenced by so many regions of the world. Sharing it – and doing so joyfully – seems only natural. It’s places like this little restaurant in downtown L.A. that remind me of these simple, but important lessons, lessons that are as delicious as jalapeños and steamed bean sprouts. Try it and see!
NOTE: If you’re in L.A. and interested in checking out the Bamboo Inn, you can find it at 2005 W. 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90057.