It was one of those evenings, perhaps you’ve experienced them as well, when I couldn’t decide what to have for dinner. I thought about my menu options and suddenly an incredible sense of gratitude swept aside my indecision as I realized how fortunate I was to live in a country and be in a position where I actually had so many choices available to me.
I reflected on growing up and the role food played in my family life. Being raised in a home where there were two incredible cooks, my mother and grandmother, food was not merely something we needed for life’s continuation, something to be enjoyed. Our evening dinner provided us an opportunity to reinforce our relationship as a family as we would discuss the day’s events and what each of us would be doing the following day. It was the focal point that allowed us to bond. It was an expression of our love for one another.
Well, back to my debating what was to be for dinner. I seldom either eat out or buy something to take home and eat here. While I enjoy cooking, making dinner, eating it by yourself and then cleaning up sometimes is more of a chore than a joy. So I frequently will prepare multiple meal-sized quantities of food, soups or stews, and freeze them for future use. But with the return of 100 degree plus weather, neither a hearty beef stew nor a bowl of bean soup seemed too appealing.
It had been some time since I had eaten Chinese food, one of my favorites. And while I often will prepare it myself I wasn’t in the mood to cook. So I consulted the website of the local Chinese restaurant from which I order occasionally.
The first thing I noticed was that the prices had increased by one or two dollars an item since I had last ordered. That nearly deterred me from ordering, thinking that a bowl of granola with some fresh strawberries might be sufficient for my evening meal. But then that didn’t sound too appealing so I started to read through the menu to see if anything caught my fancy.
I ruled out the appetizers as they were completely overpriced – and I make a better egg roll than the restaurant. Of course, appetizers are one of the most overpriced items at any restaurant and the reason they push them is there is a large profit margin in them – more so than in their main courses. So I made a note to myself to make up a large batch of egg rolls and freeze them for future use.
I scrolled through the main dishes but nothing jumped out at me until I hit the section entitled, “Chef’s Specials”. These were not to be confused with the “specials” that your waitperson will tell you about at a nice linen tablecloth restaurant which, incidentally, are normally creations that are put together from leftovers that the restaurant wants to dispose of.
I do enjoy the fancy names that Chinese restaurants give these dishes. “Seven Happiness”; “Lotus Delight”; “Wise Man’s Joy”. Fortunately, they always list the ingredients that make up these creations as no one could deduce from the names what actually goes into them. And I noticed that rather than the typical eight or nine dollar price for a full order of their more mundane offerings, these dishes were all priced several dollars higher.
I was about to return to the main menu when suddenly I saw a dish which was entitled, “Shanghai Surprise”. It wasn’t the name which drew my attention but the price. Unlike the other “Chef’s Specials” which all ran about twelve dollars each, this one was $250.00 for an order. I thought that this must merely have been a typo and perhaps this dish really was fifteen dollars. In reading the ingredients, it sounded as though it was merely a variation on Moo Goo Gai Pan. But I thought that out of curiosity I would inquire further of the restaurant what made this dish so special – or at the least point out to them that they had made an error in posting this dish’s price.
So I called and after a brief hold spoke with one of the ladies who work taking orders for those of us who would rather deal with a person than simply placing the order via the internet.
“Hello, could you tell me if your ‘Shanghai Surprise’ is really two hundred fifty dollars per order?” Naturally, I expected her to gasp and tell me that price was incorrect and that they were going to fix it and thank me for letting them know. But instead I got a response which surprised me.
“Yes, it is.”
“Forgive me for asking but what is there in the ‘Shanghai Surprise’ which makes it so expensive?”
“It comes with two fortune cookies,” she replied.
“But all your meals come with fortune cookies.”
“Yes, but these are special fortune cookies. One of out of four of them contains a micro fiche of a Hillary Clinton email from her unsecured server, expertly hacked by a group in Shanghai.”
I wound up having the granola with fresh strawberries for dinner.