The older you get, the more valuable life is. Life at this point isn’t just about living with happiness, but to keep the quality with a strong courageous heart as the ending is creeping closer each and every day. In contrast, we are immature like really, really young naive kids and think that life is so long and boring. When another year goes by, however, it seems shorter than before.
Grandma is turning 78 years old today and her life becomes precious. So mom and I have come to commemorate her birthday by taking her to a Pan-Asian diner in Princeton, NJ. It’s freezing and cooped up in our home buried in snow, and took about an hour drive. If you ask almost any Chinese about it in this pride and charm area, you’ll get a nod for “yes”. It’s called Peony Pavilion with something for everyone. From the location right off Route 1, I’d say it’s a place most people want to visit.
Inside, there were cozy booths lining the walls, a few round tables in the center, and much great decoration like the shaped ceiling and carvings engraved into the walls. All amazing décor was specifically designed in Ming-style and carried all the way from China by its owner Lisa Shao. It reminded the opulent and intricate historic story of Peony Pavilion by Xianzu Tang. "A walk in the Garden", "The Interruption of a Dream", "Reflection on the Lost Dream", etc., and all came back with the photos taken from the best-loved classical opera in front of us.
As we sat down, mom opened the menu almost immediately, considering all the choices. There were two menus, a small and a large. The larger of the two contained many more a-la-carte options, but mom mainly targeted the tiny one. This menu had most of the authentic choices you would have at the lunchtime when a Dim Sum was served on weekends. Mom talked to the waiter for a long, long time, asking the cuisines generally tailored to healthy diet. At last, she made up her mind. I was curious about what she ordered because sometimes Chinese food made me so confused with the weirdest names. Mom turned and said the most terrifying thing yet, which was even worse than practicing piano. She had ordered ten dim sums in medium and large sizes and one entree. Now I had a big appetite, not going to lie like all the other fat noobs out there, but one’s stomach could only stretch so big.
A while later, 10 plates and bamboo utensils appeared on the table. I made out Spared Ribs in Black Bean Sauce, Taro Dumplings, Pea Leaf Dumplings, Shark Fin Dumplings, Shrimp Bean Curd Skin Rolls, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Stuffed Eggplant, Fried Fish Cakes, Yellowtail Crackers, and Clams in Black Bean Sauce. I didn’t know where to start, so mom helped to make the decision for me by filling my plate. Without much brain power involved, I began munching on whatever came into reach with shrimp, eggplant, and fish on the plate. What really surprised me through all that biting, tasting, swallowing, and regurgitating (not too much), I liked the eggplant. It tasted sort of sweet as if the sweet sauce Americans made, put off grilled chicken, and said “Chinese food”. With the eggplant, however, it seemed to blend, almost like something out tofu blender but not always. Not when the person blending it was mom, and when the ingredients at hand were bananas and spinach. Don’t ask me how it tastes because I don’t want to remember. So here I was eating probably the best type of eggplant I had ever and would ever eat again, and I gagged at that memory.
Moving on was the three different stuffed buns. I purposefully told mom not to give me the one with the “green stuff”. Personally, “green stuff” and I didn’t have a good relationship in history, and so I steered clear of it. The other two looked good though, both squirting out juice, and both tasting basically the same. It was absolutely tasty.
I then bit down of a small cube of beef, and it was phenomenal. Explosions went off inside of me, sour, sweetness, bitter, fire, and salt. Combined into a small piece of beef, it’s really “beefing” me up (Ha! Like what I did there? Beef. Beefing?) The fish was almost just as good, but wasn’t spicy. The beef really lit me up the tiniest bit. That was the difference between the two. By the time I made my way to the seafood combo of Tofu & Shrimp in Casserole, my stomach was already trying to force food out of it. So I left this dish intact. But the next meal I had, it’s not going to stand a chance.
You can say I’ve been to more restaurants you can ever imagine, and you rarely go out to eat. But if an appropriate occasion arrives, the Peony Pavilion is always open for you not only its cuisine but Chinese culture, especially when you are dining with your beloved ones.
(Peony Pavilion Asian Fusion Restaurant of NJ 03/07/2015)
(Chinese Translator w/ Lisa Shao of Peony Pavilion Owner 03/07/2015)
豉汁排骨(Spared Ribs in Black Bean Sauce)
Pea Leaf Dumplings (Upper Left), Shark Fin Dumplings (Upper Right)
Taro Dumplings (Lower Left), Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Lower Right)
鲜虾腐皮卷(Shrimp Bean Curd Skin Rolls)
煎鱼饼(Fried Fish Cakes)
豉汁蚬(Clams in Black Bean Sauce)
砂锅豆腐鲜虾煲(Tofu & Shrimp in Casserole)
《汤显祖·牡丹亭》剧照(Photos of "Peony Pavilion" by Xianzu Tang)
可容纳60余人的宴会厅(Grand Hall Hosted for 60 People)