Hao Ling Lee awful

Posted by Anita on 11.01.05 5:51 PM

chinatownSF (c)2005-AECLast spring, we took a Chinatown Food Tour with an outfit called Local Taste of the City. It was so eye-rollingly bad — incorrect facts, overt pushing of unrelated purchases, and ever-so-gently racist commentary — that Cameron and I are still making jokes about it, 6 months later.

All you have to say to one of us is “durango melon” — the guide/owner’s name for durian — and we will bust out laughing. We also get a kick out of reminding each other that the reason why the buildings in Chinatown are built so close together is because the women had bound feet and couldn’t walk very far.

Think these are bad? They’re the tip of the iceberg, I assure you.

Edit by Cameron:

Our guide (aggressively shaven eyebrows and questionable personal hygiene) began our food tour of Chinatown with a 40 minute sit down at the Viansa tasting room, where we were subjected to a brief and yet amazingly incoherent history of SF. While being encouraged to taste and purchase wine that, “you’re just not going to see in stores.”

Yeah. Viansa. You know, you’re right. I’m not going to see that in the store.

The next stop on our our food tour was one of the hysterically cheesy “antique” shops that line Grant Street just inside the Chinatown gate. Here, our guide misidentified a large, labeled, stone statue of Kwan-Yin (female) as the Buddha. And then rattled on about various artifacts as we slowly drifted past a huge glass case of erotic statuary and appurtenances. Not a problem for us, but this is the kind of tour that someone from the Heartland might take their kids on.

Things sort of become a blur until we arrived at our first food stop of the day, supposedly the oldest Chinese bakery in Chinatown. Or something like that. I can vouch for the fact that neither the floors nor the tabletop had been cleaned since the 19th century, and the food stuck under the plastic covering the menus looked to be just as old. Just different cultural ideas about sanitation? Wrong. We received a tasting plate of n-a-a-a-sty little bites (think dim sum), one of which contained shrimp that was distinctly rotten. I discreetly (I hope) nudged my fair wife under the table and urged her not to eat that particular morsel.

Out into the street for more gibberish, puncutated by sudden stops in the middle of the street by our guide, who remained oblivious to the human traffic that would then pile into all of us.

More blur, then a quick visit at a fortune cookie factory. After a quick look at the machines, we were treated to an excruciatingly long shaggy dog story from our guide (who had tipped over from harmlessly eccentric to actively irritating) about both the San Francisco and Oakland airports requiring all travelers leaving the Bay Area to each have…A BAG OF FORTUNE COOKIES!!! Said bags were then presented with great flourish.

The cookies weren’t even all that good.

Somewhere in here, we were treated to the information that the buildings in Chinatown were, indeed, built closely together so that the poor Chinese ladies with their bound feet could walk easily between them.

In what we desperately hoped would be the climax of our day — meaning that we could part company with this very strange, very confused man — we began to tour a few food markets. As we toured, our guide helpfully misidentified oh so many wonders. Durian became durango melon. Burdock root became taro. After a while, my brain stopped functioning and I just nodded and smiled.

After five hours of this, we managed to break away, saying that we had made plans with friends for dinner and really needed to get back to our hotel. The alternative was to accompany our guide to dinner, which was part of the tour. I don’t know where we were to go, and I really don’t want to.

Edit by Anita:

You forgot the part about how he repeatedly answered personal phone calls on his cell throughout the tour.

And the part where every last shopkeeper who saw us coming rolled his or her eyes and muttered under their breath.

And the stops outside numerous retail establishments that were, alas, closed. (None of them had anything to do with food, so I suppose this is just as well.)

And the part where we were told not to mind the smells in a certain butcher shop because “…These People just don’t have the same hygiene standards as we do.”

And how “the Buddha” had coins in her lap… because you know the Buddha is all about money.

downtown SF, levity, travel



Comment by Sirefoodie

“And then rattled on about various artifacts as we slowly drifted past a huge glass case of erotic statuary and appurtenences.”
appurtenences? No results found for appurtenences.
Dictionary suggestions:
–noun 1. something subordinate to another, more important thing; adjunct; accessory.
I love your site. You make me feel smart and hungry.

Posted on 01.03.07 at 1:53AM

Comment by Anita

Thanks for the spellcheck, Sirefoodie. It’s fixed now… :)

Posted on 01.03.07 at 6:43AM

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