It's always gruelling to watch the sad, slow death of a loved one. I'm dealing with the trauma at the moment - the sad demise of my beloved Sichuan chicken.
The Dixon House food court in Sydney's Chinatown isn't much to look at. It was almost, but not quite, enough to put me off on my first visit, but I was hungry, and decided to order the Sichuan chicken from Joy Luck Cuisine. I'd only ever had Sichuan Chicken from a packet mix before, and thought I'd see what it was like cooked fresh.
Well, I was stunned. I simply could not believe I'd lived more than a quarter of a century without this delight in my life. A huge, sizzling platter piled with tender breast chicken meat and onion in the most devine spicy sauce you can imagine, for a mere $7.50 (it went up to $8.90 over time). I wanted to weep with pleasure. (In fact it was so spicy I did weep a little). At the time, I was new to Sydney and homesick for Newcastle, but this dish on its own made living here worthwhile.
In the years that followed, I'd go to Dixon House for my Sichuan chicken at least once a fortnight. The lady who ran the stall long since stopped warning me it was a very spicy dish. I tried other Sichuan chickens, but they were pale imitations of perfection. Over time, I think I brought everyone I knew who lived in Sydney along with me to share the joy. It was the perfect pick-me-up, hangover cure, indulgence, cheap lunch and feast. I wanted to ask them to cater my wedding. Joy Luck was by far the best of the stalls in the food court and always had a long wait on the weekend, but it was worth it for that chicken. Sometimes, I'd vaugely worry that they would shut down, but figured the place was too popular and anywaty, surely nothing that bad could happen to me?
The end, when it came, was gradual. It took me a couple of visits to realise the lady who ran it (and worked there taking orders 72 hours a week) wasn't just away, but that there'd been a change of ownership. Nonetheless, I continued to order the chicken. The lure of the sauce was too strong. Strange vegetables began appearing. I don't like many vegetables; it's what puts me off most Asian food, and one of the reasons I liked this chicken dish so much. Then the sauce acquired a funny , smoky taste. Okay, I figured, part of love is accepting the good with the bad. I even tried to be forgiving when mushrooms were added to the mix. Now, I like mushrooms about as much as I like Piers Akerman - they're both damp, icky and raised on bull shit - but I was willing to push them out of the way as I ate. DF begged me to let go. I couldn't.
But then came the final insult. The breast meat chicken was tossed in favour of mystery brown meat. I gagged. I cried. I left my dish mostly full and knew it was over.
What does one do when everything you hoped for is gone? There's been a grieving process. But I think I'm ready to love again. I need a dish to live for. One that will get me out of bed, cheer me up, keep me satiated. I'm looking. There was some initial promise from the duck and rice at BBQ King, but it didn't work out. Things are going well with the pork larb at Crocodile Thai, but it's early days. We'll see how we go.