The Rockford Files

Ethnic Cleansing

Family traditions often get started by accident—especially, perhaps, those that center on food.  On the second New Year’s Eve after we were married, my wife and I found ourselves trapped in our apartment in Vienna, Virginia, victims of a freak snow and ice storm that made the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., streets downright dangerous, especially since no one in the area knew how to drive in such conditions.  While we both had weathered far worse growing up in Michigan, we decided not to risk our lives but someone else’s, and so we ordered Chinese delivery.  (To salve our consciences, we tipped very well.)  At the end of the meal, one of us conceived the sappy idea of breaking our fortune cookies open at midnight, and by 12:01 A.M. (disappointing fortunes notwithstanding), it was probably inevitable that we would do it all again the next year.

And so, when we arrived in Rockford two years later, on December 27, 1995, one of my first tasks was to locate a Chinese restaurant.  In a dingy strip mall on North Main Street, around the corner from our apartment, I found a little hole in the wall with six or seven tables.  I guess it will do, I thought.  By next year, we’ll have located the best Chinese restaurant in town.  Little did I know that we already had.

The food we ate that New Year’s Eve—crab rangoon, fried rice,...

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