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Time to take the romance with Chinese food outside the box

by Dave Cathey Modified: February 17, 2010 at 3:17 pm •  Published: February 10, 2010

Sunday marks a rare intersecting of the lunar and Gregorian calendars: Chinese New Year meets Valentine’s Day.

If you already celebrate Chinese New Year, you simply have one day to celebrate two things. For those of us who have already survived New Year’s Eve and have the anecdotes to prove it, we’re looking for a token of our devotion to the valentine we’re lucky enough to have.

I propose we take this Haley’s Comet-like opportunity to improve upon a love affair we all share that dates to the gold rush: the love affair with Chinese food.

Here’s the cold, hard truth: General Tso didn’t really send us chicken. Chop suey, roughly translated, means "leftovers.” You’d have as much luck finding sweet and sour pork in Hong Kong as you would a radio affiliate that carried Rush Limbaugh. The oracle behind fortune cookies doesn’t reside in a holy alter built by Shaolin priests in the Cantonese wilderness but in the imagination of a long-dead San Francisco restaurateur.

The relationship between Western civilization and Chinese food continues thanks only to the ceaselessly giving nature of those who stir a wok.

Max Chow, owner/chef of Chow’s Chinese Restaurant, was born in Hong Kong. He entered the University of Oklahoma in 1976, seeking a degree in electrical engineering. Max followed in the footsteps of his older brother Lionel, who came in the late 1960s. Both worked their way through school at local restaurants.

"There weren’t many Chinese restaurants back then,” he said. "Pretty much anyone who opened at that time was very successful.”

Chow’s, 3033 N May, opened in 1982, serving the same Westernized food made popular in San Francisco and New York City — barely a shadow of the food from back home.

"I’d never seen a fortune cookie in my life!” Max said.

About the same time Max started school, Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in Oklahoma City. By the end of the 1980s, the foundation for what is now a burgeoning Asian community was built.

In 1992, Max and his wife, Sindy, also a chef, decided to begin featuring authentic Chinese food.

When asked what he’d recommend to someone interested in trying something from the mother country, Max couldn’t point to one dish.

"I’d really have to talk to them,” he said. "Try to find out what ingredients, you know.”

Max explained that the tradition he and his wife follow is about controlling heat to best draw aroma from the freshest possible ingredients.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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Related Map

Enlarge Map The location of Chow's Chinese Restaurant is detailed in this Google map.

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