Chew On This: And Then There Was One: Chinese Food in New Paltz

I like Chinese food. In fact, I once got a fortune that said just that: You love Chinese food. So it’s always been a huge bone of contention that when I come to New Paltz, I don’t have very many options. Now there’s even less. Sigh.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that not all food is created equal.

I like Chinese food.  In fact, I once got a fortune that said just that: You love Chinese food. So it’s always been a huge bone of contention that when I come to New Paltz, I don’t have very many options. Now there’s even less. Sigh.

The original thrust of this week’s blog was to compare one Chinese restaurant with the one another. But, due to circumstances beyond my control, one has shut down (there’s been talk about failed inspections or perhaps renovations).

There were two Chinese eateries: Great Wall Kitchen and China House. Neither was great, but at least people could say, “Let’s go to the good place, not that other one.” Sort of like when people pick a sports team they know is a three time loser. “They may not be the A team, but they’re MY team.” Now there’s just the one, and even though that’s my preferred place for all things Szechuan and Cantonese, I like options. Alas, with its fetid open barrels of used grease, dingy/dusty decor, and myriad of health code violations, it was a wonder the downtown joint wasn’t closed sooner.

But, despite its watered down sweet and sour sauce, occasionally turned tofu, and penchant for botching orders, avoiding it made food at the other Chinese restaurant taste better. I miss the place I avoided. Maybe I even took it for granted.

Maybe what’s so startling isn’t that the downtown restaurant closed, but that there never were more places to choose from. Years ago, there was a huge Asian market in what used to be the Ames Plaza (currently the Stop & Shop Plaza). It had a plethora of rices and grains, exotic vegetables, and even sushi (this is well before New Paltz became a mecca for sushi lovers–there’s 6 places to get Japanese now). But it was before the foodie phenomenon that has struck America in recent years, and the market went unappreciated and eventually closed. That distressed me, but did not really surprise me.

The New York census states that one percent of New Paltz residents are Japanese: two percent are Chinese. My math is atrocious, but by my calculations we should have two Chinese restaurants for every Japanese one. Of course, that’s fuzzy logic and wishful thinking, but one still wonders why there isn’t at least one authentic Szechuan eatery. In recent years I’ve seen grocery stores bolster their ethnic food sections, increase inventory of imported produce, and add an untold amount of foreign cuisine to their freezer areas. So why is New Paltz so late to the game with Chinese cuisine? Maybe even if it’s authentic the town’s people are far too chic for the American mainstay.

“Chinese food,” as the ubiquitous and ambiguous entity we see in most towns, is awfully affordable. In fact, next to pizza, I can’t imagine another more college-friendly food. The standard fast food Chinese restaurant offers a fairly complex menu appeasing most tastebuds and creeds. Vegetarian? Not a problem, generally there are several tofu dishes, vegetable dumplings, spring rolls, and veggie Moo Shu. Hate Chinese take out but want to join in on the fun with your buddies who are ordering? Most Chinese places offer fried chicken and French fries; some even have burgers. Feeling highfalutin?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen duck on the menu. In fact, the remaining place in town has a duck and noodle lunch special for about six dollars. Actually, most meals at a Chinese takeout won’t cost more than eight, and you generally have more than one meal from a single order.

I’m not asking for a dim sum bar, or a place that specializes in Peking Duck. I’m not suggesting that we need half as many Chinese restaurants as we have pizza places. I would just like some more options.

Corey J. Kolvenbach

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