For decades, I have enjoyed the highly addictive salt and pepper shrimp at Chicago’s Moon Palace. For the uninitiated, salt and pepper is a style of Chinese cooking where the food is crispily fried, tossed in a spice mixture, then combined with sauteed garlic, onion, ginger, and hot peppers. It’s a preparation I long and crave for like some people do sweets. There’s something absolutely magical about the combination of sharp, pungent, and salty flavors with crunchy textures. And if you are into that, then Moon Palace is the place to be. Their menu boasts of at least ten different salt and pepper preparations to choose ranging from tofu, squid to my second all-time favorite, salt and pepper pork chops. …
It’s a good thing that dumplings are small because Lee Anne’s goodies will make your willpower vanish as you reach for ‘just one more’. ~ Roger Mooking, Musician and Celebrity Chef
True confession. I have two massive obsessions in life, collecting cookbooks and eating dumplings. Both started sometime early in my adolescence and only intensified as I aged and cured. The limits of how far I would travel for either knows no boundaries and certainly there is no excess too great in order to obtain just one more. I attribute both of their roots directly to my dearly departed father Real. He was a classicist with an unbridled passion for literature and books combined with a mastery of language unmatched. He learned to speak, read and write fluently in Chinese and Arabic in less than two years through an aggressive immersion deep into their native cultures. Well, at least as immersed as one could be based in Chicago.
The Arabic Years
The ‘Arabic Years’ were spent sharing plates of kibbeh, hummus and pickled turnips in the smoke-filled dingy back rooms with Lebanese taxi drivers teaching my father the finities of street Arabic between fares. During the ‘Chinese Years’, we visited many dim sum palaces in search of truth and enlightenment deep within the often hidden, underground populations of Chicago’s two Chinatowns. My father’s unabashed penchant for answering anyone who looked Chinese in perfect Chinese opened many secret doorways to hidden worlds of immigrants largely out of view from the general American public.
It was in the skilled hands of Chef Jimmy of Moon Palace that I experienced my first real profound dumpling revelation, a moment in time I can and will never forget.