Monday, July 9, 2012

Peach Farm: Boston: Chinatown

In response to some criticism, I have updated this review*.

Chinatowns are intriguing but sometimes daunting areas of potential foodie adventures for me. I want to go to every restaurant in them (and every restaurant in the world, while I'm at it), but obviously this is impossible. Not only do I not have endless money and calories to spend, I also have a social nervousness to contend with in the case of some restaurants.

Much the same way that when going to a particularly upscale restaurant I would be more comfortable going with someone who is accustomed to that world, who knows the social scripts and feels entirely welcome and at home therein, when going into Chinatown experiences, I feel much more comfortable when accompanied by someone of Chinese descent.

When I was a teenager in Houston, Texas, my best friend was a Vietnamese-American guy who introduced me to Houston's Little Saigon, exposing me to pho, bubble tea drinks, etc. He was my entree into that world. Would anyone have kicked me out had I not been with him? Of course not. Did many of the people who ran businesses there speak little or no English? Yes. Could I probably have found a way to communicate with them anyway enough to engage in transactions? Yes, and I did so many times. Do I begrudge them the language barrier? Hell no. I'm thrilled to have these areas in our cities. But might I be a bit timid about entering into an establishment that is run by and caters mostly to a group of which I'm an outsider? Yes, I might.

Some places in Chinatown get reviewed or promote themselves in ways that lead to them serving a really diverse group of people. Some restaurants make sure their servers know English and/or purposefully make the English translations on their menu really clear because they want to win more of the English-speaking market. Other restaurateurs seem to prefer to keep tourists out or generally to run their business however they see fit, which may or may not be terribly inviting to the non-Chinese. Again, do I begrudge them this? No. That's their business, and they can run it however they want.

When I write a review of an establishment, whether in Chinatown or any kind at all, I will make note of the welcoming factor if I find it notable. If I walk into a coffee shop and am treated rudely by hipster baristas, I'll talk about that. If I walk into a fine dining situation and am clearly being looked down upon by rich snobs, I'll let you know. If I'm the only white person in a restaurant, I'm going to talk about how I felt about it as well as how I was treated - good or bad - and I will make observations about the cultural experience.

I felt like Peach Farm was one of those places I would feel awkward entering had I not been accompanied, as I was, by a Chinese friend of mine. It may have been because it was 1 AM, but I was indeed the only white person in the restaurant. The hostess led us downstairs where several families and other large groups were joyously eating and laughing with each other around large round tables piled high with shareable dishes. I felt a bit like an anthropologist getting to glimpse some culture I don't see very often. I also simply feel jealous and nostalgic these days whenever I see large groups laughing and enjoying each other's company around a table because I have left my family and beloved friends repeatedly as I moved from Houston to Dallas to Orlando to NYC and then to Boston. Feeling like an outsider culturally only heightened these feelings.

My friend spoke in Mandarin to our server.

Apparently he said something along the lines of, "Can you please bring us a fuck ton of lobster?" - Quite possibly #50 on the menu (which goes to up to #238): "Lobster with ginger and scallions" - judging by the fact that they brought us a huge plate with lobster and ginger and scallions.

Oh sweet, succulent Jesus. This was awesome. The sauce was fairly light, but just enough to take what might've been a super high protein, "reasonable enough to eat late at night" meal, to a more carbed up, "hmm that was silly and a bit fattening for 1 AM" place. Worth it? Completely.
Ignorantly, I once called this a seaweed salad 'cuz I wrote this review several months after going and and anyway Asian food all looks alike to me**.

Lots of earthy tea

The next morning I thought to myself, "Ugh, sometimes it feels like I'm always picking lobster out of my teeth." - Foodie Asshole problems #34

Now it may well be that Peach Farm is an extremely welcoming and easy for a white person to navigate socially type of place and that, because I just happened to go for the first time with my Chinese friend, it seemed like the kind of place it might be a bit awkward to go to if one doesn't speak Mandarin. Thus, I will put it on my foodie agenda to visit again and see how it goes.

Peach Farm on Urbanspoon


*I would actually like to thank Andrew Kagan, who upon reading my original review called me "xenophobic", and an anonymous Eater.com commenter who called me "racist and awful" for their prodding me into rewriting this. While I think they were both ridiculously judgmental in their reading of my original post, their words goaded me into a much less lazy account of what I wanted to convey. I can get so behind in my restaurant reviews that it drives me crazy and, too often, lazy.

**Sadly, I feel the need to explain that this is meant as a self-deprecating joke. As in, "You want racist and awful? I'll show ya racist and awful." And look here's the reason I'm really upset by these accusations, besides the fact that almost anyone would be: racial tension is a topic I think a lot about, that I'm really interested in. The reality is that everyone is a little bit racist, and we are all a little xenophobic. If you need directions when you're walking somewhere new, your instinct will be to find someone who looks like you. The most comfortable thing for me would be to find a white, down-to-earth and middle-class looking lesbian. I observe this sort of bias in others all the time. I'll see a lost person of Japanese descent, and they'll pass by two white ladies and a black guy and ask the first Japanese descent person for directions.

Everyone is more comfortable with people like them. We come from long lines of tribal people, people. Now, having become aware of this on myself, I make a conscious effort to ask the first person whom I pass for directions. I sit down in the seat most convenient spacially, regardless of the perceived differences or similarities (unless they smell bad). I try to fight that segregation. I'm engaged in my little personal grassroots effort to break down barriers and tensions, and part of that effort for me is relating and admitting honestly the discomforts I do feel. I think that calling me racist and awful for doing so is not only not helpful but actually regressive.