On a Saturday night on Dominion Road, Sonya Wilson discovered a dish so gastronomically monumental it can only be described as life-changing.
I’ve never been someone who knows how to wax lyrical about food. I love food, more than I love fitting into my jeans, but I’ve never slung around words like provenance or piquancy, never really discussed texture or tart or tang; I’ve never, when describing a dish, used the word dish like it’s a proper noun, deserving of a capital D.
Not until last Saturday night. Not until, on a mild mid-winter eve, I met a dish called spicy chicken wings.
Spicy chicken wings. Ha! As if that’s all that this Dish involves, as if three words – only one of them an adjective – are enough to do it justice, as if a chorus of Shanghainese angels hadn’t started singing when I took my first bite.
We were sitting at Mr Hao on Dominion Road when The Dish arrived, my husband, two kids and I. There was a full moon rising outside but the circular white platter that spicy chicken wings rode in on was bigger, more luminous, rounder. Oh yes friends, one round thing can be rounder than another round thing when it carries a payload of this sort of magnitude: a mountain of fried chicken amongst an ocean of dried and fried red chillies. Spring onions. Oil. Spice. Other stuff I don’t know the name of. Peanuts. There were peanuts too, and some sort of thinly sliced starchy vegetable. Potato? Lotus root?
I don’t know but shit it tasted good, those slices were hidden under the flavour forest like prize truffles. I sniffed those buggers out, even knowing, as I know now, that using a metaphor about one piece of food to describe another piece of food doesn’t really work, but I didn’t care. I still don’t, I haven’t cared about anything else since that tentative debutant bite. Who knew that all these things in perfect fried proportion could have such an effect? Tell me, I need names. Why have I not been told about this Dish before now? Where have I been all its life?
We ate it, my husband and I, eyes round with delight, lunar-sized, like the plate and moon, full of gastronomic and astronomic wonder.
Spicy chicken wings. The dish’s Dish. Try it! I told my six year-old. Try this Dish! You can eat those chillies – they’re dried, they’re not too spicy!
He didn’t believe me.
I turned to my nine-year-old. They are amazing!
Eat them, I hissed, and he looked at me, concerned – nay, worried – like he’d just watched me named a Slytherin by the Sorting Hat.
This Dish had me under its spell. This Dish was my precious; the one Dish to rule them all. Had I not already had a couple of kids, I’d name my first born after this Dish. This Dish would be my last supper; they will bury me in this Dish. Dear this Dish: you are the sun, you are the rain, you make my life this foolish game. Many years from now, when my descendants are considering the cultural canon of Dominion Road, they will see Don McGlashan’s song half way down, and this Dish at the top.
We had ordered too much, my wee family. We always order too much, cursed with eyes bigger than bellies even though the bellies in question are not insignificant. The Dish came out later in proceedings, once we’d already started on the cucumber salad, fried noodles, dumplings in broth and several skewers of various meats (all also excellent), so we were too late and too full to give the Dish its full worth, to eat our way round the world-sized plate.
But this is spicy chicken wings. This Dish did not stop when we did. This Dish came home with us, packed into a takeaway bowl, to be taken out and snacked upon, a spoonful of chilli and peanuts snuck from the fridge in passing, to be made a meal of once more. I ate this Dish four times over. The chef, bless his delicious heart, would no doubt be appalled by what I did with his Dish once I got it home. I added the crunchy chillies to my iceberg lettuce salad the next day. And to my soup the following night, then again to my pasta the day after. It felt sacrilegious but the angles still sang every time. Lord, it was good.
That Dish cost us $26 and it fed two of us through four different meals. Mr Hao managed to achieve with his spicy chicken wings what Jesus did with his loaves and fishes. Bless you, Mr Hao. Bless your Dish and the moon-sized platter it rode in on.