Reason #26 Allendale Is Better Than Where You Live: Home Cookin’

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It’s been just over one year since I last gave a reason why Allendale is so great. Trust me — my lack of not posting to this series is not because I’ve run out of reasons. I have a handful of ideas that I’ve considered writing about, but I’ve been busy writing about other things. (140+ posts on this blog alone in the past 12 months, but who’s counting?)

Two related incidents in the past couple of weeks reconfirmed to myself how much we have loved living in this community. And they both have to do with my favorite hobby — eating.

Now when I talk about “home cooking” in Allendale, you may be thinking of fried chicken, collard greens, ribs, barbecue, rice, spaghetti with a sweet meat sauce (beef, sausage, and sugar), and so on. And you better believe that I’ve enjoyed all that in the past three years.

But I never expected that we would get two other kinds of home cooking in Allendale — authentic Mexican and Chinese dinners.

Es Muy Bueno

2014-01-17 19.23.28

Last spring, at the Cooter Fest, we had the best “fair food” we’ve ever had — best as in tastiest and most inexpensive. Remember that Joanna knew the chef and his wife from an ESL ministry at Allendale Baptist Church?

Well, a few weeks ago, Joanna was out-of-town, so I “pinch hit” for her at the ESL class. Whom did I happen to be matched up with? Ramon and Romana (like Joey and Joanna, right?) — the couple who sold the tacos.

I made a joke about her telling us their secret recipe. She laughed and mentioned that they cook food for friends and family every weekend. Say what?! Why haven’t we known this?!

I’ll give you exactly one guess to tell me what we ate for dinner that Friday night.

They told us that most people order to-go, but we were welcome to eat there. And we did. Our family combined to eat 18 tacos, for a grand total of $18 (we brought our own drinks). Even better, we stayed there for well over an hour. We ate, we talked, and all the kids played together (two of their children have been our kids’ buddies during the ESL ministry).

We loved talking with them and listening to some of their life story, about where they worked when they came to Allendale, about how they became Christians (because a Baptist pastor showed up at their house every Wednesday for 9 years!), and about so much more.

And yes, we have since returned to enjoy the good food and good fellowship. And since we are helping them learn English, we asked them to help us learn Spanish. So far the most important thing we’ve learned to say is:

“Puedes dar dos mas tacos, por favor?”

Ni Hao

You may remember that we launched a chess club last fall. We’ve met every Tuesday before school, except a couple of times last  month when school was delayed or closed. It has been fun watching all the students learn and grow in their skills.

Chess Chinese 2

Two of the boys in the club are the only Chinese students in Allendale, and whose parents run the local Chinese restaurant. We first got to know them through last year’s spring break camp. And besides the Chess Club, one of them is on our Robotics Team.

Although the parents speak little (Mom) or no (Dad) English, I think they are happy that their sons are involved in extracurricular activities. How else can I explain the fact that whenever we get food from their restaurant, we always walk out with more than we paid for?

A couple of weeks ago, the local schools were closed due to inclement weather. One of those days was a Chess Club day. I had an idea — “Why don’t we do a mini-chess club at the Chinese restaurant?”

After lunch, my two sons and I picked up another friend (also in the Chess Club) and headed to the restaurant with a few chess sets. I asked the mom if we could play with her sons. She and her husband quickly arranged some tables and chairs for us to play on.

Then they brought us a case of bottled water. And then they brought us two heaping plates of sweet and sour chicken. Chicken and chess . . . what more do you need?

As we packed up our stuff after 75 minutes of playing, the mom asked if I could wait a few minutes to have some food. Thinking that she was going to send us home with plates of food, I tried to say that she didn’t have to do that. But she insisted.

But then I noticed they were setting a large table, and bringing food out. Wait . . . we weren’t about to take the food home. We were about to eat with them.

And we did. See the photo at the top. We had:

  • heaping plates of rice
  • seasoned shrimp
  • a mix of cabbage (maybe?) and squid (definitely)
  • soup with taro, fish, and pork
  • a whole fish to share
  • the Dad and I had saki (Japanese rice wine); every time I took a sip, he refilled my cup, until I stopped him

I was proud of my boys for being flexible and good sports. They just rolled with it, unfazed. Elijah said he liked everything, including the squid. Sender said the fish and cabbage were great (I avoided giving him squid, not being sure how he would react).

The boys all tried their best to use chopsticks, which brought great amusement to our Chinese friends.

So, that was our first-ever authentic Chinese dinner. Never would have guessed that would have occurred in Allendale.

How This Happened

As we left the restaurant, I explained to my sons (and the other boy with us) how significant that meal was. Here was a family that didn’t just give us food. They gave us their best food. They gave us what was special to them, from the food to the wine.

We’ve been blessed with great relationships in Allendale. Some of those relationship have included great food. But even more importantly, meals have been an avenue for us to connect with others, and to be blessed by so many.

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