Thursday, August 27, 2009


The summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school was one to remember. Armed with newly laminated drivers licenses, our "own" cars, and money from our first "real" jobs, we relished in an enormous sense of independence not yet seen before those times. But for me personally, those 3 months will forever be linked with the "Summer Slam."

The Summer Slam was an ongoing card game among a few friends at the home of The Pope and his parents, Mary Magdalene and The Bald Eagle. The game of choice was Shanghai Gin, a multi-player, every-man-for-himself version of your grandmother's card game, except that this variation encouraged outward disdain and ruthlessness among the competitors. We played for money, of course, because as Mary Magdalene so eloquently put it: "If you don't play for money, then why play at all?" We even had a "Summer Slam Standings Board" which was posted every week in order to facilitate ridicule of the biggest loser. The Pope always won. Shocking.

These card games would sometimes go for 3 or 4 hours, so naturally the players got hungry. Eating during the Summer Slam was an event in and of itself. We were ravenous in our teenage years. Typical snacks included: ice cream with crused Oreos and Hershey's chocolate syrup, Fritos Scoops with french onion dip, Chips Ahoy Deluxe cookies, gigantic bags of Ruffles potato chips, and much, much more. To this day, MM loves to tell how her grocery bill during those months was pushing $500 per week. It was gluttony at it's worst. Mary Magdalene would go to Meme's and request special orders of Blue Bell from Carlo the manager because apparently Triple Chocolate is a tough flavor to find.

Every week or two when The Pope's parents were feeling generous, they would spring for a massive takeout order from Chinese Tea Garden on Filmore Ave. As long as someone would fly, then they would buy. But there was one very important prerequisite for picking up the food: one had to be skilled in negotiating with the cashier for containers of the special house hot mustard and sweet 'n sour sauce (as opposed to the little packets). This was a huge ordeal at Chinese Tea Garden; you might as well have been asking if you could use Tiananmen Square as the site for your next beer pong tournament.

There were other rules surrounding this Chinese Tea Garden ritual. All of the food was communal and everyone was required to share except for The Bald Eagle, who was allowed to dine on his beloved tong cho pork without any risk of interference by others. Once The Bald Eagle was finished, the leftovers were up for grabs; and when this happened we would be stabbing each other with plastic sporks to get to the few remaining morsels.

I loved tong cho pork. On the menu, it was listed as "P6," and friends of friends who would visit our little card games started calling me "P6 Petie." (Some of them still call me P6 to this day. When one couple was pregnant, they joked that the newborn would be called P3, i.e., half of a P6.)

What was so great about P6? Well, the base of the dish is battered and fried chunks of pork, so that's a good start. But then the crunchy nuggets are coated in a sweet and spicy sauce flavored with onions and green peppers. From what The Bald Eagle tells me, the tong cho sauce recipe was developed by the Wong brothers at Trey Yuen.

Fast forward to 2 weeks ago. On a lonely night with no craving in my belly and no companion to eat with, I decided that the time had come for my reunion with P6. So I phoned in my order to Chinese Tea Garden - which was reopened by the same family after Katrina - and drove down Filmore to pickup my order. I neglected to ask for the large containers of sauce. When I got home and plunged into that styrofoam container of sweet/spicy/crunchy porkiness, it tasted just like I remembered, and I was 16 again.

Unfortunately, this time there was no Triple Chocolate to be found in the freezer.


Megan Medo said...

You are still P6 in my phone!!!!

The Folk Singer said...

That P3 comment makes me think there is something you aren't telling me!!

Rene said...

Yes, and I think the male half of that couple needs some answers.