Around the corner from my place in Bushwick there was a walk-up Chinese spot. They had a thin noodle lo mein the likes of which I have never found again. In the early months of my pregnancy I ate it about three times a week. I knew I had become a regular when the ever present kids would stay and giggle when I walked up, no longer running to the back of the shop. As I approached the counter, their mom would shout my order to the kitchen and then rhetorically question, “That’s it, yes?,” while ringing up the same $5.34 total each visit brought.
Now I have been back in Austin for over a decade and about a year ago I ventured into a little Chinese take-away spot I had passed for years, never stopping because, “How good could it be?” Silly me, those are always the best places for what you need in comfort food. No pretense- simply offering their food. No need to boast, they are consistent and semi-friendly and close. I have to say, their lo mein isn’t the same as my beloved Bushwick version with its angel hair noodles and slivers of veggies and ginger. Like any past love, none will match it but there will be space in the heart’s memory for new and different love. The new lo mein is chunkier all around, using wide noodles that are not magically light, but more fulfilling in their balance of chew and crunch. The vegetables have a wonderful smokiness, more variety, and there’s always enough for two. It is a new comfort food that I look forward to.
My daughter never got to try my Bushwick lo mein. We went back to find it, but the building that the walk-up counter was tucked into had succumbed to the push of gentrification. An overpriced, metallic apartment building now stands in place of giggling children and summer sidewalk chalk. While that experience can only be shared with her through the romance of memory, I am happy knowing part of her childhood memory will be getting dinner from this new spot. One day, Wok ‘N Express will be part of her cache of stories- her favorite childhood lo mein and how no one else’s will ever be quite the same.