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The pork rib and rice casserole at New Kam Fong
The man at our table is giving us a crash course on the casserole dishes at New Kam Fong, the new Chinese restaurant at 2400 University Blvd. in Wheaton. I’m not sure if the man is the manager or the owner, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s too late on a Sunday night to conduct interviews, and I’m just plain hungry.
The man explains that the rice-based casseroles are native to Guangdong province in southeast China, where the steamed dishes are considered classic winter eating. He tells me that no one else in the metro area sells the casserole entrees. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line, so I let it hang in the air between us without trying to act too impressed. I feel bad about my cynicism.
But I take the man up on his invitation and, when our waitress comes by, order the pork rib and rice casserole. She immediately makes a concerned face and tells me that the dish takes a long time to prepare.
How long? I ask.
“25 minutes,” she says.
Hell, I think, if I can wait 45 minutes for Frank Ruta’s roast chicken, I can wait 25 minutes for the only Guangdong casserole dish available in the entire metro area! I tell her that the wait is fine by me.
The entree arrives still in its casserole dish, which looks like earthenware to me. The waitress tells us to hold off on eating it until she fetches the sauce. When she returns, she dumps all the doctored-up soy sauce into the casserole and proceeds to mix up its contents. She even spoons the rice dish into small bowls for us, as if we were too young and helpless to do it ourselves.
I have to say, the service here is downright familial, as if your kindly aunt were waiting on you. I like it.
The casserole, despite the presence of both soy and fermented black beans, is not too salty. Not at all. It has a deep, savory flavor offset beautifully by the fat, water-logged long-grained rice, which is a different variety than what New Kam Fong uses for its other entrees. The pork ribs are fatty, and some pieces contain thick pieces of cartilage, which makes me think that the kitchen uses the rib-tib section of the rack. No foul there.
The pork is succulent but chewy, which may be a problem for those of you who like to look cool while eating. Quite often, you have to poke your fingers into your mouth and probe around the ol’ oral cavity until you find the offending bone or cartilage.
I asked the friendly manager/owner if I were breaking some sort of Guangdong protocol by using my fingers to fish out the bones. He laughed and said no.
But do you use your fingers? I wondered.
No, he responded, he uses his chopsticks to pull out the bones.
That’s when I thought about my own chopstick technique and how I sometimes have a hard time picking up rice, let alone picking out bones in my mouth — bones that, I should add, are pretty hard-grafted to the cooked flesh. My respect for the man just shot up another 15 degrees, both for his chopstick skills and for recommending this terrific casserole.