This Father’s Day, I had the opportunity to go to a restaurant of note and renown, the Peking Gourmet Inn, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  With company as good as that that I had, we could have made a shitty restaurant pop, but we didn’t have to worry about it, ’cause the Peking Gourmet Inn is filled with pros when it comes to dining.  When one thinks about it, the Peking Gourmet Inn is really the best thing to come from Nixon.

The Bush family’s only dalliance from Mac ‘N’ Cheese

In 1972, Richard Nixon, known for his 1950’s career of commie bashin’, visited Red China, successfully extending a diplomatic hand to Mao Zedong’s regime, to much applause.  Pretty soon after Nixon arrived in China, his hosts, true to the hospitality known of the Northern Chinese- of which I can vouch fully- gave his party plates and plates of Beijing delicacies, such as Peking Duck.

Peking, or Beijing Duck is a roast Pekin duck,sliced very thin (I mean, very thin- the skin gets separated from the meat in crispy little Pork Rindish things) and eaten in a pancake/taco thing with scallions, plum sauce, and cucumber slices.  It is a such an iconic dish of Northern China that when I was teaching over there, I COULD NOT get a class of sixty fifth graders to behave during a Thanksgiving lesson.  I’d show them a slide of a Thanksgiving dinner, full of mashed potatoes and whatnot, heaps of stuffing, and a big roast turkey right in the middle.  I’d try to get them to say it, “Turkey, turrrrrkey…”  Immediately, half a dozens wise guys (think, the numbers are double and triple that of our classrooms, so there ARE that many wise guys in a class) would pipe up, shouting in English- “Beijing Duck!  Beijing Duck!”  Then the whole class would erupt, and I’d have to resort to throwing a firework popper on the ground to get’em to be quiet.

Dramatists imagine the outcome of me throwing a popper on the ground in an American classroom.

I told one joke over there about sixty times.  I’d talk about eating in this duck restaurant in my city, Jilin, and I’d say, “I had Bejing Duck the other night…” I’d pause- “Actually, I’m in Jilin, so I guess it’s JILIN DUCK!”  Laughs every time.  I could overhear translations, too, to friends with less English who would then laugh.  Ah, Beijing Duck was so common that people could even like a joke like that.  But why should I thank Nixon that I don’t have to miss that delectable dish while in the States?

After Nixon and Mao found so much in common that relations were friendly, diplomats starting going back and forth.  Then other kinds of politicians went, back and forth, Bejing to D.C.,- an opera was made about it! Catchphrases!- and eventually the wind scattered little florets of Beijing Duck all over George Clinton’s Chocolate City- the Peking Gourmet Inn was born.  It did great, and still does great.  Everyone loves it, even the Bushes, who used to come down there for the leeks or whatever were fresh.  The place was PACKED on Father’s Day.

Admittedly, not a typical gathering in Northern China, or anywhere else.

At the time of its opening- 1978- it was one of the few Chinese food places outside of New York that served Northern Cuisine, rather than the Americanized, San Francisco-and-Southern-China-inspired other kind that we usually order in those white paper pouches.  It’s weird to think- since most of the Chinese immigrants that came over in the 19th century were from the South (Southeast, I think- Guandong province), we’ve been raised on only one variation on a vast cuisine and repertoire.

I like General Tso and his bunch as much as the next guy, but when I sit at a communal table, with friends and family, eating green beans and duck and dumplings, I think of other times when I did that, and I never had a bad one yet.  Up there in cold Northern China, you’re family on meeting two.   Dinners in restaurants where the the waiters had to get little stools for all of us to sit on, so many people showed up- that kind of thing.  It’s good to know that, if you live in Richmond, you can get that feeling close to home.  So, this time and probably only this time- thaaaaaaanks, Mr. Ni-xon!