The combination of rainy weather and sweat pants days defeated all efforts in healthy eating, causing me to crave a fattening blast from the past: Taiwanese food. I invited my equally fed-up-with-dieting boyfriend along for a meal I presumed he would enjoy. I should have known better.
May's Ice Cream in Richardson is a no frills cafeteria-style Taiwanese restaurant. For people who automatically assume all Asian food is healthy food, they obviously have never eaten Taiwanese food. Actually, it's a common misconception--right up there with the one about all Asians being skinny, which is way off, considering how the number one hobby that unites all nations on the continent is eating.
Growing up with a Taiwanese father, I've eaten at May's since I was a young child. I don't need a menu, because I already know what I'm ordering before I arrive. I realized how much I took this for granted when I brought my boyfriend to May's this weekend. We've enjoyed a dessert or a bubble tea here together in the past, but he has never eaten a full meal. He wasn't even aware they served real food. I could have been more understanding.
May's is for the hard core Asian cuisine enthusiast. The majority of its clientele are Chinese families, older Chinese couples, and young Asian food fanatics. It is not an Asian "see and be seen" dining destination, like its nearby neighbors, Kirin Court, Caravelle, or Maxim. This was clearly illustrated when a few expensively dressed youngsters trickled into the small, yet packed, dining room, checked out the scene of silent, ravenous eaters and families with young children, and swiftly walked out. A sign posted on May's plexiglass case, which displays both appetizers and desserts, sums up the restaurant's straight forward approach.
"Self-Service. No Tips! Free Soy Milk, Soup, and Tea with every meal."
Although some devotees may love the simplicity of the place, I can understand why many novices, like my boyfriend, might be intimidated. The menu on the big board behind the counter is completely in Chinese. Fear not. All tables come with an English version of the menu, which includes various Taiwanese noodle dishes, rice platters, and even ramen. Once you have decided, food orders are placed at the counter. When one's order is ready, they call out the order...in Chinese. That's OK, because they will considerately toss you a "Hey you, your order is ready" look.
For this trip, I ordered May's most popular dish, Fried Pork Chop over Rice, and a dish I thought my carnivorous boyfriend would enjoy, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. Because roughage is always important, I order an appetizer-size Chinese broccoli with garlic. I send my boyfriend off to find us an empty table, while I stockpile complimentary bowls of soy milk. The Taiwanese-style soymilk is warm, slightly sweetened, and thickened with a touch of egg, bringing me back to my childhood on the island of Taiwan. Our order is bellowed out within a few minutes. Portions are enormous, so balancing the small red tray carrying our giant meal is a tricky task. While my boyfriend tries out the food, I watch every facial contortion, nod, and chew like a hawk. He doesn't like it. "It's just different from what I expected," he explains. After an initial wave of annoyance ripples through my brain, I come to an empathetic acceptance. I've had years of eating this very esoteric cuisine, and this is his inaugural experience.
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Taiwanese people prefer their rice cooked on the wet side. Some other Asian people, like the Vietnamese or Filipinos, like less water in their rice, making each grain of rice separate, and not clumped together. Taiwanese love to eat pickled vegetables and small tapas-like dishes with rice, similar to Korean cuisine. For example, May's Fried Pork Chop over Rice comes with sides of a soy sauce boiled egg, minced pork and mushrooms, pickled cucumber and carrots, and a preserved cabbage relish. Taiwanese cuisine is also overly seasoned, as exhibited by the strong scent of five spice and soy sauce in the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. The beef is not sliced into polite and pretty bite-sized pieces. Rather, it's chopped into large, yet fall-apart tender, chunks, with tendons attached and all. Taiwanese food unabashedly enjoys its reputation for being a rich and opulently flavored food. No dish can be rich enough, and no dessert can be sweet enough.
This brings me to the "Ice Cream" portion of May's Ice Cream. Those expecting a "green tea gelato" fusion dessert will be sorely disappointed. May's specializes in authentic Taiwanese shaved ice dessert. If that is too much of a leap, they also offer the ever trendy bubble teas, which originated in Taiwan. Luckily, this is the part of the meal I know my boyfriend will enjoy.
Shaved ice is covered with four sweet toppings of your choice.(You can just point if you don't know what it's called.) Your choices are then topped off with more shaved ice, sweet rich dark syrup, and finally, condensed milk, which is optional. Toppings are too numerous to list, but range from sweet azuki red beans, almond gelatin, sticky rice balls, sweet peanut, boba bubbles, to litchi fruit. Newer, trendier Taiwanese shaved ice establishments offer less intimidating toppings like strawberries and kiwi, but May's is strictly old school.
As we both happily eat our individual shaved ice bowls, I'm content in knowing that my boyfriend has embraced, at least, one aspect of my authentic Taiwanese upbringing. Before I can start becoming too confident, however, I'm brought back down to earth. A waitress behind the counter calls out for someone to pick up their order of Stinky Tofu. In my wildest dreams, even I am not that O.G.