Monday, December 08, 2008

Northern Chinese food

I recently stumbled across an article about a man named Sun Jiantao, who opened a restaurant called "Chinese Dragon" in Murmansk, Russia. The article was in Chinese, but according to an automatic translation, I think it claims to be the first Chinese restaurant north of the Arctic Circle (66° N. Latitude), though you can't trust those machine translations. I knew it wasn't the only Chinese restaurant north of the Arctic Circle; my favorite Chinese restaurant that I've never been to, Misigisaq Restaurant, is in Sisimiut, Greenland, (latitude 66.93). I also knew that my daughter can claim to have been to northernmost McDonald's in the world, in Rovaniemi, Finland (lat. 66.48), and if there's a McDonald's there, there has to be a Chinese restaurant or two in the vicinity. [Edit: I recently found photographic evidence of one Chinese Restaurant in Rovaniemi, Xiang Long.}

But was the Chinese Dragon in Murmansk (lat. 68.59) the northernmost Chinese restuarant in the world? I had to know, but it didn't take long to debunk that notion. As a fan of Cheuk Kwan's Chinese Restaurants series of movies, I knew all about Michael Wong's "Lille Buddha" in Tromsø, Norway, and its competitors. A quick check revealed Tromsø's latitude to be 69.65, esily besting Murmansk. Not only that, but Tromsø may have as many as six Chinese restaurants; I can't be sure that they all are still open, but in addition to Lille Buddha, I found references to Tang's restaurant, Choi's Kjøkken, Lotus, Shanghai, and Il Mare (which doubles as a Latino dance hall on weekends), all in Tromsø.

Tromsø be bested? I soon found what must be the real Heavyweight Champion of Northern Chinese food, Ny-Ålesund, Norway. At 78.93, it is so far north that it's mostly populated by staff at climate research stations, and a flickr photo displays what appears to be a nameless Chinese restaurant. Search attempts to find a name for this restaurant pricked that bubble, however. According to the account of Ship's Captain Philip Rentell of the Saga Rose
"As I walked around, tourist style, I was surprised to come across what appeared to be a Chinese restaurant. On closer observation it was, of course, the Chinese research station from Shanghai, but the large stone Chinese dragons outside were both impressive and deceiving."
The real winner? Until someone furnishes evidence of a Chinese restaurant in Longyearbyen, Norway (lat. 78.22), the northernmost place to get a Chinese restaurant meal appears to be in a town right here in the U. S. of A. (and with no funny letters in its name), Barrow AK, Latitude 71.29. That place would be Sam and Lee's Chinese Restaurant, at 1204 Agvik, next to Pepe's North of the Border, which might be the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the world.

What kind of welcome will you find at Sam & Lee's? Take it from local Floyd Davison's advice to a visitor:
"Whatever, when you get here... get settled in and then drop by Sam & Lee's Chinese Restaurant. It is possible to miss me in the evening. These days between 9 and 11 in the morning is almost a guaranteed thing though. Just look for one big fat old guy and one short fat (older) guy (me) sitting in the middle of the room downstairs acting like they own the joint. (You won't have to find us actually, as we usually latch onto every tourist who walks in, just for entertainment."

And give me a report on the Mongolian Beef, willya?


Cheuk Kwan said...

Hey Gary Soup, love your passion to find the northernmost Chinese restaurant in the world. When I was in Tromso, there were only two, Lille Buddha and Tang's, there was one take-out joint. I am not surprised that there are now more in Tromso. Lille Buddha, by the way, is closed. It had a scandal serving day-old rice to the customers and was closed by the health department. I got this from another fan of Chinese Restaurants in Kansas, MO.

Gary Soup said...

Hey CK, thanks for the compliment. Sorry to year about the Lille Buddha woes. I'm not too surprised, but heck, my wife served me day-old rice all the time. Odd, though, a couple of weeks ago I was passing a Chinese bakery/coffee shop in SF and saw a guy who looked just like Michael Wong sitting with a woman at a table by the window. If I'd known the Lille Buddha was gone, I would have gone in and asked him if he'd come from Norway.

kwoi 國仔 said...

hey dude, i'm dah DP for Chinese Restaurant series. Lemme know if u ever come across dee southernmost chinese resto in Ushaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world...i hope u don't blow dah whistle on ur wife for serving day old rice though!

Cheuk Kwan said...

Gary S: at least in Chinatowns we use day old rice for "chow fan" which as you know, is better than fresh rice. But I guess Norwegians don't get da joke. Michael e-mailed me two years later, his friend saw him on big screen in HK film festival and told him about it. I will not be surprised if that was him in SF

Gary Soup said...

Hey Kwoi, I knew who you were from the instant I saw your name. Your diary about filming the "Chinese Restaurant" series was almost as entertaining as the films themselves. I imagine you're finding decent eats in the SGV.

johnswift67 said...

Thanks for sharing the information. I love chinese food.