Requiem for a Noodle Joint

I miss my Chongqing Noodle Place. It’s still there, across the street from my apartment complex. But like the Rice Noodle Place and the Beef Noodle Place before it, it has begun the long, slow decline to diner decrepitude. Our relationship started so well. It was cleaner than the other neighborhood joints. The waitresses 10% peppier.

We were frequent patrons. (Always strategically avoiding the lunch rush when the tech park next door emptied its doors of hungry Firewall drones, office workers, and data pirates. Hard to get a table then.) But other than between 12:02 pm and 12:28 pm, Monday through Friday, there were always a couple of seats and bowl of steaming noodles and a fresh roujiamo waiting.

Now, the roujiamo are microwaved. The data pirates prefer the lamb spine joint down the street. First the restaurant lost their pep. Then the restaurant lost their waitresses.

Yesterday, I went in for lunch. The ayi was sleeping on the bench. The owner/manager was huddled in the corner. They were out of roujiamo, even the microwaved variety. I order smashed cucumber instead. They smashed it. They Added vinegar. And then they slopped it on the table. I’m still picking cucumber guts from my phone case. The noodles were decent, but the veggies and meat looked suspiciously freeze dried. When I asked for a Coke, they gave me a Sprite.

In Beijing’s fast evolving food and beverage industry, the lifespan of a restaurant — a short-lived beast in any environment — makes the medfly look like Methuselah. Places open with enthusiasm and excitement and a commitment to quality and service and then the rot sets in. Enthusiasm wanes. Corners are cut. And the establishment begins a culinary death spiral toward irrelevance and closure. Maybe it will hold on for a few more months, maybe longer, but I won't be going there anymore.

I miss my old Chongqing Noodle Place. I say “old,” although I only went there starting last fall.  I am not a fan of change, and now I am in the market for a new lunch spot in my neighborhood. I wonder how the lamb spine place is doing…