Eddie Raven, Bayou Boys
I assumed that my first food experience in Wichita Falls would be something Texan—barbecue, Mexican, Tex Mex, or Roadhouse. My Sunday plan was to take the downtown bus to the Gypsy Kit Cafe (eclectic Mexican/Asian/Cajun food, Cajun seems big in rural Central Texas), but unfortunately buses do not run on the weekend—we are in a strange land.
On my way to catch the non-bus, I passed Thai Orchid, and further down—Samurai (I never knew there was a second “a”) Tokyo. Hmmm, rural Texas—Thai or Japanese? Japanese it is. Although a restaurant serving authentic Japanese food would probably not have an enormous, flashing neon sign, a large parking lot, and giant swords and warrior helmets in the lobby, it was close and it was cheap. Samurai Tokyo is not a cool, hipster, ramen spot, it is a large, corporate, knives-flashing, food-as-entertainment restaurant chain with a reputation for serving enormous portions.
The parking lot was full, the lobby was crowded with families waiting for tables, and a steady stream of customers came and went—similar to Sunday brunch at the Grand Buffet across the street. As Wichita Falls is more than 400 miles from any large body of water, I declined to sit in the empty sushi/sashimi room and waited in line to sit in one of the five logically more popular “Hibachi Rooms.” (According to my research, the word teppanyaki should be used instead of hibachi. A traditional Japanese hibachi, which means “fire bowl,” has a cylindrical shape, an open top, and burns charcoal or wood. A teppanyaki is an propane-fueled, iron griddle with a flat, solid surface.) The menu choices in the Hibachi Room were simple: steamed or fried rice with beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables.
I didn’t expect to find okonomiyaki, soba noodles, ramen, or tempura on the menu, but I did think chopsticks would be available. I expected a pot of green tea, but my beverage choices were Dr. Pepper, Coke, Mr. Pibb, or sweet tea—on the other hand, the server did have blue hair.
I ate Hibachi Vegetables with fried rice and secret sauce, piled the leftovers in a styrofoam box, paid the $7.95 bill, ate my fortune cookie? (“Prepare for an exciting trip soon to come your way”), and walked home across the parking lot. Bob and I ate hibachi fried rice and vegetables with secret sauce for the next two nights.
On Monday, the buses were running, so I jumped off the edge of my universe, boarded the R7C downtown bus, and got off at 8th & Scott. The downtown area was once the city’s focal point with large retail stores, a hospital, residential areas, cultural venues, oil industry corporate offices, and restaurants. In the 1950s, the retail exodus to suburban malls began and commercial and corporate businesses followed suit, leaving downtown Wichita Falls to the dust.
Although there is currently a push to revitalize the area, city residents continue to ignore downtown. A few brave entrepreneurs took advantage of low lease rates and opened small shops, restaurants, and breweries, but for the most part, downtown is empty and quiet. B& B Upholstery, Healthy’s Downtown, Alley Cat Vintage, 8th Street Coffee House, and my destination, Gypsy Kit are counting on the bright future promised by the Downtown Wichita Falls Development organization.
I would like to report that Gypsy Kit, obviously one of the cool spots in town, was superior to everyman’s favorite, Samurai Tokyo, but frankly my dear, although Gypsy Kit’s menu was interesting and extensive, the food was bland—iceberg lettuce, carrot slices, and jicama do not make a memorable Thai salad. I must admit, the hibachi fried rice with vegetables was tasty—all three times.
Inauthentic fried rice, serves 4
- 1/4 cup salad oil, divided
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 links lap chong (Chinese Sausage), cut in 1⁄4” dice, or 1 chicken breast, cut into strips, or 1 pork chop, cut into strips, or leftover chicken, pork, or beef, cut into strips
- 2 inches of fresh ginger, finely grated
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1⁄2 cup of snow peas, diced or any combination of raw vegetables
- 4 cups cold rice
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or to taste
- 10-12 shakes of fish sauce, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar
- 3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Cook the Egg – Heat about one tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, dump in the egg and stir constantly until puffed and cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside for later. Wipe out or clean the pan.
Cook the Raw Vegetables (other than diced onions, garlic & ginger) – Add another tablespoon of oil, let it get shimmery-hot over high heat, and toss the raw vegetables over high heat and season with a pinch of salt. When crisp-tender, remove from the pan and set aside with the eggs. Wipe out pan.
Cook the Meat – Lap chong is fully cooked and just needs heating. Add a splash of oil to the pan and the cooked meat to the pan and get it nice and hot. If you’re using raw meat like bacon, pork, chicken, or beef, fully cook it. Remove the meat, leaving any rendered fat in the pan.
Sauté the Aromatics (onions, ginger, garlic) – Now add the remaining oil. When it shimmers, add the chopped onion and sauté it until it starts to soften. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until they smell great.
Stir-fry the Rice –When the ginger and garlic are starting to turn golden, add the rice all at once. Gently poke the rice to separate chunks, tossing it to and fro to make sure every grain touches the hot oil and the aromatics are well-incorporated. Stir-fry until the rice is very hot and looks dry and separate.
Add cooked egg, vegetables and meat, and mix well over the heat.
Add wet seasonings – Clear a spot in the center of the pan for the wet seasonings. Pour the glugs of fish sauce and rice wine vinegar into the pan. Let them bubble and sizzle away for a bit before stirring the rice into it. Keep cooking and tossing rice until it’s dry again.
So: cook eggs-remove from pan
Cook raw vegetables-remove from pan
Cook raw meat-remove from pan Sauté onion, garlic, ginger
Put eggs, vegetables, meat back in the pan
Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and fish sauce.