Saugus, MA: Pu Pu Platters, Wings, and Scorpion Bowls at Kowloon
A couple months ago, an email popped in my inbox with the following subject line: "Summer. Kowloon. Rum. Pork."
It was from my friend Bailey, who was rallying a bunch of us to, as she went on to explain, "spend a summer Friday on Route 1, playing keno, inhaling exhaust, and eating neon pink meat."
Translation: She was inviting us to have dinner with her at Kowloon, Route 1's palatial tribute to the kind of Chinese food people aren't supposed to like anymore: greasy crab rangoons, egg rolls, thick-skinned Peking ravioli, spareribs the color of nail polish, and batter-fried chicken strips drenched in salty-sweet, glowing orange goo.
I was in. As a Boston-area resident who'd never experienced Kowloon, I considered this a rite of passage, and it had been on my bucket list for years. Besides, whether or not anyone admits it, most of us who grew up on suburban Chinese food have a soft spot for this stuff.
Our group was 10 strong, and we all had the same fried food agenda. Pretty soon, the lazy Susan was weighed down with a double order of the Peninsula Pu Pu Platter ($20.50), each one overloaded with all the classics: egg rolls, spareribs, chicken wings, fried shrimp, pork strips, and crispy wontons. Truth be told, all the dough-wrapped and batter-fried items blended together after a few bites, but the spareribs came back to me in all their salty-sweet, chewy, magenta glory.
The Kowloon Special Saugus Wings ($8.75) were also a must-order. Dark and lacquered in some sort of sweet, garlicky glaze, they were a bastardized breed of teriyaki and exactly the kind of sticky, saucy finger food that you want to gnaw on while downing scorpion bowls.
That was just the appetizer round, and by the time we'd polished off the bulk of the platters and wings, most of us were hitting the wall. But there was no way we were leaving without an order of the quintessential Americanized Chinese-food classic: Crispy Spicy Tangerine Chicken ($12.25). Craggy strips of meat doused in a viscous sauce laced with dried chiles and tangerine peels: if there is a more perfect union out there, I don't know it.
The only downer of the evening was that we were wrapping up dinner before the dance floor ever got going. As luck would have it, though, this was also the night Magic Mike premiered in theaters, so obviously we drove directly from the Kowloon parking lot to the best possible place to see this movie: the Showcase Cinema de Lux movieplex in Revere. Picture a theater packed with middle-aged woman who screamed in unison as soon as Matthew McConaughey appeared half naked and uttered the word "lawbreaker." I couldn't have dreamt up a more perfect ending to the night.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.