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How Asian restaurants helped me heal after a hate-crime attack
Three nights after I was assaulted, I was still haunted. I dreamed of pacing toward the hospital where I work as a medical student. I dreamed of the man’s words, “Chinese virus,” as he kicked and dragged me, and I dreamed of the bystanders’ uncaring gaze.
I had studied these symptoms in others: hypervigilance, avoidance of associated stimuli, intrusive reexperiences and distress. My psychiatrist eventually diagnosed me with acute stress disorder, a precursor to PTSD that lasts from three days to a month after experiencing a life-threatening situation. As with many victims of anti-Asian assault, not all my wounds were visible.
I usually call my family in Thailand every day but couldn’t for three days after my assault. I did not dare shatter our American Dream with the lived experiences that many Asian Americans and immigrants face in this country. My father, who dreamed of reuniting with me after my medical training, finally contacted me after my radio silence. My family is not the type to show affection with words. But through the years, I could feel their love through a simple question: “Have you eaten?”
“Yes,” I lied. Unable to lie to him completely, I added before hanging up, “Aunty’s food is coming soon.”
Aunty Su is a former physical therapist in Thailand who became a massage therapist when she immigrated to be reunited with her son, who had married an American. At the onset of the pandemic, she started delivering affordable home-cooked meals to health-care workers. I put my palms together in a “wai” to greet her when she delivered my first real meal since the assault. Tom yum is made from lemongrass, lime, galangal, fish sauce, chiles and sugar. “Tom” refers to the boiling process, while “yum” means “mixed.” Like what I had hoped and still believe America to be, these ingredients that did not seem likely to mix somehow created a wonderful taste of home.
Two weeks after my assault, I recovered physically and returned to Elmhurst Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center. I was apprehensive about working with trauma patients, but my experience made me more empathetic. I no longer saw my patients as cases to study for exams but as survivors whom I admired for their resilience.
Although my team came from such disparate places as Ohio, New York, Israel, Puerto Rico and Thailand, we all shared a sense of care toward our patients — and a love of good food. During our 24-hour call, we ordered pad thai from Ayada Thai. I explained to my team that when Thais struggled to survive after rice became scarce during World War II, our prime minister promoted pad thai, made from cheap and simple ingredients including rice noodles, peanuts, scrambled eggs and bean sprouts, turning it into an internationally renowned dish.
The first time I went anywhere other than the hospital and my apartment was to a rally supporting the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Chinatown. Michelle Lee, a Cornell radiology resident who also experienced discrimination during the pandemic, invited me to speak to more than 1,000 rallygoers, including 100 health-care workers. She held me as my body shook when I shared my experience publicly for the first time.
I was so hungry that I almost fainted after my speech. So for the following rally in Flushing, Lee took me to White Bear, a tiny Chinese restaurant with a big menu of dumplings taped over its counter.
Although my father is Thai and my mother is Chinese, my mother had told me to tell others that I am Thai because she did not want me to be discriminated against the way she was when a stranger spat at her and told her to “go back to China” the first time she visited the United States.
I gushed at the first bite of the spicy wontons. How could anyone hate Asians when our food is so delicious?
I thought back to my childhood in Thailand, preparing for Lunar New Year. My grandmother and great aunt lined the half-moon-shaped dumplings before steaming them in bamboo baskets. Before I moved abroad, my family had insisted that I learn how to cook so that I could feed my foreign friends in America. They said, “Your friends may come from different backgrounds, but we all must eat.”
After the rally, we went to Xing Fu Tang. I lined up with other AAPI, Black, Hispanic and White people from the rally, all of us salivating over the same brown sugar bubble milk tea.
Before my shift with the infectious-disease and covid-19 team, I visited Wat Thavorn Vanaram, a Thai Buddhist temple a few blocks away from Elmhurst Hospital. The last time I had visited this temple was for New Year’s Eve before the pandemic, when Thai New Yorkers brought a variety of Thai dishes to share. Unlike my father, a former monk, I am not religious. I had previously prayed only for good grades and had visited temples for the free food. This time, I prayed for the courage to be honest with my father again.
After my visit at the temple, I ordered Hainanese chicken and Thai milk tea from Eim Khao Mun Kai, the restaurant my family and I ate at the last time they visited the United States. It had been a few years since I saw them and a few weeks since I spoke with my father. I called him again and he quickly picked up the phone and asked, “Have you eaten?” I dipped the boiled chicken into the chile-garlic sauce before tasting it with the ginger-seasoned rice. A big smile grew on my face as I took a sip of the aromatic milk tea before responding, “Yes, and I wish you were here to share it with me.”
Jumreornvong is a third-year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Repeat offender Thai Food To Go lands on Dirty Dining again
LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — There’s an old saying about how you shouldn’t poop where you eat, so it stands to reason that an employee restroom with a door that wouldn’t close inside a restaurant’s kitchen is part of what got a repeat offender in trouble with the Health District once again.
Thai Food To Go is that repeat offender.
The restaurant on Desert Inn and Mojave roads got a 32-demerit “C” grade on its May 7 inspection.
The health report says because the employee restroom door opens directly into the kitchen and doesn’t close all the way, air moves from the restroom into the food handling area.
We arrived to find the front door blocked by equipment and plexiglass, set up essentially as a walk-up window.
“We cannot let you in,” an employee said through the plexiglass, adding that the owner wasn’t there so no one was available to answer our questions.
The owner wasn’t there on inspection day either, when one food handler was caught preparing vegetables in the dining room and another cracked raw eggs, then handled ready-to-eat food without washing their hands.
Shrimp, tofu, beef, cooked pork and cooked potatoes were at unsafe temperatures.
Food wasn’t date labeled, and in-use utensils were wedged between the prep sink and the wall.
We ask them to call the owner or the manager and they ask us to wait.
As we wait, a customer, Javier Garcia, arrives to pick up his Thai food to go.
When he steps up to the door, he finds it’s been locked and they turned off the neon “Open” sign too, but they signal through the glass for him to wait.
“They obviously are concerned about you being here,” Garcia said to Darcy Spears.
And when he sees the “C” grade card in the front window. “It concerns me because you can’t trust that they actually have a clean kitchen.”
They didn’t have a clean kitchen on inspection day, racking up demerits for dirty shelves, floors and ceiling tiles, greasy ventilation hoods, old food debris in the fridge and mold in the ice machine.
“That’s not good at all. I think they should just shut it down until they go up to a better grade,” Garcia said. “If it was me, I wouldn’t operate with that grade. I’d just shut the place down, make sure to clean up everything and follow the rules.”
Turns out, they did decide to shut down.
With no explanation, they gave Javier his money back, telling him they couldn’t fill his order.
And they never came back to talk to us.
Javier says from now on, he’ll always look at the Health District’s app or website to check a restaurant’s grade before placing an online order.
“It’s concerning! Before, I never gave it any thought, but now I’m going to start checking,” he said.
The imminent health hazard closure came at Snowballs snow cone truck.
It was shut down on May 4 for no hot water.
The unit was operating in the driveway of the owner’s home on Viking Road near Spencer Street.
Inspectors say it was serving customers with nowhere to dump wastewater.
And the trailer was plugged into the home’s power, which was not sufficient to supply hot water at any sink or power to the water pump.
There was also no sanitizer solution and no soap at the only handwash sink.
Owner Mike Parish said he works with Credo Las Vegas and started the shave ice business to help raise money in support of the nonprofit’s mission: community revitalization and economic diversity.
He planned to sell at community parks during youth sporting events, but COVID hit before he could get started.
He says after investing $30,000, Snowballs was sidelined for more than a year as he made payments on the trailer with no income.
Parish explained that he and his wife had just started operating when the health inspector showed up, shut them down and hit them with a $1,400 fine.
He says he was blown away by the Health District’s heavy-handed approach, and his family cannot afford to re-open the business.