In some of my fondest food memories, I’m in Taiwan, running around with my cousins in my maternal grandparents’ dining room as aunts, uncles, and other family members set a large round table. Plate after bowl of food arrives and gets placed on the centerpiece: a large spinning wooden platter. When we all sit down to eat, it’s choreographed chaos, all chopsticks and serving spoons and raucous conversation.
I remember the thrill of tasting things at once familiar and new, like renewing a flavor hard-coded into my genes—but truth be told, I’m just as enamored with the lazy Susan. After all, I’m six years old, and there’s no end to the amusement a spinning lazy Susan offers.
I think lazy is the wrong word. Pragmatic, efficient, and accommodating, maybe, but Susan is definitely not lazy. Why pass plates and bowls of food back and forth to share when you can just put it all atop a spinning disc and rotate that food into reach? Think about all the work that a lazy Susan does. Lazy is most definitely the wrong word.
I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but the lazy Susans that sit atop two large round tables are a major reason why I like Asia Pacific Restaurant and Supermarket. The other, more relevant reason? Well, Asia Pacific serves Chinese food.
What is Chinese food? That’s a big question that deserves much more space to answer, but for now, let’s just say this. Chinese food is more than General Tso’s chicken, stir-fried beef and broccoli, and lo mein. It’s more than the Westernized versions found at P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express. Chinese food contains multitudes.
I won’t call Asia Pacific’s food authentic or traditional Chinese food, because the way concepts like authenticity and tradition are defined are always highly personal. But for what it’s worth, Asia Pacific’s menu has the dishes my mother makes, the dishes I eat when I’m in Taiwan, and the dishes I’ve never had but crave without explanation.
A lot of that has to do with the variety at Asia Pacific. Allow me to butcher an old Cantonese proverb: Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible. That is to say there’s nothing an enterprising Cantonese person can’t turn into a tasty meal. In Greenville, our enterprising Cantonese person is named Alva Mak. She’s a Hong Kong native and the owner of Asia Pacific.
She and her chefs are the minds behind a menu with over 100 dishes. Those dishes showcase a dizzying array of ingredients and preparations that are likely unfamiliar to American palates: Sichuan-style spicy mala seafood hot pot, Cantonese-style poached white cut, bitter melon stir-fried with eggs, soy sauce braised oxtails, and more. In short, Asia Pacific feels very much like something you’d find along Atlanta’s Buford Highway, or the Chinatown of any major metropolitan area. It’s Chinese food prepared for the way Chinese people eat.
That means you have to recalibrate how you approach a meal at Asia Pacific. Most of the dishes on the menu aren’t really meant to be stand-alone entrées. If you order the stir-fried Chinese broccoli, you’ll get an entrée-sized portion of exactly that: stir-fried Chinese broccoli, which makes for a rather one-note meal. Instead, it’s better to consider creating a tableau of complementary dishes: a soup, some seafood, some vegetables, snack-able bites, something spicy, something sweet, something crunchy, something soft.
Take, for example, a meal I had with fellow TOWN contributor Will Crooks. The dining room was quiet, so we sat at one of the lazy Susan tables. We had a spicy seafood hot pot, seafood noodle soup, conch stir-fried with vegetables, steamed whole squid, garlic eggplant, whole flounder three ways (salt and pepper, sweet and sour, and chili garlic), char siu bao, and a steamer full of dim sum (not yet officially on the menu, but in the works for a future Asia Pacific offering).
It was more food than necessary for two people. But to enjoy the restaurant’s food is to order in number and variety, a feast that can only be conquered with friends. Thank goodness for the lazy Susan’s invitation to share in that bounty.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey. Asia Pacific Restaurant and Supermarket, 420 N Pleasantburg Dr, Greenville. (864) 603-1377, asiapacificgreenville.com