It’s 2:06 a.m. and I can’t figure whether I’m more drunk or more full. Maybe mostly triumphant?
I just polished off 20 courses of Chinese food. I threw back 11 beers. I managed to make it home without curling up in a ball of submission somewhere along Columbus Boulevard.
For when we learned that Han Dynasty, the local Szechuan Chinese legend (bear with me here, working on a mythos), was hosting a Wu Tang Clan-themed dinner in its Old City location that would feature “36 courses” — 20 food dishes and 16 beers for $75 — we knew such a marathon must be chronicled. At first pass, I was denied; they were booked up. But fear not: After someone cancelled their reservation, I was in.
What followed was a four-hour epic that included a free blunt*, a consent form and Han Dynasty’s owner running through a list of all his ideas for offensive, profane fortune cookies.
Below is the best transcription possible considering how things were going by hour three of spicy food and beer, from the moment I arrived in the back room at Han until I reached the safety and sanctity of my own home and bathroom:
7:02 p.m. I arrive at Han Dynasty with a brave friend who was also willing to engorge himself make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Wu Tang. Upon arrival I was handed a mysterious pink drink that maybe had alcohol in it (unclear).
The host leads us into a back room with five tables that can seat about 40 people in total. She points out a “consent form” that sits in the middle of the table telling us that fortune cookies coming later may be offensive in nature, and if we don’t want to be offended, we should tell our server before the meal begins.
There’s also a still-wrapped Prima blunt on every plate, and one guy asks “are these cigars?” Uh. It can be? Wu Tang is being pumped in through speakers.
I am ready.
7:04 p.m. After I discover that I’m at a table with strangers, I try to figure out who they are. We have a couple, and a 50-something man sitting alone. I do not say hello.
7:06 p.m. Oh boy! Another couple arrives. They are friends with the first couple. One girl comments that she loves this place. “I’m getting hammered!” She then talks about how she has a child? It’s hard to hear over the bass. I literally cannot tell what Wu Tang track is playing.
7:10 p.m. I have finished the unknown pink substance. Three more people join the table. I ask for their names and immediately forget them.
7:15 p.m. Girl who wants to get hammered proposes an ice breaker. She is the only one who partakes. The rest of us practice using chopsticks and wonder where the food is. No one at my table seems high? Huh.
7:17 p.m. A server comes over to our table to talk to us about how best to conquer the night. The steps:
- Pace yourself with both beer and food.
- Try everything.
- There are five sets of courses
- Halfway through, we will take a blunt break and then come back in and eat munchies.
7:23 p.m. Still no food. I am starving. All I ate today was a breakfast sandwich, a Chik Fil A meal and a slice of pizza.
People at the next table over are screaming. It’s incoherent.
7:28 p.m. Our first beers are being poured! It’s a Founders Centennial IPA. Then something else, as well. The server asks if I would “like a full pour.” Of course I do. I am offended she even asked! Only the strong carry on with full pours.
An internal struggle ensues. Do I need to wait until my table of strangers and new friends gets their beers before I drink mine? I am exceptionally thirsty. I elect to wait. I like my new friends.
7:32 p.m. I am staring at my beer and I hear someone at *my* table comment: “This is so exclusive!” Mysterious pink beverages, free blunts and family-style Chinese food surrounded by Wu Tang music? Exclusive, sure.
7:34 p.m. It dawns on me that I am terrible at this. I drink too fast. Must slow down if I want to make it to the end.
7: 36 p.m. Our first course arrives! Everything is served family-style in bowls and plates that we pass around the table. Here’s what was on the menu for the first serving:
- Pork belly roll in sweet garlic sauce
- Edamame in sesame oil
- Crispy fish sticks with scallion
- Szechuan pickled vegetables in chilli oil
7: 40 p.m. I inhale everything. We also get rice with every serving, which is helpful because this food is spicy. The crispy fish sticks are like ridiculously good stoner food, and the pork belly roll is amazing. The unsung hero though of this serving is the sweet garlic sauce. Are you listening to me Han Dynasty people? Jar that stuff.
7:42 p.m. Another beer. I am basically 15 minutes in and I have already lost count of how many beers we have received. I am again asked if I would like a full pour or a half pour and am again immediately offended by this line of questioning.
The guy next to me, Donnie, is very polite. He asks everyone else before he takes seconds and finishes off the rest of those pork belly rolls.
7:44 p.m. I say out loud “I love my job!” and no one responds.
It has just come to my attention that I can’t feel my tongue and a few beads of sweat have gathered on my upper lip. This stuff is hot. My tongue hurts.
7:52 p.m. My first hiccup.
7:54 p.m. I must drink slower. My friend and I are, once again, the first to be done our beers this round. I don’t want to be this person anymore. Do I even like IPAs? Who knows! I think maybe?
7:50 p.m. I have decided upon a new challenge for myself. Don’t break the seal. I can do it.
8:04 p.m. Another beer. No idea which one this is, and I wasn’t asked if I wanted a half pour. They now just assume I want a full. I just read the menu and realized the next course is rabbit and impulsively start singing “here comes Peter Cottontail.”
I contemplate staying here all night and walking to the office in the morning. I decide against it (for now).
8:08 p.m. Wu Tang is playing. I’m pretending to know what song it is. I have no idea what song it is. Our second set of courses comes out. Here’s what it included:
- Diced rabbit with orange peel
- Ma La double shreds
- Baby shrimps in scallion pesto sauce
- Ginger flavored string beans
We also receive a pot of smoked green tea, and for some reason my response to the server is “I need that!” I do not need that.
The food is great, once again. The rabbit had some bones in it which is hard when you’re close to drunk. Those little tiny green shrimp were heavenly and I could eat an entire bowl of the string beans. Ma La double shreds consisted of pig ear and tofu, which I can’t say I loved. But I ate it all?
8:14 p.m. I choke on something spicy and tears fall from my eyes. It is 8:14 and I’m crying.
8:22 p.m. Donnie asks the server for a fresh plate. Is his name Donnie? I am jealous of Donnie. I want a new plate.
8: 23 p.m. New plate!
And beers. This one is a porter. Is this person trying to kill me? I soon anticipate death. This is only the beginning of section three of the dinner. I am not strong. I am not worthy.
8:27 p.m. I break the seal.
8:32 p.m. A guy from the Founders brewery team swings by our table to ask how the beers are and tell us how great Grand Rapids, Mich. is. I nod accordingly. “It has tons of heart!” he says. Sure, John.
8:34 p.m. It is now time for the mystical blunt break. I walk outside to see some people choking down a Prima cigar, others enjoying a cigarette and a large group of people walking toward the alley to go smoke other stuff. Against my better judgement and despite being asked to, I do not partake. Blast.
We return from the blunt break to a table full of food. Third course of food:
- Crispy shrimp cakes
- Fish filet with pine nuts in a sweet and sour sauce
- Bok choy with scallops in a white wine sauce
- Steamed rice coated pork belly with yams
The yams are delicious and taste like Chinese food mixed with Thanksgiving. When they put the fish on the table, it comes whole and my friend asks, “is that a pig?” I die inside.
Another beer. This one is described as “a mix of beer and wine.” Good. I wonder the name of the alone man across the table from me. I speculate Kevin.
8:58 p.m. I am beginning to feel fatigued. I am full. This is where it ends. This is where I die. I’m not going to live long enough to get married or have children or gain enough weight to try out for Extreme Weight Loss. My hopes are crushed.
I must lumber on.
9:01 p.m. I take the last shrimp on the plate and my whole table cheers for me!
It me. Shrimp girl. (Ed note. Yes, that is exactly what I wrote in the moment.)
9:09 p.m. Donnie comments that the fish is really well prepared. He is sophisticated. I’m just like drooling and wondering how many beers I’ve consumed and what meats I’m eating. My chopsticks are all sticky. I take this selfie:
9:13 p.m. I think alone guy’s name is Gary.
I realize there is nothing really Wu Tang about this except it’s moderately offensive, there’s a blunt break and Wu Tang is playing in the background. I am OK with this.
The fullness is sneaking up on me. I am reminded this is a marathon and not a sprint.
9:21 p.m. More beer.
Donnie asks why I have a notebook. My cover is blown. I explain that I am a reporter and I work for this news organization and I’m doing a story about choking down 20 courses of Chinese food. “Oh,” he says. “I thought you were like a food critic.”
I decide my future career path.
9:31 p.m. Beer.
9:34 p.m. Next serving of courses. It includes:
- Dry Pepper style chicken wings
- Stir-fry homemade cured bacon with asparagus
- Chinese meatballs
- Long hot pepper style lamb
The Chinese meatballs taste like my mom’s meat loaf smothered in Asian-style sauce, which is remarkable. The homemade cured bacon is salty and perfect, and I don’t even like asparagus. The lamb is tender. This is my favorite course so far. I just realized I have aged 15 years sitting at this here table.
My eyes feel teary. Hiccups ensue.
9:49 p.m. I finish my own beer floaters. This reminds me of freshman year of college. I realize I can no longer taste because everything tastes like beer and my own hiccups.
9:52 p.m. I reluctantly take a spicy wing. I am nervous to eat it. It is delicious!
I can’t feel my face. I’m out; I give half my wing to a friend. I have accepted defeat. One more course to go. Time to unbutton the top of my jeans. It’s go time.
9:58 p.m. I may vomit. The thought of more beers and three more things to eat is literally disturbing.
Men are talking about baseball. I pretend to understand. Yeah! The Mets!
We change the subject, and now we’re all talking about how to recite a Hail Mary prayer. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I learn. Then I try to remember the Apostle’s Creed. It doesn’t go well. Sorry, Mom.
Beer number infinity tastes like a cider, so I obviously love it.
10:16 p.m. I have spilled beer down my chin. Time for our fortune cookies! Donnie won tickets to see a free concert at the Electric Factory because he had a special red thing in his fortune cookie. Mine just tells me to fuck myself. Heh heh. Funny.
10:29 p.m. Final course. It consists of:
- Sweet potato cake filled with red bean paste
- Crispy rice balls
- Steam sweet buns filled with custard
The crispy rice balls honestly tasted like brains and everyone at my table thought the consistency was weird as hell. The steamed sweet buns tasted like pillowy heaven. Send me a case, please.
10:31 p.m. I just found out that Donnie’s name is Carl.
10:34 p.m. Most of the other tables have cleared out, except for mine. We decide we are “professional alcoholics,” and we clink our glasses to it. (Ed note. It’s only now that I realize this is offensive.)
10:36 p.m. The owner of Han Dynasty comes over to talk to us about his fortune cookies, and said the consent form was the idea of his lawyer. He goes over with us a long list of his other ideas for fortune cookies, and I feel like I’m breaking some sort of code by relaying them to you. Just know that they are all wildly offensive and incredibly hilarious and you should go ask to buy some.
10:48 p.m. I choke on my stout. I finish it. I am triumphant.
10:51 p.m. I order an Uber despite being directly next to the El station. I am worth it.
12:11 a.m. I throw up a little.
I immediately decide that I’m going back next year.