Chairman Mao’s Stew, Sweet & Sour Pork, Peanut Noodles at Chilli Panda, Northbridge

I’ve alluded to it before, but name-dropping where food is concerned gets me every time. It’s appeal through association—and assocation holds great power. 

When associations are established, implications of the associations​ become catalysts for decisions and reasons to be persuaded. 

Marketeers cash in on human behaviours like this everyday. Chemistwarehouse informs us of David Beckham’s ventures into perfumery through the weekly junkmail. Coles has Curtis Stone incessantly confirming the freshness of its fruit and veg. Swisse vitamins has a growing number of telly presenters tell us how they ‘feel better’ on vitamins during ad-breaks. Endorsements work.

In a broader context, history has chronicled the immense value of associations in decision-making. Associations have forged friendships, delineated allies and enemies, determined battles fought or forgone, lead to the promulgation of war or peace. Lives have been lived and lost off the back of associations. The company one keeps and one’s affiliations are the oft relied on, default​ and unquestioned ‘best’, judge of character and trustworthiness. 

Given this, it’s easy to see how association, its offshoots, and the premise of connectedness impact upon everyday decisions. As creatures of curiosity, we primative humans live to find connections and meaning: we spend our lives searching for it. We feel unfulfilled and disenchanted when we don’t find the connections we seek. Our sense of being is significantly predicated on the quality of the connections we make—personally, socially, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually—and the nature and meaning of these connections. We wonder about possibilities and the what ifs. We read into things, whether wrongly or rightly. We get through each day making thousands of connections on autopilot.

Presented with innumerable choices, day-in day-out we look for qualities, features and traits of interest to aid in our decisions. We base decisions on aspects that may be entirely unrelated to the choices​ at hand, but which succeed at holding our attention and eliciting in us a response. There are elements of randomness and absurdity to the way we convince ourselves of the pathways we want to travel and the routes we want to take. What is like a magnet for one person does nothing for the next. Preference is driven by consciousness, sub-conciousness, and factors and forces beyond our control. Externalities and extraneous sources of persuasion fill the gaps, expediting and shaping decision-making, leading us to open doors we wouldn’t have thought we would. An endorsement, or the suggestion of one, might lead us to conclude on the existence of characteristics we know probably aren’t there, but that we conclude nonetheless.

But, as usual, I digress.

Name-dropping certainly helped with my selection of ‘Chairman Mao’s Stew’ at Chilli Panda. 

When I saw the dish on the menu, I couldn’t go past it. An internal narrative ensued: ‘Confidence to name the dish after the iconic Mao? It must be at least a decent dish. It must be a nod to quality. At $14.80, it’s a have to try. If it goes belly up, I’ll be left stewing on an unimpressive dish…’ 

The dish arrived steaming and looking fabulously shiny. The thick, sweet and salty, sauce paired well with the tender pork belly that spoke of well-absorbed flavours. Chinese five-spice,  mushroom, soy filled the passageways with each bite. It was highly pleasing to the palate.

Deciding to play it safe on a ‘can’t stuff it up dish’ we ordered the Chinese restaurant staple: sweet and sour pork, $24.80. It looked great, but was average by all accounts. Pieces of pork were coated in a basic flour mix, deep-fried, and a sweet red sauce spooned over. Nothing about it, the portion or the taste which was bland and boring, justified the exorbitant price. Far better could be had at the local Chinese for half the cost. 

We topped up with noodles in peanut sauce. I was impressed with the​ noodles used: thinner than a Hokkien noodle, textually similar, with a less carb-heavy feel to it. The actual peanut sauce was a mix of peanut butter and crushed peanuts in satay sauce. Stirred through the noodles, it made the noodles quite wet and cloying, which was contrary to its description as a ‘dry’ noodle. It was an acceptable dish, but not one I’d personally go for again. 

For drinks, I ordered a pot of hot tea. The Chinese tea variant must have been a green tea type; it had a seaweed aftertaste. 

We spotted a steaming hotpot on a portable gas burner at an adjacent table. Those diners knew what to order: it looked good. I’d give Chilli Panda another go in future and get one of these. 

An honourable mention goes to the place actually printing an itemised receipt, something of a rarity at Chinese restaurants! Good on ’em.

Taste verdict The Chairmans stew is awesome. 

⭐⭐⭐

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