Eating the Unknown: Best Meal Ever

When commentator Daniel Pinkwater goes for a meal at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant, the owner treats him like family. And when she brings an amazing dish, he devours it. But she cannot tell him anything about it: not its name, what it is called in Chinese or English; nothing.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Served with coffee, tea or anything else, commentator Daniel Pinkwater likes food. In fact, it's his favorite thing to eat. He's not picky, but sometimes he wishes he had a bit more information about his meals.

DANIEL PINKWATER: So we're sitting in the window of The Golden Wok, that little Chinese take out/eat in five table place in Red Hook, New York. The sun is setting. I've just washed the car for the first time in a year, and it's sitting outside looking brand new. The dogs are in the car watching every bite we take and calculating their share. It's a sweet Sunday evening in a sweet little town.

The family who run the place spend all their time there taking orders, hollering into the kitchen, chatting with customers. The kids do their homework and are fed their meals at the corner table. It's home. After a while, it gets less like going to a restaurant and more like dropping in and seeing friends who happen to be phenomenal cooks.

Gigi, the mom and guiding spirit, now more or less ignores what we order and brings us things we've never heard of and could never imagine. Sit down, sit down. I bring you surprise, she says. We're only too happy to.

So here it comes, the surprise. It's another variation on a green vegetable sautéed with garlic. Gigi knows I love these. This is a veg we've never seen before. Looks good, smells fantastic.

What is this, I ask her? Don't know the name, Chinese vegetable. What's the name in Chinese? Don't know, forgot. Eat, very good dish.

It is good, it's more than good. But what is it? Some kind of squash, a variety of cucumber? We can't work it out.

Jackie, Gigi's kid, comes over. He's texting on his cell phone. Jackie is in middle school. Jackie, do you know what we're eating? Some kind of Chinese vegetable. My dad makes it good. Do you know the name of it? No, ask my mom. What does it look like before it's cooked? The kid goes poetic. Like ridges, like mountains, it's green.

So if I want to order this next time, I can't, right? Are you saving pieces of chicken for your dogs? Can I feed them? Sure, Jackie. Tell your mom our compliments to the chef.

BLOCK: You can find a link to Daniel Pinkwater's novel, The Neddiad, published in weekly chapters online, at our Web site, NPR.org.

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'The Neddiad': A Hollywood Adventure for Kids

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Web Resources

Daniel Pinkwater's new book for children, The Neddiad, won't be in bookstores until next April. But you can check it out — or at least several chapters of it, so far — right now. This past August, Pinkwater began revealing the book online; a new chapter is published at his Web site every Tuesday.

The story concerns young shoelace heir Neddie Wentworthstein, who has moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. "Up to now, all my adventures had been either small or completely imaginary," Neddie says. That changes when he moves to Hollywood.

Readers can also use the serialization site to react to the book. Pinkwater, who identifies himself on the discussion boards as "Grand Poobah," is an active participant.

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