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By Greg Barbera Greg Barbera lives in Chapel Hill. He has written about anything and everything over the last twenty years. A single dad of two boys, he spends his days working on perfecting his pickling process, reading bawdy fiction and trying to write the next great rock opera for his band Chest Pains. He is also a former managing editor at All About Beer and The Spectator.

On the Hunt, with Greg Barbera: China Wok

By Greg Barbera Posted September 13, 2013 at 6:30 am

Ours is a community with a voracious appetite. But food comes at a cost. My goal here is to go on a food safari, setting my sights on the delicious and delectable options often overlooked around town. As a single dad of two growing boys, I consider myself a frugal foodie. I like to maximize my investment to get the most out of a dollar. Ten dollars will be my tipping point. The days of the $5 lunch are long gone but I believe there’s still affordable food—be it a sandwich or late night tapas—available to us. Outside of setting my sights on what’s out on the range, I also hope to tap into our other side. The gatherer. Armed with little more than a five-dollar bill, I will visit the area’s farmer’s markets scouring the booths for earthen bounty. I am not a trained chef; every thing I have learned is through observation and experimentation. But I have a will and a way and a limited budget, so let’s go hunting…

ChinaWok_FThe term take-out is synonymous with Chinese food. No international cuisine is more commonly referred to as such. “You wanna get Greek take-out?” Never heard it. “Say, let’s get some Mexican take-out!” Nope haven’t heard that either.

But Chinese take-out immediately calls up visions of chopsticks, fortune cookies and those iconic white, pint boxes. Generally, Chinese food establishments aren’t franchised and are often family-owned. Which means one Chinese restaurant does not taste like the next.

China Wok is located in Timberlyne Shopping Center off Weaver Dairy Rd. I literally stumbled upon this hidden gem one day. I had set out to go to Food Lion to pick up a few things. But I wasn’t dead set on what I wanted for lunch. I was hungry and knew I wanted something. So off to the market I went. As anybody knows, this is a dangerous state of mind to be in when walking into grocery store: famished and without a game plan.

I parked and started walking toward Food Lion when I noticed China Wok nestled right next to it. So I went over and browsed the menu on the window outside. I quickly fixated on one menu item that seemed to stand out from the usual General Tso, Kung Pao and chow mien: Thai Style Fried Tofu with Bean Sprout ($8.95).

I have a soft spot for Thai food so I ordered it. I have back to China Wok probably a half a dozen times since and have not felt the need to order anything else.

The base is crunchy bean sprouts, topped with julienned fresh ginger and carrot, with lemongrass and basil tossed in. And, of course, the fried tofu. The serving size (which comes with fluffed white rice) could easily feed two or provide leftover lunch the next day. The ginger adds a pleasant kick but is slightly muted by the lemongrass’ citrusy mint characteristics. Photographer Sonnie Plakotaris quipped, I could possibly eat this everyday and never tire of it.” Really, this dish is that good. It’s simple, fresh and served hot off the wok. Do yourself a favor and try it. There’s a reason you see so much foot traffic at China Wok during lunch.

All photos by Sonnie Plakotaris

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