Tuesday Thoughts: JW Chen’s (the closest thing to home in South Bend, IN)

I came here to JW Chen’s seeking some really good Chinese/Taiwanese food from recommendations from many people.  Not only was this recommended to me by friends who went to University of Notre Dame, but also from my colleagues here at Culver. I had previously came by South Bend on a Monday, and to my chagrin, it wasn’t open. Thus on this trip, I made an effort and it was worth it. Everyone talks about the owner Jean being a wonderful woman who personally helps you decide on your meal and I can say for certain that the sentiment is true. I didn’t know what I wanted, didn’t even get a chance to look at the menu, before she came by, recommended me a dish and had my food at the table within 10 minutes.  Dang it was good.

I ordered a plate of 高麗菜 (Taiwanese cabbage stir-fried with garlic) and 豆瓣魚 (pan fried fish in spicy sauce) and some rice. Oh the flavors were glorious. Spicy, salty, sweet, garlicky, everything I had wanted in homestyle Chinese cooking.  The food was so good. Even just having two dishes, I could tell that anything else she put on my table would be amazing. I felt like I was at home for the first time in a long time. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

What surprised me the most was, this level of service wasn’t just reserved for the one Chinese customer in the restaurant, rather she would go and sit at every table, chat up the guest and help take their order. That being said, she did basically help me order off menu, but still had that warm grandmotherly hospitality that made me smile as I consumed bite after bite. I knew I had to come back and order take out and she smiled ridiculously when I walked in. For dinner I ordered 五更腸旺 (pig intestines) 三杯雞(three-cup chicken), some stir fried spinach and some rice. She also threw in a whole order of fried rice noodles on the house. Like seriously? What the heck, this lady has secured my next four to five meals easily. I am flabbergasted by her and the food and if I’m ever in the area again, I will make an effort to come and visit. I said this to a friend: “if she’s this generous to us customers, I’m envious of her family.”

My advice for those who are coming here, bring someone who knows Chinese food.  Don’t be stuck to having rice plate combos that are typical fare for those who aren’t in “the know”.  You’re missing out on a wider range of dishes and exciting grub that isn’t your every day “orange chicken”, “mongolian beef” and “honey walnut shrimp”.  Seriously, the food is amazing, the owner is so wonderful and it truly was the closest thing to home in South Bend.  I will have a more detailed food write up in my other blog: www.thecriticsays.blogspot.com

Side note:  As my parents recognized as I called them, I was pretty darn happy with today.  I was up in South Bend for another doctor’s appointment about my back and knee and had that amazing meal.  As I was driving back, I began playing and singing worship songs in the car, something I hadn’t done in months.  It was in that moment, I was experiencing pure joy.  Just being able to praise God and His wonders, to be able to look at my experience at Culver and say: “yes I am here for a reason and by Your Grace, it’s been an amazing time.” I know I will have more to say about this time here as the program comes to an end next week, but I just need to say that He is Good and He has broken through my fears and my sheltered-ness and shown me His glories.

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