A Salute to Kow Kow Egg Rolls and Forever Friendships
Disclaimer: I know these usually go at the end, but before you read this, I fully admit to being a self-proclaimed sentimental nutcase.
“There are other places in Chicago to get good egg rolls. You’re being ridiculous!”
This was my husband’s comment to me last night as I rushed out the door to pick up my final carry-out order from my all-time favorite Chinese Restaurant, Kow Kow.
Located in Lincolnwood, Illinois, just minutes from Chicago, Kow Kow has meant so much more to me than incredible egg rolls and fabulous Mongolian Beef. After being in business since 1949, Kow Kow will be closing on May 31, 2015.
When I think of my two best friends, Shana and Stacy, I can’t help but think of Kow Kow. I met Shana on the first day of kindergarten in the sandbox at Middleton Elementary School in Skokie. We met Stacy in 1982 at the start of third grade. After third grade, my family moved. I would not go to the same school with Shana and Stacy again until college. Still, we formed an unbreakable bond and have remained best friends for over 3 decades. Shana and Stacy are the kinds of friends that all women dream of having—lifelong, forever friends who know you better than you know yourself because they have seen you grow; ones who, no matter how different you become, are there to carry you when you are too weary to walk.
I immediately conjure up images of dining or carrying out from Kow Kow, when I reflect on growing up together. Shana, who can’t remember what she did yesterday, still remembers going to Kow Kow with her dad when it was on Devon Avenue. Stacy and I remember going to Kow Kow to celebrate her family birthday dinners (Shana and I were considered part of her family, so we always came along) and other special occasions.
In high school, there was rarely a problem that couldn’t be made better with a trip to Kow Kow. Shana and Stacy would pick me up and we’d head straight to Kow Kow in Shana’s green Dodge Colt, the Indigo Girls blaring all the way. Hearing the crisp egg roll crackle open and dunking it into the bright orange syrupy sweet and sour sauce made everything better. We would nestle in the back of the restaurant, all cozy in the red leather booth and laugh for hours. The three of us were always the loudest customers in the otherwise quiet crowd, but the owners welcomed us and let us stay long after they had closed for the night.
Anytime we came home from college, I would barely drop my bags in the door before Shana and Stacy were outside my house, honking the horn. That was my cue to race out and head to Kow Kow. Shana remembers going there with every guy she ever dated and says her love for Kow Kow is legendary. She still has their phone number memorized, in case she has an eggroll emergency and needs Kow Kow stat!
If two of us went without the third, the owners would ask, “Where’s your other friend?” One summer, going to graduate school four nights a week. I would call in my order and pick it up on my way home. I talked about Kow Kow so much that I convinced my professor to hold our last class at the restaurant. The owners even gave us the private room for free.
As we entered adulthood, Kow Kow remained a constant in our friendship. Through the good and bad, we always celebrated or drowned our sorrows in fried rice, won ton soup, egg rolls and Mongolian beef.
We rarely strayed from this order and had our system down to a science. Shana ate the pork and egg from my won ton soup (I only like the broth and noodles). I would devour the crispy outside of the egg roll (I know, this was a very healthy choice) and “donate” the inside to Shana, who happily gobbled up my leftovers. I loved the Mongolian beef and crunchy noodles, but didn’t like the scallions. Without thinking, I always picked them out of the dish, put them on a separate plate and handed it over to Shana. I’d restock her plate throughout the night, while Stacy made amusing comments about our bizarre eating habits.
Hours after giving birth to my son, Shana came to visit me in the hospital. With egg rolls and Mongolian beef from Kow Kow in hand, she declared, “I thought you might be hungry! My sister said after labor she was starving!”
“Shanee- I love you, but I just had a C-section, much as I would love to, I can’t eat that right now.”
“No? Really? Are You Sure? Okay, I guess I’ll eat it then. Can’t let this go to waste. Do you mind if I use your hospital bed tray….after I hold the baby of course!”
Three years later, after I gave birth to my daughter, I suffered grave complications, which were partially masked by my scleroderma; the autoimmune disease I’ve had since I was a child. 15 days after my daughter was born, Shana called Stacy, who was living in New York. She was weeping uncontrollably and told her, “Stace- the doctors just removed Lisa’s colon. It’s really complicated, but they’re saying she’s not going to make it. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re telling us to say goodbye to her. They keep saying she’s not going to pull through.”
Stacy was an actress in a traveling theatre troupe. She booked the first flight to Chicago and arrived the next morning. Days later, it became evident I would survive the aftermath of the surgery, but that I was to be nourished through a feeding tube and then, later through TPN. Shana made a deal with herself; She was not going to eat Kow Kow again until I was able to eat it with her.
Shana may not have put this unthinkable moratorium on her beloved egg rolls, had she known how prolonged my illness would be. I spent 218 days in the hospital. Much of that time Shana and Stacy made tremendous personal sacrifices to be by my side. Stacy moved into my house for a month and took care of my kids. Shana, who gave birth to her first child shortly after my catastrophic surgery, cared for my two children on countless occasions and still drove to the hospital most nights to visit me.
My road to recovery was slow and I hit many roadblocks along the way. Six months into my illness, the doctors began to allow me to drink clear liquids. I would carefully sip broth and feel the warm sensation enter my belly. I then watched it travel out my G-tube (a tube that had been inserted in my abdomen) and spill into a collecting canister.
As soon as Shana learned of this latest development, she couldn’t contain her excitement.
“Lis- I’m so happy they’re letting you eat again! I’ll pick up Kow Kow and head straight to the hospital!”
It took a lot of explaining for Shana to understand why I couldn’t eat egg rolls, even if I “just chewed it and let it go straight out my G-tube.”
I tried convincing Shana that she could go ahead and eat from Kow Kow without me. She absolutely refused. 8 major surgeries, 2 tracheotomies, and 9 months of physical rehabilitation later, Shana and I ate that Kow Kow meal together.
That was nine years ago. Since my recovery, the three of us have resumed our fine Kow Kow traditions. Last year, Shana’s husband was diagnosed with throat cancer (thankfully, he is now cancer-free). He underwent a hellish treatment and could barely eat anything. Guess what? He ate the Kow Kow egg rolls I would drop off for him.
Through divorce, cancer, deaths of loved ones, near-fatal illnesses, and countless celebrations, Kow Kow has always been our special place. It never occurred to us that one day, our tradition would come to an end.
When I saw on FB that Kow Kow’s owners are retiring and closing the place on May 31, I knew we had to have one final send off. Last night was the only date all three of us were free. Stacy has two young kids at home and couldn’t make it to the restaurant for our final meal. “You two go without me,” Stacy insisted. No way, this was something the three of us had to share together.
As I drove to pick up Shana, I saw the most spectacular rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life. Its vertical (yes, vertical) iridescent colors shimmered through the clouds. Being the sappy, insane person that I am, I decided that rainbow held tremendous significance.
I made Shana take pictures of the rainbow, the highway exit sign, the parking lot, and the interior and exterior of the restaurant. Turns out, we weren’t the only two sentimental loons. Kow Kow was jam packed with patrons dining and taking pictures. I heard grown men saying, “This is bringing tears to my eyes. We’ve had so many good time here.”
Shana, Stacy and I said goodbye to a piece of our history together last night. Kow Kow was a special place that was intricately woven into the tapestry of our friendship. As my own children grow up, I can only hope they’ll find their own Kow Kow with their forever friends. Their friendships, like mine, will undoubtedly go on, even without our golden egg rolls at the end of the rainbow.
- I have many friends that mean so much to me. If you’re one of them, please know I’ll be featuring our friendship in a future post.
- Shana and Stacy both gave me their permission to post this. Shana was slightly worried about exposing our addiction to Kow Kow. Don’t judge us unless you’ve tried their egg rolls!
- I didn’t take any of these pictures while driving.