No matter what’s going on in America at any given moment, it shall always remain one thing: The land of opportunity. There’s a good reason why immigrants from all over the world flock to the United States. Whether you want to believe it or not, in the mind of many who move here from overseas, the “American Dream” is still very real.
As a city steeped in culture and openness, Portland is a popular destination for those looking to make the move to the Land of the Free. Considering its geographical convenience, the City of Roses presents itself as an attractive endpoint for people from Asia, just ask Sarah Du and Cris Chen.
Originally from China, Du, 30, and Chen, 23, moved to Portland a little over one year ago. Shortly after their arrival, they opened their very own food cart, Curry of Life, in June of 2016.
Both come from different regions of China, thus they bring their own unique style to the dishes they make. Speaking through a heavy accent, Du explains their philosophy.
“Cris’ hometown in Shan Dong, China, is famous for noodles,” she says. “Dry noodles, mixed vegetables and meat sauce, or noodle soup, both hot, warm or cold in summer.”
Beyond their technique – drawn from the traditions of their home – Du and Chen focus on what may be the most important part of cooking.
“Our principle is through our food we provide love to our customers and friends,” Du says with a smile. “If you like this job, you will put all your heart in it, no matter how hard it is.”
For a 23-year-old from halfway around the world, Du displays a culinary wisdom both new and established chefs could learn from. Both she and Chen imbue an intrepid spirit that many a parent in the United States would be envious of. This while Du still maintains a remote teaching job back in China, staying up late hours to grade papers and create assignments.
“Our parents are very proud of us because we are young,” Du states quite matter-of-factly. “Because I am really young and it is hard for us to own a business, we work harder to create more beauty and nutritious food.”
The difficulty they faced in coming to Portland and starting their own business was very real, but the enterprising couple remained undeterred.
They started their cart with just a few items, but soon revamped it to include a number of delicious meals, all great for either winter or summer.
“We didn’t really know what kind of food Portland people like,” Du explains. “So, for about three months we worked it out.”
With their new menu in place – just in time for this brutal winter Portlanders have been having – Curry of Life saw a resurgence in business, a pleasant development that couldn’t make the young couple any happier.
As they adapted their menu to cater to Portland residents, they quickly learned that gluten-free and vegetarian options would be required. Thus, Curry of Life will adapt almost any dish into vegetarian form for their customers.
If you aren’t vegetarian, however, there’s no reason to alter the delicious menu items that Chen and Du have put together for you.
If you’ve got poultry on the mind, you might start with either their handmade bacon-wrapped quail eggs or traditional tea leaf eggs. Both options – very different in style – pack a bold flavor delivered with an authentic feel. Transport yourself to the Far East as you sink your teeth into each bite. The quail eggs are an especially surprising, yet welcome, addition to a diverse menu.
On a crisp, snowy day, you would be remiss to not dip your spoon into a steaming bowl of Curry of Life’s delicious ramen. The super ball ramen is chock full of greens, enoki mushrooms, perfectly cooked noodles, scrambled egg, lobster ball, chicken roast ball and a fish ball. Hand-made, they are both pleasing to look at and a joy for the palate.
Of course, they are called Curry of Life, so another option would be the simple curry beef with broccoli and rice. If Chen and Du know their ramen, they know their curry just as well. The sauce is fragrant and creamy, a perfect topping for fluffy white rice and steamed broccoli.
Although winter may be soon transforming into spring, the warmth emanating from Curry of Life will remain, even if it’s a special cold ramen (right off their hidden menu) that you are dipping into.
“Portland citizens are warm, gentle and well-mannered,” Du finishes as she explains all the things she loved about our fair city.
Yet, we might say the same thing about them, a young, ambitious immigrant couple who came to America to realize the dream, and seem to be doing a great job of it.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
For more information on Curry of Life, stop on by their Facebook page. Menu hours and contact information can all be found there.
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.