Small-town life comes with a side of rice.
I find it curious, but strangely comforting, that even in New Hampshire’s small, rural towns one can often locate a Chinese restaurant. It’s an admirable display of entrepreneurship and a success story that’s hard to match. By itself, it’s hardly significant, but in some cases these same towns don’t even boast a coffee shop or pizza place, or the Chinese restaurants simply outnumber every other type of eatery.My favorite example of enterprising, small-town Chinese cuisine can be found at the crossroads of Rtes. 125 and 101. Would it surprise you to know that the town of Epping has no less than four Chinese restaurants? Four!
My parents moved to Epping in 1998 when there was just one Chinese restaurant, the conspicuous Exit 7 McDonald’s and two pizza parlors. Then, as now, there wasn’t even a full-scale grocery store. However, in the decade to follow, the proliferation of Chinese food in town has been impressive, if not astonishing. Incredibly, while Wal-Mart’s arrival several years ago made news, no one even noticed the spawn of three more Chinese restaurants since the retail giant’s opening.
Why so many? I don’t know, but here’s a theory. As anyone who’s visited Epping’s town hall can tell you, the town prides itself on being the “Center of the Universe.” I have the bumper sticker to prove it. It’s a bold assertion, and without even asking one member of the Board of Selectmen, I’m willing to bet it’s not strongly rooted in science. Without question, it’s more daring than Ashland suggesting it’s the geographic center of the state. The only other municipality to come close to Epping’s prestige is “The only Henniker on Earth.” Earth is one thing, but an entire universe? So, in exercising its planetary restraint, Henniker falls short of Epping’s astronomical declaration.
Perhaps Epping’s self-proclaimed status has something to do with its ability to attract Chinese restaurants to town. But, how a town the size of Epping supports so many restaurants of the same food variety is hard to figure. In 2000, Epping had 5,476 residents and one Chinese restaurant. By 2008, Epping’s population had grown to 6,256 and the town got its fourth Chinese restaurant this year. That means the population increased by 14 percent in about the same time that Chinese restaurants grew by 300 percent. Today, Epping has just three elected state representatives, and two of them actually live in the town of Fremont. That’s one representative per 2,056 residents. But townsfolk can at least feel good knowing that there’s one Chinese restaurant for every 1,542 residents, so Epping constituents are better represented by Chinese restaurateurs than state legislators.
Epping may be an extreme case, but consider that the very small towns of Ashland, Bristol, Canaan, Colebrook, Contoocook, Newbury, North Woodstock, Tamworth, Troy, Whitefield and Woodsville all have one Chinese restaurant each, and the towns of Gorham, Greenville, Lancaster and Lincoln have two. Then there are slightly larger, but still small, towns with numerous restaurants, such as Littleton (four) and Plymouth (five). Small, rural towns all, but oh so many Chinese restaurants.
Such a staple of small town life deserves to be honored. Maybe now that New Hampshire’s fourth graders have successfully passed legislation to name the Chinook the official state dog, they can work on the official small-town food.