A thousand years ago, on March 11th of this year, I went with a friend to Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinatown gem that since its opening, in 2016, has become famous for, somehow, everything: the glorious array of dim sum, the exquisitely tender barbecued meats, the fishes, eels, and crabs plucked live from tanks in the windows, à la minute. Normally, when I visit Wu’s, it’s with a strategically large group so that we can order all of the above and more, and then bring home whatever our groaning insides can’t fit. On this particular day, I was with just one other person, and we split an uncharacteristically austere order of steamed pork buns and a bowl of noodle soup. We were the only people in the restaurant, which could have been partly attributable to our timing—it was a Wednesday morning, too late to be breakfast but too early to count as an early lunch—but almost certainly also had to do with the encroaching coronavirus pandemic, which was just beginning to make itself known in New York.
By now, it’s hard to recall that brief window of time in New York in early March, between our unfettered pre-pandemic life and the start of public shutdowns and self-quarantining, which we have now been enduring for nearly seven months. Venues in Chinatown had been among the first to experience a decline in business, fuelled by racist fears of the virus, which was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan. But by the time Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a mandated closure of all bars and restaurants—which, after Governor Andrew Cuomo accelerated the original timeline, took effect on March 16th—the entire city was already slowing down, an anti-crescendo of public activity. After my meal at Wu’s, I hugged my friend goodbye