Hunting for white asparagus at the start of the summer is not exactly orthodox. But that is what I found myself doing a few days ago. It’s not that I haven’t had any asparagus this spring. There was an abundance of green asparagus in the farmer’s markets and Pathmark across the street from where we live. Over the last few months I’ve had them steamed with butter, grilled with olive oil, dressed with Hollandaise sauce and mixed in fried rice. But a few days ago I spotted some fresh and peppy looking mud crabs in Chinatown, which instantly suggested “white asparagus and crabmeat soup” like those found in many traditional Chinese restaurants in Asia. This notion suddenly became an obsession and I immediately bought some of the crabs and went on a quest for white asparagus.
Every year in May or June, dragon boat races are held all over the world. There are races in Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, London and everywhere in between. These races originate from the Chinese celebration of the Duan Wu Festival (端午節) on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which this year falls on Thursday the 28th of May. The most widely told story of the origin of the festival is that it commemorates the death of QuYuan (屈原), a patriotic minister and poet to the court of Emperor Huai (楚懷王) of the Chu Kingdom (楚國) during the Warring Sates period (春秋戰國) around 300 BCE. After serving the emperor loyally for many years, Qu Yuan ran afoul of court politics and was banished. He was devastated and started writing poetry lamenting the loss of the emperor’s favor and the decline of his native kingdom. Saddened by the eventual fall of the Chu Kingdom and the death of Emperor Huai he killed himself in the Mi Luo River (汨羅江). However there is a deep dark secret that is not often discussed.
I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since my last post! I’d just completed a major system development project for a client at work. The delivery of this system had taken over my entire attention. Perhaps some of the technologist readers out there might sympathize with me and I ask for your apology. As soon as the project was over I went to Chinatown and was excited to find edible lily bulbs (百合) in season. I was itching to get back to my kitchen.
I’ve never entered a recipe contest before and was a bit apprehensive about participating when Foodbuzz announced the NYC Eggland’s Best Recipe Contest. However I was reminded of a forum message in an online Chinese language food forum by Heaven_Travel (天堂游). She lives in China and regularly writes about her cooking adventures. She first caught my attention because of a forum message on soufflé. She’d watched a television cooking show with a “handsome” (帥哥) foreign chef demonstrating how to make a passion fruit soufflé. The chef apparently had repeatedly used “lovely” to describe the ingredients as well as the soufflé. So if everything is so lovely she thought she ought to attempt the recipe. Besides she was completely seduced by the chef and the passion fruit. But unable to find passion fruit she substituted peach nectar instead. What a clever girl I thought. So if a Chinese cook can create her own soufflé recipe so can I!
“Last Winter Bamboo of the Season!” proclaimed the sign I saw last weekend in front of the Hong Kong Market on Hester Street in Chinatown. This would be the last shipment from China for this year’s winter bamboo crop. I was immediately reminded of a winter soup I fell in love with when I was working in Shanghai. It is called “Yan Du Xian” (腌篤鮮), a simple, hearty, quintessentially Shanghainese soup made from a duo of cured pork and fresh pork plus fresh winter bamboo shoots (冬筍).
I was encouraged, actually prodded, to start blogging about my cooking slightly over a year ago after Kim at the Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet tasted one of my all time favorite dishes, Red Cooked Pork, or “Hong Shao Rou” (紅燒肉). She was completely blown away by the tender velvety meat of the pork belly surrounded by sweet soy sauce and anise flavors. Since this recipe was posted on January 18th 2008, I’ve had numerous responses from readers and friends about variations in ingredients and techniques. I’ve decided to revisit this very important dish.
I was sixteen when I left Singapore to attend the university in Boston. To combat my homesickness I surrounded myself with many Chinese students from Taiwan. This was not by design, but rather they were the students from Asia I found sympathetic to my loneliness. It was the mid 1970’s and China was at the end of its cultural revolution. Nixon had just visited the then reclusive regime, and there was a lot of anxiety among my Taiwanese friends about the survival of Taiwan and their own future. The Republic of China (or Taiwan) was about to be abandoned diplomatically by America. Amidst all these development my Taiwanese friends would gather at comforting and bountiful meals to calm each other. Food was the salve that soothed everyone’s nerves.
In most Asian household fish paste is normally bought from the fishmongers because it is presumed to be a laborious proposition to make at home. In fact there are many specialty stores in Asian cities offering only fish paste and fish balls. These stores are often known for their own signature variety of fish paste or fish balls. But it’s surprising to know how easy it is to make fish paste at home.
“What? No red cooked pork?” was the astonished question from my nieces when I told them our Chinese New Year celebration this year was to be a hot pot feast. For years I’ve always made a banquet of traditional Chinese food for the obligatory New Year’s Eve reunion dinner. But this year I decided to break from our family tradition. New Year hot pot dinners have always been very common in the provincial districts of China. But many city folks are rediscovering this tradition because not only is it delicious, it is also more economical and less time consuming to prepare.
In America homophones are language oddities that spark interest only as intellectual curiosities. But in Chinese culture they play a very large role in everyday and holiday symbols. Perhaps this is because there are so many homophones in the Chinese language. So it is that many food traditions during Chinese New Year are connected to play on homophones. One such food symbol is the Chinese New Year cake known as “nian gao” (年糕) in Mandarin.