Across a very narrow strait from the downtown waterfront of Xiamen (廈門) sits the island of Gulangyu (鼓浪嶼), a hilly outcrop smaller than Central Park in New York City and dotted with colonial-era European style buildings. Warren and I took the short five-minute ferry ride to this island last month while we were in Xiamen. Gulangyu occupies a very special place in my heart because my father spent his formative years there attending the Anglo-Chinese Middle School in the 1930’s.
Two weeks ago Warren and I left Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport bound for Xiamen (廈門), a major southern port city of Fujian (福建) province where my ancestors are from. The first thing I noticed onboard our Xiamen Airlines airplane was that the pre-flight announcement was in the Southern Min (閩南) dialect that I spoke with my grandparents. During my travels in China over the last decade I’ve never heard any local dialects used in such official announcements. So this was surprising to me since China’s central government pretty much dictates people’s life including the language used for official or business purposes. I knew then that I was about to witness a very different independent minded part of China. This spirit probably helps explain their unique culture and cooking customs as well.
If you feel that this has been a very hot summer then you’re right. In fact this last twelve-month period is the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To escape the heat of July and August, residents of overcrowded cities throughout the Northern hemisphere abandon their homes and flock to the nearest beach resorts. Over the last several years something else has been gathering to welcome the tourists: the jellyfish.
Have you ever gotten into a situation where two friends you’ve invited for dinner have different dietary constraints? One doesn’t eat red meat, but another would eat just about everything except liver. And you’ve been planning to serve your signature beef Wellington to dazzle your guests. Being the good host that you are you put on your creative thinking cap and accommodate them by changing the menu.
Precariously balancing an overly full tray of pineapple shrimp fried rice I got off the elevator and entered a high ceiling open space loft in the Soho district of New York City. Workstations with flickering screens were everywhere, and a meeting room hides behind walls rising half way up to the ceiling. In another open space I saw the original painting of Barry the berry on a horse back looking out onto a valley, which is the same picture attached to the about page of gojee.com. Although I have no idea what is the significance of this picture I knew this had to be the right place. I was in one of the communal office spaces of the New York City’s many technology startups. It was the home of the team behind gojee.com, a recipe search site with thousands of recipe listings from the best food bloggers.
On a misty dreary Sunday morning in September of 1971 soon after I arrived in Boston for my university study, a few college friends and I drove up to Kittery Point, Maine. It took us about an hour to drive there and it was barely noon when we climbed down a short set of steps from the parking lot to the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier. The weather didn’t dampen my anticipation for my very first experience eating Maine lobster. We each ordered a one and a half pound lobster and feasted in our ponchos at the picnic table under a tent. The cost: seven dollars for each of our lobsters. That was an exorbitant price for a casual meal then.
Browse through the aquariums at the seafood markets in Lei Yu Mun in Hong Kong, or at seafood restaurants in Guangzhou and Qingdao, you will find a plethora of shellfish display. There are abalones from Dalian, geoduck from Canada, scallops from Japan and oysters from America. All to satisfy the growing appetite for fresh seafood in China as the population becomes more affluent. Fortunately shellfish farming is one industry that is sustainable. Some shellfish farming, like oyster farming can even restore the environment. For this reason I’ve decided to highlight oysters for my rather late post in support of Jacqueline Church’s 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish Sustainable Seafood Event.
I first encountered sea intestine (海腸) last January while dining at the M & T Restaurant in Flushing, a section of Queens in New York. The owner, James Tang, a native of Qingdao, was not able to articulate exactly what sea intestine is. I’d simply assumed it to be some sort of sea animal and thought it best to leave it at that. Little did I know it was to be such an integral part of modern Qingdao cooking.
Every summer when the weather gets sultry my partner, Warren, who is a “Swamp Yankee” with family directly descended from the Mayflower Pilgrims, gets nostalgic and yearns to get in touch with his roots. This year is no exception and last week we spent an extended weekend in Provincetown to indulge in his nostalgia. Throughout our stay we drove around Southern New England and ate wonderful shore dinners and other scrumptious meals at restaurants all over Cape Cod. We gorged ourselves on fish and chips, lobster rolls, clam cakes, stuffed quahogs and fresh sweet corns. By Sunday I was lusting after the fresh seafood and local farm produce, and decided to make a shore dinner but gave each course an Asian twist.
During the winter months for the last two years I started noticing fresh frozen abalones for sale in New York City’s Chinatown. A few fishmongers display mounds of these large solidly frozen mollusks. I was curious where these abalones come from. Unfortunately most of the shopkeepers were not able to enlighten me. However one person suggested Australia, which is plausible since abalone farming has become very successful there. This success has made abalone a sustainable ingredient. So this year when I was planning our Chinese New Year family celebration I did not hesitate to include some of these beautiful abalones for the Hakka dish DaPenCai.