If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about durian it’s the odor. Not only is the odor strong and distinct, it permeates through layers of packaging and lingers interminably. Airlines and public transport authorities in Asia ban durian in the aircrafts, subway trains and buses. Hotels in the region similarly prohibit it in their rooms.
To foreigners not familiar with this fruit the odor is so foul that few would attempt to eat it. Durian is the only fruit that the host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, Andrew Zimmern, simply couldn’t swallow. But to many other people the aroma, which becomes more pronounced as the fruit ripens, is the allure of the fruit. Therein lies the conundrum of durian: the stronger the odor the more desirable the fruit.
I walked into the K-Mart store near Penn Station in New York last week and discovered to my horror that the Christmas section is already fully stocked with artificial Christmas trees, holiday decorations and ribbons. I had to check the date on my New York Times to make sure I had not completely missed Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. This senseless commercialization sent shivers up my spine.
Just like Christmas in America and the West, Asian merchants have learned the art of commercializing holidays. I was rather surprised, though not completely unexpectedly, to find mooncakes being marketed all over Asia as I traveled in August even though Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (中秋節) is not until October 3rd. From Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong and Singapore to Shanghai, neighborhood bakeries as well as multi-national food chains were touting their specialty mooncakes in advertisements as well as by shelf talkers in their stores.
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!
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.
All my friends thought I was out of my mind when I told them I was going to make homemade mooncakes. Well you see mooncake is one of those things better left for a professional bakery to make. Making them is time consuming and can be very tricky to handle. But the idea of making them at home intrigued me, and I was determined to make an attempt for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival this year. In fact I wanted to experiment with more modern and innovative flavors. So, I got on Amazon and ordered two mooncake molds and made my very first homemade mooncakes: Earl Grey Tea Mooncakes with Egg Yolk and Pine Nuts.
Located virtually on the equator, Singapore offers a wide variety of fresh fruits year round. Although many tropical fruits are harvested year round, a small number of them are seasonal. When I lived in Singapore I used to follow these seasonal fruits like people in temperate climates follow changing season. Among the seasonal fruits, mango is the one I always eagerly anticipated. Its season starts at the end of the dry months, which is around July. Local mangoes start appearing in the market around August and continue to be available through October.
Also posted in Recipes, Vegetarian
We braved the subzero temperatures last Wednesday night to view the lunar eclipse. It was too cold to spend much time outside, but we managed to witness the beautiful red moon at its peak. This beautiful sight made me ponder the moon’s place in Chinese traditions and lore. The moon’s round shape is very appealing to the Chinese and variously symbolizes harmony, fulfillment and reunion. And the Yuanxiao (元宵節) festival, which marks the end of The Chinese New Year’s festivities and celebrates the first full moon of the new year, would be celebrated the very next day.
Also posted in Recipes, Vegetarian
I worked on a stir-fry technique post just before Chinese New Year, and was hoping to post it right after the banquet post. But the response to my red bean paste meringue dumpling, or Gao Li Dou Sha (高力豆沙), was so overwhelming that I decided to replace that post with a recipe for the dumpling instead.
I was rather surprised by the response to this sweet dish. My prior experience with serving red bean paste was not always very successful. Perhaps the manner it was served had something to do with it. The concept of fried dough is very familiar to the American palate. However, there is a surprise when one bites into it. The hot steamy center with earthy bean fragrance, plus the crisp elastic dough together create a completely new sensation.