A Chinese children fable called “Spring Bamboo Shoot and the Pebbles” (春筍與亂石) tells a story of a spring bamboo shoot aspiring to burst through the soil, but is halted by a group of pebbles above him. He politely asks the pebbles to let him through but to no avail. With shear determination he pushes through between the pebbles and grows out of the soil. The pebbles are so impressed that they start celebrating him as a superstar. I’m actually not quite sure what the moral of the story is. But “success through determination” is so typically Chinese and very tiger-mom like. Regardless of the moral though, the story does tell of how bamboo shoots surge forth every spring to produce one of the most delicately delicious ingredients in Chinese cooking.
What happens when the cooking of China collides with that of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam? The result is a fresh cuisine full of bold and explosive flavors. This is precisely what you’ll find in the cooking of Yunnan province of southwestern China. I’ve been researching and developing recipes from this region during the last three months. Indeed I took a trip to Yunnan in November last year to get a better understanding of the region’s foodways. Why the sudden interest in this cuisine? I’m glad you asked. I have great news to tell you about my involvement in the imminent opening of a Yunnan restaurant in Tribeca.
For the first century after the introduction of Chinese food to America by the first immigrants to California in the 1850’s, Cantonese cuisine reigned supreme. It was the most commonly served food in Chinese restaurants. “Mandarin” cooking, which became the jargon for anything non-Cantonese, appeared in the late 1960’s. Still most menus were made up of familiar soy sauce-based non-spicy items. Then in the mid 1960s Shun Lee Dynasty opened in the east side of Manhattan and started serving Sichuan influenced dishes. In 1969, after receiving four stars from Craig Claiborne of The New York Times, the public thronged to the restaurant to sample this new spicy cooking of China.
Also posted in Recipes
When it comes to serving Thanksgiving dinner in our household there is only one menu: Warren’s mom’s. I’ve made the same New England Thanksgiving dinner for more than twenty years. The celebration always starts with assorted homemade pickles and relishes, and basketful of piping hot Parker House rolls. Then follows roast turkey with oyster stuffing accompanied by mashed potato, creamed peas and onions, and mashed winter squash and turnip. Finally the dinner ends with apple and pumpkin pies served with vanilla ice cream or Vermont cheddar cheese. As always there will be plenty of leftovers. Since Warren forbids me to alter the Thanksgiving feast, I’ve become very creative with leftovers. This year I decided to make Chinese pumpkin pancakes with the leftover pumpkin pulp from making the pie.
Today (July 1st, 2010) a law prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins goes into effect in the state of Hawaii. Hailed as a victory, albeit a small one, by conservationists, this law nevertheless is a major step in recognizing the need for government action to help save the shark. Sought after by the Chinese for millenniums, shark fins were a delicacy reserved for the elite, and served at important celebrations and banquets. With the recent rise of the middle class in China the demand for shark fins has skyrocketed. This Chinese fondness for shark fins is threatening the survival of the sharks. Although laws banning consumption of shark fins is a positive step in limiting shark fins trade we, as consumers, must also consciously make a choice not to eat shark fins if we were to succeed in preventing the shark’s extinction.
Also posted in Recipes, Soup
Just south of Prospect Park in Brooklyn bounded by Church Avenue to the north, Coney Island Avenue to the west, Beverly Road to the south and the Q line subway track to the east is an oasis of Victorian residences. Known as Prospect Park South the area was built around the turn of the 20th century for discriminating New Yorkers looking for a suburban lifestyle. Our friends Lauren and Maureen fell in love with one of these houses when they were hunting for a home about a decade ago. It was a huge rambling grey house in need of repair with an overgrown garden in the back. Although they knew there was incredible potential for the house, it wasn’t until they started clearing the garden that they discovered the real treasure: raspberry brambles.
Two weeks ago I went to a Dongbei (or Northeastern China) restaurant in Flushing for lunch with a group of Chinese food enthusiasts. I glanced through the menu, but like many seasoned Chinese diners I asked the owner if they had any special seasonal dishes from the kitchen. As it turned out they had young tender garlic scapes, which are the stalks of garlic blossom, and she suggested we ordered them stir-fried with pork slices. I was thrilled to know they’re still available during this late in the season.
A good friend took us to an elegant Buddhist vegetarian restaurant for dinner in Hong Kong last summer. It was a spectacular meal. Not only was every dish distinctive and delicious, but innovative and sophisticated as well. There was winter melon soup with mixed vegetables, vegetarian soup dumplings, stir-fried tofu skins with seaweed and multigrain steamed rice. But the most memorable dish of all was the salt and pepper crisp-fried enoki mushrooms. When Mel from Gourmet Fury once again asked me to enter the mushrooms challenge of Beet ‘n Squash YOU! I decided to recreate this dish with a twist.
Also posted in Recipes, Vegetables
As a newly arrived foreign student from Singapore during my university years in Boston, I had to learn the customs and traditions of American holidays. Although I was already familiar with Christmas and New Year celebrations, Thanksgiving was totally unknown to me. For my first Thanksgiving in America my roommate invited me to spend the holiday with his family in New Hampshire. Unbeknownst to me I was to experience a classic yet quaint practice of American holiday celebration: an enormous turkey dinner and a football game.
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.