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.
As an open-minded omnivore, I enjoy vegetarian dishes as much as meat dishes. On many occasions I’ve successfully made vegetarian dishes for my vegetarian friends. Many were surprised at the diversity of Chinese vegetarian dishes and commented how flavorful and hearty they were. The key to a rich tasty vegetarian dish is to make use of what is known as umami, which is a Japanese word used to express the fifth taste in addition to the generally accepted four tastes of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In Chinese umami is known as xian (鮮) and making stock full of umami is the basis for a successful vegetarian dish.
Also posted in Recipes, Soup, Stock
Series: Stock Making
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.
It all started with a cheery comment on my very first Chinese food and wine pairing post back in July. Kirstin, who lives in California and writes the blog Vin de la Table, wrote that she would be interested in attempting a long distance wine pairing joint-post with me. I was fascinated by her suggestion. Pairing European style wine with Chinese food, or Asian food for that matter, has always been a contentious subject among Asian food connoisseurs. Many feel that Chinese food is best paired with traditional Chinese rice wine or liquor, but many others have successfully paired grape wine. So it is with this expectation that Kirstin and I embarked on an adventure to pair wine with a few of my recipes. As part of our joint effort Kirstin created a Chinese food and wine pairing guide to accompany our posts. I hope you’ll find her guide and our posts useful.
To someone growing up in Asia in the 1960’s “boiled peanuts and a movie” is what “popcorn and a movie” is to the American moviegoers. As a child going to the cinemas in Singapore, I would always encounter boiled peanuts peddlers pushing large steaming kettles, mounted on tricycles, bursting with peanuts selling their fare. My friends and I would purchase packages of boiled peanuts in newspaper cones and bring them into the theatre. We would crack the peanuts noiselessly, as the moist soft shells split easily, and discard them on the floor. At the end of the show the floor would be full of peanut shells and I used to enjoy stomping on the shells making crunching noise as we walked out. But this reminiscing also brought out my feeling of disgust for how filthy that habit was. I’m glad that this practice doesn’t exist anymore.
I was living in Shanghai two years ago when two of my friends from New York came to visit. It was their first visit to China and everything was novel. On the evening of their arrival I took them to the rooftop terrace at a café called New Heights. We had a few drinks and watched the “light show” on the buildings across the river in Pudong. We then headed to dinner at Jade Garden, a Shanghainese restaurant, where I ordered braised bran dough (烤麩). You see my friends are rather well informed when it comes to dining, and rightly so because they frequently venture into New York’s many ethnic restaurants and travel extensively overseas. But they had never heard of bran dough and found it a rather curious dish. It contained tiny pieces of sponge-like dough braised in soy sauce and other ingredients. They weren’t quite sure what to expect initially, but I was confident it would be love at first bite. I was not wrong.
Guess what I found when I was in New York’s Chinatown last week. This beautiful looking hulu! I’ve not seen them before in New York nor anywhere in the U.S. Hulu (葫蘆) is a bottle shaped gourd often seen in Chinese brush paintings. Sages or monks carrying hulu flask are common themes in Chinese art. But these sinuous shaped gourds are also delicious as vegetables.
Photography by Ron Boszko
When was the last time you ordered a salad or cold dish in a Chinese restaurant? In fact I bet you never have. You probably don’t even associate cold dishes with Chinese food. I can hardly blame you. The majority of Chinese restaurants in America do not even serve cold dishes although they are a staple of a Chinese meal in Asia. Learn how to make this cool cucumber salad.
Also posted in Cold Dishes