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.
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.
During Christmas, or Thanksgiving for that matter, many Chinese immigrant families like mine face a dilemma. Should we serve turkey or just simply make a Chinese meal? Turkey has always been an iconic American foods that the Chinese never embraced. Jeff Yang wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog post that his family serves both the big bird and “a long buffet line” of other Chinese dishes. This seems to be the most common solution for satisfying both the family’s preference for Chinese food and our desire to assimilate into the American culinary tradition.
When I lived there during much of the 1970’s, Boston was not known for its culinary prowess. It was way before Todd English or Barbara Lynch appeared on the scene. The plain, or rather bland, New England cooking tradition offered little stimulation for my Asian palate that’s used to a spicy array of flavors. I couldn’t quite adjust to the pure taste of the food. That is until I discovered the fiddlehead fern, a native delicacy. It completely changed my view of the New England cooking approach. It is not about creating flavors for the sake of flavors, but rather to maximize the flavor of what’s already in nature.
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the spring solar term in the Chinese calendar. In spite of the name for the festival we are still in the coldest period of the year. So it is appropriate that during this time of year we consume many of the foods preserved after the autumn harvest and hunting season during the twelfth month of the previous year.
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.
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.
In our household Thanksgiving dinner is a sacred tradition. My partner Warren insists that we only serve his mother’s New England Thanksgiving dinner. For years I’ve not strayed from her traditional menu, which includes roast turkey with oyster stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, homemade pickles, creamed peas and onions, mashed Butternut squash and turnip, and mashed potato. For dessert we routinely serve apple and pumpkin pie. At the end of the meal there’s usually rarely any apple pie left but plenty of pumpkin pie. And there’s always uncooked pumpkin left from making the pie. This year I decided to use it to make a very traditional Chinese stir-fry.
A few days ago I received a bagful of freshly picked long beans (豇豆) from a friend’s rooftop garden. They were bi-color, crisp and just absolutely gorgeous. Legumes are at their peak during late summer, and I was once again reminded of how we’ve lost the custom of eating locally grown food in season.
Do you remember in March I let the garlic in my kitchen sprout? Yes, it’s been almost three months and no news about the shoots. I am guilty of being neglectful with you, my readers. The fact is I’ve harvested the garlic shoots (蒜苗) twice but I was not motivated enough to record the events. This weekend however I collected another batch of these flavorful young shoots and made the classic twice cooked pork (回鍋肉). This time I am determined to share the marvelous herb and dish with you.