Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Szechuan Cuisine

Some relatives of mine live in Chicago, and while we were there visiting my grandma, she took all of us out for a full Szechuan dinner at a friend's restaurant. My only remaining grandma is the source of my being 1/4 Szechuan, and probably the reason why I like MaPo Dofu so much. The special thing about "spicy" in Szechuan cuisine is that it's not only flaming hot, it also temporarily numbs your mouth. The peppercorns used are hua jiao, different from conventional peppercorns. The combination of runny nose, numb mouth, and burnt tongue only makes you exclaim, "hao shruang!"

The name of the restaurant is "Asian Bistro," which has nothing to do with it's Chinese name. The Chinese, found on the right hand side of the picture, is "ya shuan."
The first thing they brought out were these flaming fried shrimp, on the house, because they liked my uncle and his family. The ratio of hot Szechuan chili peppers is equal to shrimp. You can only imagine how spicy and extremely tasty these crispy bombs were.
In Chinese, this is su ji, or vegetarian chicken. It is not spicy, and consists of dofu pi (skin that forms on top of the liquid when you're making tofu) wrapped around chopped mushrooms. Very savory.
I'm not sure what this is, but it just looks like some generic stir-fry of some sort that you would find on the "american" version of the menu. The rest of the stuff we ordered were from the "chinese" version of the menu.
Fu Chi Fei Pian!!! This is my first encounter with "married couple (fu chi) slices (pian) of lung (fei). It was actually quite tasty, though I think it should have been spicier. In reality, sliced lung is sliced cow stomach and other tendon-y parts of the cow. I tasted the slices that looked like legitimate cow meat, but I'm sure tripe is good too.
Cheng du liang mien. Cheng du is the capital of Szechuan. Liang mien just means the noodles are served cold. It tastes a bit like peanuts but is not that spicy.
Steamed fish. I was surprised that this fish was fillet-ed, as Chinese people tend to eat the whole fish. The sauce is mostly soy sauce and sesame oil and garlic. The green things on top are a type of chive, I think, with ginger julienne.
Categorized as a dessert, ba bao fan (8 treasures: usually contains 8 different types of fruits and nuts) is not normally eaten after a meal. I only ever remember eating ba bao fan during special occasions like Chinese New Year, never with everyday meals. The rice is supposed to be more colored than what you see below. This specimen is not a very accomplished mound of ba bao fan.

Desserteries, continued

In a similar circumstance to Room 4 Dessert(see post below) , I went to Chikalicious, another desserterie mentioned in the NY Times article, on another date back in November. No, my life isn't as glamorous as to exclusively involve studly men taking me to dessert parlors on romantic dates all the time; I've just been meaning to go to Chikalicious since my trip to NY right before France (Summer 2003). I finally went last year around Thanksgiving (Fall 2006), after 3 years of delays. At Chikalicious, the prix-fixe menu is always $12, plus $7 if you're going for a wine pairing. The chefs pair your amuse-bouche and petit-fours for you, and you get to choose what dessert you would like. The great thing about going on a date is that you can get two desserts, and try both of them!

I have a feeling that the two ladies who run and own Chikalicious enjoy making ice creams and sorbets that are shaped with their long thin spoons, like the leaf-shape you see below. Our amuse-bouche was butternut squash ice cream with spiced apple jelly, I believe. It's only about the size of a teaspoon, but the butternut squash ice cream was so smooth and subtle, delighting even the taste buds of a squash-hater like me.
On the left is a small molten chocolate tarte, paired with red peppercorn ice cream (with bits of red peppercorn on top), and raspberry coulis. The red peppercorn ice cream was the highlight of the "meal," in my opinion. It was smooth yet spicy, calming yet tantilizing. Quite amazing. The molten chocolate tarte was good, but not as original as the peppercorn ice cream.
This is caramel panna cotta topped with cashews and some sort of sorbet. I can't remember exactly what flavor the sorbet was, but I think it may have been lemon or something. The panna cotta was devine, not too sweet, but just sweet enough to break up the smoothness.
Our petit fours were, clockwise from the top: chocolate truffles, lemon poppy seed shortbread (you can order this online off of their site), and coconut coated marshmallows.

Room 4 Dessert

An article in the New York Times today mentioned a recent trend of pastry chefs starting their own dessert-only restaurants, two of which I have had the pleasure and honor to visit (on dates!). The first is Room 4 Dessert, a delightful little "sliver" of a restaurant hidden somewhere in Nolita, that Chrissy took me to in May. It is the perfect place to go after a romantic dinner in the Lower East Side (extra brownie points for Chrissy, who took me on the perfect "date"). While walking to dessert, you shift the huge dinner in your stomach around, so that there's more space for goodies! Room 4 has just enough space for a bar, where patrons watch as the baristas and serveurs carefully construct the dessert platters. It reminds me a little of a sushi bar, but less wet and more sweet-smelling.

The head chef, Will Goldfarb, set the menu up so you can get what appeared to be sampling rafts of 4 types of desserts, and each raft had a theme and different wines (red, white, dessert, effervescent, french, german...etc) that paired well with the theme. Some of the themes were chocolate centered, some focused on light and fruity spring time combinations, while the one we got was just whimsical.
The placemats are black vinyl mesh, and the wood counter had the most amazing striated pattern. I have never seen such a refreshing and simple way to spruce up wood. Our dessert platter from left: smooth but tangy apricot preserves on modified ladyfingers; tangy cherry jello; mellow pistachio creme; plum and sugar coated bon bon (some what like a dense marshmallow with fruit sorbet in the middle)
Another view of the bonbon and the pistachio creme.
the bonbon
apricot preserves
pistachio creme
I apologize for the dim lighting...I didn't want to mess up the ambiance of the desserterie with a sudden bright flash.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Noodles and Congealed Pork Blood YUM!

I put this post up because congealed pork blood soup was a soup that came with school lunches about once a week when I was in elementary school. In Taiwan it's almost like second nature, like clam chowder as a menu option on American menus. Clockwise, starting from the large bowl: Cold udon noodles with minced meat sauce and strips of dried seaweed; clear soup with bok choy and congealed pork blood jello.Here's the noodles (liang mien)
And, congealed pork blood jello in soup. It doesn't taste bad; it just makes you feel like a vampire.

Feng Jia Night Market

While we're on the subject of night markets, Feng Jia Night Market in Taichung is the second biggest night market in all of Taiwan (Shi Ling Night Market in Taipei is the biggest). The night market sells everything from clothes to pets to food (from stinky tofu to turkish ice cream). It encompasses the entire area around Feng-jia University, where my maternal grandfather used to teach. My brother and I were born in Taichung, I suppose for that same reason...that was where mom's parents were. Sort of hard to pronounce night market fare: ooo ahhh zjen. In mandarin it's "ke ze jien," but nobody ever calls it by it's mandarin name. All I can say is that there's egg, oysters, spinach, some sort of juice that turns gelatinous, and special sauce in it. Other than that, you'll have to try it to see what it is. People sometimes call it an oyster omelette.
I think these are spicy duck wraps, the night market version of the wrap method to eating Peking duck.
OMG yang luh dwo iceeeeee. My brother is green with envy. Yang luh dwo is what my grandma used to bribe me to go to preschool when I was 2 years old, and the special treat that all Taiwanese kiddies drink. It tastes like strawberry yogurt.
Hot pot essentials: various balls of seafood, meat, brochettes, kabobs, fried tofu, all on sticks, waiting to be added to your soup noodles.
Some more hot pot essentials. I think the red things to the right are some sort of inner organ.
This, is a bunch of crap on top of egg and who knows what else. Normal people like to call it Okonomiyaki, but since we got it at a night market in Taiwan, I'll go with "bunch of crap on top of more crap." As you can see, it has corn, mayonnaise, ham, ketchup, egg, bonito flakes, pineapple, pork, probably seaweed, and definitely green onion. I'd rather not eat this ever again.
Ahh, and the lovely hot pot! Daikon, noodles, green onion, dumplings, fish balls, and soup!
A lady selling sushi.
A view of the crowd that shows up for the night market.
This family of handsome men sell fried soft shell crab. Tasty.
I don't know if there's an equivalent in english, but these candy-looking kabobs are glazed fruit. The orange looking things are yellow tomatoes stuffed with candied dates. The glaze over the fruit is special because it's icy cool, something quite refreshing on a hot summer night walking around in the hoards of sweaty people.
They wrap it up in rice paper when you buy a stick, so the glaze doesn't adhere to things. It's sorta fun to eat the rice paper too.
Beverages stands are like espresso stands in Seattle - ubiquitous. This stand sells all sorts of drinks with jellies in flavors like lemon, passion fruit, and almond.
The words on the red lanterns in the back say "Lu wei", or a way to categorize marinating and cooking all sorts of food in a certain type of stock. You can cook anything from tofu to do gan to chicken wings to eggs to intestines in this tasty tasty broth. My favorite is the do gan.
This shady dude "sells" you "turkish ice cream." He scoops the ice cream out with the long metal shovel and packs it into the cone. The ice cream cone sticks on his shovel, and he pretends to hand it to you, but pulls away on the stick many times until relenting. BOOOOOOO. I don't like playing games!
Just another example of a beverage stand. Note giant list of drinks you can get, ranging from juices to teas to flavored milks to milkshakes to jellied drinks. This is why I love Taiwan. Drinks!
Matching girls.
That image in the middle is a large flat screen TV playing karaoke videos, OUT DOORS, IN THE MIDDLE OF A NIGHT MARKET, AT A STAND THAT SELLS SAUSAGES WRAPPED IN LARGE INTESTINES. 'nuff said. Have I mentioned that I love Taiwan?
This lady sells traditional sweets. Instead of candy, people used to eat candied fruits, little biscuits, and all sorts of dried fruits as well.
If you so wish, you can buy a husky at the night market too. (not food)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Chinese People Eat Desserts

Contrary to popular perception, Chinese people do eat desserts. Cakes and other sweet baked goods that fall into the "dessert" category are usually reserved for western cultures (except for western-style Chinese bakeries), but people who live in Taiwan are all very used to having various cold soupy desserts. This may look like black coffee, but it is in fact melted shian tsao. Usually, you eat shian tsao in little black jello-like cubes in a sweet syrup. The cubes are gelatinous, and when heated, turn into what looks like heavy slime-of-death but taste like heaven. Weird, but not to me or anybody familiar with Taiwanese night markets.Here's a closer look at the consistency of shao shian tsao (literally: burnt shian tsao). You can see how it is sort of slimy, between solid and liquid. It is delicious but hot. I'm so not kidding.
Another soupy dessert that people enjoy is doe hua. Doe hua is like the sweeter, more delicate cousin of silken tofu, reserved for desserts. One usually only eats it with sweet ginger soup with peanuts.
This bowl has the typical ingredients yi ren (or Job's Tears), doe hua, peanuts, and gingery sweet soup.