Snacks

MACAO’S PORK CHOP PINEAPPLE BUN

  

IT CAN’T BE RIGHT.  IT SHOUDN’T BE RIGHT.

BUT IT MIRACULOUSLY IS.

History had it, that whenever two polar opposite cultures are smashed together, often under reluctant or even violent circumstances, despite hardships and losses, something mutated but beautiful eventually comes out at the other end.  That something, is usually food.

No doubt that America has its unspeakable history from the time of slavery, but what was left from its ugliness, was the unapologetic creole and cajun.  Taiwan’s predominantly Fujian and kejia culture (derived from China’s southern coast) adjusted to 50 years of Japanese rule by nurturing an uniquely categorized cuisine all of its own, which, some say, may be the last-standing pride of this politically fading island.  So on… what unfortunate events gave us the Vietnamese coffee, and so forth… what conflict left us the baba-nyonya?  Food, among sadness and realities, always knows how to find its own humble delights.  Food, is always optimistic.

And right now, standing in Hong Kong where such experiences were no stranger, I’m holding in my hand, a  glorious testament of such history.  A legacy from Portuguese’s colonial time in Macao, the pork chop pineapple bun.

Macao’s pork chop bun compared to Portuguese’s bifana, obviously, is another life.  It uses bone-in pork chops instead of cutlets, reflecting Asian’s general preference for flavour over convenience.  On top of which, it deploys soy sauce as part of the seasonings, and baking soda, a typical and effecient meat-tenderizing agent in Cantonese cooking.  But perhaps the most controversial act of it all is that, in one version, it stuffs the shallow-fried pork chop, without a blinking of an eye, in between an iconic pastry of this particular region.  The pineapple buns.

It can’t be right.  It shouldn’t be right.  But in between the crispy and salty edges of a well-seasoned and juicy bone-in pork chop, and the sweet and crumbly crust of a buttery pineapple bun, it miraculously is.  To be honest, I don’t even know why I doubted it in the first place.  Salty and sweet.  A proven equation that works.  Really, give it a chance.  No matter how unseemly and conflicting the idea may sound, like the clashing of the cultures that nurtured it, pork chop pineapple bun is a tasty mutation that made the best of it all.

And don’t forget to serve it with Hong Kong-style English milk tea.

  
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THE WORLDLY PULLMAN-TORTILLA TACOS

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IS IT,

LET’S EAT NOW AND KILL EACH OTHER LATER?

What has this world come to?  Or, all along, this is how we always have been?

I know.  This is a food blog, rainbows and marshmallows and summer noodle salads.  Politics, world affairs… are not palatable, instead, I should be talking about pumpkin pies.  But you see, this is the thing.  Talking about foods, in a time like this.  How can we, so at ease, not taste the irony between the bettering tolerance for flavours on our dining tables, and the boiling hostility on just about everything beyond?  Food-wise, in the history of mankind, the world has never come so open-minded, so intimately close to sharing and tasting the very same beliefs that are being enjoyed from the other side of the map.  We can all agree on the cold silkiness of a piece of raw fish on a small nub of tangy rice.  The cool creaminess of hummus meandering around the sizzling spiced kebabs.  The good funk of cheese melting into the chewiness of a hand-torn crusty baguette.  A sip of wine.  It registers the same.  The contentment in common.  The smile radiating from our torsos.  Ah, yes, that wonder you’re tasting over there, I’m feeling it right here too, understanding, happy-ing, at the same time, over the same things.  How is it that we could relate so much in happiness, and yet, empathise so little in suffering.  Can we really talk about foods, without thinking about politics?  Or is it, let’s eat now and kill each other later?

Really bad things happened in Paris.  Here we all mourned, in shock, in disbelief, compassionate.  Meanwhile, the exact same really bad things, just as bad, sometimes worse, happens not that far away almost every week on that side, perhaps your side, stacking up silently like morning pancakes.  Beirut 3 days ago, Ankara last month, other cities of dwindling lights.  But… that was just inks on newspapers, no hashtags in its grief.  Has even my sympathy, where I decide to spare it, become part of the problems?  Why is it only you and I, yours and mine, and nothing in between?  We’re all micros teeming on a speck of dust in this universe, but somehow, we still manage to divide beyond our means, to sever what is better as one, to split the atoms.  I don’t.  Wanna.  Exist like this.

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CRUSTY RADISH DUMPLINGS FOR MY DUMPLING

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MY DUMPLING COMES WITH AN EXTRA DISK OF SALTY, CRACKLING, DRAMATIC BUT ALSO DELICATE PERSONALITY.  IT MIGHT NOT BE FOR EVERYONE WHO LIKE SMOOTH RIDES, BUT IT’S MY DUMPLING AND I LIKE IT EXACTLY THE WAY IT IS.

 

I’ve always liked western funerals.

Or to be more specific, I’ve always liked the meal that takes place afterwards.  The kind of… you’re-dead-let’s-eat attitude, the striving positivity in what I would like to call, “party-grieving”.  Call this meal a “repast” or whatever, but as far as I’m concerned, when a large group of friends gathers and gets drunk plus smothered in casseroles, even if it was after an eternal farewell and no lady’s mascara was fully intact, hey, it’s a party.  So yeah.  I think it’s nice.  I think it’s dignifying.  When I have my funeral, I’m going to make everyone listen to Gaga’s “(now you really) can’t read my, can’t read my poker face”, and like it or not, eat sardine casseroles.  So a few weeks ago, when the reality of what was going to happen started to settle in, I pressed the soft paws of my fur-son Dumpling against my wet face and said… hey, don’t you worry, mommy’s gonna throw you the best party ever.

Except that… ironically, Dumpling hated parties.  If he had known about this mass “trespassing” taking place under his roof, he would’ve taken out his shotguns and barked everyone off of his lawn.  Don’t take it personally.  That was just Dumpling, my sociopathic dog who was really more of a human that hated dogs, and would love nothing more than to remove a harmless chunk of meat from your annoying ankles, no hard feelings.  Chances are, if you knew him, you wouldn’t have liked him much.  In fact, more than being anti-social, he was also a self-absorbed, snobbish, toy-despising and politically incorrect racist…  Basically, an asshole.

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GOCHUJANG TUNA-MELT ONIGIRI

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ONIGIRI COULD BE NONE BUT A BALL OF RICE, UNTIL YOU’VE HAD A REAL ONIGIRI AND REALIZED WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT…

A BALL OF REALLY GOOD RICE

The weather in Beijing is driving me mad.  Rainy, swampy, relentlessly brownish grey.  In all the fond days that I’ve been in this dump, all five years and counting, the summers have never been this wet.  Soaking wet.  I mean let’s face it, nothing here is pleasant to begin with I’ll give you that.  But for this region, a supposedly semi-desert climate for fuck sake, that for what it’s worth, the relatively dry summers and butt-cracks used to contribute as the pitiful silver-lining of being in this hell-hole.  The cherry on a very bad cake.  But lately, no.  Not this summer.  Every morning begins with a slow poach inside a thick tarred and slimy cloud of grossness – think the colons of Jabba the Hutt or inside Donald Trump’s comb-over under a baseball cap – then, comes the almost guaranteed torrential rains around 7 pm that marinates everything in a wet mop-like humidity.  Then the next day, it repeats.  Did I mention that the pollution congeals even more enthusiastically in its special sense of sarcasm?  Did I mention that it’s been like this, for weeks.

It’s an understatement to say that these days, I’m not happy much.  All the recent riots of Instagrams flaunting farmer’s markets, elf-like human beings and basic living bliss, only make me bleed jealousy and really hateful thoughts.  If I could stab your heirloom tomato in the abdomen right now, I’d gladly do so with gruesome gratifications and throw in all its cousins for good measure.  It’s also safe to say that these days, I don’t go out much.  The joy of grocery-runs has been reduced down a battle of mind-dragging chores, not to mention, that at any given seconds, the heaven could punish me with an acid-fueled downpour for daring optimistic thoughts.   These days, I made do with what I have.

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THE PARADOX OF ICE CREAM-SPRING ROLL W GROUND PEANUT BRITTLE

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…BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.  THE REAL MIND-BLOWING PART IS THE LAST DESCENDING SPRIGS OF THE UNIMAGINABLE… FRESH CILANTRO LEAVES

If you were those who like to travel to unfamiliar places, see unfamiliar pictures, eat unfamiliar things, chances are that for many times, you have been caught up in moments where I’d like to call – the encounters of food paradox.  Foods that don’t make sense, shouldn’t make sense, but the moment we put one in our mouth, the argument between logics and instincts all quiets down, and the only sensation left with any capacity for thoughts, is how defiantly delicious it stood against our prejudice.   It changes everything, on top of the very least, our palette henceforth, will never be the same.  This post, I hope, is about exactly that.

I have been longing to find a way, an accessible angle, to tell you about a thing called, ice cream-spring roll.  It’s a common street-food in Taiwan, not particularly flashy or groundbreaking.  In fact, among the immensely competitive and ever evolving Taiwanese street-foodscape, one may even argue, standard stuff.  But if you have no affiliation with the food-culture from this island proud for nothing but, the concept of this ice cream-spring roll, with its deceivingly predictable name, may just very well be your next big revelation.  Up front, what is expected surely is that there’s ice creams, most likely local flavours like taro or mango but could also include strawberry and vanilla, which are rolled inside a chewy crepe made with simply flour, water and salt.  No innovation there.  But to make things more interesting, a tall pile of sweet nutty and salty ” sandy streusels” is being shaved directly from a ginormous brick of peanut and caramel brittle, matching its proportion to the ice creams to almost 1:2.  The shaved/ground peanut caramel brittle alone, already completely push the texture and flavour of the spring roll to another dimension, but, it doesn’t stop there.  The real mind-blowing part, is the last descending sprigs of the unimaginable, the last to belong in the dessert isle, the controversially pungent… fresh cilantro leaves.  What?!  

You know I would describe it to you if I could.  I’d say it’s melty, creamy, sandy and crunchy all encased inside a film of chewiness.  I’d say that it’s sweet with pops of saltiness, the permeation of powdered peanuts and caramel and a whiff of herbs in the back-note.  But for the life of me, I cannot describe to you the immense confusion upon the impact of the first bite, then the gentle surrendering into the next, then a breeze of exhilaration on the last.  So I won’t.  You’ll have to try this one out yourself.  Because, that’s the beauty of a food-paradox isn’t it?  One that does and should be lived outside the limitation of words.  Maybe you’ll hate it.  Maybe you’ll love it.  Whatever it is, we will celebrate the forever-forward exploration that is eating.

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M(Y) SHANGHAI’S COLD WONTONS IN SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

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YOUR ULTIMATE REVENGE TOWARDS THE COMING ASS-BINDING HEATWAVES

A REFRESHINGLY PLEASURABLE PAIN, BEST SERVED COLD

It might say something about me, perhaps not in the most positive light, whenever I fell for a Chinese dish-inspiration from half way around the world while living right inside the epicenter of it all, where the “real things” are or so they say.  What kind of a food-blogger, who eats and breathes right off of the ground-zero of a very old, very diverse and rapidly morphing food-culture often generalized as “Chinese foods”, would cook you a Chinese dish that comes from an Instagram of a New Yorker who took it at a restaurant that are, out of all places, in Brooklyn. Lazy?  Perhaps.  Utter dumb luck?  That’s for sure.  Because you see, without this inconvenient loop around the globe it has traveled, the inspiration for this down-home Shanghainese summer snack, in one form or another, would have otherwise never found its way to melt in my warm embrace.  And this is, I guess especially for those who have experienced living abroad, a perfectly explainable social phenomenon.

Thing is, I believe across all cultures, that the restaurants indigenous to where they are located, often times with great effort, focus on serving what they perceive as “restaurant-style/worthy” dishes only.  It is a limiting but reasonable box that excludes the slightly less glamorous, homemade gems that are more commonly celebrated within the contentment of one’s own home.  It really isn’t hard to understand why.  Just imagine, that it would also seem odd, if not lazy, to see PB&J on the menu of a respectable American restaurant sitting in the heart of Manhattan, no?  However, when the citizens of such comfort are residing in a foreign land, say, a Shanghainese in Brooklyn, and decided to open a restaurant to selfishly serve his/her personal home-sickness, then guess what, dishes like these start to pop up.  And my friends, dishes like these, are always my favourite kind to eat.  Take this for example, M Shanghai’s wontons in spicy peanut sauce.   Something that I would have taken gladly from its bare and natural implications – burning hot pork wontons slurped cautiously from an even more inflammable pool of peanut sauce and chili oil – let alone after the discovery of its true, counterintuitive ingenuity over a much needed research.  It turns out (whether or not this is how it’s served in Brooklyn) that this fabulous summer-snack regrettably overlooked in most-if-not-all Shanghai restaurants in Beijing, is actually… eaten cold.

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TANGY BEAMMUS WITH SPICY EGGPLANT AND MUSHROOM

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BY ANY RELATIVE COMPARISON, IT WASN’T REALLY A BAD DAY IN MY PROGRESS TO MATURITY.

  

OK, last night, was a rough night.

It was at the inconvenient juncture of 3 am, when this garlic-tolerant vampire usually pop herself a good reliable melatonin-jelly bean and wait for it to propel into a semi-decent night of sleep, that she found, Marnie.  Of course, to Marnie’s fluffy highness, it was no big deal with her mighty presence of 1.4 M followers (M, guys, not K anymore.  K apparently is for losers), but for me, for me it was devastating to say the least.  A living hybrid of Forest Gump and Ewok, two most endearing mystical creatures in the world.  Not only she sent me into an unstoppable scrolling with the constant mindless chuckles, but she had led me into the internet-dominating world of sausage-tongue dogs with no returns.  Boom, here was another.  Boom, omg that one’s adorable, too.  Then one after the other, like an avalanche of deadly cuteness, burying me under a blanket of midnight-delights that, despite my best effort, I barely crawled out of in one piece at the wee-morning of 5 am.

Today, I woke up looking just as well as one of them.

But, professionally speaking, I still have to get my shit together to talk my other discovery last night, which happened to be one of those nights when I found myself scraping the bottom of my keyboard looking for potato chips-crumbs to sustain this bunker-style life.  To my surprise as well, foraging through my dark forest laden with seductive canned meat trying to lure me into the dark side, it was also the night where I found my long-lost, inner vegetarian-self.  Did you know, that if you puree a couple cans of buttery white beans with thick Greek yogurt, a dab of tahini and whatnots, then cover it with a company of bits-y browned vegetables in a spicy and garlicky oil, an highlights of fresh herbs and squirts of some good olive oil, then you would have a meal so satisfying that it would almost make you forget that something is missing from this diet?  Tangy, creamy, oily and savoury with just the right amount of pain to keep you going back for more, and needless to say, a completely legitimate weeknight emergency-dinner.  I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing, nor even difficult, to do this once in a week is what I’m saying.  Wait, you mean, everybody knows that?  OK, great, I guess just like Marnie, I’m also just late to this game after the few million others…

But at least, I was comforted by the fact that while one side of my sense of responsibility faltered, and the other side had prevailed.  By any relative comparison, really wasn’t a bad day in my progress to maturity.  Speaking of which, it’s approaching 2 pm as we speak.  And I think, somewhere civilized, what they call… a siesta is it?, is considered a very responsible, if not a must practice of fine living.

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BEIJING DRUNK-FOOD, JIANBING

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WITHOUT THE BRAVERY FROM WITHIN A BEER CAN… YOU CAN NOW MAKE THIS SIGNATURE BEIJING STREET-FOOD AT HOME

What the hell’s this?  Well… let me refresh it for you.

If you have ever lived or travelled to Beijing.  It was nightfall.  Granted that you should be excused by the overwhelming remorse that soon followed the moment you stepped out of the airport, you thought, it would be in your best redeeming interest to hang out with some old or newly acquainted companions for a night of bad behaviors around the Work’s Stadium in Chaoyang District.  After what probably felt like a mirage of flying alcohols, soul-murdering-ly bad musics, and an unbroken stream of ugly faces, you woke up the day after, half-alive, with a banging headache and wondering how the hell did last night end.  While other histories were less certain or best left forgotten, chances were, whether you remembered it fully or from the swamp of broken memories, that without even knowing what it was called, you ended it with this.

This, this is called jian-bing.

Here, before I say anything more, I want you to listen carefully.  It is not, your fault.  We’ve all done it.  We’ve all, for more than once, either unconsciously or with full consent, stood under the dingy lightbulbs from a hygienically suspicious food-stall in a notoriously poisonous country, and ate this thingy that highly resembled a french crepe on one side, but marbled with beaten egg on the other, made by someone reaching into buckets of some things that both screamed highly dubious at best.  Yes, that was a long sentence, because I just wanted to rip it off fast like a bandage for you.  It’s ok, my friend.  It’s just a Beijing thing.  It probably didn’t hurt you as bad as you thought it would.  It probably, if memories are slowly coming back, tasted much better even in the haze of your drunken skepticism.  Between it’s thin, soft and slightly chewy body, there was the appetizing aroma of a skillet-fried egg, the pungent and salty punch from the smothering of chili sauce, and to your surprise, a shattering and crunchy contrast from an unknown source that you were too drunk to identify.  Most likely, it was actually, really really tasty.  And dare I say, it has probably, been missed.

Now, without the bravery from within a beer can, or the risk of losing a liver, you can make this signature Beijing street-food at home, knowing that none of the ingredients contains traces of stray cats.  Ha ha, just kidding.

No I’m not.

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