street food Tag

KHAO SOI NEUA/BEEF

KHAO SOI HAPPENS TO HAVE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF BOTH EXOTICISM AND SAFETY IN THE EYE OF A CAUTIOUSLY CURIOUS BACKPACKER.

Scad has been said about khao soi on the internet — some well-informed and some, not so much — so I think I will not bother.  It’s possibly the most famous dish from Northern Thailand, a somehow debatable status in my view.  Being back from a quick trip in Chiangmai Thailand, the capital of khao soi, I’m attempted to assume that its popularity among foreigners is contributed to its relatively benign characteristics if compared to the other more “adventurous” yet far more stunning dishes the region has to offer.  Khao soi, being chicken or beef in coconut curry with egg noodles, happens to have the right balance of both exoticism and safety in the eye of a cautiously curious backpacker.  It certainly isn’t, by far, the best thing we’ve tasted on this trip.  But I’ve always wanted to formulate a khao soi recipe after I’ve actually tried it at its source, so here it is.

Pushing it further on its muslim Chinese origin, I’m replacing dried chilis with Sichuan douban chili paste for a more complexed flavor, as well as inviting the mild tinge of numbness and floral quality from Sichuan peppercorns.  Another trick is to dial down on the amount of coconut milk in the broth itself so it can be reintroduced again right before serving, increasing depth and layers of flavors as how it is done in some of the better khao soi restaurants we’ve encountered.  In a bit of a disagreement with the blunt, under-processed pickled mustard greens that are often mindlessly chopped and scattered in the noodle as a failing contrasting agent, I’m replacing it with pan-fried pickled caperberries that provides sharp pops of sourness and complexity.  Then last but not least, a reminder of Sichuan peppercorns in the topical chili paste to bring it all together.

Enjoy.

 

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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Singapore hawker marathon: Hokkien prawn mee (prawn bisque stir-fried noodle)

 

IT IS “UGLICIOUS”

WHAT:  This will be the last span in Singapore hawker marathon.  Another aesthetically underachieving, possibly unappetizing-looking dish called Hokkien prawn mee (basically noodles stir-fried with prawn bisque) that became one of the few Michelin-blessed hawker dishes in Singapore.

WHY:  At first glance, let’s be honest, it looks like shit.  Clearly, this is a dish that gives little to zero fuck about what anybody thinks about it.  But how on earth does a spatter of yellow and unenthusiastic gloop land effortlessly on the Michelin Guide, kind of made me curious.  And if you also care to find out, you’d be blown away just as well by the powerful and intent talent and flavors that traffic underneath all that unbothered facade.  As the highest compliment for both ends of the comparison, it’s the Ed Sheeran of noodles.

HOW:  Forget about making it pretty.  It’s not about being pretty.  It shouldn’t be pretty.  What this dish should be about, at all cost, is the nuclear fusion between two of the most powerful elements in gastronomy:  lard, and prawn fats.  Every bite of this lightly saucy strands of noodles is a perfectly engineered explosion of porkyness from rendered lard with crispy cracklings, and a concentrated prawn bisque extracted from blended prawn heads which is then fully fused into the noodles.  The brief “stewing” between liquid and starch inevitably gives the noodles a gloppy look, but it’s the best-tasting glop you’ll ever cross path with, a deep and glorious saturation of flavors per every millimeter tubes.  It will be thick.  It will be rich.  It will be intensely shrimpy, and porky, and garlicky, and almost irresponsible with that extra clash of hotheaded chili sauce.  With a little squeeze of citrus, it’s unstoppable and uglicious.

 
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Book announcement + Singapore hawker marathon: Tai Hwa pork noodle

THE ONE MICHELIN-STARRED HAWKER NOODLE FROM SINGAPORE, NOW AVAILABLE AT YOUR NEAREST CONVICTION.

AND BTW, I WROTE A BOOK.

Wow, it’s been awhile.  I know I tend to say that a lot here, but this time, it has really been awhile.

The reason why I haven’t posted a single word on this blog for almost 2 months, or really, my general absence from this space for the past whole year, hasn’t exactly been a secret.  I’ve mentioned it briefly once or twice before but there hasn’t been an “official” announcement of any sort, so I guess, I’m making it official today.

In a nutshell, I wrote a cookbook.

Or more precisely, I have just finished the manuscript of my cookbook, which is scheduled to be published around October 2019.

I feel strange announcing this with such formality, maybe because the notion of a cookbook, for better or worse, has become quite a predictable outcome in the food-blogging community, sometimes a sorely needed contribution, but sometimes, let’s be honest, a bit not.  From a personal standpoint, I feel strange parading with what could be perceived as an unnecessary accessory, regardless of how excited I feel about what I wrote.  I guess it’s a mixed feeling, and to start telling you about it I have to boil it down to one simple question:

Why did I write this book?

Many of you already know that I started this blog in 2012 after two years of moving to Beijing as an expat wife.  For the total of six years that I spent with Beijing – before moving to Hong Kong in 2016 where we’re currently residing – it had been the most violently unhappy and emotionally destructive relationship of my life.  It’s an open sentiment I have expressed freely at every random chance I get, however, never explained in a thoroughly chronicled and consolidated manner, with an intimately dissected beginning to an end.  Although the process was unsavory, to say the least, to burrow so deeply and nakedly back into a period of time which I had literally fled away from, this tormenting affair seems unfinished in a way, imperfectly broken without a final, twisted, exhausted closure.  It feels important, needed even, if for nobody else but myself.

The cookbook, for a lack of better words, is my breakup sex with Beijing.

Though the title of the cookbook hasn’t been decided yet, it’s a memoire that surrounds the topic of what I would like to call escapism cooking, of how I abused this previously harmless hobby of mine as a recreational drug that aided my escape from this unpleasant reality.  It was written mostly as my personal post-traumatic therapy, possibly self-indulgent and shrieking with internal monologues.  But for anyone who care to read it, I hope it shines a light on their own struggles in life, whatever and wherever it is, that we can always make something positive out of it all.  And sometimes, even delicious.  So until then, we’ll talk more in detail.

But for now, I’m back.  And we need to talk about this Singapore hawker situation.

 

SINGAPORE HAWKER RECIPE MARATHON:

 

 

After the handover of my manuscript, I took a trip to Singapore for the very first time.  Within the first couple days, it became acutely apparent that an in-house investigation into Singaporean hawker recipes, the uniquely fused heritage between Malay, Chinese and Indian, is not only warranted but embarrassingly overdue.

If you love foods, and I mean it way beyond the confines of cooking and eating, extending into the history, politics, incentives and metamorphosis of what, where, how and why people eat what they eat, then you should be utterly infatuated with this powerful and glorious mutant, in the best sense possible, that the Singaporean diet has become.  A virtually utopian foodscape where each cuisines happily concedes their areas of shortcomings, thus, not just allowing, but welcoming the other parties to input, reinforce and further transforming its very own culinary identity and heritage, then to share it all under an open roof without bias.  In any other parts of the world, that notion makes wars.  But in Singapore, it makes unfathomably complex and delicious foods that would have been otherwise inconceivable by any party on its own.  Stronger together.  Sadly more a slogan than reality.  But in Singapore, they eat it for breakfast.  If that’s not worth copying, I don’t know what is.

So here I’m kickstarting a Singapore hawker marathon, starting with Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.

WHAT:  The infamous, one Michelin-starred hawker noodle in Singapore called bak chor mee, now available at your nearest conviction.

WHY:  This seemingly unimpressive bowl of yellow noodles under random heaps of ground pork, livers, fish balls and wontons, was possibly underestimated as well by the Michelin critics who came in skepticism and left with their mind-blown.  A rich and complex vinegary introduction, hidden from its unassuming appearance, surprises your initial senses and awakens every urge to dip deeper.  The jagged bak chor (means minced pork) with creamy and almost melty livers, entangle inside the bouncy strands of noodles together with a rich, tangy and savory gravy that you can’t quite put your finger on but couldn’t stop eating either.

HOW:  To recreate my personal rendition of Tai Hwa’s pork noodle, I’m doubling down on their signature vinegary element while reinforcing what I thought was lacking in its slightly ambiguous gravy, hoping to bring it further into focus.

Upon my observation, pork noodle’s gravy is predominantly made of four separate components:  dark vinegar, mushroom sauce, lard and a chili oil.  The typically used Chinese black vinegar is unique but short in well-roundedness, which can be perfectly complimented by the addition of fruity and fragrant balsamic vinegar.  The mushroom sauce is the main body that provides flavor and complexity – which in my opinion was the weak link in Tai Hwa’s pork noodle – and therefore I’m creating an ultra-concentrated mushroom jus by powdering and caramelizing dried shitake mushrooms.  I’m presuming that Tai Hwa’s lard is probably rendered in conjunction with dried sole, an ingredient quite elusive even in Asia, so I’ve substituted with specks of deeply browned and disintegrated anchovy fillets with surprising resemblance.  Last but not least, a chili oil made with sichuan chili paste to put that last cherry on the cake.  If cake is a savory, sophisticated, all-rounded bowl of noodle that flows euphorically like an unexpected and life-changing symphony.

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Sichuan/Chongqing Little Slurp w meat sauce and chickpeas

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COULD THIS WORK?

THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.

Sorry I have been absent.

Boy, do I have a good reason.

Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life.  I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix.  Am I going to be unplugged and wake up?  Or am I trapped here forever?  For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States.  And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.

Actually, unexpected may sound understated.  Unfathomable, comes to mind.

I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak.  I want to share everything with you.  But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet.  Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point.  It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray.  In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything.  But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.

This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile.  In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles.  It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan).  It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time.  The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect.  It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil.  Could this work?  That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.

Believe me.  I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy.  Imagine what it could do to you.

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NASHED-UP HOT CHICKEN CUTLET SANDWICH

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HOT DICKS SO BIG

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Today is the 4th day, the longest duration since 2002, the year I moved to New York, that I’ve ever gone without ingesting a drop of coffee.  Not a drop.

Because on September 6th 2015, an otherwise wonderfully uneventful morning, my coffee-stash abruptly ran out on me without a warning as if it was premeditated, leaving me in a cold-turkey caffeine withdrawal that I’m frankly too sleepy to wrestle.  Right of course, I don’t live in a no-man’s land.  There’s a convenience store downstair just 3 minutes of walking from where my ass sits, ready to supply me lacking but coffee-like substances that will ease the cold sweats and wobbling mind.  But more to my own surprise than anything else, I didn’t go.  In the passing 96 hours of brain-paralysis, waiting for my online coffee shipment which hasn’t came yet, I just stayed inside my bunker chewing and spitting out green tea-leaves, mainly trying to open my eyes without much success.  Shit, I can’t even open them now.  Did you know you can type with your eyes closed?  Uh Whast was thsr?

This episode told me something about myself.  You know I would never sell my sloth short of its worth, God bless its noble soul, but apparently I have underestimated it all this time.  Apparently, I’m even lazier than the human instinct to stay lucid.  Su[er HumN, RElly.

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THE JADED DOOR-NAIL MEAT PIES RUBBED W/ SCALLION BUTTER

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DOESN’T IT HELP YOUR CONFIDENCE IN MAKING THESE IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN, KNOWING THAT THEY AREN’T IMMORTALS,

THAT THEY TOO BLEED JUICE, JUST LIKE THE REST OF US.

To most people who aren’t born or raised in China or any of its politically disputed subparts, the idea of cooking Chinese cuisine, I guess, can feel intimidating.  For one, it sounds big.  And it is big.  It is big in a sense that it’s actually less confusing to approach it not as a generalized whole, but as a ccoalition of many different regional representatives.  The food cultures in the north, really is a world away from the south, and from the east coast-lines to the west high mountains, vice versa.  And to make matters more complicated than say, how it is in America, in the best as well as the worst sense, the gaps between regional cultures aren’t yet as erased by modernization and technologies as we speak.  So if you think you’re scared about making southern dim-sum simply because you aren’t Chinese, know that there’s someone else born and raised in northern China, who feels just the same.  But I’m not saying this to scare you.  I’m saying this to let you know that, yes, while there is real deep stuff to be sorted out in the study of Chinese cuisine, it is also just as important to know that a lot of it, is actually just bullshit.

Now, this is the first mental fortification you should master if you want to tackle this massive beast, knowing its bluff, knowing that a lot of the seemly variations in its dishes are just the smokes of admirable marketing campaigns.  For one example, when it comes to the dazzling and curious case of unleavened meat pies (where the dough is without yeast), besides their shapes and sizes and minor variations in flavours, I’m afraid that the only clear difference, like many other dishes I might add, lies within the fabrication of their biographies.

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XI’AN STYLE SMUSHED LAMB MEATBALL BURGER

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XI’AN-STYLE SMUSHED LAMB MEATBALLS BRAISED IN JOY-JUICE, STUFFED IN CH-ENGLISH MUFFINS… MORE THAN WORDS

I can’t even… I won’t even… I’m not even gonna…  Look, my friends, this is my Xi’an-style smushed lamb meatballs braised in joy-juice, slobbering in between a layer of sesame/peanut sauce and cilantro/red onion slaw, my signature chili oil and Xi’an burger buns (call it Ch-english muffins).  If you are looking at them and doesn’t have the urge to tell me to shut the fuck up now, and get to it, then I don’t know nothin’ about foods.  This is where that song – More Than Words – was written for, a song that I suffered through 20 years of karaoke with and couldn’t figure out the appeal, until now.

And you wouldn’t have to saaayeh~ that you love me.  Cuz I’d already knowoah~

  
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