Meat

THE PUNCH-IT BURGER AND HOUSTON, WE’RE READY TO TAKE OFF

I’ve waited six years… wow, six… to say this son-of-a-bitch line.

I’ve imagined saying it while beating its saggy ass with a whip rubbed with the most homicidal Mexican chilis as it wriggles in pain.  I’ve imagined saying it while twisting its balls with electrically charged clamps as it howls in my upmost amusement.  I’ve imagined saying it while watching, ever so pleasurably, as its ugliest face twisted angrily into an even uglier version of itself if that’s even grammatically possible.

I’ve imagined, for six years… wow, six… to say this line with a fuck-you.

And now, when the time has finally come, I can only feel it exhaling through the gaps of the keyboard, in a long heavy breath of bittersweet…

We’re leaving Beijing.

Can… can I say that again?

We are.  Leaving.  Beijing.

Yes, leave, move away, to Hong Kong if that’s important to mention, but more importantly the point is, out of Beijing.  I mentioned last week that I have “eeeewge news” to break it to you, but truth is, this is more than news.  It is a long-awaited, mental or physical, release.  Why is it such a big deal?  Well, I know, I know that the context of my predicament hasn’t been thoroughly explained on this blog.  Most of you are probably only aware that One:  I/we live in Beijing, and Two:  I don’t like it.  But why am I here and why don’t I like it, well, is a subject I thought was too boringly political or unappetising to be discussed on a, after all, food-blog.  I thought if I were to really explain it, I’d need a book to do the job.  But now that we’re leaving, I feel like I owe it to its final ending to, at least in a brief effort, paint the short story.

The first part of the question of why we’re here, is much simpler.  We left New York in 2008, Jason, our dog-children Dumpling, Bado and I, for what was thought to be a very logical career opportunity of his.  Our beloved island New York was, at the time, tilting like a breaking iceberg, and so we jumped into a less vogue but sturdier looking boat – China.  We actually lived in Hong Kong for 1 1/2 year  (so technically we’re moving back to HK) before moving to Beijing in 2010.  Then it was without any foresights to say the least, that what came after, the next following six years, was the unhappiest, destructive even, but also self-realising and perhaps fruitful period of my life.

Why do I hate it here?  Why is this “an angry food blog”?  This to me, is a funny question, as if asking why wouldn’t I like a burger soaked in whiskey then force-fed to me in a rubber tube?  I mean, where do I begin and how much time do you have?  There’s nothing wrong with burgers, nor is there with whiskey, but they just don’t mash well together, like me and this place.  Maybe if I was a politically indifferent outcast who enjoys pale skins more than sunlights, and the scent of burning coals in the atmosphere because it marvellously reminds me of BBQ briskets… Maybe if I was a juvenile man-child who sees uncivility as a safe haven to misbehave like an utter douchebag…  Maybe if I simply like being somebody here because I was a nobody back home, or better yet, just plain too self-secured to be emotionally affected by any shenanigans…  Then I believe, I would have a shot of being happy here.  But I’m, unfortunately, not.  I don’t mean it sarcastically.  I’m not “gifted” in that way, to see the vanilla ice cream behind the annoying chocolate chips and be able to happily eat around the obstacles.  They bother me.  Internet censorship bothers me.  Authoritarian politic bothers me.  Pollution bothers me.  Blind nationalism bothers me.  Douchebags bother me, and worse yet, blindly nationalistic douchebags who are happy being douchebags, reeeaaally bother me.  Hey look, I’m sure this city is more complicated and deeper than that, so I guess, I’m just too simple for this city.  I have no problem being too simple for bullshits.  But aside from political factors, and maybe (just maybe) for no faults of its own, Beijing is also where we lost Bado and Dumpling.  Two of the most spirit-breaking episodes of our lives happened here, skin-deep, back to back.  It used to be just an angry place – the good old times – but now it’s a sad place.  And though it might not be fair, but the feeling that we came here in whole and now left in pieces, is a negative association I don’t need.

IN TWO WEEKS TIME, WE WILL BE GONE.

NO, NOT FROM YOU OR THIS BLOG, BUT FROM THE PLACE THAT BROUGHT US TOGETHER, WHERE IT ALL STARTED

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London, barely, plus Yorkshire pudding and my Sunday roast

Some of you may have noticed, that this series of travel-diary/recipe-exploration on the three fabulous European cities I visited last month, is actually going in reversed orders. Reasonable doubts would suggest that I’m saving London for last, but truth is… it’s because I’m struggling to remember any of it.

Before Lisbon, before Madrid, going backwards in sequence, we actually arrived in London first, this posh and thrilling British gentleman that I’ve always had a crush on from afar. But turned out, we didn’t arrive alone. Came with us, was a persistent, cunning and serpent-like seasonal flu which already found us to be very amiable hosts back in Hong Kong, then apparently, took an even deeper liking in the unpredictable and drizzling British weather and decided to extend its stay for our next several miserable days. Although, in the flu’s defence, it did embody a certain level of traveller’s enthusiasm and took us for a joyride to all the most notable drugstores that London had to offer (Boots, you’re a doll). However, beyond which, it showed lacking interests in just about anything else. Museums? Charming little street? No, flu wanted to stay home and suck fingers.

(poetry, British profanity is poetry)

So I’m sorry, London (and the ones who fell ill on the tube going from West Kensington to London Bridge on Dec 22nd around 1 pm… It was me). Because I could only sort of remember you as a beautifully wetted city of yellow bricks and steels under an eternal overcast, or as least so you were every chance I looked, mostly up from a pile of tissue-ruins through my watery and bacteria-infested eyes. Were you a bit blurry or was it me? All jokes aside though, I would definitely make a return visit to London. In fact, I have already been looking at some mayfair hotels online for inspiration for our next trip. Watch this space.

THIS THING THEY CALL, YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS… THE AIR BALOON-EQUIVALENT OF PASTRY… ONLY THAT IT IS EGGY, CRISPY, FLUFFY AND SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED

I did see though, a couple of the important stuffs. The Borough MarketDuke of York Square MarketSt. John Bread & Wine… made the pilgrimage. And the more I scratched over the surface of all the excitements, wonderful smells of cheeses and seared meats, captivatingly unique architectures, and the deeply profound culture underneath it all that London has to offer, the angrier I was that I didn’t have the energy to explore further. So much to see, so little life. This isn’t an excuse, London! You weren’t the best mate to help sort out a flu and you bloody well know it!

And here I am, one month later, flu-free and apologetic, I figure the least I could do is not to insult London by pretending that I have anything insightful to say. In fact, the only tribute I could pay is to say this… Regardless of the experience I had, immobile or even if it was well explored, I feel London is the kind of city that will always leave me feeling hungry for more. More to eat, more to see, more to pry out of the maze of bricks and steels, and just when you thought you had it figured out, there it is, another discovery.

I hope I see you again, London. I know, I will see you again. But next time, summer perhaps.

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MADRID, plus how to throw a tapas party

In the past few years, for more times than I’d like to admit, I have allowed myself to dance dangerously around a question that is as simple as it is complicated, as imaginable as it is hopeless, a secret irritation that haunts us all who have ever fell in love with a corner of this beautiful land they call Europe, but had to depart soon after. You know you ask yourself this, we all do.

Why. Why can’t I live here?

EVERY SIMPLE DELIGHTS FROM EVERY ASPECTS OF LIVING, RESTRAINED IN SMALL SERVINGS, BUT CONSTANT, AND IT DOESN’T STOP COMING

It’s a cliche, of course, for someone who doesn’t know or has travelled to Europe that much. But is that what romance requires, muchness? From the first time I landed a foot in Paris back in spring 2012, around the time when I just started this blog up till now, I have only been to a handful of European cities and each affair lasted no more than a week. And yet, the immense imagery of lost stories behind every architectures and cobble streets, the courage I seek to enjoy life with ease that they breath daily as a birthright, the endless sceneries roaming from hill to hills, the effortlessness, irritating almost, the fact that they can take their dogs everywhere (!!!)… All of it, everything, had left me in a stench of discontent at the boarding gates, the sense that I was going back to a place that was very much less so. I feel at my most content when I am traveling these places; I wholeheartedly recommend that you get out into the world for yourself and seek out these experiences too. Of course, the cost is always going to be an issue when visiting locations on your bucket list. This can be helped by a cash injection from a loan – check out Lending Expert for more information. Although if you’re thinking about purchasing a property abroad or visiting some different countries, then you could get a loan or you could consider releasing cash from your home in order to fund holidays, or even holiday homes. As most elderly folk love their vacations, it seems to make sense that more people would want to release some money from their house in order to enjoy the rest of their lives.

But having said that, it was a general infatuation for a region as a whole. Specifically, if you asked me, I could never quite pinpoint a city, or a country even, where I could actually see myself living in. As indisputably beautiful as Paris was and always will be, living there felt like being in a relationship with someone who would never love me more than I loved him. As authentically ancient and charming as Rome, the even more hard-wired slowness stirred a sense of restlessness in someone who wasn’t embracing retirement just yet. As much as the melancholic pessimism of Lisbon was alluring, it would probably deem unhealthy for me who’s equally negative, to marinate in large dosages. As for London, which I haven’t mentioned, the idea of moving from under one sky blanketed in smog, to another blanketed in overcast, was… just depressing to say the least. Then there was Nice, and Monaco… but who am I kidding?

That was, until Madrid.

I wanted to live here. But more importantly, I felt I could actually live here.

Even with the inevitable unfamiliarity with its pace of life and various language barriers here and there, everything felt natural, easy. It felt right. Madrid, I hope we could all agree, wasn’t the most beautiful European city, or the most prosperous. It wasn’t even the most convenient, given that few Asian airlines offered direct flights (but that’s gonna change this summer for Hong Kong). But there was something about it, the perfect mixture of ease and vibrancy, like it ran in its bloodstreams of knowing when to slow down and when to party, and it carried us, without even thinking, into the same infectious rhythm. An energetic morning, a late but overbearingly sumptuous lunch, a slow afternoon easing into the night, then a bubbling and munchy social scene to end it all perfectly.

Every simple delights from every aspects of life, restrained in small servings, but constant, and it doesn’t stop coming. That was what it felt like, as least for me, Madrid’s promises.

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LISBON, PLUS SURF’N TURF PORK BELLY AND SHRIMP SAUSAGE SANDWICH

After what seemed as long as forever, but now, feels as short as a blink of an eye, five weeks of traveling in and out of 6 different countries, I am now, finally, back home.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to sum up a journey as long as this one in one post.  It began in Hong Kong, then Taipei then back to Hong Kong, then it departed towards London, then Madrid, and Lisbon, then finally, passing by Germany, back to Hong Kong, then back to Beijing.  It was a zig-zaging montage of cityscapes, sounds, smells, flavours, stimulations… but also disorientations, sense of aimless drifts, dubbed by a relentless seasonal flu somewhere at end.  How do I tell such a story I have no clue.  I suspect I would be inadequate but I shall try.

I shall try, starting with Lisbon.

Why Lisbon?  I don’t know.  I guess there are moments in life that didn’t feel particularly monumental at the times, but somehow, years and years later, they stay with you whenever you feel like looking back.  Lisbon, in the best sense, felt as such.  There are cities where we go to feel the future.  New York, London, places that strut at the tip of our times, erecting glories built in glasses and steels, forward.  Lisbon, as rare as it is precious, is not that kind of city.  Lisbon, to me at least, comes into the scene as an ageing beauty.  Her allures permeates in a lingering perfume of melancholy, on the surface of every faded tiles, behind every half-closed wooden windows, cut deep into every folds of her stone-paved labyrinth.  She is old.  She is complicated.  There are a lot of bygone glories, loss and pain in her untold stories, some remembered only objects that cannot speak.  I found myself striken by a sense of wounded dignity at her unguarded moments.  In fact, sometimes  her unpolished cheeks marked with spray paints and the crumbling of her once beautifully tiled facades, like a ripped silk dress, made me feel impolite to stare.  But, I guess, that’s why Lisbon felt so unique.  Holding her own, almost carefully, with a flustered sense of self-esteem… she sits quietly, a city by the sea.

A place like her leaves an impression.  She made me wonder about the life she’s had.  She made me want to dig deeper.  She made me wanna do things that I’ve never done to any other places, beyond the politeness of walking through her streets and allies, beyond gorging the foods that she cooked.  I wanted to get more intimate.  Closer.  I wanted to hear her sing.  And if there’s one thing that I think you should do in Lisbon, however cheesy it may be, you should hear Lisbon sing.

And she sings Fado.

OF COURSE, WE HAD TO FINISH THE MEAL WITH A SANDWICH.  WE JUST HAD TO.  THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE.

BUT THIS TIME, WE WEREN’T SORRY THAT WE DID

First of all, it might help to mention that I am not a music person.  I have almost zero song downloaded to my smartphone, and in the 7 years I’ve dwelled in New York, a trip to New Orleans, I have never stepped a foot inside a jazz bar.  Curried goat, yes, but Bob Marley who?

So no, I don’t usually do this.

But to come to Lisbon without listening to a bit of fado, a music as burnt into the soul of this country as anything can hurt, is a regret that I wasn’t planning to walk away with.  However, before I go on, I warn you, that a fado experience in Lisbon can prove to be borderline awkward if you have some kind of personal distance-issues.  Chances are, as we were, you’d be seated on a stool tucked in between the elbows and knees of total strangers, so crowded it’d be difficult to reach down to your phones to take a selfie.  Chances are you’d be forced to share foods, and drinks, too, oh hell, conversations even.  If you got problems with any of those things as I almost do – oh fuck did I mention that they smoke indoors, too – chances are, it would be uncomfortable.

But again, chances are, you would regret it if you didn’t.

A young woman in her 20’s came into the tiny spot reserved for performers, professionals and amateurs alike.  Carried only by a couple of guitarists sitting a feet away, she started singing… no, more like… pouring her heart out on the floor.  There was so much passions, longings and losses that I felt through a song that I didn’t understand.  Her body moved like a stringed puppet, cringed, shaken, pulled by the very own emotions in the melody that she sang.  Her voice, at times almost inaudible, at times piercingly loud, communicated words without any translations.  It felt… brave, almost, bleeding this much feelings to a wall of strangers staring within an arm’s length.  Just when I thought I got a sense of what fado was, after her, came an old man in his 80’s.  He was more talking then singing, waving and pointing his hands in every possible gestures, sometime as if in an argument, sometime as if in mourning.  It was comical but not funny.  It was crude but endearing.  I can’t say I know fado, but if you ask me, the beauty of it is not in the perfection of vocal skills, but in the generosity of common strangers, singing their hearts to you on a sleeve.

We left the bar a bit in awe, with a couple of new German friends who were forced to share their chorizos with us.  Walking home on her crooked slopes echoing her voice in heart-strung melodies, Lisbon felt more mysteriously beautiful than before I got to know her.

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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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