Snacks

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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THE SHIT I EAT WHEN I’M BY MYSELF – GRILLED CURRY CHEESE, iPHONE ONLY

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NOT KNOWING IF (THE SWEAT) WAS DUE TO THE HEAT OF THE KITCHEN, OR HOT-FLASHES AS EARLY SIGNS OF MENOPAUSE

OK, so it’s been awhile since I last did The Shit I Eat When I’m By Myself Series, and I thought today – the day I turn 35, the day when the oestrogen has officially left the party, the day when avocado becomes a face-cream instead of food – is a good time to rekindle (it’s called letting it go).  And also, because I got this lovely birthday present from you-know-who, I thought I will follow Tiffany and do a post entirely shot/edited by iPhone 6 only!  Initially, I thought it would be the most liberating thing ever, not having to carry a heavy and bulky camera while dripping sweat, not knowing whether it’s due to the heat from the kitchen or hot-flashes as early signs of menopause…  But actually, trying to go back and fourth VSCO Cam and Snapseed to edit photos on a phone-screen, made me feel that this is probably more of a thing for the twenty-something hipsters, than the thirty-something demographic born with severe technology-defects.  So I don’t know… until now, I still can’t decide if I like working this way…

Anyhow, this is No. 5 for The Shit I Eat When I’m By Myself.  Sticking to the tradition of being completely non-sense, it’s a mixture of minced beef, melted Japanese curry cubes (boosted by cocoa powder!) and shredded white cheddar that you can keep in the fridge, then when emergency hits (like the day you turn 150), it can be quickly melt into a spicy and intense grilled curry cheese in between 2 slices of crusty country loaf (balanced by an added sweetness from raspberry jam!).

So enjoy, I’ll see you on the other side.

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JERKED SRIRACHA ROAST PORK TACOS W KIWI SALSA VERDE

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 WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST BEHAVE LIKE TACOS?

I don’t know, if there was any other single food-item in this world that, in the best sense possible, welcomes manipulations as much as say, tacos.

I mean think about it.  In this world where the not-so-secret food-police who enforces the law of authenticity, still patrols much of the way we perceive and evaluate what and how we eat, this iconic Mexican establishment seems to be freely, and deliciously if I might add, looming well outside of its strict jurisdiction.  They have applaudedly gone over and beyond their traditional origins, shown more adaptability and dare I say, humour, that’s unbound by the narrowness of ethnicity without muss or fuss.  How does it do it?  This means, to me at least, more than eating.  If you just take a look at this mad house we’re all living under now – where you can’t cook a pot of bolognese sauce without turning some Italian nonna in her graves, or enjoy any other blurred out version of mapo tofu without stepping on some bitches’ toes (who me?), or fucking crack a joke without hate – it would appear that, fingers crossed, the modern tacos are practically a beacon for social miracles.  This is not me saying pure authenticity, in food or anything else, is bad, nor is it good.  I guess, it’s only natural, a mean for us to identify with something, to belong, to cling onto a place in this world where we could find familiarity, call it pride, then do things to defend it.  But here we are stuck, on this globe that we were told is supposed to be getting smaller and smaller by the days, and inherently for the same reason, more and more hostile by the minute.  Diehard authenticity can taste more intolerant than delicious.  And I mean that in a lot more ways than foods.  So I guess here’s my question:

Why can’t we all just behave like tacos?

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CURRIED LENTIL AND SHRIMP POPCORNS

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PANCETTA TARTARE.

WHAT-EH-WHADAT?

OK, here’s the thing.  Mountains, and I mean mountains, of unattended laundries accumulated in the past 3 weeks that has led to a moment last night when I had to remind myself that, plastic bags aren’t clean underwear (put it down, Mandy, put it down…).  I mean come on, we’ve all been there, so surely you can understand if I say, grab yourself a handful of these shrimp popcorns and give me a helping hand.

But of course, these aren’t just any shrimp popcorns.  These are bouncy, minced black tiger shrimps mixed with soften lentils, grated gingers, anchovies, then just the right amount of curry spices and most importantly, let’s not forget, pancetta tartare.  What-eh-whadat?  Yes, finely, and I mean finely cubed fatty pancetta, are generously dispersed within every folds and turns, releasing pleasure-grease into each and every one of these little bad babies as they get thinly coated and fried to crispy weekend-delights.  But it doesn’t end there.  I mean if I expect these to be worthy of helping laundries, of course it doesn’t end there.  They are then tumbled and blanketed under a magic dust of salt and spices that may make you sneeze and tear from joy.

So here, don’t mind your greasy fingers.  After this load of bed-sheets, there are about 5 more.

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PAN-GRILLED MARSHMALLOW TOASTS WITH SEA SALT

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SOME SAY WONDERFUL THINGS ARE BORN OUT OF DESPERATIONS.

BEFORE TODAY, I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT SPANDEX.

There is something I want you to know about Beijing, or perhaps, about this entire country in general.

If someday you too find yourself living as an angry tick inside the thick filthy furs on this enormous, hyper-capitalism beast, at least you’ll know this to your comfort.  Which is, fret not, because it is not only possible but entirely effortless to maintain all daily functions of life (whether a happy or miserable one…), up from remodelling your kitchen down to keeping yourself groomed, all of it … without stepping one foot outside the front door.

This is a city that takes consumer economy, bloody seriously.  You can get almost anything, luxurious or middle-class or just plainly dirt-cheap, anything, with a simple click of a button and have them delivered to your front door with fees next to nothing.  Order groceries online at 3 AM and have someone, messaging you minutes after, to ask you if you want your pork ribs chopped.  Type “yes, please” or “no, thank you”, and the next day at 4 PM, you’ll have everything you need for an all-out BBQ party including a brand new grill.  It is a, if not the only perk, of living here.

Then, there’s something else I also want you to know about Beijing, or perhaps this entire country in general, during the Chinese New Years.

Which is, that last, precious ounce of will to live that you’re holding onto so tightly through petty convenience and e-commerce therapy?  That will all… and I mean aaall, come to an abrupt and screeching halt, every year, at the first light of dawn on Chinese New Year’s Eves.

Then.  Lasts.  For.  Weeeeeks.

OK, perhaps you don’t know what this means.  It means online grocery shop, stops.  Online anything, stops.  Deliveries, half of them at least, stops.  My lifeline of this entire city, stops.  Right, of course I can remove myself from my bunker and physically go to an actual market to evade my impending starvation, but did I also mention… that it is cold here during CNY?  The kind of face-biting, ears-stinging coldness that makes the 15 minutes bike-ride between my apartment and the nearest market, feel like miles.  So thanks but no thanks.  Times like this, when desperation strikes, I could only resort to the emergency convenience store downstair.

Yes, well, that convenience store… that fucking convenience store that, when I needed it the most such as say… today, presented me with the mere company of a moldy broccoli and its desperate plea for a merciful death.  “Solly, Chinese New Years.”, the dude shrugged.  Was he serious?  I wouldn’t know what to do with a fresh broccoli let alone a moldy one.  Houston, it’s official.  You will find me stiff-cold by a torn bag of dog food in the bathroom…

Some say wonderful things are born out of desperations.  Before today I’ve always thought they were talking about spandex.  But now, now I know they were talking about things like this.  The transformation of an exhausted pantry to unexpected, glorious beauty.  What can you make from half of a baguette, a bag of marshmallows, some butter and flakey sea salt?  Apparently, much more than the sum of its parts.

As I stared into this little stack of pan-grilled marshmallow toasts with crispy edges and caramelized crusts, chewy and gooey layers of sweetness with pops of brininess, I marvelled at human’s sheer will to, not just survive, but survive well.  It took more than basic animal instincts for a blood-sugar thirsty female to patiently stood by the stove, gently pressing down the butter-browned baguette in a slow and warm embrace with the melting marshmallow, then the last 30-seconds push for it to caramelize into a gorgeous crust.  But it was all worth it.  Buttery, crispy, sticky and chewy with sparking saltiness.  A dignified end on the last day of this CNY’s starva-thon.

Tomorrow, the pulse of this city will slowly start to tick again as holiday ends.  But I have a feeling that this marshmallow toasts with sea salt is going to last much long than that.

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COLD AND WARM SALMON SCRAMBLED EGG ROLLS

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HERE’S A GUEST POST OF MINE THAT APPEARED ON A CUP OF JO, AS ONE OF THEIR BREAKFAST SERIES.  JUST IN CASE YOU’VE MISSED IT…

When I was little, and by little I mean before my family moved to Vancouver when I was 12, before the unveil of a whole new alien-world of eating orders, I had always believed that a hot dog-bun… was solely designed for holding scrambled eggs.  Because that was how it was always given.  And that was the way it was always perfect.  Even after many years, after such belief had endured the discoveries of freezer-sections hot dogs, sidewalk hot dogs, gourmet sidewalk hot dogs to fancy restaurant hog dogs, it had not faltered.  In fact, my stubborn childhood “fetish” had only been reenforced through diversity and comparisons.  Before college, I stood even more firmly on my ground, that the perfect thing to go between a toasty bun, was the one and only – creamy scrambled eggs.  It wasn’t a childhood-thing to me anymore.  It was the truth.

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