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.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

Simplified, tall fluffy pancake, stuffed with cheese

NO SEPARATION OF EGG WHITES AND YOLKS, NO WHIPPING THE WHITES AND FOLDING IT BACK IN, AND YEAH, NO MAYONNAISE EITHER.

 

If you use the internet, you’ve probably seen this.  This super lofty, tall and wiggling souffle pancake, said to have originated from Japan, that will surely tickle the feathers of anyone who has a soft sentimental spots for stacked fluffiness.

I, for one, am not a pancake person.  Or at least, not in its traditional form.  But over the years, I’ve been patiently waiting for a game changer that would summon my inner fluff-craze that has been dormant inside my cold, pancake-less heart, and I thought, maybe, this is it.

Well, not quite.

Upon further investigation, I realized that the recipe for this pancake requires violating one of my many holy baking commandments – Thou shalt not ask for the separation of egg white and yolks, separate whippings, and folding them back in.  I am not thy bitch. – carved into a plastic chopping board and hung onto my fridge in permanence to remind me of the gods’ wrath against disobedience.  So typically, if I see such thing, I just walk away.  But something, a small voice inside my head, an imploding honey cake from the old ages perhaps, held my foot in the ground.

Thing is, whole eggs whip up marvelously fine just as well.

If it’s air that we’re after, whipping egg whites separately isn’t always necessary.  I thought, if I could just find the right ratio between flours and whole eggs that are whipped together with sugar until almost mousse-like in consistency, then I can streamline this recipe and turn this batter into a one-bowl, fuss-free and fool-proof epiphany that even I can’t fuck up.

And guess what, I did.  A super tall, lofty, spongy one-bowl batter that doesn’t need separation of white and yolks, no folding the whites back in, and yeah, no mayonnaise either.  My heart should be content.  My inner fluff-craze should awaken and shine lights upon the golden gate that welcomes me towards pancake enlightenment.  Right?

Well, not quite.

Thing is, like all other earnest yet disappointing pancakes that had come before it, flavor-wise, this pancake was still completely boring.  Cottony fluffiness, yeah, but remind me again why I want to eat cotton again?  I sat and stared, faithful, receptive, in waiting.  A sign will come.  It must come.  All these journeys of questions and answers, flipping and flopping, reincarnations and repetitions, can’t all be for nothing.  Pancake must mean something!  It must!

I waddled my slumbering, meditating body towards the fridge for a diet coke, the thought-juice if you will, and out the corner of my eyes, there it was – A Laughing Cow (regrettably not a sponsor).  Of course!  If the gods intend a purpose for this pancake’s spacious and buoyant volume, surely, it would be for nothing else but, stuffing!  And what is better to aid its mildly sweet and airy crumbs if not this exuberantly creamy and contrastingly salty cheese?

I put my theory to work, and it worked.  An unlikely but wondrous pairing that is texturally light yet creamy, flavorfully sweet yet salty, a faintly vanilla sponge moistened with a mildly cheesy funk.  In the end, excused by its entirely oil/butter-free crumbs, a slim waterfall of melted butter and a squirt of honey is appropriately commenced.  Pancake, is that finally you?  Oh where have you been…

 
READ MORE

Continue Reading

ONE-POT SICHUAN SAUSAGE (OR ANY SAUSAGE) RICE W HERBS SALAD

THE ABUNDANT FAT AND JUICES FROM THE SAUSAGE WILL DESCEND GODLY AND SEEP DOWN THROUGH THE RICE BELOW, FLAVORING AND AIDING THE FORMATION OF THE HEAVENLY BOTTOM CRUST

If you follow my Instagram, then you’d know that I’m head-deep in rushing towards the finishing line on my cookbook.  Yeah, I’m writing one, and this is probably the first time that I’m mentioning it on the blog, all very anti-dramatic and all.  But I promise to talk more about it when the time comes.

For now, let me quickly leave you with a recipe, well more like a technique almost, that I think everyone who struggles with weeknight meals (or writing a book no less) should have in their repertoire.  Inspired by claypot rice, here’s how to turn any type of fresh sausages and a few cups of rice into a one-pot, steaming, savory, fluffy and crispy wonder.  If you have a few minutes to spare, you can prepare this sichuan-inspired sausage thoroughly studded with fatty guanciale bits (Italian cured pork jowl), burning with toasted chili flakes and tingling wtih sichuan pepercorns.  Or, you can use any other types of your favorite, fresh sausages like sweet Italian, spicy Italian, or fresh Mexican chorizo and etc.  Either way, the abundant fat and juices from the sausage will descend godly and seep down through the rice below, flavoring and aiding the formation of the caramelized, heavenly bottom crust.  Then this steaming and comforting one-pot wonder is complimented by a scallion and tarragon salad cooled by a touch of Greek yogurt.  If you’re anything like me, you don’t even need bowls.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

THE PHYSICALLY AND FLAVOR-MASSIVE, BEIJING SUPERMARKET FRIED CHICKEN

SAVORY JUICES GREASED WITH RENDERED FAT RUSHED ARDENTLY OUT OF THE MEAT… A NOSTRIL FULL OF AROMA AS A MIXTURE OF CUMIN, CHILI, GARLIC, AND THE IRRESISTABLE SMELL OF CRISPED CHICKEN SKINS SENT ME INTO AN ANGRY SPIRAL OF REGRETS AND RESENTMENTS

In AA they say, there are twelve steps to recovery.  Well, this fried chicken is my Step Nine. 

Specifically, if you (hopefully) aren’t familiar, this is a stage where the recoveree make direct amends to people whom they had harmed, wherever possible, as a part of the process to obtain emotional balance and closure.

So here I stand, almost two years into my recovery from six traumatic years in Beijing, I am ready to talk about this fried chicken.

To start from the beginning, I first saw these fried chickens inside a supermarket a few blocks away from our apartment in Beijing.  Calling that place a supermarket is a gross exaggeration whereas a glorified convenience store would be more appropriate, but for six long years, I passed by that supermarket about once a week on a conservative average, and I consistently dismissed the peculiar stall that was tucked in a dingy corner by the entrance with a sign that read, “Meixiang Fried Chicken“.

Peculiar indeed, not because there was a random fried chicken stall inside a suspicious convenience store, but that as ambiguous as it was, almost everyday around 3pm, there would be a line cued up at its greasy window, as long and meandering as my bafflement.  Typically, a line exceeding 15% of the total crowd-size stretching the entire block, is a mathematic proof good enough to send me into investigation, but feeling prejudice towards this entire city in general, I thought either this fried chicken was an understated treasure, or these people were out of their minds.

For six years, I went firmly with the latter.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

THE INCREDIBLE CHICKEN TOFU – FROM THE MIND OF A CHEF

TENDER EDIBLE CLOUDS MADE WITH CHICKEN BREASTS?!!  WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY, DANNY?!

Holy shit, did you watch Season Six of Mind of a Chef with Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food?

Did you see where his mentor Yu Bo, in episode two, turned a puddle of pink chicken-slush into pillows of fluffy-looking curds, something they call, chicken tofu?!

Did you gush outloud, tender edible clouds made with chicken breasts?!!  No special curd-forming acid or salt required, virtually fat-free, and answers the prayers of millions of suffering souls of how to triple the volume of two pieces of chicken breasts without adding much more calories, but more importantly, transforming its woodsy nature into custardy, melt-in-your-mouth, weightless pillows of savory delights?!!!

Did you close your eyes and imagine exhaustively of what it’s like to cuddle the impossibly light and quilted bodies in between your tongues, a dream that feels unreal but known to be true?!!

Did you marvel?!

Did you cry?!

Did you say oh please baby Jesus dear Lordy, can someone please tell me how this wizardry is performed?!!

Well, guess what, you’re welcome.

And the spicy version drenched in chili oil, you’re double welcome.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

Roast pork butt sandwich

A couple weeks ago, I wondered my way into a small break from cooking.  For no particular reason than because, over one morning coffee, I felt it was called for.  People talk about the ferocity of love and passion a lot, in all forms and sizes that drives humanity for what it’s worth, rising in salute for its consuming, inconvenient, majestic torment and glory.  But what fuels it, what fuels love and passion, is often less marketable.

At certain points, what fuels passion is simply absence.

 

THE AU JUS… AND THE THOROUGHNESS OF ITS RAMPAGE DOWN THE RECEPTIVE PORES OF A TOASTED ITALIAN ROLL, DETERMINES WHETHER THIS IS A SANDWICH WITH PORK, OR,

A ROAST PORK SANDWICH

 

So I took a break, cruising.  I didn’t think about cooking other than making basic sustenances.  I rubbed my dogs‘ heads a lot.  I binge-watched two Netflix original series eating junk foods.  I rekindled with the familiar joy of ordering take-outs.  Holding a brown bag of meal No. 2 and a large diet coke, I waited, on the curb, for the lights to turn.

And just like that, I bumped into Fedoroff’s.

To be exact, Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich shop in Brooklyn.  And by “bumped into”, I really just meant, like everything else nowadays, that I saw it on Instagram.

It spoke to me.  I took one look at this monstrous, ageless battle of meat VS bun, and I felt the jolt of adrenaline seeping back into my veins.  I wanted to cook this sandwich.

For the record, once again, I have not had a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich in my entire life.  Hence, this recipe is not based on any single one of your particularly preferred joint, especially  not Fedoroff’s.  In fact, I’m dead certain that my approach to this beloved classic is as offensive to its disciples as inserting hot dogs onto a margarita pizza.  No one intact trunk of meat to marvel over!?  No searing before roasting!?  Oh sweet mother of Jesus, ginger?  Fish sauce!?

Why?  First of all, it just makes more sense.  To come to this conclusion, you have to be willing to let go of a few fairy tales about roasting.  No 1, there’s no such thing as “locking in the juice”.  Meats don’t get sealed.  They’re not sexual scandals.  Legitimately, they can get seared/caramelized/browned for more complex flavors, but if you think that’s going to stop their juice from leaving the mothership in the oven (the antidote to that would be super low temperature but that’s not the story today), I’m afraid this is the adult’s equivalent of realizing there’s no Santa claus.  Besides, why make the futile effort to “seal”, when au jus, or aka, drippings is exactly what we are gunning for?

READ MORE

Continue Reading

BEEF TARTARE WITH SEA URCHIN FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD

IT HAD ME AT HELLO

Oh geez, in between life in general and an unexpectedly eventful visit to my OBGYN which involved an adorably named chocolate cyst, I’m going to quickly leave you with, nonetheless, a recipe for my favorite thing to eat these days.  This is a dish inspired by a restaurant called Neighborhood in Hong Kong’s central district, which serves predominantly French bistro-style dishes with a spritz of Japanese infusion, and in this case, classic beef tartare served with fresh sea urchin roe on top.  For the record, I have NOT had this particular dish at the restaurant.  It wasn’t offered on the menu by the time I visited, and so I created my own rendition at home.  The major difference is that their standard beef tartare is mixed with chopped raw oysters, which I omitted because fresh oysters just isn’t something that Hong Kong markets excel at, and for the many times that I’ve pushed my luck, I wish I hand’t, so.

But, having said that, you’ve got to try this.  I would want to sell you on how the creamy sweetness and foie gras-like richness of the sea urchin blend almost biblically beautiful with the irony savoriness of the beef tartare, and how the infusion of the two, including the cold and silky touches it feels on your taste buds, comes to a marvelous clash with the warm crunches of the toasted baguette. And I could go on.

But the truth is, if you’re my kinda people, it had us at hello.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

POMELO AND THAI HERBS SALAD

 

THE EXPERIENCE IS BETWEEN EATING A SALAD AND DRINKING A COLD GLASS OF GATORADE

I don’t eat salads.

I think that’s quite self-evident on this blog.  But even a non-salader like me feels a tinge of excitements as pomelo season approaches, the citrus giant with enormous and voluptuous pulps that burst with sweet, floral and faintly bitter juices resembling a lemony grapefruit.  For the record, I’m not a fan of grapefruit, which is why I’m not particularly excited about pomelo’s potential as a stand-alone fruit course.  But what gets my buzz going is its potential to be a fantastic savory treat.

Pomelo is rarely too sweet, and it carries an uniquely floral and bitter note that blends wonderfully with other more robust or rich-tasting ingredients that seek a refreshing medium.  Take herbs salad for example, flavorfully too sharp and aggressive most of the times to be a dish on its own, but together with pomelo, it becomes a juicy and rounded symphony tapping on all the right notes in a cascading, orchestrated tempo.  First thing that hits the senses is the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce and shallots anointed with olive oil, which escalates along the individually distinctive sharp bites from the assorted fresh herbs, too sharp, almost, if it isn’t immediately awash with sweet and quenching juices with the rupture of each pomelo pulps.  The experience is a marriage between eating a salad and drinking a cold glass of gatorade.

A refreshing and guilt-free lunch on an overheated autumn day, but I know that it cries to be an equal partner alongside heavy and rich pre-winter dishes like roast pork belly or braised short ribs.  And next year, you’ll be counting the days for its arrival.

 
READ MORE

Continue Reading