Chinese Tag

MEET “THE WALTER WHITE” – THE KINGPIN OF MEAT BUNS

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PACKED WITH A WALLOP OF SCALLION GROUND PORK, A PIECE OF BRAISED PORK BELLY, ONE BRAISED SHITAKE MUSHROOM, ONE SALTED DUCK YOLK AND CHILI CONFIT, EACH BUN MEASURES 5 1/2″ (14 CM) IN DIAMETER AND ALMOST  1 LB (450 GRAMS) IN WEIGHT

IF THIS ISN’T CRIMINAL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS


There’s something about me unknown to most.  I have a sickly obsession for Chinese steamed pork buns.  Sickly, I said.  I think it was a childhood trauma that I developed in my earliest memory, over one afternoon by a hungry swimming pool when it was given to me as a snack, but I never suspect it would follow me ghostly into adulthood like an unsociable kink.  Ask my husband who never understood any of it, that whether it is placed on the table of a proper restaurant or abandoned in the metal cage of an electric warmer inside any 7-11’s in Asia, or even just a carcass of it laying on the asphalt being picked by a mob of pigeons… you put a steamed pork bun within my perimeter of sight?  And you’re likely to achieve a deer-in-headlights reaction from me.  Yeah.  Throw a steamed pork bun in front of me while I’m crossing the street?  And you can watch the progression of a human-roadkill unfold with captions, NatGeo-style.  I wish I could say that this is where the embarrassment stops, but no.  Thing is, size matters, too.  Even though we all know that size does not imply superiority or function, but as far as steamed bun goes, it is fair to say that I like’em as unapologetically as how men like their boobs.  Maximumly enormous for no good reasons.  I know, it’s completely shallow, illogical, utterly fantasy-based.  In fact, overly large steamed buns usually mean overly thick doughs and little fillings, and for the past 35-some years in the ever-pursuit for “the one”, big or small, I hardly found a steamed pork bun that I actually like.  I just believe that it’s out there.  It is an obsession supported only by faith, that as long as I bite into every single steamed pork bun that comes across my path, that if I just do that, then someday somewhere, I would find the one.  And that day came.

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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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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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PEANUT BUTTER STICKY RICE BALLS IN GREEN TEA

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THEY COMPLETE ME

Sorry but I have to run off quickly today, and leave you with this traditional and wildly beloved Chinese dessert.  These little pretty purses called tang-yuan, meaning “soup-circles”, are very popular, if not mandatory, at all major celebratory event and holidays because of their literal implication for roundedness and completeness. The elegance of its name may be lost in translation but I assure you that the reasons for their popularity are not, if you would just invest 1 hour of your life to find out.

The recipe for sticky rice ball-dough is an update from an older recipe, which I thought had a couple unnecessary steps and confusions.  Then instead of making a peanut-filling from scratch, which would probably never be as smooth with my incompetent food-processor, I decided to use a mix of store-bought smooth peanut butter with a little coconut oil (to loosen the texture further) and brown sugar.  The sticky rice wrapper is slippery and chewy, like little delicious purses bursting with lava-like peanut butter filling that comes with a hint of coconuts.  It’s a mouthful of complimenting textures and flavours, chewy and runny, sweet and slightly salty, intensely nutty and rich but balanced with the subtle bitterness and fragrance from lightly honey-sweetened green tea.

More than just words, they’ll complete you.

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MY XIAN FAMOUS SPICY CUMIN LAMB HAND-SMASHED NOODLES

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ONCE YOU GET THERE, WHATEVER IT TAKES FOR YOU TO GET THERE,

THE REST IS AS EASY AS BIANG

Does this recipe really need introduction?  If you have been enjoying, following, or even just been seduced from afar by the unstoppable uprise of this basement-stall to now 10 flourishing locations throughout New York, you would not be unfamiliar with the signature dish, from Xian Famous Foods.  The spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped (biang biang) noodles.

I have certainly been a fan.  More precisely, I have been enjoy Xian Famous Foods for the past few years, without actually stepping a foot inside any of their 10 locations.  Because I’ve been here, in Beijing, where “Xian famous foods” are not known as the name of a trending chain-restaurants, but in fact, a genre.  Those 4 Chinese characters almost recognized as their “logo”, are actually common here as a phrase that describes the local street foods of the city Xi-An.  Kind of like having a restaurant called “Texas BBQ”, or “Chicago Hotdogs”.  And on top of the usual suspects of cold skin noodles, cumin lamb burger (called “rou-jia-mo”), lamb offal soup… there is of course, the biang biang.

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CUMIN SPARE RIBS

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DON’T GIVE ME THE BULLSHIT, IN THE END, DO I TASTE FREAKING-ABSOLUTELY AWESOME?


  

To be honest, I don’t think I have ever truly enjoyed BBQ ribs.  It has always been, to me at least, more enjoyable as an idea – the smile of the pit-master, the black smoker hissing under the Southern sun, the sense of all American lifestyle – than in actuality.  In actuality, I’ve been waiting my whole life so far, to be impressed, turned, proven wrong, by something that I so desperately would like to grow more fond of.  But in the end, picking at a pile of ribs that are often borderline dry and overly sweet, I always ended up wondering if I have missed something.

This isn’t to say, the rib’s problem.  In fact, any form of scanty meats adhering to a disproportionate amount of bones, that requires bare hands and  sheer fangs to tear down, I’m there.  In fact, the rib-hole that had been ironically left hollow in my long years spent in holy BBQ-land, was immediately filled and nurtured within a month after I moved here, by the most unlikely of all cuisines.  A Northern Chinese creation called, cumin spare ribs.  Typically you wouldn’t think the word “mild” is the most associated vocabulary for American BBQ ribs, where plenty of spices and smokes coincide in effort to achieve the opposite.  But when put side by side with Chinese’s answer to finger-licking ribs, that’s exactly how they will appear.

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finger-sucking roasted beer duck

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IF YOU CAN POUR YOURSELF A HOT SALT BATH, THEN MOVE INTO SAUNA TO SIT STILL,

YOU CAN ROAST THIS DUCK


TODAY, I’m here to answer the question that has long infected the everyday-home-kitchens, with unending fatigue and boredom.  The underlining puzzle that, as a result, has put the other undeserved, pale and bland poultry, onto the seat of power in the dinner-menu arena for far too long.  The question that we, if we say we love foods at all, should all ask ourselves…

Why are we so scared of ducks?

I mean yes, they are physically slightly larger than the other poultry – chickens – which has enjoyed unchallenged dominance in the everyday kitchen-politics, for reasons that are insufficient at best.  For one, the only difference made by the small increase in size, is an increase in cooking-time that requires no additional effort from you.  Second, that effort-that-you-didn’t-really-have-to-make, will buy you incomparable rewards in flavours, succulency, and rest assured, rock-star-level wow-factors.  So despite the many… almost universal disagreement I hold with this happiness-forsaken country, I got to admit that they do, do one thing right.  They know how to do their ducks.READ MORE

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