street food Tag

THE PARADOX OF ICE CREAM-SPRING ROLL W GROUND PEANUT BRITTLE

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…BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.  THE REAL MIND-BLOWING PART IS THE LAST DESCENDING SPRIGS OF THE UNIMAGINABLE… FRESH CILANTRO LEAVES

If you were those who like to travel to unfamiliar places, see unfamiliar pictures, eat unfamiliar things, chances are that for many times, you have been caught up in moments where I’d like to call – the encounters of food paradox.  Foods that don’t make sense, shouldn’t make sense, but the moment we put one in our mouth, the argument between logics and instincts all quiets down, and the only sensation left with any capacity for thoughts, is how defiantly delicious it stood against our prejudice.   It changes everything, on top of the very least, our palette henceforth, will never be the same.  This post, I hope, is about exactly that.

I have been longing to find a way, an accessible angle, to tell you about a thing called, ice cream-spring roll.  It’s a common street-food in Taiwan, not particularly flashy or groundbreaking.  In fact, among the immensely competitive and ever evolving Taiwanese street-foodscape, one may even argue, standard stuff.  But if you have no affiliation with the food-culture from this island proud for nothing but, the concept of this ice cream-spring roll, with its deceivingly predictable name, may just very well be your next big revelation.  Up front, what is expected surely is that there’s ice creams, most likely local flavours like taro or mango but could also include strawberry and vanilla, which are rolled inside a chewy crepe made with simply flour, water and salt.  No innovation there.  But to make things more interesting, a tall pile of sweet nutty and salty ” sandy streusels” is being shaved directly from a ginormous brick of peanut and caramel brittle, matching its proportion to the ice creams to almost 1:2.  The shaved/ground peanut caramel brittle alone, already completely push the texture and flavour of the spring roll to another dimension, but, it doesn’t stop there.  The real mind-blowing part, is the last descending sprigs of the unimaginable, the last to belong in the dessert isle, the controversially pungent… fresh cilantro leaves.  What?!  

You know I would describe it to you if I could.  I’d say it’s melty, creamy, sandy and crunchy all encased inside a film of chewiness.  I’d say that it’s sweet with pops of saltiness, the permeation of powdered peanuts and caramel and a whiff of herbs in the back-note.  But for the life of me, I cannot describe to you the immense confusion upon the impact of the first bite, then the gentle surrendering into the next, then a breeze of exhilaration on the last.  So I won’t.  You’ll have to try this one out yourself.  Because, that’s the beauty of a food-paradox isn’t it?  One that does and should be lived outside the limitation of words.  Maybe you’ll hate it.  Maybe you’ll love it.  Whatever it is, we will celebrate the forever-forward exploration that is eating.

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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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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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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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MALAYSIAN MAMAK FRIED CHICKEN

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INSIDE A RED PLASTIC BUCKET AND 2 GIANT ROARING WOKS BY THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE ROADSIDE OF KUALA LUMPUR… NIRVANA

The best moment on a travel, for me at least, is when you’re already being in a place where you know you’d be drowned in delicious foods, standing at an unnamed corner in a lost moment, you still find yourself pleasantly overwhelmed.  If that’s kinda your thing as well, then Malaysia is your kinda place, specifically, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

I have been longing to return for quite some time now.  But since I’m currently under some sorta physical lock-down, you can tell evidently from my effort since – a full-blown laksa, a slack-off laksa, and these bag-loads of banana donuts – that this is not my first mental prison-break.  I want to remind you now that none of them were actually the climatic screaming food-gasm of that trip, but you already knew that.  I mean of course, naturally, one does not jump hastily to food-gasm at hello.  How rude.  Because one induces foreplay first.  A little bit of teaser here, and a little bit of appetizer there.  In a slow and respectful courtship, 2 whole damn years after we left the streets of Kuala Lumpur, one says, OK.  I think I’m ready to re-create the best damn fried chicken I’ve ever lay my tongue on in my entire life.

The yo mamak’s fried chicken.

  
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THE INCREDIBLE LAHMACUN AND AYRAN

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THE FOOD-EQUIVALENT OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BRANGELINA OF ICONIC TURKISH EATS

  

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AS some of you may have noticed from this particular announcement, that I am now officially divorced… from the commitment of owning a stand-mixer (easy, gentlemen…).  More accurately, a surprised appliancewidow if you may, still deeply hurt by the concealed unhappiness my stand-mixer had apparently suffered from in the past 4 years, which finally led to his jump off the kitchen counter on a cloudy Oct 24th, decapitating himself in his last, escapist act.  The lumpy splatter of an unfinished pizza-dough over the black pavement, was his first and last, silent yet loudest protest, before declaring eternal freedom… from me.  Looking back, devastated, I don’t think he has ever loved me…

Now, mid 30’s, dumped, and less equipped…

I know at times like this, I’m suppose to resort to less labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen, a pasta-salad perhaps, or a one-bowl-pancake mix with added sparkles, maybe even the unthinkable salad, to hide the scars from this tragic embarrassment, and more importantly, look really hot while doing it.  But no.  In an counter-protest to the irresponsibility of a suicidal stand-mixer, giving up making doughs is admitting defeat.  With bare hands, I’m gonna prove that without him, I’m still highly desirable in the dough-market and totally dough-able.  Not just the same dough down the sad memory lane, but I’m gonna make something awsome-er, something super-er.

I’m gonna make the incredible, lamahcun and ayran.READ MORE

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XI-AN FAMOUS HOT RICE RIBBONS

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JUST WHEN I THOUGHT THE SHOW WAS GONNA EXIT FASTER THAN IT ENTERED, ON THE SIDE OF A NEIGHBORHOOD ROAD…

A NEW JOINT OPENED

  

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I must admit, my belated appreciation for the hype of Xi’an Famous Foods, was a slow, reversed progression.

Six years ago before we left New York, it wasn’t yet a thing over there.  Then after six years of looming around Hong Kong and then now Beijing, I barely noticed its presence let alone recognizing it as an established “food category”.  It was a shameful episode of my negligence, one of which I could only redeem by… well, help you not to repeat my mistake.  The first noise I heard from this funnily named Chinese regional cuisine from central-west, ironically, was when a few months ago, I was on my Beijing couch watching America’s Food Network featuring a micro-trending street-eats in New York, called “liang (cold) pi (skin)”.  Liang-pi?  You mean, the liang-pi they sold from a booth right next to the cash-register in my local supermarket?  The liang-pi that periodically showed up on my dinner menu?  The liang-pi that, yes, there at the corner groceries as well.  And yes, there at the food-courts in malls, too!  Now that I’m consciously aware of such thing, the liang-pi that was previously invisible to my radar, now appears to be, actually, everywhere!READ MORE

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SRIRA-CHOPPED CHEESE

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JUSTIFICATION – MAXIMUM CARAMELIZATION

SO you watched Tony Bourdain in Bronx, didn’t you?

And if in the next following days, a certain very catchy phrase got stuck in your head like the most maddeningly annoying tune, echoing “chop’cheese… no, chop-peh-ded cheese… chop’cheese…”, steady, you are not mad.  You are just, like me, actually more Bronx than you ever thought you were.  This supposedly Bronx-via-Harlem native dish, even though, was not at all the leading lady in the narrative of that show (i mean let’s face it, Chuchifrito… who can beat that diva), but she struck a tune that I couldn’t stop singing, and there’s only one way to shut her up.

But just because I wrote about this handsome dude here awhile back, doesn’t mean I’m familiar with the other girl next door.  So who’s chopped cheese?  With a name like “chopped cheese”, you know she’s not the kinda girl who reads Goop, al’right.  She doesn’t take the hipster burger non-sense or customizable patty elitism, in fact, pffff, she doesn’t even give a fuck about her slightly more polished cousin, cheese burger.  Chopped cheese, is about disrespecting a patty in the most gloriously wrong of ways, dismantling it half-way during cooking with complete disregard to the concept of, juice, or the ludicrous question of, doneness.  Hey.  Just ain’t the way she likes it.  Everything we’ve been taught not to do to a patty, she’s done.  Justification?  Maximum caramelization.  To brown every possible square inch of ground beef to draw out the beefy-ness within, and let the cheese melt into the desperate nooks and crannies in between in a greasy, fluid unison.  In the most non-vogue sorta way, she’s some kinda sexy.

So here you’re thinking, how do I get me some of that sexiness.  Well first, before you even pull your pants up to go out to the grocery stores, you gotta put your mind right.  Any obsession within you for refinement, artisanal bullshit, the love for your French cuffs, should be tossed out the window.  She’s not impressed with your suits and ties.  She likes fatty and economically friendly ground beef (and if you even raise a thought of grinding your own beef?  To the left.).  She works better with non-real American cheese and a soft, squishy bun.  And she likes to be eaten instantly when you’re still in your grease-splattered T-shirt, standing by the edge of the kitchen counter, marvelling.   It makes her feel special.

Well now… so you’ve been introduced.  I guess this is the perfect time to… leave you two alone. READ MORE

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