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Ben Hong

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Posts posted by Ben Hong

  1. I guess this could be construed as a cultural issued. My Cantonese sensibilties are not so ingrained that they would deny me the pleasure of a zinging hot and spicey dish once in a while, but not as a regular part of my diet, and not so extreme. However, in all the philosophical dissertations on the preparation, serving and the eating of food as written by the "Old Guys" like Lin Yu Tang, Confucius, et al., one of the central philosophies espoused by them is balance, or harmony, if you will. You know, yin and yang, dark and light, male and female,and, hot and cold. Also, extremes should not be tolerated.

    But then they may well have been writing these treatises for the more "civilized" :rolleyes: parts of the Chinese civilization, ie. the eastern, southern and central parts of China, regions that fell under the influence of the Imperial Court. I may be wrong in my assumption, but I had always detected a superior attitude of the Chinese from these regions towards the people of the western and the far northern frontiers (Szechuan and Manchuria). That sense of superiority extended to food preferences as they considered the food of the frontiers was somewhat "primitive". We now know that this is not the case as creative and resourceful people will always use what is readily at hand.

    I have noticed though, that when people are introduced to anything new, whether it be music, literature, food, they take a liking to that which appeals to and makes an impact on their senses. It takes a bit more aculturation for them to appreciate the finer shades and nuances of the new discovery. Almost every young person takes an immediate liking to Led Zeppelin, but Bach and Beethoven requires more time.

  2. Lee Kum Kee will be among the best you will find. Toban Jiang is not intended to scorch the palate, it is a flavouring condiment...as most sauces are meant to be. I am curious as to why everyone thinks that certain types/regional Chinese cuisines have to be so "hot" as to be inedible. Chinese food is, above all else, supposed to harmonious, flavourful and nuanceful. You can't get those characteristics with an overpowering, taste bud numbing presence of capsaicin :wacko: .

  3. Interesting thread. I have had many interesting(!) food experiences, but the one I remember as the best "Chinese" meal I have ever eaten was the time I got "turned around" during a hunting trip in some unfamiliar country. After 11 hours in the cold and wet and eating only a 25 cent bag of peanuts, I finally got back to my truck. I opened the lunch which my mother had packed for me and found to my delight and everlasting gratitude, 3 "joong" which she made herself. They are still my favourite pack lunch.

  4. Eddie, that was an excellent post.

    Gary Soup, there were significant numbers of cooks (chefs) recruited during the 70s and 80s by Canadian sponsors. The normal route was for the immigration officials to acknowledge that there was a pressing shortage of qualified cooks (or welders, or pipefitters, or fitters, etc.) and the sector would be prioritized. Then it was a matter using the "rice grapevine" ie: "guangxi" to find suitable applicants. The PRC gov't did not usually hinder them, with proper "documentation" :wink::wink: Usually there were more than enough applicants. :wink:

    Herbacidal, I don't know what Pearl delta flood you are talking about. Didn't it flood annually? :angry: Some explanation here. Taishan was almost a generic name for us immigrants up to the 60s, whether we came from Xinwui, Hoiping, Xin Ning, Guang Hai, Yang Gong, etc. These towns and cities were in a small area roughly 50 miles square and whatever locale they came from, they all speak my dialect (with inflections) which is that earthy, profane, blasphemous, scatalogical, loud, crude, and very expressive language called Taishanese. If you spoke that dialect, you were a Taishan person, regardless of what town you came from. In the fifties and early 60s, people who came with a proper Cantonese dialect and dared to speak it in front of some "lo wah kieu" (oldtimer) soon found that it was beneficial to drop that flowery languge of the sing -song girls, and learned how to speak "Chinese", ie, Taishan. :biggrin: In my youth I literally travelled the width and breadth of Canada and found that the Taishan dialect was very DOMINANT. The Hong Kong dialect could be found in pockets of the Chinatowns of Toronto and Vancouver. Montreal Chinatown was 100% Taishanese, at least out in public.

    Wesza, I understand the type of lifestyle that was led by the top chefs in the traditional hierarchy and no, they would not be swayed by the lure of a 40 hour week, clean air, etc. The impetus that drove the out migration of people was the willingness to leave the uncertainty and political bullshot behind - which has proven to be the case with a vast majority of immigrants.

    Not to be patronizing, but I am really and truly happy that I found this website and I find this kind of discussion a stimulating diversion from the drudgery of pushing paper. Cheers.

    BTW how do you use the quote function. At 61 years. I am a klutz when it comes to high technology.

  5. I am from Taishan,"Home of the Overseas Chinese". That implies loads, as for about 5 generations before me there were people who emigrated to all over the world. I know of people with relatives in Trinidad, Mexico, Africa, India,and of course Southeast Asia. Perhaps there was a "cross pollination" there, who knows?

  6. "Some of my best friends are Chinese", "I almost married one of them", "I loove their food" Boy are we ever slinging the old chestnuts today!

    Choco, look beyond your comfortable ivory tower. Have you ever been inside a Canadian prison? a First Nations reservation in Labrador? Ever been dropped off in -40 dgree weather with summer clothes? The pristine True North is not so pristine, eh?

    China currently manufactures roughly 42% of all consumer goods world wide.What are you going to do when 85% of the manufactured consumer goods are made in China?

  7. Anything by Kenneth Lo, especially "the Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cooking" (??). Rhoda Yee's "Dim Sum" book is almost getting too dog eared to use now :rolleyes: I have a library of books and a good repertoire, but if I need a refresher on a technique, I refer to Lo's book. Rhoda's book is a good reference for basic dimsum, but her dimsum is not as stylish and refined as what the modern restaurants serve now. Still her style is what I grew up with.

  8. Gary Soup, I respectfully point out that I neither inferred nor stated "a star system". The star system is anathema to me and has been since I was negatively impacted in an earlier incarnation. My own personal m.o. has always been to follow the taste. Unfortunatel in the vast majority of cases, nonfood factors enter into a persons appreciation of a meal - decor, service, ambience, etc. These things are not USUALLY germane to the quality of the food.

    Regardless of whatever the situation, any large influx of highly trained professionals into a slow evolving situation (cuisine wise at that time) over such a short time, has to impact the final result, and I believe that it has been a positive impact. Not only that, but the impact was immediate. Yes there was a constant improvement over the years, but that improvement was based on the numbers coming over during "normal" immigration, a comparatively slow trickle.

    There's nothing like competition to improve a product, eh?

  9. Shiewie, the literal translation could be "purple beard" ,"purple lion", "left beard", or "left lion". To my eternal regret, and shame, I don't read or write Chinese. The plant is generally a bit smaller than Thai or Italian basil and is not generally as bushy. Leaves are ovate and about the same size as basil leaves. They are green around the outer perimeter and are purple/maroon in the centre. Leaves are not shiny, smooth as basil, but are "dryish" to the touch.

  10. If it pleases the panel, may I humbly offer a short historical dissertation on the Chinese in North America.

    There are four or five very significant historical events that should be kept in mind:

    a) the influx of Chinese coolies (slaves) during the gold rush in Cal. and the railroad building period in both

    the US and Can.

    b) the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act by both the USA and Canada in the late 1920s

    c) the repeal of the Exclusion Act in Canada (and later in the US) in 1947

    d) the liberalization of the immigration policies in Canada in the mid 1960s

    e) the agreement between Margaret Thatcher's British Gov't and the PRC under Deng Shiao Peng to

    repatriate Hong Kong in 1987.

    The periods covered in a) to d) concern the Chinese of southern Guangdong Province, more specifically the county known as Taishan (Toysaan). Taishan was the home territory of 98% of all the Chinese in North America up until the liberalization of immigration rules in the mid 1960s. Then Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, and mainlanders came , but they all had some family ties with the Chinese who were already here. Yes, these people were not in the least bit wealthy or middle class, (except those of the overachieving second and third generations). These are the people who most North Americans think of, if they even think of the Chinese at all in those days. People holed up in their greasy kitchens slinging sweet and sour spare ribs to the unsuspecting gwai loh; slaving over their irons while pressing countless "shirtees", operating small convenience store for 20 hours at a stretch. These are the people who were ghettoized in the dozens of Chinatowns all over North America (San Francisco, NYC., Vancouver, Toronto, et al) to develop a cuisine that is a uniquely Americanized version of Taishanese village cooking. Great food to my Taishan tastes, but the cuisine was not very haute.

    Enter Thatcher and Deng. The fear and trepidation that swept through Hong Kong after the agreement was signed by both leaders was palpable and profound. I was there on business trips during that period and my contacts were all scrambling to get out..to Australia, England, USA, and Canada. Fortuitously the Canadian government established a program whereby a new category of immigrants was named, the "Immigrant Investor." With this act, our government unintentionally high graded (cherry picked) the Hong Kong exodus. In the 10 years leading up to the final sign over in July 1997, Canada enjoyed a large influx of hundreds of Hong Kong millionaires and dozens of billionaires. This wave was extremely rich, in fact it was the only time in western history where an immigration class was richer and better educated than the indigenous population. They came in their hundreds of thousands to settle in Vancouver, Toronto and to a lesser extent, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.

    Some stats for those who are so inclined. Before 1985 there were probably 200,000 Chinese in Canada. Now there are well over 1,000,000. Toronto before 1985 had about 100,000 Chinese. Now it has over 500,000. In fact Chinese is the third language of Canada after English and French.

    Now back to the topic of cuisine. Most of you here would probably know that all Chinese would rather eat a well prepared meal than do almost anything else. Well, that holds true for the rich Hong Kong people who came to Canada and found to their horror that what passed for good food was virtually unpalatable to their refined sensibilities. So they brought their own "style", built fantastic eating emporiums, hired the best cooks out of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai and introduced Chinese haute cuisine to North America. By doing so, they elevated and educated the locals to achieve higher standards. I hazzard to say that without these people, this board would be talking about the quality of a particular restaurant's sweet and sour spareribs over another's. :smile: Toronto and Vancouver=Nirvana.

  11. It's all about taste. How one chef in one particular restaurant prepares any particular dish may not be the exactly the same as the next chef preparing what is purportedly the same dish out of the same kitchen. Chinese cuisine has so much latitude (room for creativity), that no restaurant owner can impose a strict milligram by milligram list of ingredients for his chef de l'heure to use. That means what you get from one chef may be different when you order the same dish the next time around, from a different cook, yea, even from the same chef. Soooo, when a food critic reviews a restaurant, he/she must look for consistency over a time and over several visits. And as Jo-Mel, so aptly puts it, what about variations in personal taste?

    Having said all that, except for a few interesting examples in San Francisco, maybe NYC, I can honestly say that the most consistently good Chinese restaurants are to be found in Toronto and Vancouver. This is the word according to my colleagues in the Hong Kong and Chinese diplomatic community, believe me, they KNOW their food. :raz: The best in HK is the BEST. Toronto has a better average, according to them.

  12. jo-mel, Way off :smile: It's a herb and used sparingly as a herb, never as a veggie. But you bring forth a mouthwatering reminisce of amaranth; tender, earthy, satisfying. Truly a south Chinese "soul food", especially flash wokked with shrimp sauce(haam ha) and slivers of ginger.

  13. There is a herb that we use in clam, mussel, or other seafood dishes. That herb is very much like basil in shape; the aroma is slightly different. It's called "doo soo" (Cantonese phonetics). The leaves are variegated maroon and green, not shiny like traditional basil. You can find it in Chinese greengrocers, or try to find seeds. Be careful when growing it in the garden though, because once it takes, it really takes over and proliferates. My female elders used to have it planted as houseplants in pots. No clam dish is really "complete" without it. :smile:

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