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Gary Soup

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Everything posted by Gary Soup

  1. Moon Cakes

    Mid-Autumn festival is still a month away but mooncakes are starting to rear their ugly heads in SF Chinatown. I know people who actually like them, but I suspect most people view them as China's version of the fruitcake. They're for giving, not for eating, and you sort of know that whomever you give them to will give them to someone else. (At least that's my view.) Do you like mooncakes? If so, what style do you prefer, the Cantonese varieties that have everything but the kitchen sink in them, or the more spartan northern style? Meat-filled Jiangsu-style? Ice Cream mooncakes (I kid you not)? Any mooncake memories?
  2. If you are Jewish (especially New York Jewish) you know why this link is seasonal. It's a fascinating dissertation, and at the same time kinda funny for its seriousness. (Maybe we just like Chinese food because we're smarter.) Safe Treyf: New York Jews and Chinese Food
  3. I've just returned from a long weekend in Vancouver with my wife, S-I-L and S-I-L's husband in tow. I'm embarrased to admit that it was my first visit there after 42 years of living in California, but I shall return! If you read the Chinese food forum, you may know that I get a steady diet of home-cooked Shanghainese food, and am the self-appointed snapping turtle of xiaolong bao orthodoxy (I even registered to domain name xiaolongbao.com). Our whole party was jonesing for Shanghainese food and I in particular for xiaolong bao (sometimes referred to as "soup dumplings"). We were surprised at the number of Shanghainese Restaurants, Shanghainese people and Mandarin-speaking people we encountered. (Yes, we neglected the excellent Cantonese fare, but the SF Bay area can probably hold a candle to Van in that department, and we did have an agenda.) Two of our three dinners were at purportedly Shanghainese Restaurants, Shanghai Shin Ya in one of the Asia West malls (I still haven't got the geography straight) and Chen's Shanghai Restaurtant on Leslie Rd. Shanghai Shin Ya won our affections. The food, while not stellar, was as authentic as you can get for family-style Shanghainese food, and all of the staff and probably all of the customers except me were speaking Shanghainese (though I'll modestly allow that I can curse and order food in the dialect). They had a great version of yan du xian, the national soup of Shanghai, as it were, a dish so home-y that it's seldom even found in restauarants. We also had an even harder to find hashed doufu gan and garlic chive dish, a passable kaofu dish, a red-cooked fish dish and a falling-off-the-bone pork hock (tipang) which was blessedly not overly sweetened with rock sugar. Chen's Shanghai Restaurant, on the other hand, was one of those places that tries to be all things to all people, despite its name. Some dishes had characteristic Shanghainese ingredients, like the stuffed youmian jing, but were delivered in unfamiliar preparations without the stark flavor profiles of Shanghainese cuisine. The spicy fish slices, a familiar Sichuanese-with-Shanghainese-characteristics item on menus in Shanghai, was also delivered in a stock that was a muddle of flavors. I also got to sample three different xiaolong bao offerings, and was pleased to find that the xialong bao served at the Bejing-Shanghai Delicacies stall in the Richmond Public Market food court ranked with the best I have found in North America in the 12 years that I have been in the hunt. By unanimous decision of the three contentious Shanghainese in my party and myself, we returned for more a second day. The next stall over from the BJ-SH stall, "Tian Jing Food" also offered xiaolong bao and had an elegant picture of same on their sign, so my journalistic curiosity made me purchase a small order for side-by-side comparison, contrary to the advice of my fellow travelers (the goubuli from there had already bombed in our trials). TJ food's xiaolong bao were a disaster, with thick, brittle wrappers, a chewy, tasteless filling and no "soup". Chen's Shanghai Restaurant also offered xiaolong bao with dinner (Shanghai Shin Ya, like most restaurants in Shanghai, didn't have it on the dinner menu). The XLB at Chen's were something that a New York soup dumpling maven would love, being overly large, flabby, and souped up like the ones at Joe's Shanghai. They were flavorful enough, but far from the smaller, tightly constructed and delicately skinned model for xlb. Overall, I'd probably have to say that the Richmond Public Market was probably the highlight of the three days for our frugal bunch. The food court was simply amazing, with vendors of specialties from Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Xi'an, Xinjiang (2, including one halal), Taiwan, Chongqing, Guangdong, Singapore, and Hong Kong, that I can recall. At the produce stalls on the main floor, my wife and her sister were both ecstatic at finding White Bamboo, something they have never found locally. I'm not sure if it's a proscribed foodstuff, but I can now safely report that they both were succesful at "smuggling" a small supply into the US.
  4. On a 2-1/2 day visit to New York last week, I had a Quixotic plan to sample the xiaolong bao at up to four different restaurants. Of course, my schedule and logistics limited my ambitions, but I managed to get to two. I settled on Moon House in my sole half-day in Chinatown. I had narrowed my list to either MH or Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, and Moon House appeared, on first glance, to be a little closer to the bone. The ambience of Moon House did not disappoint, as it had the look and feel of a family-run-hole-in-the-wall in any Shanghai neighborhood. All of the staff, and most of the customers, spoke the staccato and melodious central Shanghai dialect. I was also delighted by the fact that, as in the very shrine of xiaolong bao in Shanghai, the food arrived by dumbwaiter from the nether regions of the shop. I also had a chuckle when when the counter girl muttered some salty curses in Shanghainese at the dilatory unseen cook downstairs who was slow in producing a takeout order. (Her outburst also reminded me how much I was already missing my wife, who did not make the trip with me.) Unfortunately, the verisimilitude ended where the food began. The xiaolong bao were in the Joe's Shanghai mold of being overly large, and well-souped but with a broth that was lacking in intensity of flavor. Worse, the wrapper was thick and way too chewy, as if it had been prepared too far in advance. The accompanying congyou bing (scallion pancakes) I ordered were also a miscarriage, being thick, not layered, and translucently soggy, as if they had been been deep fried instead of shallow fried. Unaccountably, salty soy milk soup was not on the menu (or available off the menu, for that matter) and I had to make do with an uninteresting and bland soup of bean thread vermicelli in a broth with small fragments of youtiao (fried bread). One positive note, in addition to the ambience: the xiaolong bao were $3.95 for eight, which should buy them a little forgiveness. My second xiaolong bao experience on this trip was as an appetizer at M Shanghai, which was not on my original list, but was a last minute inspiration for dinner when we planned to be in Williamsburg. M Shanghai turned out to be a pleasant surprise, probably due to my low expectations. The reviews in the press and the trendy locale seemed to whisper "fusion" (the "f"-word, in my lexicon). It turned out, however, to be not so much "fusion" (probably not enough exotic California veggies at hand) but a lightened-up take on a cuisine similar to what I imagine girth-conscious "modern" Shanghainese are partaking of somewhere at this very moment. There was not a red-cooked pig trotter or a "Su Dongpo" pork-belly in sight. The xiaolong bao at M Shanghai, all things considered, were the best I have experienced in New York to date. The wrappers, though slightly larger and not quite as tightly constructed as xiaolaong bao orthodoxy dictates, were almost of the requisite melt-in-the-moth tenderness, and the "soup" had a desirable intensity of flavor, though a little on the sweet side for my taste. After the fact, it occurred to me that the xiaolong bao at M Shanghai were almost dead ringers for the ones served in Wuxi, notable for the sweetness of its cuisine. We also ordered niangao (stir-fried Shanghai rice pasta), which was a good version but cooked a little too soft; morning glory with tea sauce, a breaded chicken with chestnuts dish, and Salmon with tofu. The latter three were all new to me, but skillfully cooked and well-flavored despite a total lack of the necessary condiments of fat, bone, and gristle mandated in truly authentic Shanghai cuisine. I also had an amusing contretemps with our obstinate waiter, who opined that we had ordered too many dishes for three people, and suggested we cancel the stir-fried rice cakes, "since we would be getting the complimentary steamed rice anyway." It was a suggestion that only a non-Shanghainese would make, to be sure. I insisted on the niangao (we canceled another dish) and informed him that we didn't need to eat the rice simply because it came free. He later brought the niangao simultaneously with two bowls of rice for the three of us and placed the order of niangao directly beside my plate. For the record, other meals which diverted me from my xiaolong bao quest included take-out Cubanos for the A's game at Yanqui Stadium, lunch with my daughter at the Conde Nast building cafeteria (located on the same floor as the offices for both Gourmet and Bon Appetit, hmmmm...) and a decent breakfast at Cafe Henri in Long Island City, which would have tasted better if the place were called Cafe Ennui, as I first misheard.
  5. Rancho Gordo in Your Eye

    Strolling through the Ferry Building at lunch time, my eye was caught by an attractive display of nothing other than Rancho Gordo beans. (Actually it was the lustful babe on the label that snagged me.) It was front and center, at the entrance to the Village Market. A variety of colorful dried beans plus a couple of of other veggie things (cilantro and chiles?). I wasn't in the market for beans, but I bought the last bag of RG tortilla chips -- tasty, natural and macho enough to handle the toughest dipping jobs. Citybound Rancho Gordo fans, now you know where to go!
  6. Socratic dialogue? Although we have an abundance of hemlock up here, could you really endorse a guy who ordered it for his last meal? Sorry Gary, but in these parts, when a big Pacific storm rolls over the coast we're much more favourably disposed to Nietzsche--someone we can really sink our teeth into when it's dark outside too. Besides, shouldn't we cast the net wider and ask the question as to precisely when Greater Vancouver displaced the Bay Area as the west coast's pre-eminent culinary destination? I'd warrant that it was about three years ago, six months after the tech-wreck but while we were still more than 30% happier to see you. ← Heck, I grew up across the river from the Ontario-Quebec border and used Kierkegaard to keep me warm in the winter when it was -40 F (which also happens to be -40 C). I'm not to the "when" yet, but the still working on the "if". I'm sure Vancouver has many gems of Chinese Restaurants, but getting information is kind of like LA and Mexican food; if you ask the non-Mexican locals for recommendations, they always come up with the same three restaurants. Three years and six months ago was about the time when the $1 US was $1.62 CAN and I was on the verge of buying a condo in Richmond, sight unseen, as a retirement hedge. Now that's 30% less likely, and my standards for good Chinese food in Van/Rich have gone up 30%. However, my meager retirement income would go a long way at the Richmond Public Market food court.....
  7. Let's not forget here that crabs and lobsters are essentially giant primeval insects, related to cockroaches.
  8. Joan, you give up too easily . Just trying to start a little Socratic dialogue, and hopefully draw out the Vancouver folks to defend/discuss the gems of Chinese cuisine in Vancouver/Richmond. There doesn't seem to be much of a knowledge base on this or the other message board about it.
  9. The Fruit Chan movie "Dumplings" had a great scene where the protagonist's wayward husband peeled and ate a third trimester balut as he fondled the leg of a young housemaid at poolside. That was one of the less provocative food-related images from the film.
  10. Boy, you're definitely going to have to go back to Vancouver, because I think it's safe to say that the SF Bay Area canNOT hold a candle to Vancouver in this area. ← I'll put that down to your LA snobbery (inferiority complex?) vis-a-vis the Bay Area coming through again. I'm guessing that Vancouver's Chinese food is Hong Kong-based, which makes it already Cantonese once removed. I avoided the pricey places in HK (and boy were they pricey!) in the three months I was there, but the affordable food in HK was nothing to write home about.
  11. Tea Eggs

    I agree that the soy sauce and five spice overshadow the taste of tea leaves. However, I believe green tea is too "weak" to be used in making tea eggs. You need to use a strong flavor tea leave, such as Pu Er, to obtain the tea flavor. ← Maybe I'm being parochial here. My wife hails from green tea country, where people seldom even have black or red tea in the house. Also, I recall reading somewhere that tea eggs originated in Suzhou, and were originally made with biluochun tea.
  12. It sounds like you went to the left-most (non-halal) Xinjiang place. We had the same dish, only with beef instead of lamb. Oddly, our noodles seemed to have been cooked a bit too long. [Edited to say: Oops, I overlooked the fact that you said Xian, not Xinjiang. The soup we had at the Xinjiang place also came in a ceramic bowl and had lots of cilantro in it; it also came with a lamb option.]
  13. What do you mean by this? What are typical Shanghainese flavours? ← Sorry for being cryptically terse (I found my post already rambling more than I intended). I was referring to the Shanghainese tendency to prefer strong individual flavors rather than subtle melded ones. Along the same lines, Shanghainese chefs adhere religiously to the northern tenet of only two ingredients in a stir fry, and tend to extend it further by having one clearly primary and the other secondary. "Happy family" type dishes are generally eschewed, especially ones in a medium which allows flavors to mingle. The stuffed "youmian jing" as prepared by Shanghainese would have them resting in a bit of nearly neutral broth, or familiar "red" broth with the flavors of the ground pork, wheat gluten and red sauce easily parsed by the palate. The preparation at Chen's had them deep in a soup which had a lot of things going on in it, and presented a confusion of tastes which resulted in some furrowed brows in our party.
  14. Tea Eggs

    A couple of comments: It's probably dawned on you that tea is one of the ingredients for "tea eggs" that you forgot to list. It doesn't matter a lot, since the tea flavor is overpowered by the soy sauce and spicing, but I believe green tea is traditional rather than black tea. Also, 5-spice is often used instead of just star anise. There's nothing more satisfying than grabbing a couple of hot tea eggs from a street vendor at the train station when you're rushing for a train at dawn on a chilly day!
  15. Various Chinese cuisines

    We haven't seen Shanghai or our apartment in two years (not to worry, it's busy collecting rent for our retirement nest egg). My view, though, reinforced by a weekend trip to Vancouver (see my report on the Canada board), is that if you know the culinary landscape you don't HAVE to go to China to get good restaurant food (localized street food is another matter). Ever since the Cultural Revolution trashed high cuisine, China has been playing catchup with Chinese food in the diaspora. Over the weekend, there was a story in the Globe and Mail's excellent series on "China Rising" about the current status of restaurants in China which contained this amazing assertion: I guess what the reporter is saying is that you can actually find better Chinese restaurants in Beijing than in Toronto
  16. I hear you on that. The beauty of the crab feasts is that they do all the work for you on most preparations. Of course, they also include one whole crab dish. A true Shanghainese wouldn't be denied the labor of love involved in cleaning the tiny creature of every edible morsel.
  17. You'll be in Shanghai at the height of the Shanghai "Hairy Crab" season. An absolute must, IMHO, is to partake of this noted freshwater delicacy, particularly at one of the major crab fests. Here's a descripton of four of them, culled from the listings at That's Shanghai, a good resource in itself. I couldn't find the current pricing, but they are typically quite reasonable by Western dining standards (and compared to what you may encounter in HK). Hairy Crab Menu The "Full Crab Menu" features from steamed hairy crab, chin chow cold crab to fried crab with pepper & salt, and special created stir-fried vegetarian crab roe with bean sprouts, many more. 11am-2.30pm, 6.30pm- 10.30pm, Dynasty, Renaissance Yangtze Hotel (62750000 ext 2282) Hairy Crab A Plenty Chef Sam and his team prepare the season's menu featuring crabmeat soup with green vegetables, baked clam with hairy crabmeat, stir fried crab roe, sauteed prawns with soft crabmeat, crabmeat stuffed and baked in eggplant, braised with asparagus, stewed with minced pork ball and in noodle soup. Prices start from RMB 38+ onwards. 11.30am-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm, Si Ji Xuan, Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai (6256 8888 ext 1280) Hairy Crab Festival Apart from the popular steamed hairy crabs, new creative dishes such as stuffed hairy crab meat in the whole orange; stuffed marinated hairy crab meat, onions and mushrooms in crab shell, stir-fried hairy crab claw meat are also available. A la carte menu. 11am-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm, Jade Coral Chinese Restaurant, Regal International East Asia Hotel (6415 5588 ext 2760) Hairy Crabs Feast Indulge you to new crab dishes like steamed crab meat, deep-fried crab meat balls, sauteed shark's fin with crab meat and steamed dumpling with crab meat. 11.30am-2pm, 5.30-10pm, Banquet Hall, Central Hotel Shanghai (5396 5000) The last listed is the most famous by far. It's prepared by Wang Bao He, Shanghai's most venerable restaurant. In case you have the misfortune of missing the crab feasts in Shanghai, Wu Kong (my favorite Hong Kong Shanghainese restaurant) will probably put on a good spread.
  18. Pearl Bridge Soy Sauce

    Amoy is also manufactured in Hong Kong. Does the GM prohibition extend to HK?
  19. Pearl Bridge Soy Sauce

    PBR=Pabst Blue Ribbon (gosh, where've you been?) PRB=Pearl River Bridge (established up-thread.)
  20. Pac NW eGulleter Needs Advice

    So, spill the beans, already! My theory is that if their are dueling pronunciations of a place name derived from a foreign language, the locals most likely use the less "correct" pronunciation. If not, there would be no contention. It's the outsiders who rely on models. It's Paso RoBULLS, San PEEdro, TuLAYre, St. HelEEna, etc.
  21. Pearl Bridge Soy Sauce

    My wife, being Shanghainese, puts most of her marbles on the "lao" soy sauce. Kikkoman is her PBR of soy sauces, if not her PRB. I think it also saves her money on salt.
  22. Pearl Bridge Soy Sauce

    My wife has adopted Kimlan, especially for her "lao" soy sauce, and Kikkoman as her "light" soy sauce (probably because the big plastic jugs at Costco are so cheap). She doesn't seem to have much use for flavored (mushroom or other) soy sauces. Pearl River Bridge is by far the most ubiquitous in Chinatown, but there are quite a few other options. For a while, Ju Ju was sending me out for an obscure brand that was only available at one shop that happened to be in the furthest reaches of Chinatown from us, but their supply fortunately dried up.
  23. More on "Shanghainese Ma La Doufu"...... Tonight I complimented Ju Ju on the better-than-usual ma la doufu she made for dinner. "It's not ma la doufu," she said. "It looks like and tastes like ma la doufu to me." "It's not Shanghainese ma la doufu," she clarified. "It's American ma la doufu." "Why is it American ma la doufu?" "Because I didn't use the [McCormick's Mapo Doufu Seasoning Mix] from Shanghai." "What did you use?" "Lao Gan Ma la jiang." "Lao Gan Ma is Chinese, isn't she?" I countered. "Yes." "So, how does that make it American?" "Because I bought it in America."
  24. Soup in the Chinese Kitchen

    There were more dishes coming, definitely a soup and an obligatory noodle dish, and I think more hot dishes (My SIL and MIL were also chipping in on kithcen duties). They may have been shooting for "8 Cold Dishes and 8 Hot Dishes". From the fuzzy picture (taken with my trusty old 0.8 megapixel Fujifilm DX-10) and my fuzzy sexagenarian memory), the dishes were, beginning with the outer circle, clockwise from bottom left: - Cantonese roast duck (store-bought) - Spring Rolls - Kaofu - Soy sauce chicken (duck?) wings - ?? Crystal Shrimp? - Jellyfish salad - lap cheong - Shanghai "egg rolls" - Pork and bamboo shoot slivers (maybe "yuxiang" flavor) Inner circle, clockwise from bottom: - Dungeness crab (steamed, probably ginger-scallion or ginger garlic prep) - "White-cooked" Chicken - Steamed fish One of the dipping sauces was for the chicen, the other for the crab.
  25. Soup in the Chinese Kitchen

    Shanghainese will serve any number of veggie or veggie and dried tofu dishes as cold dishes, though the veggies are generally parboiled. I guess these could be called "salads," as would jellyfish "salad." Raw shelled soybeans or fava beans, tomato slices, and cucumber are also served as kinds of salads. Raw leafy greens, never. The only dish I have heard referred to as "sala" (no "d") in Shanghainese is a form of potato salad, very similar to, and probably inspired by, Western potato salad.
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