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NYC Vietnamese/Chinese food vs. Toronto


Todd36
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Woops. Right. It's $2 for adults, $1 for children. I think it might have been free back in the day but they added the charge in order to keep people from using the bus as free public transportation to Edgewater. In any event, the point is that you need a certain critical mass of demand in order for it to make sense to run 22 shuttle trips a day (on weekends; it's 11 a day on weekdays) from Manhattan to a Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, New Jersey.

We have a car so I've never had to master the New Jersey Transit network, but plenty of people manage to get from Manhattan to the key Asian food destinations in Northern New Jersey by bus and train. The couple of times I've needed to get to or from Northern New Jersey on public transportation it has been easy and cheap. It's not quite as user-friendly a trip as going to Jackson Heights on the city subway system, but it's easier than getting to Coney Island (21.2 miles from my house, and requiring a couple of subways and a ton of time).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've eaten around Toronto three times in the past ten years -- not extensively, not enough to be an expert, but enough to have context -- and Vancouver at least five times. I've also had Asian food in nine of Canada's ten provinces. I just finished writing a book on Asian dining in North America. I have a good track record of saying when something in my home town is bad -- I'm not exactly an apologist for New York. I think I have decent perspective on this issue. And I don't disagree with the general assessment of Vancouver and Toronto (with a huge gap between the two). However, I disagree with the general assessment of New York. I know a lot of the so-called experts who make these judgments and I know they're operating on outdated assumptions, haven't been to New Jersey and don't really know the New York Chinese-food scene outside of Chinatown. If people who have been to Chinatown Brasserie, Dim Sum Go Go and a variety of Chinese restaurants in Northern New Jersey want to tell me that Toronto has better dim sum than New York, I'm listening. Otherwise the verdict is as credible as a judgment arrived at by visiting New York's Little Italy, eating at a few red-sauce food factories, and proclaiming New York Italian weak without ever visiting Babbo, A Voce, Alto or Fiamma.

Here's Ed Levine on Joe Ng:

after another phenomenal dim sum meal at Chinatown Brasserie I feel more certain than ever that there are no dim sum chefs in New York (and maybe America) better than CB's Joe Ng.

. . . .

Ng is a dumpling auteur, a dim sum artist, the Matisse of dough. Each dumpling, fried or pan-fried or steamed, is a miniature bit of dumpling perfection. His wrappers are the most delicate imaginable.

. . . .

I've never had dim sum in Shanghai, but Gail Greene has, and she told me yesterday that Joe Ng's dim sum creations are as good or better than anything she has had there.

http://edlevineeats.seriouseats.com/2007/0...n-chinatow.html

If you've been to Toronto, but have never been to Lai Wah Heen, you MUST go on your next visit. People have come from Hong Kong to go there (!) and say it compares to their best.

Also, FWIW, I've eaten a LOT in both NY's Chinatown and in Toronto (I'm a dual citizen and have family in both cities), and I wondered if you had been to any of the other Chinatowns in Toronto besides the one downtown (there are actually 3). There's an area called Markham that's about 20 minutes from downtown that is in many people's opinions WAY better for Chinese food than the downtown Chinatown. While the downtown Chinatown is roughly comparable to NY's in quality, Markham is a whole level higher. The explanation I was given is that Markham is one of the few Chintowns outside Asia, where the majority of the people who immigrated there came with money rather than seeking it. The result was a more refined, more upscale vision of the food, and an audience that demanded a more refined standard. It's worth a shot.

Also, do yourself a favor and have lunch in the food court of the Pan Asian mall...it's crazy fun. You'll thank me later.

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I've been to Markham. I haven't been to Lai Wah Heen. I've had excellent dim sum in Asia, however, and New York now has dim sum on that level. Have you tasted Joe Ng's dim sum? Have you dined in New Jersey? You've said you dine a lot in New York's Chinatown, but to me that's not the relevant point of comparison.

I suppose we can go back and forth like this forever and never settle the matter. Suffice it to say for my last word on this tangent that I hear a lot of proclamations about Asian food in New York and they're usually based on mistaken assumptions about where the best examples of Asian food are. Those examples are often not to be found in any of New York's Chinatowns.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've been to Markham. I haven't been to Lai Wah Heen. I've had excellent dim sum in Asia, however, and New York now has dim sum on that level. Have you tasted Joe Ng's dim sum?[...]

I have, twice - once when he was at World Tong in Brooklyn, and once at Chinatown Brasserie. The meal at CB was way better than the one at World Tong, and possibly the best dim sum I've had in North America (though I've never been to Toronto or Vancouver, so my bases for comparison are primarily in New York and the LA and San Francisco areas). However, it was clearly not as consistently delicious to me as my dim sum lunch at Xin in the Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. For whatever that's worth.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I believe phaelon made that assertion.

hopefully he'll comment.

I've been a bit busy and am just now getting back to this thread. Which assertion are we referring to? If it's my comment that the best Vietnamese food I've had in the NYC area was in North Jersey it still stands true although it's been a few years (about five or so) since I last had Viet food there. There was a place in Nutley - Little Saigon if I recall correctly - that was excellent (and run by ethnic Vietnamese). It burned and subsequently reopened in a different location but is reputed to still be very good. There's a place in... Fort Lee I think... that opened more recently and also has a great rep. details are buried somewhere int he NJ forum.

But if I made some other assertion that warrants comment please remind me what it is and I'll respond. Thanks!

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that NYC Vietnamese restaurants are run by ethnic Chinese?

It's a comment based on numerous independent assertions I've seen made by a number of people both in past discussions in this forum and elsewhere. And the assertion is that "most" (but certainly not all) of the NYC Chinatown Vietnamese restaurants are run by Chinese operators rather than by Vietnamese. As for the claim that many people make regarding the food in these places as being "less authentic" for that reason - I'm inclined to be skeptical.

Does your first hand experience contradict the assertions? Just curious.

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that NYC Vietnamese restaurants are run by ethnic Chinese?

It's a comment based on numerous independent assertions I've seen made by a number of people both in past discussions in this forum and elsewhere. And the assertion is that "most" (but certainly not all) of the NYC Chinatown Vietnamese restaurants are run by Chinese operators rather than by Vietnamese. As for the claim that many people make regarding the food in these places as being "less authentic" for that reason - I'm inclined to be skeptical.

Does your first hand experience contradict the assertions? Just curious.

oh no...I don't have the foggiest clue. I'd just seen that observation come up here before.

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that NYC Vietnamese restaurants are run by ethnic Chinese?

It's a comment based on numerous independent assertions I've seen made by a number of people both in past discussions in this forum and elsewhere. And the assertion is that "most" (but certainly not all) of the NYC Chinatown Vietnamese restaurants are run by Chinese operators rather than by Vietnamese. As for the claim that many people make regarding the food in these places as being "less authentic" for that reason - I'm inclined to be skeptical.

Does your first hand experience contradict the assertions? Just curious.

oh no...I don't have the foggiest clue. I'd just seen that observation come up here before.

I've seen it mentioned in a few NYC Viet food user reviews on Yelp and elsewhere. And I've yet to try Viet food in Manhattan that's as good as what I used to get in North Jersey or what I get up here now in Syracuse. But I've only been to four or so such places in NY and that's not a large enough sampling to draw good conclusions from.

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I've been to Markham. I haven't been to Lai Wah Heen. I've had excellent dim sum in Asia, however, and New York now has dim sum on that level. Have you tasted Joe Ng's dim sum? Have you dined in New Jersey? You've said you dine a lot in New York's Chinatown, but to me that's not the relevant point of comparison.

I suppose we can go back and forth like this forever and never settle the matter. Suffice it to say for my last word on this tangent that I hear a lot of proclamations about Asian food in New York and they're usually based on mistaken assumptions about where the best examples of Asian food are. Those examples are often not to be found in any of New York's Chinatowns.

I completely agree with you on many counts, actually. For one, that NY's best dim sum (and other Asian food) isn't in Chinatown. Also, that Joe Ng is very talented. However, I think you'd find that Wai Lah Heen operates at the same or maybe even higher level. This, not just according to me, but to various dim sum authorities from Hong Kong.

Incidentally, there wasn't any back and forth...that was my first post on this thread. (I was just checking that you'd seen all of the Toronto areas, and not just downtown, etc.)

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Texas, too. But I really wouldn't write off Northern New Jersey or present-day non-Chinatown New York City. The Baxter street places achieve a certain level of mediocrity, punctuated by occasional highlights, but they're not the whole New York Vietnamese scene. There are also at least three good places I've tried in Elmhurst, Flushing and someplace way out in Brooklyn, not that I can keep their names straight.

If you can think of the names (or addresses) of the Elmhurst, Flushing, or Brooklyn places, I'd be thrilled. I've had little luck finding decent Vietnamese food in any of the New York boroughs. I'm not saying this to be argumentative, as I don't believe I've been able to do a full survey, but if anyone has recommendations, I'd appreciate them.

As for the general question of comparing Chinese/Vietnamese food across cities, I'd like to make a procedural point: obviously, it's not really useful to compare cities based on the average available Chinese food, as the fact that there are a lot of bad Chinese restaurants in NY doesn't affect my ability to find a good meal elsewhere. However, I'd argue that it's also not that useful to compare based on which city has the best single Chinese restaurant in a given cuisine, particularly when that restaurant, like Chinatown Brasserie, has raised their price point to an entirely different level from their peers: I can't go to that restaurant every week, nor would I want to.

What I'm interested in is something in between: in what city is it easier to get consistently good Chinese/Vietnamese? What's the relative depth of high quality restaurants?

---

al wang

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I can't believe you made me go to my notes. Of the three outer-borough Vietnamese places I tried awhile back my favorite was a place called Pho Hoai at 1906 Avenue U in Brooklyn, right near Ocean Ave. In Elmhurst there's a place called Pho Bang, 8290 Broadway, where I had excellent pho but didn't sample much else. I also had a surprisingly good meal (I say surprisingly because several people claimed it was going to be an ordinary place but I thought the food was exceptional) at a place in Flushing called, simply, Pho, 3802 Prince Street.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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What I'm interested in is something in between: in what city is it easier to get consistently good Chinese/Vietnamese?  What's the relative depth of high quality restaurants?

I think there are a lot of variables there, which is why my first instinct is to look at best v. best. Ultimately I only need one good restaurant in a category to be happy. It's also difficult to do with Chinese because when you get to the top level there's no such thing as "a Chinese restaurant" -- there are all these different regional cuisines. New York, for example, has quite a lot of depth in Shanghainese whereas Vancouver has it all over everyone else on the Hong Kong-style mega seafood places. For Vietnamese -- indeed for all Southeast Asian -- New York is pretty shallow, though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And bethpageblack, are you actually saying that the quality of Chinese food in New York has gone DOWN in the last x-number of years? I would have to disagree! I believe that the number and variety of good Chinese restaurants in Manhattan, Flushing, and Brooklyn has gone UP and the standard of Chinese food in New York is better than ever, though certainly with lots of room for improvement. As for cookie-cutter places, that's nothing new! The thing that's new is how many places are NOT cookie-cutter! How fortunate that we live in a time when there is a chain of Grand Sichuans, for example.

Well, I don't think I qualify to make that judgment, since I moved from NYC in early 2006 to HK/Guangzhou. I've been back to NYC 5x since then, so I can't really say if the food has improved or not since. But before I left, I can safely say that, to my palate, the Cantonese food in NYC (all Chinatowns, including Eighth Avenue, Avenue U, Manhattan, and Flushing and Elmhurst but not including Northern NJ) are not in the same ballpark as Toronto. From reading some of the other posts, Markham and Richmond Hill are considered suburbs of Toronto, so I lopped them in when making my opinion. Mind you, I am strictly referring to Cantonese food. There are so many regional cuisines in China that are completely different that it's almost impossible to lop them all together. However, if we're talking about Chinese (non-Canto) food, then New York can hold it's own, because most of the immigrants to Toronto and Vancouver were Cantonese during the mass exodus of the 90s. We Cantonese people (at least in my family) rarely indulge in other Chinese cuisines. McDonalds and pizza yes, going to a Hunan or Sichuan restaurant - no way. lol, don't ask me why.

As for having decent Cantonese food in other parts of the World, I've had Cantonese food in Singapore a couple times, and, IMO, it didn't reach the heights of HK or Guangzhou. Maybe I went to the wrong places. I didn't get to pick. Never been to Malaysia.

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What I'm interested in is something in between: in what city is it easier to get consistently good Chinese/Vietnamese?  What's the relative depth of high quality restaurants?

I think there are a lot of variables there, which is why my first instinct is to look at best v. best. Ultimately I only need one good restaurant in a category to be happy. It's also difficult to do with Chinese because when you get to the top level there's no such thing as "a Chinese restaurant" -- there are all these different regional cuisines. New York, for example, has quite a lot of depth in Shanghainese whereas Vancouver has it all over everyone else on the Hong Kong-style mega seafood places. For Vietnamese -- indeed for all Southeast Asian -- New York is pretty shallow, though.

You've found that there's a lot of depth in Shanghainese places in New York? I sure haven't! I've enjoyed Yeah Shanghai Deluxe for years, but compared to any hole-in-the-wall in Shanghai, it's quite inferior. I suppose you'll recommend New Green Bo? They can be good but when I used to eat there, I found them inconsistent. I've been to various other Shanghainese places in Manhattan's Chinatown and one or two in Flushing, and none of them touched the quality of run-of-the-mill little nothing places in Shanghai. I will eagerly await your recommendations!

New York is shallow for all Southeast Asian cuisines but at least it has one Malaysian restaurant that is pretty satisfying for me, as long as I can't get back to Malaysia. If one is enough, Skyway is enough. But I don't think one is enough. There's a convenience factor, a variety factor, and a depth factor. Would you be satisfied with only one great French or New American restaurant in New York if, for the sake of argument, all the rest were mediocre or worse?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Yeah Shanghai Deluxe and New Green Bo are more in the cheap-eats category, and I'm a huge fan, but I wasn't really thinking of that category. I was thinking more along the lines of Our Place Shanghai Tea Garden. Joe's Shanghai and Evergreen Shanghai draw a lot of mixed reviews, but I've had some outstanding meals at both. Liberty View is worth checking out. I bet, given what I know of your preferences from reading your posts forever, that you'd be into M Shanghai Bistro & Den in Williamsburg. I'm sure the Shanghainese food in Shanghai is better than in New York, but is the Shanghainese food in Canada better?

Would I be satisfied with one great French restaurant? Not from an intellectual standpoint. But from a happiness standpoint, sure. And if the best French restaurant in North America happened to be in Houston while all other French restaurants in Houston were terrible, and Denver had five French restaurants that were not as good as the one in Houston but very good, I'd say Houston had the best French food.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You've got my attention and interest, Steven. Could you say a bit more about the Shanghainese places you're recommending, like what dishes you've enjoyed, how much main dishes cost, and where they are?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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First I must give a not to two excellent Shanghainese places that have closed: Shanghai Tang in Flushing, where I had one of the best Shanghainese meals I've ever had, and China 46 in New Jersey, where we've held several eGullet Society Chinese New Year dinners and which for a long time was a regular weekend brunch spot for my family. Luckily, China 46 plans to reincarnate somewhere -- across the street from my apartment would be nice. Anyway, the reason I mention that is because my point was about depth of Shanghainese choices in the area. I was going to give a number but when I got to 20 I stopped: there are more serious Shanghainese restaurants around here than you can shake a stick at, and about a dozen at which I think, armed with good advice and a modicum of experience, I could order an excellent Shanghainese meal for a group. More excellent Shanghainese restaurants have opened, had great runs, and closed in New York City than even exist in most other North American cities that are known for Chinese food.

I'll skip over Evergreen and Joe's several branches, because I assume you're familiar with them and there's a ton of data out there anyway. The two Our Place restaurant are, I think, among the most consistently underrated restaurants in town. When the kitchens at the Our Place restaurants are on (which admittedly is not always) and with good ordering (we haven't gone into this on the current topic, but it's worth noting that the Chinese-restaurant experience can be highly dependent on one's ordering strategy) the food can be tremendous. Turnip pastries, bean curd with crabmeat and spinach, lion's head meatballs, all excellent. Ed Schoenfeld consulted for the owners, many of whom worked at some of the best Chinese restaurants in town prior to opening Our Place. Not cheap, though. Here's Eric Asimov's review. I'll try to circle back and start real topics on some of these restaurants down the road.

Our Place Shanghai Tea Garden

141 E. 55th St.

212.753.3900

http://ourplace-teagarden.com/

Our Place Cuisines of China

1444 3rd Ave.

212.288.4888

http://ourplaceuptown.com/

M Shanghai Bistro & Den has a ton of personality. I was going to do a profile of the place for my book but there was too much New York material as it was. The reason I thought you'd particularly dig it, Pan, is that it's in the "home cooking" category. Particularly good are the vegetarian dishes, e.g., "Sautéed Morning Glory in Tea Sauce." Very reasonable prices.

M Shanghai Bistro & Den

129 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn

718.384.9300

http://mshanghaiden.com/

Liberty View is I think the only good restaurant recommendation I've ever had from Adam Platt. I don't think he ever did a review of the place; he just mentioned it in a best-of roundup. What he said, with which I agree 100%:

For a less formal Shanghainese feast, the Platts repair to Liberty View, on the southern tip of Manhattan. On temperate weekend evenings, it’s a pleasure to sit outdoors, under the plane trees, and watch the boats steam around, just like they do on the great gray rivers of China. The specialties of the house are resolutely Chinese, too, like plates of crisp fried eel and shrimp tossed with yellow chives; big, baseball-size pork meatballs called “Lion’s Heads”; and platters of crackly roast chicken, poured with a special sweet brown sauce, which the chef concocted himself, back in old Shanghai.

Liberty View

21 South End Ave.

212.786.1888

I don't think the restaurant has a website, none that I could find anyway, but the menu is on the New York Magazine website.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm a fan of Shanghai Cafe (though I've had decent enough meals at Yeah)....it apparently has a bit of a reputation in Shanghai as a NY go-to.

though I'm told that the xiao long bao is inferior to that available in Shanghai (but that seems to be true of anywhere)

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First I must give a not to two excellent Shanghainese places that have closed: Shanghai Tang in Flushing, where I had one of the best Shanghainese meals I've ever had, and China 46 in New Jersey, where we've held several eGullet Society Chinese New Year dinners and which for a long time was a regular weekend brunch spot for my family. Luckily, China 46 plans to reincarnate somewhere -- across the street from my apartment would be nice. Anyway, the reason I mention that is because my point was about depth of Shanghainese choices in the area. I was going to give a number but when I got to 20 I stopped: there are more serious Shanghainese restaurants around here than you can shake a stick at, and about a dozen at which I think, armed with good advice and a modicum of experience, I could order an excellent Shanghainese meal for a group. More excellent Shanghainese restaurants have opened, had great runs, and closed in New York City than even exist in most other North American cities that are known for Chinese food.

I'll skip over Evergreen and Joe's several branches, because I assume you're familiar with them and there's a ton of data out there anyway. The two Our Place restaurant are, I think, among the most consistently underrated restaurants in town. When the kitchens at the Our Place restaurants are on (which admittedly is not always) and with good ordering (we haven't gone into this on the current topic, but it's worth noting that the Chinese-restaurant experience can be highly dependent on one's ordering strategy) the food can be tremendous. Turnip pastries, bean curd with crabmeat and spinach, lion's head meatballs, all excellent. Ed Schoenfeld consulted for the owners, many of whom worked at some of the best Chinese restaurants in town prior to opening Our Place. Not cheap, though. Here's Eric Asimov's review. I'll try to circle back and start real topics on some of these restaurants down the road.

Our Place Shanghai Tea Garden

141 E. 55th St.

212.753.3900

http://ourplace-teagarden.com/

Our Place Cuisines of China

1444 3rd Ave.

212.288.4888

http://ourplaceuptown.com/

M Shanghai Bistro & Den has a ton of personality. I was going to do a profile of the place for my book but there was too much New York material as it was. The reason I thought you'd particularly dig it, Pan, is that it's in the "home cooking" category. Particularly good are the vegetarian dishes, e.g., "Sautéed Morning Glory in Tea Sauce." Very reasonable prices.

M Shanghai Bistro & Den

129 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn

718.384.9300

http://mshanghaiden.com/

Liberty View is I think the only good restaurant recommendation I've ever had from Adam Platt. I don't think he ever did a review of the place; he just mentioned it in a best-of roundup. What he said, with which I agree 100%:

For a less formal Shanghainese feast, the Platts repair to Liberty View, on the southern tip of Manhattan. On temperate weekend evenings, it’s a pleasure to sit outdoors, under the plane trees, and watch the boats steam around, just like they do on the great gray rivers of China. The specialties of the house are resolutely Chinese, too, like plates of crisp fried eel and shrimp tossed with yellow chives; big, baseball-size pork meatballs called “Lion’s Heads”; and platters of crackly roast chicken, poured with a special sweet brown sauce, which the chef concocted himself, back in old Shanghai.

Liberty View

21 South End Ave.

212.786.1888

I don't think the restaurant has a website, none that I could find anyway, but the menu is on the New York Magazine website.

Has anyone had the braised pork shoulder at Goody's in (NYC) Chinatown? Overall, I put Goody's in the run of the mill Shanghainese category with respect to many dishes (soup dumplings, etc.), but remember having an amazing braised pork shoulder there. However, this was YEARS ago (at least 5 or 6 and probably more like 8), and I'm not sure if it's a known thing.

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      First, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate in 1½ teaspoons light soy sauce, 3 teaspoons of Shaoxing and 1½ teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside for about twenty minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

      Heat the wok and add three tablespoons cooking oil. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and chilies. Fry on a low heat for a  minute or so. If they look about to burn, splash a little water into your wok. This will lower the temperature slightly. Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Continue frying until the meat is nicely seared, then add the potatoes and carrots. Stir fry a minute more then add 2 teaspoons of the dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the light soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of the Shaoxing wine along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium. Cover and cook for around 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are done.

      While the main dish is cooking, cook the noodles separately according to the packet instructions.  Reserve  some of the noodle cooking water and drain.

      When the chicken and potatoes are done, you may add a little of the noodle water if the dish appears on the dry side. It should be saucy, but not soupy. Add the bell peppers and cook for three to four minutes more. Add scallions. Check seasoning and add some salt if it needs it. It may not due to the soy sauce and, if in the USA, Shaoxing wine.

      Serve on a large plate for everyone to help themselves from. Plate the noodles first, then cover with the meat and potato. Enjoy.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Way back in the 1990’s, I was living in west Hunan, a truly beautiful part of China. One day, some colleagues suggested we all go for lunch the next day, a Saturday. Seemed reasonable to me. I like a bit of lunch.
       
      “OK. We’ll pick you up at 7 am.”
       
      “Excuse me? 7 am for lunch?
       
      “Yes. We have to go by car.”
       
      Well, of course, they finally picked me up at 8.30, drove in circles for an hour trying to find the guy who knew the way, then headed off into the wilds of Hunan. We drove for hours, but the scenery was beautiful, and the thousand foot drops at the side of the crash barrier free road as we headed up the mountains certainly kept me awake.
       
      After an eternity of bad driving along hair-raising roads which had this old atheist praying, we stopped at a run down shack in the middle of nowhere. I assumed that this was a temporary stop because the driver needed to cop a urination or something, but no. This was our lunch venue.
       
      We shuffled into one of the two rooms the shack consisted of and I distinctly remember that one of my hosts took charge of the lunch ordering process.
       
      “We want lunch for eight.” There was no menu.
       
      The waitress, who was also the cook, scuttled away to the other room of the shack which was apparently a kitchen.
       
      We sat there for a while discussing the shocking rise in bean sprout prices and other matters of national importance, then the first dish turned up. A pile of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies. It was delicious.
       
      “What is this meat?” I asked.
       
      About half of the party spoke some English, but my Chinese was even worse than it is now, so communications weren’t all they could be. There was a brief (by Chinese standards) meeting and they announced:
       
      “It’s wild animal.”
       
      Over the next hour or so, several other dishes arrived. They were all piles of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies, but the sauces and vegetable accompaniments varied. And all were very, very good indeed.
       
      “What’s this one?” I ventured.
       
      “A different wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “Another wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “A wild animal which is not the wild animal in the other dishes”
       
      I wandered off to the kitchen, as you can do in rural Chinese restaurants, and inspected the contents of their larder, fridge, etc. No clues.
       
      I returned to the table with a bit of an idea.
       
      “Please write down the Chinese names of all these animals we have eaten. I will look in my dictionary when I get home.”
       
      They looked at each other, consulted, argued and finally announced:
       
      “Sorry! We don’t know in Chinese either. “
       
      Whether that was true or just a way to get out of telling me what I had eaten, I’ll never know. I certainly wouldn’t be able to find the restaurant again.
       
      This all took place way back in the days before digital cameras, so I have no illustrations from that particular meal. But I’m guessing one of the dishes was bamboo rat.
       
      No pandas or tigers were injured in the making of this post
       
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and led us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      It sometimes seems likes every town in China has its own special take on noodles. Here in Liuzhou, Guangxi the local dish is Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn).
       
      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
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