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hzrt8w

hzrt8w's wok and burner shopping project

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Many who know me on EGullet know that I don't use a wok to cook Chinese food. I have been using flat frying pans to cook all my meals since I came to the USA for college back in the late 70's. I didn't bother with getting a wok primarily because I feel that using a wok without an adequate heat source is not effective. One thing that I always amused myself with is reading online bulletin board comments, that when someone is getting excited about learning how to cook Chinese food... before he/she even buys any Chinese cookbook, the first thing he/she would do is to buy a wok! And... typically... a "non-stick" wok with flat bottom so one can use it over an electric stove, and a plastic spatula.

Anyway, things are about to change...

All because I happened to see this gas burner for sale in the local grocery market at only US$32.00:

gallery_19795_2734_37089.jpg

It has 4 rings. The diameter is about 8 inches. Just use a portable natural gas tank. Nice. I was hoping to find some burner that uses compressed air to boost the heat but so far I haven't seen one available in the USA.

That just got me interested to start a project on my stove and wok shopping. I am posting my photo journal to share with all of you on my thought process in evaluating different burners/woks and related equipment.

The burner that I saw, of course, is far less powerful than the one posted by infernooo:

My new wok burner, 120000 BTU/hr!

but it is still pretty nice to have.

Assuming that I am going to get that burner, my next task is to shop for a good wok, then go through the proper way to season it, etc..

In the same shop, I have found only 2 different models. The first one:

gallery_19795_2734_28817.jpg

is a cast-iron wok, about 28 inches in diameter. I rejected this wok right away because:

1) It is very heavy. There is no way to pick up the wok and toss the food around.

2) It has 2 small "ears" but no handle. I like to use the handle to toss the food around when cooking, the same way I do with the frying pans.

The second model:

gallery_19795_2734_25551.jpg

is a stainless-steel (I think - but it's all black in color) wok, about 18 inches in diameter. This looks promising. It is not too big, and not too small. It looks just about right. It has a round bottom, not flat. I picked it up with my left hand and practice the tossing motion and it felt about right.

gallery_19795_2734_4083.jpg

I took the second wok to placed it on top of the burner. It wasn't a perfect fit. The wok was too small to rest on the outer tripod. It was resting on the smaller, inner tripod. The wok could wobble a little bit. I am not sure if this would cause problems.

I haven't come to any conclusion yet. I need to shop around some more for different wok models and, possibly, burner models. I will make a trip to San Francisco to see better selections if I have too...

Any comments and idea sharings are appreciated!


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Nice find hzrt8w! It looks great... you know we will be expecting even more great meal ideas from you now? :)

I believe a lot of chinese chefs use the "double-eared" handles, but hold a cloth in one hand that covers the handle, and then shake/toss the wok using one handle (they have quite strong forearms methinks). But I agree with you, I personally prefer the single handle ones too.

If possible, try find a restaurant supply store (or a BIG asian supermarket), they should have wok sizes from tiny to enormous (and all sizes inbetween). Near us, a shop sells woks in every size in increments of about 2cm diameter - hopefully you can find somewhere like this.

I found that the best wok for my personal tastes, was either the double eared ones entirely constructed out of carbon steel, or a BIG single handled one (with the handle made out of wood, but with a metal spacer inbetween the wok and the wood to stop the flame licking at the wood).

Anyways, it's great to hear you are looking for a sweet new setup!

I look forward to final decision and the meals thereafter :).

p.s. my previous wok burner was almost exactly like that... as long as you can adjust the air intake to get the flame nice and blue, you will have no problems getting & keeping the wok blazing hot!

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I bought my woks from The Wok Shop

They have been in San Francisco for a long time and have an excellent reputation. I know several people who have bought from them and none have had any complaints.

I havethis one in 14 inch

and this one in round bottom 22 inch.

I keep it well oiled because it does rust, but it is great for cooking for a crowd. I have a separate wok burner but it is not super powerful but it works okay for what I do.

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Ah Leung, I'm very excited for you and look forward to your search, seasoning, and use.

In Grace Young's fantastic Breath of a Wok, she writes extensively about San Fransisco's Wok Shop (718 Grand Ave), which seems magical. I think you'd have great luck getting in touch with owner Tane Chan and letting her know about your celebrity status here on eGullet. Perhaps she can give us a tutorial about wok purchasing!

Glad to see that you've got a great heat source. I've taken some crap for my Patio Wok around here, but it's absolutely fantastic. I'll bet you'll be happy with your choice.

Finally, I hope you won't retire that skillet! It has a special place in my heart, and I'm sure in many other eGulleteers' hearts as well.

edited to add: As often happens, Andie beat me to the punch! :biggrin:


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

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Ah Leung, just a couple of things to consider, if you are thinking of buying a super hot burner for inside use at home...insurance and exhaust system.

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[...]Finally, I hope you won't retire that skillet! It has a special place in my heart, and I'm sure in many other eGulleteers' hearts as well.

[...]

Ha ha ha... Thank you Chris, Andie and infernooo for your words of encouragement. That skillet (actually there are 2 of them. They are twins. If you take a closer look at their burnt marks you can tell them apart. :biggrin: ) has a special place in my heart too. After all, I have been using them for almost 20 years. I still would use them but may use a wok and the special burner for specific dishes.

For the most part, my skillets/frying-pans are adequate in making most of the Chinese dishes that I make, day to day. There are times, however, that I really want to use a wok and a (more importantly) strong burner. Examples are:

- Salt and pepper shrimp

- Seafood (scallop/shrimp) sauteed with yellow chive

- Pea shoots

The quick, intensive strong heat is critical in making these dishes... something that is lacking in my kitchen currently. Frying fish is also another instance where using a wok is much better. With a wok, I can tilt the wok at different angles to direct the heat without lifting the fish (which is a no-no in frying fish because the delicate fish meat will fall apart).

It is time to take my skill to the next level. :smile:

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Ah Leung, just a couple of things to consider, if you are thinking of buying a super hot burner for inside use at home...insurance and exhaust system.

Thanks Ben Sook. I will see how that works inside the kitchen first. I have the option to use the garage or the back patio. :smile:

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Cantonese wok versus Northern Chinese wok?

I used to work in over half a dozen different Chinese restaurants in San Diego. In the ones that served "old" Cantonese style (read "chop suey, chow mein, moo goo gai pan"), their woks are hugh. Only 2 ears and no handle. And the cooks usually use the flat kind of spatula. They used the big wok even for cooking one small dish of Chicken Chop Suey. Sometimes they used up to 2 spatulas when cooking "big", such as enough house fried rice for the lunch crowd for that day. This kind of woks scale well from small to large food quantity.

In the restaurants that served Northern Chinese styles (a mix of Sichuan, Beijing and Hunan), their woks are usually small ones. No ear and one wooden handle. And the cooks usually use not a flat spatula but a big scoop - the one that is used to scoop soup! I saw them used the left hand to hold the wok up, tossed and tossed, and the right hand to scoop up dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili bean sauce, MSG, salt, etc. and stir in the wok.


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Ah Leung: I'm following your choice with great interest. I have a 20-year old round-bottom carbon steel wok with two wooden handles. One of the handles broke as I was removing some extremely hot food the other day. I stuck the handle back together, but it probably isn't terribly safe. I'm really bummed, because the wok is beautifully seasoned - nothing sticks to it.

If you want to consider a non-traditional (and unfortunately quite expensive) wok burner, check out Cooktek's induction burners for woks. The MW-3500 produces the equivalent of 31,000 BTUs. Induction works with any wok that a magnet will stick to (carbon steel, cast iron, and some stainless steels).

Salt and pepper shrimp is wonderful. Our gas cooktop produces 22,000 BTUs (infernoo has nothing to worry about from us), and the wok sits down inside a removable ring in the grate. Even so, we have to cook the shrimp in fairly small batches

Good luck -- Bruce

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I also think having a light wok is essential for maneuverability but do you think hot spots may be a problem when you're working with such high heat and thin metal, or will the oil compensate for that?

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If you want to consider a non-traditional (and unfortunately quite expensive) wok burner, check out Cooktek's induction burners for woks. The MW-3500 produces the equivalent of 31,000 BTUs. Induction works with any wok that a magnet will stick to (carbon steel, cast iron, and some stainless steels).

I think induction is the future of wok cooking. It is much safer and generates no wasted ambient heat. But how close do you have to keep the wok to the induction surface? Can you lift it up at all?

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Kent Wang: As I understand it, the heat transfer drops very sharply with distance so lifting the wok would essentially stop heating. I have never tried induction, though. Many induction hobs use a ceramic surface, so breakage could be an issue with using the pao technique.

Do you use an "eared" wok, or one with a handle?

Bruce

Edited to add info about ceramic surfaces.


Edited by C. sapidus (log)

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Right you are, Sapidas. Induction is electrical influences (+/-) between two components, hence, the further you separate them, the less strong the electrical induction and you would get a stoppage of the effect, ie: heating.

Induction heating as it is right now will NEVER take the place of a high BTU heat source for wok cooking because the stir fry method "as we know it" means moving and flipping the wok around. You can use a stationary wok, but that means the fixed or the "bed" of one part of the unit would have to be curved to form to the wok shape. Somewhat impractical.

But why fix what ain't broke, especially if it has proved successful over thousands of years?? :huh:

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hzrt -- those two woks you have pictured, --- do they have round bottoms? They look flattish from my angle, and the first one, especially, looks like a 'Peking' wok, as the sides look higher and less sloping than a standard wok. Plus the fact that the handle is round and hollow. That seems to be an earmark of that style of wok.

Does that cooking ring need propane, or would it take butane?

(this is fun going shopping with you!!)


Edited by jo-mel (log)

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hzrt -- those two woks you have pictured, --- do they have round bottoms?  They look flattish from my angle, and the first  one, especially, looks like a 'Peking' wok,  as the sides look higher and less sloping than a standard  wok. Plus the fact that the handle is round and hollow. That seems to be an earmark of that style of wok.

jo-mel: both woks shown in the pictures have round bottoms.

Does that cooking ring need propane, or would it take butane?

A standard, 20 lb, portable propane tank.

(this is fun going shopping with you!!)

Thank you all for your indulgence! I figure that through sharing my own search it may help some readers think and evaluate what kind of woks/burners would be best for them.

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I would definitely shop around until I found a traditional beaten iron wok wit the type of handle you are comfortable with and which will also fit well on your burner. Traditional woks are not stainless steel. [edit] They are carbon steel, which will rust. Cast iron is probably not a good idea not only because of weight but brittleness as well.


Edited by Seitch (log)

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I went and did some more shopping in 2 local stores in Sacramento for more ideas on the burners and woks.

At Kwan Hing, I saw a couple of burners that look like this:

gallery_19795_2734_17351.jpg

I kinda rejected the top one because it has only 2 rings and the gas outlets are tiny. But the bottom one caught my eyes. A close up look:

gallery_19795_2734_4623.jpg

It has 6 rings! Diameter of the outer ring is about 8 inches. Nice! US$59.00

I went to a third store, SF Market, and I found they have boxes and boxes of one model:

gallery_19795_2734_28397.jpg

4 rings. US $42.00. I would prefer to have something with a bigger heated surface. This model may be too small.

On for looking at some woks.

I picked up this one at the store:

gallery_19795_2734_32644.jpg

Stainless steel. Too light. Too small. 16 inch diameter. I don't realize people use such a small wok to cook! I think this is definitely too small for me. A big problem when doing a stir-fried dish for more than 2 people - not enough room to stir the ingredients.

And I picked up another wok, about 18 inch in diameter:

gallery_19795_2734_5907.jpg

Stainless steel I think. I like the feel of it. The label said "Beijing Wok". Then it darned on me that this is the same make as the one I looked at in Wing Wa (Store #1 posted earlier). No wonder I like it! At least I am consistent! :raz:

It also darned on me now that I should have read the labels on the burner to get their BTU/hour rating. But these stores are very unorganized and merchandises are not very well labelled.

The search is still on...

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And I picked up another wok, about 18 inch in diameter:

gallery_19795_2734_5907.jpg

Stainless steel I think.  I like the feel of it.  The label said "Beijing Wok".  Then it darned on me that this is the same make as the one I looked at in Wing Wa (Store #1 posted earlier).  No wonder I like it!  At least I am consistent!  :raz:

The search is still on...

This second wok looks to be spun carbon steel, Ah Leung. At least, it looks like the two that I have. My two have wooden handles and flat bottoms.

Carbon steel won't rust if seasoned properly. The only time I have problems is when I cook beef and tomatoes. Then, I scrub it well, and rub it down with oil, or deep fry something with the wok.

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I was just in my favorite Chinese/Thai restaurant in Lancaster and while waiting for my order, asked if I could look in the kitchen. For some dishes one of the cooks uses one of the smaller woks (I would guess it's 18-20 inchen in diameter) with a single hollow metal handle, however he showed me that he took a piece of dowel(the size of a closet rod), shaved it down at the end so it fits into the handle and then wrapped it with some material that looks like what we used to call "huck" towelling, a sort of bumpy material and has it cinched down at each end with hose clamps. The owner came back and told me the cook had hurt his left hand when he fell off his bicycle and when he would grab the handle with a towel in his hand he couldn't grip it well and this way he can grab it securely.

They have a much bigger wok at one end of the row of burners which has NO handles but there are a couple of Vise-Grips clamped on each side. No one was using it at the time. I asked Lela how they used it and she said two mens pick it up when needed. She said they use it for deep frying whole fish.

(I got an order of spicy fried rice with pork and an order of lobster chow yuk.)


Edited by andiesenji (log)

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This second wok looks to be spun carbon steel, Ah Leung. At least, it looks like the two that I have. My two have wooden handles and flat bottoms.

I agree the second wok appears to be carbon steel and looks like the one I have when it was new. Mine was covered with a glossy, rest-proof coating that had to be washed off before it could be seasoned.

The first one does look like statinless.

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I was happy to see this post, I have been wok shopping before... 3 times! I have owned two wok burners and 3 "good" woks.

firstly on woks: I have had many woks before, some good, some bad. I recommend the one with an all metal handle, this is the type I have in Japan and I love it. Get a big one, a really big one, this will allow you to use the "thermal inertia" of all the metal to heat the food without losing a lot of heat. The first thing you should do with this type of wok is remove the coating. It is a strange almost plastic coating that will flake off with use, I personally take a piece of steel wool, or very fine sand paper and remove all trace of the coating. Then take a finer grit sand paper and bring the surface to a good shine.

on seasoning: I like to use animal fat, usually bacon or shmaltz. Side note, all my wok burners have been outside, this style of seasoning requires a lot of ventilation. I heat the wok up on the burner to burn off any remaining machine oil or other items on the surface. You will need your oil, a roll of paper towels, and a pair of tongs if you don't have fingers of asbestos. When the wok is scorching hot fold the paper towel into a small rectangle and dip it in the fat. Use your hand or the tongs to move the paper towel all over the surface of the wok, you want the coating to be very, very, thin. If you see any pooling or beading, there is too much oil and you should remove it as fast as possible with another paper towel. This layer will then "burn on", darken, and harden. I usually repeat this process 10-20 times, making sure that that all areas are heated equally and darken equally. I use this same technique after cooking in the wok every time for about 3 months before I am satisfied with the seasoning. This may seem extreme but I enjoy making the wok my own.

on burners: The burner that I really liked out of the two I have owned allowed you to adjust the flame level for each ring, it had 3 rings (it was very similar to the one you subtitled "It has 6 rings!"). There was also a valve to adjust the air/propane mixture, this allowed you to supercharge the fire a little and tweak it just the way you liked. There was an integrated lighter, and the knob allowed you to adjust all the rings depending on which way you turned it.

I don't have a burner here, my balcony isn't really big enough for one and my kitchen lacks the ventilation. But maybe one day I will have the same firepower I had in the states. Good luck!

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I went and did some more shopping in 2 local stores in Sacramento for more ideas on the burners and woks.

At Kwan Hing, I saw a couple of burners that look like this:

gallery_19795_2734_17351.jpg

I kinda rejected the top one because it has only 2 rings and the gas outlets are tiny.  But the bottom one caught my eyes.  A close up look:

gallery_19795_2734_4623.jpg

It has 6 rings!  Diameter of the outer ring is about 8 inches.  Nice!  US$59.00

I went to a third store, SF Market, and I found they have boxes and boxes of one model:

gallery_19795_2734_28397.jpg

4 rings.  US $42.00.  I would prefer to have something with a bigger heated surface.  This model may be too small.

On for looking at some woks.

I picked up this one at the store:

gallery_19795_2734_32644.jpg

Stainless steel.  Too light.  Too small.  16 inch diameter.  I don't realize people use such a small wok to cook!  I think this is definitely too small for me.  A big problem when doing a stir-fried dish for more than 2 people - not enough room to stir the ingredients.

And I picked up another wok, about 18 inch in diameter:

gallery_19795_2734_5907.jpg

Stainless steel I think.  I like the feel of it.  The label said "Beijing Wok".  Then it darned on me that this is the same make as the one I looked at in Wing Wa (Store #1 posted earlier).  No wonder I like it!  At least I am consistent!  :raz:

It also darned on me now that I should have read the labels on the burner to get their BTU/hour rating.  But these stores are very unorganized and merchandises are not very well labelled.

The search is still on...

hzrt8w,

I think you should try and find the output rating for the two wok burners in the top picture... don't disregard the top one, it may have less rings, but it may have much higher pressure and thus put out more heat than the one with more rings. But then again, you said the gas outlet holes were tiny... so its hard to say without being able to see it firsthand. I think if you can find the output ratings, then that will give you your answer... most of the time it is a requirement to have them listed on the unit itself (either a sticker or in the accompanying box).

Anyways, just a thought :).

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How are you handling the exhaust for using such high-heat cooking?

My kitchen exhaust fan (and it is rigged to vent to the outside) can barely keep up as is. I would imagine doing wok cooking would require some pretty big blowers.


Edited by stephenc (log)

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Ah Leung, I think that you said that you will be using your wok burner outside of the house. In that case, the sky's the limit as far as BTU count is concerned. I don't like the "looks" of the burners you have shown as they are meant to be installed in a built-in fireproof cabinet or stand. A better solution would be to go to Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods, any hardware chain and get what they call a corn boiler or a turkey fryer burner. These are "finished" in appearance and function, as they have legs, and they go all the way up from 15k BTUs to 150k BTUs. I am a frequent shopper at Cabela's, a huge catalogue/retail chain dedicated to hunters, campers, fishermen, etc. They have all kinds of burners that appear to be more "finished" looking and probably a lot safer. Google Cabela's and look at their catalogue.

Go to Cabela's

click on camping/food prep.

click on cooking equipment

click on camp/blind stoves (beautiful 1 0r 2 burner cast iron unit here)

OR

click on turkey cookers.


Edited by Ben Hong (log)

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We've used my husband's "turkey fryer" burner (never used for turkeys, but many times used to make beer!) on many occasions for wokking. It works beautifully, and always garners attention from the neighbors because it gets used out front on the driveway.

We've gotten so used to the heat that thing cranks out, we didn't even consider anything special for the kitchen reno we'll do over the summer. Anything for indoor use available to us pales in comparison.

MelissaH

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      Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to 'improve' the flavour.
       
      Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (肉), when used on its own refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg (beef) is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don't eat meat, they often think you mean you don't eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken! I've actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn't meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have also had a waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn't meat.
       
      Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given have really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers have to ask. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother's Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!
      Away from the tourist places, where you probably don't want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places' translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn't know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. It was gibberish.
       
      To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
       
      There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
       
      Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
       
      To be continued
    • By liuzhou
      It is possibly not well-known that China has some wonderful hams, up there with the best that Spain can offer. This lack of wide -knowledge, at least in the USA, is mainly down to regulations forbidding their importation. However, for travellers to China and those in  places with less restrictive policies, here are some of the best.
       
      This article from the WSJ is a good introduction to one of the best - Xuanwei Ham 宣威火腿  (xuān wēi huǒ tuǐ) from Yunnan province.
      This Ingredient Makes Everything Better
      I can usually obtain Xuanwei ham here around the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, but I also have a good friend who lives in Yunnan who sends me regular supplies. The article compares it very favourably with jamon iberico, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.



      Xuanwei Ham
       

      Xuanwei Ham
       
      more coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      I have just returned home to China from an almost two week trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. To get there I first travelled by train to the provincial capital, Nanning. The local airport only does domestic flights, whereas there are direct flights from Nanning. The flight time required that I stay overnight at the Aviation Hotel in Nanning, from which there is a regular direct bus to the airport.
       
      The trip to Nanning is about an hour and a half and passes through some nice karst scenery.
       
       
      After booking into the hotel, I set off for my favourite Nanning eating destination. Zhongshan Night market is a well known spot and very popular with the locals. I had forgotten that it was a local holiday - the place is always busy, but that night it was exceptionally so.
       

       

       
      It consists of one long street with hundreds of stalls and is basically a seafood market, although there are a few stalls selling alternatives.
       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       
      Filled myself with seafood (and some of that blood sausage above), slept soundly and, next morning, flew to Ho Chi Minh City.
       

       

       
      The rest of my trip can be seen here:
       
       
    • By Lisa Shock
      Years ago, when I visited Tokyo, I ate in a small but fascinating restaurant called 'It's Vegetable' which is now, unfortunately, closed. The chef was from Taiwan, and he made Buddhist vegetarian and vegan dishes that resembled meat. During my visit, several monks wearing robes stopped in to eat dinner. The dishes were pretty amazing. I understood some of them, like using seitan to mimic chicken in stir fry dishes, others used tofu products like yuba, but, others were complex and obviously difficult. One very notable dish we enjoyed was a large 'fish' fillet designed to serve several people. It had a 'skin' made of carefully layered 'scales' cut from nori and attached to the surface. Inside, the white 'flesh' flaked and tasted much like a mild fish. Anyway, apparently Buddhist fake meat meals are very popular in Taiwan and many places, cheap through to fine dining serve them. Yes, if I worked on it for a while, I could probably refine one or two dishes on my own, but, I am wondering if there's a Modernist Cuisine type cookbook for skillfully making these mock meats from scratch? (I have heard that some items are commercially made and available frozen there, much like soy-based burgers are in the US.) I am willing to try almost any offering, even if it's entirely in Chinese. And, I know how to use remailers to purchase regional items from the various local retailers worldwide who do not ship to the US.
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