Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

An American (foodie) in China


ulterior epicure
 Share

Recommended Posts

My mom always served it to me plain as a child. A few eggs, some water to dilute it, some salt, steam and you're done.

Everyone else seems to fancy it up with sauce on the top, though. In my experience seasonings are never incorporated into the custard, just poured on top.

Uh, a little confused - are you talking about jio niang? I had it "egg drop" style - but never with salt. And steamed? You must mean something else??

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My mom always served it to me plain as a child. A few eggs, some water to dilute it, some salt, steam and you're done.

Everyone else seems to fancy it up with sauce on the top, though. In my experience seasonings are never incorporated into the custard, just poured on top.

Uh, a little confused - are you talking about jio niang? I had it "egg drop" style - but never with salt. And steamed? You must mean something else??

I think Kent was talking about the steamed egg custard. Most of the Cantonese recipes are egg mixed with water, then steamed. People put different kinds of filling ranging from minced meat to dried shrimp, conpoy to thousand year eggs and salty eggs.

I have a recipe here for those who are interested to make it at home:

Steamed Egg Custard with Conpoy (瑤柱蒸金銀蛋)

You can pour dried shredded beef on top like they do. I haven't done that before but that seems to be a good dish to make.

Also, I have another home-made style recipe on beef shank. You can use it on beef or tendon:

Beef Shank Braised with Five Spice and Soy Sauce (五香牛腱)

BTW: u.e. - great pictures! The food really stands out! I gotta learn how to take pictures it as good as you do.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, sorry, I think jokhm makes a distinction that my last response failed to make clear.  There are two different types of "sweet & sour" preparations, so to speak.  One, is more sweet than sour - the (scarily) vibrant orange sauce that most Americans are used to seeing.  The other, is more of a tart dark brown/black sauce that is made from a dark sugar and black rice vinegar, or tangcu.  Like jokhm added, it is regional to Xi Hu (West Lake) and the surrounding towns/cities - Hanzhou being one of them.  In fact, I had tangcu West Lake fish at a restaurant in Hanzhou. 

The Cantonese style "sweet & sour" is more on the orange/red color side, cooked with bell pepper, onion, pineapple and such. This style of "sweet & sour" is popular in North America, I think, because early Chinese immigrants who popularized Chinese food in North America were mostly from Toisan (in the province of Canton). The Hangzhou style "sweet & sour" is brownish in color and they don't cook with pepper/onion/pineapple.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day Five Lunch

Off to Emperor Qin's famous mausoleum (with the terracotta soldiers and horses) I went this morning. It was miserable - hot, steamy, crowded... By the time we got out, it was way past lunch, but we were starving. The driver took us to some backwoods "restaurant" that he swore up and down was safe to eat at. He said we wouldn't get anything fancy, but that it would be passable. Apparently there isn't much going on in that area food-wise, and so a "peasant's/farmer's" lunch for us.

The area around the tombs is mostly agricultural - so there's lots of produce. But, it's also poor, so there's not a lot of variety. Potatoes and chickens are big with the locals. So are easy-to-make starch products - like noodles (as I has stated above, the Xi'anese are known for the dough products - noodles and dumplings).

I can't tell you the name of this restaurant, because I couldn't read, and it seemed to be more like a household than a restaurant proper.

We started with cold plates:

Cold dofu gan salad

gallery_37441_3485_70988.jpg

Cold smoked firm dofu, sliced, and dressed with sesame oil.

***

Spicy pickled cabbage:

gallery_37441_3485_64127.jpg

This is what the Chinese call "pau tsai" - or "soaked vegetables." It's soaked - in sugar, vinegar and salt... so it's pickled. Usually, they add chile peppers to spice things up.

The trick is to marinate the cabbage (the most commonly pickled vegetable) long enough where the cabbage becomes soft, but not mushy. The worst feeling is when the cabbage hasn't softened and biting/chewing the cabbage goes squeegy on your teeth. I. HATE. THAT. FEELING!

***

Cold bean sprout salad

gallery_37441_3485_75340.jpg

Simply dressed with a little oil and tossed with celery and red pepper slivers.

***

Ba se tu do

gallery_37441_3485_64890.jpg

This is a local peasant favorite. To du literally means "Dirt Bean" - or what we know as potato. It's also called "Yan Fan Su" in some parts of China - which literally translates to "Foreigner's potato." (Sweet potatoes, which are more familiar to locals, and probably indigenous, are called "hong fan su" - or "red potatoes").

Here, the potatoes have been cut and then pan roasted in honey and sugar until the coating becomes sticky and slightly carmelized. Pulling the potatoes apart yields long strands - not unlike pulling soft taffy apart. "Ba se" means "to pull." Thus, this dish literally means "pull apart potatoes."

***

Flattened chicken (For lack of better description - I think it was just a "chicken" dish, with no particular name.)

gallery_37441_3485_53087.jpg

This was not an attractive dish at all. The chicken looked like it had been mauled by a dog and pulled apart. A few of the guests at the table refused to try any on sight. I found the chicken to taste alright, but not anything special. The meat, however, was tender and juicy, but lacked flavor.

***

Stir-fried cucumber & eggs

gallery_37441_3485_75875.jpg

The Chinese eat some vegetables warm that Westerners don't seem to ever do - iceberg lettuce is one. The other is cucumbers. They seem to be eaten cold and warm. I can't think of one instance in Western culture where cucumbers are served hot/warm... I guess we value it for its crispness. The Chinese also value it for its flavor. Cooked, cucumbers soften a tad on the outside, but still retain a bit of snap in the middle. When they're completely submerged in soups and cooked, they do become very soft and even more transluscent than when fresh.

***

Hwe guo rou

gallery_37441_3485_30923.jpg

Literally, this dish means "returned to pan meat" - or re-cooked pork. It's not an attractive sounding dish, but the cooking method yields an incredibly soft and tender, if not a tad dry, meat. The pork in this dish had been stir-fried with cabbage and spiked with chile oil.

***

Dau Shui Tsao Mien

gallery_37441_3485_41507.jpg

This is hand-made broad flat flour noodles (like Italian "silk rags" or thin-version of papardelle) that have been stir-fried in a wok with vegetables.

***

Chicken & celery stir-fry

gallery_37441_3485_2055.jpg

Nothing special - just (very tender) morsels of chicken stir-fried with celery and bell peppers.

***

Bell pepper chicken stir-fry

gallery_37441_3485_23077.jpg

***

Tong Cu Yu (Sugar-vinegar Fish)

gallery_37441_3485_67296.jpg

This is the dish that we've been talking above upthread - tongcu yu - sugar-vinegar fish. This one was a cross-between the black tangy vinegar-leaning version down in Hangzhou, and the sweeter, "sweet and sour" versions in the far South. The flavor of this sauce was pretty balanced - equal parts sweet and sour. I liked it very much - the fish was very tender and soft.

***

Stir-fry Chinese spinach

gallery_37441_3485_49326.jpg

Slightly bitter - like mustard greens. I don't know what exactly it's called. It also may just be a variety of bok choy

***

Dau Shui Tong Mien ('Knife-cut noodles')

gallery_37441_3485_84730.jpg

This is a very rustic noodle dish. It's called "dau sui" because these thin broad sheets of noodles are made and cut by hand (almost like the Italian "torn silk rag" pasta) instead of by machine. The result of the handiwork is a firm, yet silky noodle with lots of texture. This soup is probably one of the most flavorful that I've tasted - using beef stock instead of the stuff I experienced in Beijing, which tasted more like salty dishwater.

***

I was impressed by the variety of ways limited resources could be used to one's advantage. Here, the same ingredients showed up in different combinations for what seemed like a wide-range of choices. Chicken was used a number of times - but I never felt like there was a "repeat." The ba se tu do - sweet, sticky potato dish was really interesting - the crusty caramelized outside and the stringy sticky webs of sugary goo provided a surprisingly welcomed sweet element to the other savory courses.

You can see all of these photos on my flickr account.

u.e.

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day Five Dinner

Back in Xi'an, my companions took me to a a Chinese kosher restaurant, Dong Lai Shuen. I was getting very fascinated about this Muslim-influenced part of Chinese culture and cuisine. I had mentioned that I had eaten at a Kosher restaurant in Beijing (See here). eGulleter Fengyi has provided a helpful explanation and background for the "lai shuen" cuisine here.

Dong, in the restaurant's name, means "East" - so I wonder if this restaurant serves cuisine from the more eastern regions of the Muslim are of China.

gallery_37441_3499_6928.jpg

My companions started off with some light local beer, labeled in English as "Landmark" beer:

gallery_37441_3499_67301.jpg

***

Perhaps this area of China doesn't do the cold plates thing, because none were offered or appeared, nor ordered. As I was the happy and curious guest, I had literally no say in the ordering (Chinese people seem to highly value a hosts ability to pick for the guest).

Dishes started to arrive. First:

Chicken-potato noodle soup

gallery_37441_3499_113804.jpg

I was a little surprised to see a soup course arrive first.

This was like a curried chicken soup - except the soup broth was thinner. I've had soups before with potatoes before - but never with potatoes and noodles. These noodles were soft, yet had a nice bouncy chew to them. We were told that they were "la mien" - a famous hand-stretched/pulled noodle that was famous to this area, and China, generally.

***

Beef & bell pepper stir-fry

gallery_37441_3499_71153.jpg

Your standard beef and bell peppers (with onions). I don't know how they get the meat so tender - especially when the meat is sliced so thin. I suppose its a flash of very intense heat in a very hot wok that does it.

***

Baozi

gallery_37441_3499_69763.jpg

Plain baozi. Amazingly fluffy and soft with a slight chew to it. Very good for sopping up all the sauces and sandwiching/pocketing meats.

***

Tongcu yu (Sugar-vinegar fish)

gallery_37441_3499_87595.jpg

Here again we have a tongcu fish (sugar-vinegar). It is similar in style and preparation to the one we had at lunch earlier in the day. (See here).

***

Lamb & leeks stir-fry

gallery_37441_3499_57922.jpg

This dish was very good. Leeks and onions sauteed with thin slices of lamb. The lamb meat was very musky - Middle Eastern in flavor, and very tender. The leeks and onions provided the perfect masking - the flavors complimented each other very well. One of my companions, a Chinese woman, avers musky-gamey flavors and didn't care for this dish. I loved it. The meat was amazingly tender - very thin slices.

***

Ramen-egg drop soup

gallery_37441_3499_15766.jpg

This is not your out-of-the-dry-packed-package ramen noodles. This was fresh ramen - bouncy and wavy in a nice tomato-ey broth. THere's also some egg, greens (bok choy), tomatoes and woodear mushrooms.

***

Bok choy

gallery_37441_3499_26197.jpg

Sauteed bok choy - love the intense green! The stems are still crisp while the leaves have become silky.

***

Garlic chive & eggs

gallery_37441_3499_57339.jpg

Garlic chives stalks are wonderful - they're the stalks of the pungent garlicky Chinese chive when left to stem and bloom. Chinese people love to cook their eggs with chives. Here is a great example. Garlic chives (ie. Chinese chives) have a very garlicky-oniony flavor - with a grassy overtones. I loved this dish!

***

Broccoli

gallery_37441_3499_35207.jpg

Wok-fired broccoli - with garlic.

***

Scalloped potatoes with Anaheim chile

gallery_37441_3499_77321.jpg

This was amazing. The thinly sliced potatoes were barely cooked and had a slight crispness still. The spicy anaheim peppers had been pickled and added a wonderfully sour-salty heat to the dish. I don't know what I liked better - the peppers or the potatoes!! They worked very well together! I think this was my favorite dish. Who would think semi-raw potatoes would taste good?

***

It seems that the Muslim Kosher way of cooking in China is very flavorful and spicy - with a lot of spices that are associated more with South Asian and the Middle East - curries, cumin and coriander. Also, the meats tend to focus on lamb and beef, as pork is not allowed. As always, soups are ubiquitous, as are noodles in the Xi'anese area.

You can see all of these photos on my flickr account.

Dong Lai Shuen Restaurant

Xian, China

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Baozi

gallery_37441_3499_69763.jpg

Plain baozi.  Amazingly fluffy and soft with a slight chew to it.  Very good for sopping up all the sauces and sandwiching/pocketing meats.

Did a little mouse get to these Baozi before they were served? :biggrin::biggrin:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your journals and pictures are tasty treats, UE. Thank you again for this armchair dining.

All the salads are a revelation to me. Is it common in just these areas you visited?

I am familiar with the cold plates of jelly fish, bak jam gai, duck, beef tongue, pei dan, etc, but not the salads of bean sprouts, pickled cabbage, do fu gan, vegetable type salads.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your journals and pictures are tasty treats, UE.  Thank you again for this armchair dining.

All the salads are a revelation to me. Is it common in just these areas you visited?

I am familiar with the cold plates of jelly fish, bak jam gai, duck, beef tongue, pei dan, etc, but not the salads of bean sprouts, pickled cabbage, do fu gan, vegetable type salads.

To be sure, I had some of the cold plates you mentioned. It must be the rural produce-focused areas, like the fields around the Qin mausoleum that accounts for these variations.

I also noticed that the ones you mentioned seem more common to the Canton and southern parts of China... would your experiences happen to tend toward that/those regional cuisine(s)?

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

u.e., Muslim "kosher" is called halal, just FYI, and is similar to but not the same as kashrut (e.g., shellfish can be halal but is treyf [not kosher]).

I was surprised to see that a halal restaurant would serve beer! Alcoholic drinks are almost always considered haram (non-halal)! Was that served in the restaurant or brought in by your companions?

That ramen egg-drop soup really looks great!

As someone who dislikes bell pepper, I'm unpleasantly surprised at the amount of it they used in Xian.

I'm wondering, since you ate some raw, unpeeled vegetables and herbs, whether you experienced any digestive tract symptoms. The other problem I had on my last trip to China was respiratory symptoms, but those were definitely not food-related. I tried to avoid unpickled, unpreserved raw unpeeled vegetables, fruits, and herbs to the extent possible.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

u.e., Muslim "kosher" is called halal, just FYI, and is similar to but not the same as kashrut (e.g., shellfish can be halal but is treyf [not kosher]).

I was surprised to see that a halal restaurant would serve beer! Alcoholic drinks are almost always considered haram (non-halal)! Was that served in the restaurant or brought in by your companions?

Good point and good question. I don't think my friends had any beer with them - at least not to my knowledge. I did notice at this restaurant that there was a good deal of bantering going on about it with the servers - perhaps the staff had to run out and get some for us?

That ramen egg-drop soup really looks great!

It was! I loved all the noodle dishes and soups I had in the Xi'an area.

I'm wondering, since you ate some raw, unpeeled vegetables and herbs, whether you experienced any digestive tract symptoms. The other problem I had on my last trip to China was respiratory symptoms, but those were definitely not food-related. I tried to avoid unpickled, unpreserved raw unpeeled vegetables, fruits, and herbs to the extent possible.

I had the same concerns, but ignored my worries. Not to get too personal here: while I didn't have any digestive problems in China, the aftermath state-side was a bit ugly... it's been nearly a week after my return and I'm still having difficulties... but I can't be sure it's food-related. It may just bee fatigue, heat stroke... I hope it's not the beginning stages of malaria... I was bitten by mosquitoes several times... :unsure:

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A lot of muslim restaurants that I've been to in Xi'an serve beer only if they are in more of the busy areas that allow them to get plenty of customers off the street. The rest serve ice cold plum juice (suanmeitang) by the glass at 0.5RMB.

I don't know if UE saw this, but a lot of the beer-serving halal restaurants have signs on the walls that say 'No drinking games!'.. in Chinese at least. The point being that it should not be flaunted by the non-muslims that they are consuming alcohol.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Superb posts, U.E. Thanks for the education. Unfortunately, I am only acquainted with Chinese food as served in NA and Europe (to a lesser extent), which I enjoy.It is fascinating to see the food you so beautifully photographed and so eloquently described.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John, I really think you should go to East Asia for your next family vacation, time and money allowing. You would love the great food there!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just another congratulatory post - thank you for the fantastic photos and commentary. I really enjoy the armchair travel! And I'm amazed (as always) by chinese cuisine - I'm simultaneously shamed by my own attempts to cook it, and super keen to hop a plane to China and try the real stuff for myself.

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for this photo journal of your extraordinary experience, Ulterior Epicure. It is a fantasy for me to enjoy Chinese food in China, and your gorgous, crisp photography puts me right at the table with you. I particularly love the color you captured on the bok choy. And seeing so many specialties which I have never seen before.

ps I hope you feel better soon...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

docsconz & lexy - yes, given the time and money, China is a worthy dining destination.

shaya - thanks... yesterday, high fever and chills. i really hope it's not the onslaught of malaria :blink: honestly, i think its my body rejecting american food. :laugh: today, much better, although i'm travelling again... oy... hate lay-overs. *hate* road construction and detours on turn-pikes!!! :angry:

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

gallery_37441_3441_39531.jpg

Stinky Tofu: Can anyone tell me what the green stems are in the middle of the dish?  I'll have to ask my friend again.  They were very tough (inedible) on the outside (think extremely woody asparagus stalks), but the inside was meltingly succulent (think bone marrow).  You suck the "marrow," which has an odor not to be out-stenched by the stinky tofu, out.

Not sure if anyone has answered this yet but the green stems are very common in India -- they're commonly called drumsticks and the scientific name is Moringa oleifera. More here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cold dofu gan salad

gallery_37441_3485_70988.jpg

Cold smoked firm dofu, sliced, and dressed with sesame oil.

u.e.: Did they specifically say it's "smoked" firm dofu? The picture looks like those pressed tofu that I usually buy, which has been cooked (boiled) with "Lo Shiu" (the master sauce with five spice) that gave it the dark brown taint but not smoked.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ba se tu do

gallery_37441_3485_64890.jpg

Here, the potatoes have been cut and then pan roasted in honey and sugar until the coating becomes sticky and slightly carmelized.  Pulling the potatoes apart yields long strands - not unlike pulling soft taffy apart.  "Ba se" means "to pull." Thus, this dish literally means "pull apart potatoes."

I hope that I don't sound like a pin-head. Actually the words "Ba Se" [Mandarin] - the word "Ba" itself means "to pull". "Se" actually means "silk". Together they describe pulling the sweet potato (or apple, or other featured ingredients) pieces apart, while the sugar syrup still links betwee the pieces. The ends look like silk. That's how this dish got its name.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I hope that I don't sound like a pin-head.  Actually the words "Ba Se" [Mandarin] - the word "Ba" itself means "to pull".  "Se" actually means "silk".  Together they describe pulling the sweet potato (or apple, or other featured ingredients) pieces apart, while the sugar syrup still links betwee the pieces.  The ends look like silk.  That's how this dish got its name.

Oh, yes, thanks for the correction - you're absolutely right. Ba means to pull, and se means thread or silk - referring to the sticky threads that are produced with the glazed potatoes are pulled apart.

And, yes, they were noted as smoked dofu - not the marinated/boiled in sauces kind. Those are very good too!

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

gallery_37441_3441_39531.jpg

Stinky Tofu: Can anyone tell me what the green stems are in the middle of the dish?  I'll have to ask my friend again.  They were very tough (inedible) on the outside (think extremely woody asparagus stalks), but the inside was meltingly succulent (think bone marrow).  You suck the "marrow," which has an odor not to be out-stenched by the stinky tofu, out.

Not sure if anyone has answered this yet but the green stems are very common in India -- they're commonly called drumsticks and the scientific name is Moringa oleifera. More here.

The particular green you're questioning is called "amaranth greens" in English. in Chinese it's called "莧菜“.Leaf is disgarded and only the stems are save in fermentation. When done, it becomes "stinky amaranth stems" 臭莧管. This, with stinky winter melon and stinky flowering cabbage are together knowned as "The Three Stenches from Ningbo." Ningbo is a seaport city nearby Shanghai.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cold dofu gan salad

gallery_37441_3485_70988.jpg

Cold smoked firm dofu, sliced, and dressed with sesame oil.

u.e.: Did they specifically say it's "smoked" firm dofu? The picture looks like those pressed tofu that I usually buy, which has been cooked (boiled) with "Lo Shiu" (the master sauce with five spice) that gave it the dark brown taint but not smoked.

Yes, there are "smoked" firm dofu. My family loves dofu any style and we try any style we can get our hands on. There are tons of products out in markets now and I wasn't aware of "smoked" dofu until recently when I went to my neighborhood chinese market and actually found "smoked" dofu next to the "five spiced" and "braised (lou zhi)" dofu.

In addition to that, I also found "smoked" dofu in my neighborhood Whole Foods market. It was an American company and placed right next to the "Italian" and the "greek herb" dofu. :blink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...