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[Austin] Chinese New Year at Pao's Mandarin House


Kent Wang
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Last year, we held a Member-Organized Event at Pao's Mandarin House but I didn't get everything organized in time to do that this year. So I PM'd a few members at the last minute and we rounded up a group of six this Sunday to celebrate the Year of the Boar.

In attendance were Luggage386, Yimay, MissAmy and her guest Josh, yours truly and my guest Kristin. Photos by yimay.

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We couldn't decide on exactly which appetizers to start with so yimay asked that the chef put together a platter of cold dishes. It was so successful that they considered adding it to the menu. Upon hearing this Yimay insisted that they name the platter after her. There's the Lou Ann Platter so why not the Yimay Platter?

Center: Jellyfish with radish. Jellyfish is usually served by itself but the radish complemented the crispy texture of the jellyfish perfectly. Jellyfish itself is fairly mild, no fishy taste to it at all. Jellyfish can be a little intimidating so I was surprised at how everybody loved it.

Clockwise from 12 o'clock.

Drunken chicken. This is mostly obscured by the jellyfish but the chicken was extremely moist. We're all pretty competent cooks but none of us could figure out how they managed to make it so juicy. The rice wine flavor was subtle with no off-flavors, as can often be the case when cheap wine is used.

Kao fu. This is one of the most quintessential Shanghai dishes. Fermented tofu with a spongy texture so that it absorbs a lot of sauce, with shitake, woodear mushroom, soy sauce and, of course, for that Shanghai flavor, sugar.

Pressed pork. The pork is roasted, sliced and pressed together with the addition of some gelatin and then re-sliced. The point of doing so is to redistribute the fatty parts around so that each slice will have multiple layers of fat cap evenly distributed.

Crispy walnuts.

Roast duck.

Braised beef.

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Peking duck. They bring the sliced duck and pancakes to the table and roll up each one in front of you. I've never seen this anywhere else -- you usually roll your own -- but I have no complaints.

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Dumplings. It is traditional to have dumplings for Chinese New Year. These were made with hand-made skins.

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Winter melon soup with a slice of cured ham. The chicken stock used was very rich and left the broth a thick, opaque color.

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Steamed whole fish with a soy sauce, ginger and scallion. This is the best way to enjoy a fish, with a light and simple sauce. I'm not sure what freshwater species it was but the flesh was very tender.

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The eyes are traditionally offered to the guest of honor. As the organizer of this little shindig I was nominated that honor, which, after the ritual denials and displays of humility, I reluctantly accepted. The last time I had fish eye was a year ago in China, so this was quite the rare treat.

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Our server, Billy, explaining some of the Chinese New Year traditions to everyone. He, and most of the staff, are from Beijing and speak with a Beijing accent.

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Ti pang. Ham hock that was deep-fried, steamed and then braised for several hours with Cantonese rock candy, another banquet classic. We had to order this in advance as it takes nearly a day to make. Unfortunately, the sauce was too sweet, much more so than last year, and the meat was also a little tough.

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Mustard greens covered in "black hair" seaweed sauce. Black moss or black hair seaweed is actually an algae and is eaten on Chinese New Year because its chinese name "fa cai" (hair vegetable) is a play on words that means prosperity, as in "gong xi fa cai", which is a greeting exchanged during Chinese New Year meaning good luck and prosperity. The seaweed is mild in flavor but added a thick texture to the sauce.

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Snow pea leaves. We decided to have a simple vegetable dish to balance out all the rich meat dishes.

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Eight treasure rice. The most important Chinese New Year dish, composed of eight different "treasures" in sweet, glutinous rice, similar to a rice pudding. I can't remember all eight of the treasures but they included dates, raisins, gingko nuts, peanuts and prunes. Unfortunately, the rice was a little too moist and did not hold together as it should.

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Nian gao, compliments of the house. Nian is a homophone with the word meaning 'year' and so this is another common New Year dish. The sweet rice flour was stuffed with a sweet paste, which I believe is some rice product.

Dinner was fantastic. In terms of food alone, this is the best Chinese meal I've had since I was in China. There were a few disappointments such as the ti pang but overall, the quality of the food was very high. Pao's is simply a higher end establishment than Din Ho or Marco Polo, not just in terms of decor but also the very dishes they make.

I had a blast meeting fellow eGers and chatting about Chinese food. Some of us were very experienced with Chinese cuisine but the ones who were not were very open-minded and I'm delighted to have introduced some of the more exotic dishes to them. It was a lot of fun discussing Chinese traditions, even a few that I had forgotten about.

I look forward to more gatherings in this Year of the Boar. Gong xi fa cai!

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Thanks for the fine report, Kent. Sounds and looks like a delicious CNY meal. Wish I had ben there.

The radish with the jellyfish was Daikon? Do you know how was this dish was cooked?

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Scrumptious meal! The cold platter looks very good, and I'd like a pancake with some Peking duck and scallions please.

Question about the nian gao. Is the color in the picture the actual color? I've never seen nian gao this color or with filling. We do use it to make other sweets, but never like this. Interesting. I didn't make them this year...ours are made from coconut milk, glutinous rice flour, palm sugar and flavored with pandan leaves. Here's a pic of one. They come in all sorts of creative shapes and containers now, but my personal preference is for those in banana leaves...more fragrant.

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TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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So, you're saying mochi=nian go in your parts? Nian gau is entirely different here; it's steamed for hours to give it a rich dark caramel colour. Making nian gau is filled with taboo, no inauspicious words must be spoken etc...or it won't turn out right. Not that I believe all that. The mochi looks like it's black sesame based. And it looks pretty much like the malaysian ang koo kuihwhich comes in black sesame skin too, besides the original red, pandan green and orange sweet potato. Filling's mung bean paste.

Edited by Tepee (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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So, you're saying mochi=nian go in your parts? Nian gau is entirely different here; it's steamed for hours to give it a rich dark caramel colour. Making nian gau is filled with taboo, no inauspicious words must be spoken etc...or it won't turn out right. Not that I believe all that. The mochi looks like it's black sesame based. And it looks pretty much like the malaysian ang koo kuihwhich comes in black sesame skin too, besides the original red, pandan green and orange sweet potato. Filling's mung bean paste.

i just called it mochi but it's probably not interchangeable. my bad. but they are basically the same thing so i just call it mochi, because if i say nian gao, most people don't know what it is. i didn't taste any sesame in the nian gao, but i don't really remember since i didn't finish mine. i thought the filling was mung bean paste too, but the server said it was "soybean curd". i assumed he meant soybean paste.

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Let's hear it for quick 'n' dirty last-minute event organizing...I'm a non-Asian who's enjoyed Chinese food his entire adult life, including some of the more esoteric options, but many of the components of this Lakeway New Year banquet were new to me and I appreciated the chance to speak with people familiar with the cuisine at its source about what I was tasting and why. When you're sitting at the table and all these dishes keep coming and coming, it's hard to keep track of what was what (and as a few of us commented, we could've used a lazy susan to facilitate easier sharing), so it's good to digest it all again, so to speak, through Kent's commentary and YiMay's photos. (We were right to be patient as she snapped away at each new course.)

I've only recently discovered the importance of cool or chilled food in Chinese cuisine, and one of my favorite parts of the meal was at the start, with all the cold appetizers; the whole was more than the sum of its parts here and I especially enjoyed the drunken chicken, kao fu, and the walnuts! The dumplings were very good (I wished there had been more so people could have had more than one apiece), as was the winter melon soup (savory, tasty, very tactile). The steamed whole fish was my favorite of the entrees.

Although there were two or three items I didn't much care for, I'd call it a successful banquet by any standard; it was a very congenial evening and I consider it to have been an informal, relatively inexpensive crash course in Chinese holiday dining. It seemed to go by very fast, and before you knew it we were out the door (we closed the place) to go our separate ways.

Happy Spring Festival, everyone... :biggrin:

Last year, we held a Member-Organized Event at Pao's Mandarin House but I didn't get everything organized in time to do that this year. So I PM'd a few members at the last minute and we rounded up a group of six this Sunday to celebrate the Year of the Boar.

In attendance were Luggage386, Yimay, MissAmy and her guest Josh, yours truly and my guest Kristin. Photos by yimay.

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I look forward to more gatherings in this Year of the Boar. Gong xi fa cai!

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The radish with the jellyfish was Daikon? Do you know how was this dish was cooked?

Daikon, I presume. I believe nearly all radish used in Chinese cuisine is daikon. My guess is that the jellyfish is cooked (after having been processed, treated and brined before purchasing), cooled, combined with blanched daikon and tossed with vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce. It is very similar to a salad in its crisp texture and cool temperature.

yeah the mochi itself was this odd, greenish-gray color. not sure why. the inside was filled with a sweet soybean paste.

Yes, I thought the color was odd, too. I didn't like them very much, the rice flour was a little tough and dried out.

I've only recently discovered the importance of cool or chilled food in Chinese cuisine, and one of my favorite parts of the meal was at the start, with all the cold appetizers; the whole was more than the sum of its parts here and I especially enjoyed the drunken chicken, kao fu, and the walnuts!

Yes, cold appetizers are one of my favorite aspects of Chinese cuisine. They come out very quickly and are priced affordably. During my month-long trip in China last year we ate out every day and that can take its toll on your body. During off-days when we weren't being feted at a banquet I'd usually order only cold appetizers as it was much healthier and not nearly as greasy as the main dishes.

It's a shame that so many restaurants in America offer only a few of them. Pao's may have more than anyone else in the Austin-area, a testament to the authenticity of their cuisine.

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Yes, I thought the color was odd, too. I didn't like them very much, the rice flour was a little tough and dried out.

I didn't want to say earlier....but, yes, the color is not exactly the 'right' color for CNY and it did look tough and dried out. They should have re-steamed it a little.

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Thanks for posting the pics! They are beautiful!

Yes, the meal was a great success. My favorite items were the cold dish platter, the soup, and the duck (but not the pancakes - they were way too thick for me). Everything was delicious. I have not had a meal like this since my family left China in 1994. It was really a special treat and one I will remember for a long time.

It was a fabulous way to start off the Year of the Boar!

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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      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.
       
       
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