Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chinese Cuisine: A Manual For Gweilos

Having grown up in Southern California, I was raised on the notion that Chinese food meant everything on Panda Express’ menu: Orange Chicken, Broccoli Beef, and Kung Pao Chicken. While these sugar-drenched and soy sauce soaked dishes perfectly suited my stringent eating habits, I was light-years away from eating true Chinese cuisine such as cong you bing, Peking duck, and xiao long bao. This is the Chinese food history and tradition birthed. This is true Chinese cuisine.

I was introduced to this authentic side of Chinese food 4 years ago when I moved to Hong Kong. What’s truly disheartening, though, is that most people never get the chance to visit China. This exquisite style of cooking and these traditional recipes therefore go untapped and die in their minds under the fa├žade as being Orange Chicken and Broccoli Beef. However, hope is far from lost. There are some people who have yearned to obtain a deeper understanding beyond what textbooks and websites can provide and have moved their lives overseas to experience this fruitful culture and indulge in this cuisine for themselves.

Gweilos (guh-why-lows): Hong Kong slang for foreigners

While this term has been slashed with racial deprecatory, it has healed slowly over time – now to the point of being playful jargon. I view being a gweilo as an honor in disguise. It allows me to help pioneer a way for fearful foreigners to take charge of their curiosity and travel abroad to understand misunderstood cultures. By traveling and experiencing these cultures myself, I am able to indulge in history, tradition, and cuisine. I encourage them to slurp up the broth of xiao long bao alongside new Chinese friends, to joyously press their fingers into a soft cha siu bao, and experience the unique texture of Phoenix Claws for the first time. Eating these beloved dishes will give them a glimpse into how China ticks.

For the adventurous and the modest, these are some great starter dishes to help you set foot on your culinary odyssey.
Xiao Long Bao (see-ow-long-bow)
Also known as Shanghai steamed soup dumplings, these little satchels of broth and pork filling warm you from the mouth down to the stomach. Their delicately thin dumpling exterior encompasses a warm stock and floats a morsel of pork and vegetable filling.
Cha Siu Bao (cha-shoe-bow)
Resembling a generous dollop of whipped cream, these steamed barbeque pork buns are lighter than air but as filling as pound cake. Their sweet interior is coaxed perfectly by the fluffy white bun it is nestled in. Filling, but not overwhelmingly so, these are a perfect way to balance out other oily dishes commonly found in Chinese cuisine.
Siu Mai (see-you-my)
These dumplings are filled with either pork or seafood and vegetables are wrapped in a distinct, thin yellow noodle and garnished with crab roe, or sometimes even a diced carrot. Dabbed in soy sauce, these dumplings bring a salty and acidic taste to your palette. With no overwhelming seafood taste, they are a great way to wean onto other seafood dishes you will find in China.
Steamed Shrimp Rice Noodles
Steamed and folded into rectangular packets, shrimp and chopped herbs are presented to you wrapped in moist noodles laid one on top of another. These dense and somewhat slippery noodles make them difficult to work with for first-time chopstick users, but the reward is worth the battle. They are mild on flavor but full of satisfaction.
Phoenix Claws
Here is when having an open mind and adventurous spirit come into play. Phoenix Claws, also known as Chicken Feet, are a customary delicacy. They are slimy in nature and you must spit out the bones when consuming. Apart from its texture, the dish possesses robust undertones of aniseed and fennel to give it an unmatched unique taste. Their texture is widely loved by the Chinese whom value texture over taste. Consider this a 4 out of 5 ranking on the scale of adventurous eating.

For the diner with a sugar inclination, these street-side treats are worth finishing off a delectable dim sum meal with.

Egg Puff Waffles
Like a regular Belgium waffle, but with round bulges instead of square coves. Served by its self or drenched in condensed milk, peanut butter or chocolate, there is something to love for everyone with a mild to severe sweet tooth.

Egg Tarts
This famous dessert is known for its flakey pastry shell and sweet egg custard filling. Baked in the oven, these gems come out of the oven with a heat scorched top and a thick custard middle. After taking a bite of both shell and filling, an explosion of moderate sweetness from the egg custard and buttery slivers from the shell melt together and coax your mouth into a silky delight.
Bubble Tea
Originating in Taiwan but loved throughout Asia, bubble tea helps wash down even the densest of foods. Its light tea base is originally mixed with milk and poured over ice and tapioca balls. It is a fun way to indulge on the hottest of summer days and keep it nostalgic on the coldest of winter nights.

Chomp through these dishes & you will be well on your way to understanding Chinese cuisine!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stormchasing Juno

BOSTON, MA: Monday afternoon students all around the Northeast rejoiced in a harmonious *ding* of an email with the subject "CLASSES CANCELLED DUE TO JUNO BLIZZARD".

And then the frenzy - Snapchat & shopping - began.
CVS - Wiped clean of EasyMac and Ramen, but fully stocked on substitutes.....
3:38PM - Some more interesting than others...
With every pocket, nook and cranny was stuffed with apocalyptic goods (i.e. Reeses Puffs, Cheetos & "ginger" beer) I waddled home to celebrate with the mates.

10:32AM - DAY OF THE STORM: We woke up this morning in a bliss of zero immediate responsibilities. The only thing beckoning for our attention was the deserted town, washed in white, begging for us to go and jump.

That spot was not that deep...
Aftermath: writhing in pain.
11:03AM: After getting to grips with the terrain, we ran back inside, tightened our boots, grabbed the GoPro & ventured on.

Long story short, my pants are only so thick and I can only take so much snow in between my toes. So after an hour of frolicking we called it a day...until later anyway. Can't keep a kid at heart down for long!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Climbing the Dragon's Back

Yes, I know I can't technically blame anyone who hasn't been to Hong Kong but I can't help but blame them for never having been to Hong Kong. I know it's expensive to fly all the way out here knowing next to nothing about what it has to offer - because when people hear Hong Kong, they immediately think "China", "Communism" and "Umbrella movement" because they have no idea about the 1324563 other things that make HK a diamond embedded in a lump of coal which makes it my favorite place in the world.

Take Dragon's Back for instance. This hike goes along the spine of several hills on the south eastern end of the island and gives you a true bird's eye view of the beauty this island has. Beach spots Shek O and Big Wave Bay very deservingly steal the show on this hike.
Bird's eye view indeed...
After a 20 minute sprint up the stairs & power walk down a few paths, you get the most rewarding view for all the calories expended. 

The whole shebang takes about an hour and a half to complete - a very fair trade for the mountain of endorphins it releases during & post hike. There's not enough time in a day to truly digest the magnificence you just experience and it's enough to keep you on a high for the rest of your week, guaranteed.

Once you're on your health & fitness roll post hike, you can venture into Shau Kei Wan and grab some fresh apples & pears from the local farmers' market.

 Or other goodies....whatever floats your boat....
But when in Asia, we do like the Asians! So the fam and I got dim sum snacks instead. 
Beef balls & siu mai are healthy, right?
No matter which food group you decide to pursue, you can go back home feeling full in your stomach, sore in your legs, and buzzing with happiness in your head. 

This hike is one of said 1324563 things I love about this place. So if you're looking for even the smallest of reasons to fly out, here it is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Swooning Over Smorgasburg

Not only is Boston considered the college playground of the nation, creative hub for businesses, and the most picturesque city during every season, but it's also only a short 4 hour drive down to my favorite city on the planet - New York bloody City.

I'm sure you've seen plenty of sitcoms, movies and TV shows to know that in NY, there really is something for everybody. Street performers for the curious, Central Park for the environmentalists, authentic Italian pizza & Cronuts for the foodies and more. Since I thrive off of local culture and eating food representative of it, I took Lily to one of my favorite weekend events in town - Smorgasburg.

Located in Brooklyn, this weekend food market is the perfect way to experience the city & the diversity it cultivates. Shop owners from across the city get together to sell their goods and enjoy the mix of hungover locals and wide-eyed tourists while we scarf down their food without a second to spare.
 She had no idea what to expect...
 whereas I was too excited to contain myself.
On Sundays, during the early weeks of fall, the market is held outside on one of Brooklyn's piers. We strolled and soaked in the sporadic sunshine and took to some people watching & sight seeing.

 A casual walk later and we hit the market, AKA hub of local grub.
With more mouthwatering vendors than our stomachs could possibly handle, we did a few laps to identify which spots we wanted to hit up and in what order. Long story short we got a little bit of just about everything.

Lobster rolls

Slow cooked BBQ pork buns, bubble tea, hearty chili soup, piping hot Moroccan chai tea, and a few tasters of a modern twist of brownie bars made with spicy Mexican chocolate. After nearly filling ourselves up to the brim, I found the stand tucked away in the corner that I knew no matter how little space I had left, I was filling it with this prized good - THE RAMEN BURGER.
 Absolutely glorious. Look, even the wrapping is cool! AND ECO FRIENDLY! Environmentalists rejoice.
 Now, I'd been waiting for this day for many years so I'd already been a ramen burger aficionado before it had even touched my lips.

Step one: get perfect grasp on burger.
 Step two: mentally prepare to eat the food of the Asian gods.
 Step three: gorge.

To my surprise, it was BLAND! My entire world nearly crumbled around me in disappointment that it lacked the diversity of spices that I thoroughly enjoyed as a kid when eating raw ramen; absolutely smothered in the seasoning. Nonetheless, it was an experience I am glad I did not pass up on. It was a sensation for the senses in the respect that you are eating a burger….but made with ramen instead of the regular ol' bun.

Next time I'm down in the city on Sunday, I'll be sure to get back in the kitchen with the Ramen boys and show them how it's really done ;)

If you're ever in the city, make sure you leave space in your weekend and in your stomach to stop by Smorgasburg! Check out their website for more info