Time is more precious than ever nowadays. Hence, this post in pictures.
Time is more precious than ever nowadays. Hence, this post in pictures.
Earlier this summer, one of my dearest cousins got married. Her and her beloved’s nuptials were a multi-part saga consisting of a traditional Indian ceremony, a Chinese wedding banquet, and an afternoon cruise. I got me a small piece of the couple’s happiness at the banquet, which took place at Delight 28 in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Anyone who has been to a Chinese celebratory banquet knows that it is pure, delectable insanity: an 8, 10, or 12-course, family-style feast. Once the dishes start coming, they keep coming until your stomach has tripled in size, or exponentially if you’re really talented, and pleads for a hard-earned reprieve.
Part of what makes it fun is knowing the general kinds of dishes that will be served, and the order in which they usually appear. While this removes some of the excitement of unpredictability, it makes for some entertaining and snarky commentary from my extended family. Suffice it to say that my cousins can be hilariously effective in poking fun at Chinese traditions. It’s also always a treat to catch up with everyone, and get in some gossip and playtime with the little ones.
First off: there is always a bottle of Coke and a bottle of Sprite at the table, along with a metal container of ice cubes that always seem leaner and more fragile than most. But perhaps that observation just reflects my American preference for things hearty and plus-sized. Each table is also set with two bottles of wine. The banquet usually starts off with a cold appetizer medley of spaghetti-ed jellyfish, pickled radish, suckling pig, and a variety of meats: a combination of various off-cuts and cold-cut undetectables. It’s never my favorite dish, although I am partial to the jellyfish, but I can’t imagine partaking of a banquet without it.
Dumpling-making wasn’t big in my family when I was growing up, but I’ve done it enough times with friends to know that it’s an awesome way to connect over good, home-cooked food. Everyone can make and cook a dumpling, whether Korean or Chinese style, whether boiling, frying, or some combination of the two. The basic filling ingredients: ground pork, chives, water chestnuts, mushrooms if you’re in the mood, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and rice vinegar to taste. We used circular gyoza wrappers but if you’re hardcore or have some more time, you can easily make your own dumpling skins. No doubt they’re tastier, but we must make do sometimes. N and I opted for the boil-fry method, which I had never tried before, with ambivalent results — I think we didn’t coat the pan with enough oil and added too much water, so that the dumpling skins were overcooked and stuck together and to the bottom of the pan.
Last Thursday I had dinner with my housemates again (see here for my previous introduction of the roommies). L and I decided to channel our Chinese-ness and make some Asian dishes, thereby inducting the others into the wonderful world of homemade Chinese food. He made fried rice and and some peppery spare ribs, and I tried my hand at three-cup chicken and bok choy. I am sad to say my camera died just as I excitedly began to snap photos of our food. As a result, I only managed to get a shot of the chicken.
Did this dish originate in mainland China or Taiwan? I’m not sure, and I saw references to both online. I handpicked this recipe from the trusty Appetite for China, who claims it is a Taiwanese dish. Either way, it was delicious– and this recipe is spot-on. I added some corn starch to the stewing liquid at the end to make it more saucy, so we could lather it over the rice. I think I overdid it with the sauce, but my roommates gave the dish some serious love. The basil is a crazy/beautiful addition (oh yes, I just referenced that crappy movie). I am definitely copping this recipe and sticking it in my back pocket.
L came over on Saturday night to make some dumplings. My family is not into making dumplings from scratch, so it is always a treat to do so with friends. L was disappointed at how they turned out (very wine-y), since her parents are expert dumpling makers and they have regular family dumpling-making sessions. We made enough to have about 30 each but ended up only eating about 10 (granted we also filled up on grapes, edamame, brie and toast, as we were making the dumpling filling). I was indifferent to the dumplings themselves, which had to endure enough scorn from L as it was. It was fun times though, relaxing and catching up. We watched Mad Men until late, an impromptu sleepover made golden by some satisfying leftover pizza brought home by one of my awesome roommates. Ah, this weekend just really hit the spot.
The Liu dumpling style. So cute — that is how they roll.
I’ve complained to more than one person about the apparent dearth of Chinese food in Cambridge, which seems incongruous with the percentage of Asians in the area. While skeptical of the name choice, I had heard from a few people that Mulan, a Taiwanese restaurant between Kendall and Central Squares, was worth checking out. That’s how I wound up there Thursday night with L and M, for a night of Chinese food and catching up. We decided to turn a blind eye to the meat, instead ordering some vegetarian or almost-veg dishes recommended by M, a regular patron of Mulan’s. The food we had was great. The place is a semi-dump; not quite Chinatown Mott Street, not quite par. The service was uneven but the dishes came out fast. The waitresses were amused that I took photos of the food, huddled in the tea refill corner whispering among themselves. But yes, the food. I appreciated that the eggplant was cooked well, not too mushy, with a good kick. Fresh scallion a nice add-on. And important to me that it was not too oily. That’s often where “spicy eggplant” dishes run awry, in the excessive oil department. I would definitely order this again, Mulan.
Spicy eggplant with garlic sauce:
As a child, I was often nudged awake by the gentle, silky aroma of Chinese buns being steamed for breakfast. While still curled beneath my covers, counting down the precious last seconds before dragging my feet to the bathroom, I could already picture the plush, white roll nestled in the palm of my hand, each bite melting luxuriously in my mouth. I would take a moment to consider whether that morning was a peanut butter or plain butter kind of morning: whether I preferred the sweet nuttiness slathered in the middle or the velvety richness dripping into every nook and cranny. Every so often, I would summon the audacity to have it both ways. In any case, it was always washed down with a glass of cold milk and followed by a dash to the school bus. Those days are long gone, but while life’s choices are no longer as simple as “peanut butter or butter”, my childhood appreciation for steamed bao remains.
Mixed baozi and hua juan crowd:
A few weeks back, one of my fellow foodies suggested a “day of progressive eating.” The idea was novel to me and the territory unknown — an entire day devoted exclusively to eating – and I’m always one for stretching myself and my stomach capacity, so I eagerly got onboard. This also gave us an excuse to try some of the best-rated restaurants in Hong Kong according to the local food website, openrice.com. An itinerary was mapped out: 11 restaurants/food stalls were chosen for the task, most within walking distance of each other, cuisines spanning Chiu Chow, Malaysian, Thai, and local Hong Kong specialties like wonton noodles.
Our first stop was a place I had been meaning to visit for months, Australian Dairy Company. I’ve heard nothing but the highest praise for this restaurant’s simple fare of eggs, toast, and macaroni soup. At the entrance I ran into some friends of my parents, who apparently recognized me even though I had not the slightest clue who they were (and still don’t). It’s always a bit awkward and disorienting when people you don’t know claim to know (of) you.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, ADC was to be my favorite restaurant of this day. But the scrambled eggs and thick-cut toast were spot-on and satisfying in the visceral way that only foods like scrambled eggs and toast could. I could see why even the humble-sounding macaroni soup had secured a faithful following, as the salty broth with supermarket ham tidbits and elbow macaroni could very well be the Hong Kong equivalent of chicken noodle soup.
Australian Dairy Company:
47-49 Parkes St, Jordan
Scrambled eggs with toast.