Going to Russia!!!!!

Hi!!!! Long time no post. It’s the last day before my Spring Break. Not only that, I’m going to RUSSIA!!!!!

Granted, it’s for MUN, but still, I LOVE RUSSIA!!!!!!

We’ll be staying in St. Petersburg for the conference, then popping over to Moscow. The entire trip is organized by a tour company so we’ll be limited to the typical tourist sites: Kremlin, Winter palace etc. However since I’ve never been to Russia, I can’t complain.

Still, I find the USSR more interesting. If it were up to me, I’d visit places like this:

 (The Lubyanka- NKVD/KGB HQ)

 (Museum of the Great Patriotic War)

 (Central Military Museum)

Anyways, I’ll try to post daily updates about the trip. See you soon!

Dreams do Come True

Hi!!! I hope everyone’s had a great week. Last night, I went to a very special dinner. The dinner itself was good, but it was the purpose of the dinner that mattered. Remember my Taiwan posts? Well, one of the most touching moments of the trip was dining at CASA, a restaurant run by the charity 啄木鸟 (Woodpecker).

 

As we finished gorging ourselves on the AMAZING food, the founder Mrs. Peng told us the story behind the restaurant:

She was running 啄木鸟, a charity group  in the Hualian area that helps local adolescents from disadvantaged minority families learn life and occupational skills. The group already had a fairly successful second hand shop, but she always wanted a restaurant. She faced many difficulties, including having to use her own child’s college fund to start the restaurant, she, an her loyal staff, succeeded.

 (Mrs. Peng)

One of the dads, Mr. Du, was so touched, he proposed on the spot to invest in a branch of the  restaurant and charity. At first, I was skeptical, after all, factors like rent, competition and bureaucratic structures make running a restaurant in Shanghai very difficult at best; however, dreams do come true.

 (Mr. Du with the founders of CASA)

Mrs. Peng, her husband, eldest son and CASA’s first employee came to Shanghai. Last night’s dinner was to discuss plans for the Shanghai branch!

Everyone gave their opinions and ideas about how to ensure the restaurant succeeds. This is just the beginning, but it is the first step in making a dream into a reality.

Beer Marinated Roast Squab

Hi! One of my goals for the new year was to cook or test a new recipe at least once a month. This week, I decided to honor that commitment with this recipe: Beer Marinated Squab*.

*People keep telling me to call it squab, but let's be honest, it's a pigeon
*People keep telling me to call it squab, but let’s be honest, it’s a pigeon

I wanted to replicate the perfectly crispy, succulence of a perfect dim sum roast pigeon, but with a beer can chicken flavour. The inspiration for this actually came from some “research”aka Diners Drive-ins and Dives and random Googling. The “research paid off because this was honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. Onto the cooking!

Before getting to the recipe, there’s a few important things to consider. First, to get a crispy skin, you must thoroughly  dry the skin. I put mine into the refrigerator uncovered overnight, then further dried it out with paper towels before baking. If time is limited, running a blowdryer (on the cold setting) over it for an hour or two should do the trick. Whatever the method, the skin should be almost translucent and pretty pruny

 (obviously not my pic, but you get the idea)

Second, pigeon is one of the only birds that can be eaten without being fully cooked. While the stigma around undercooked poultry causes some to “prefer” pigeon well done, I found that a mid rare- medium roast was both more juicy and tender. Of course a well done pigeon can also be juicy and tender, but that’s a lot harder for people like me who aren’t professionals.

Finally, don’t worry about what beer to use. Literally any kind will work. A darker beer will produce a more intense and deeper beer flavour while a lighter beer will allow the spices to shine through more. I used a particularly light (and cheap) brand of Tsingdao beer.

Well, enough said, time for the recipe


Beer Marinated Squab

Ingredients

  •  1 medium- large squab (1-1.5lbs)
  • unground spices, to taste
  • 1tbsp salt
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 1 can of beer, chilled
  • 1 cup water

Directions

  1. Place spices in water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until fragrant. Cool completely, then add beer.
  2. Marinate pigeon for 12-16 hrs, then dry until skin is nearly translucent.
  3. Preheat oven to 180C (356F) and bake for 20-25min. Remove from oven.
  4. Raise temperature to 250C (482F) and bake for 5-10 more min, or until skin is golden and crispy.
  5. Serve and Enjoy!

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That’s it for this week! Comment if this recipe worked for you

Decoding Chinese Food Pt.2

As promised, I’m back for the second installment of Decoding Chinese Food. If you didn’t get to see last week’s post.. Click Here. This week, I’ll talk about possibly confusing cooking methods and oddly named dishes.

Cooking Methods

Many of the most common or famous Chinese cooking methods can be confusing.

红烧(Red Braised)

In the west, braising involves searing meat, adding liquid, then slow cooking in the oven. In China, braising is the same, except the dish is slow cooked on the stovetop. Red braising is braising, except soy sauce and plenty of sugar is added until the sauce is sticky, thick and sweet.

水煮(Water Boiled)

When most people, including me, see this for the first time they’re probably imagining a healthy, but boring and bland dish. It is neither. Water boiling (usually beef and chicken) is a fairly popular SiChuan method that involves first water boiling (duh!) the meat, then drowning it in spiced and very spicy oil

鱼香( fish fragrant)

Despite the name, so called fish fragrant dishes do not include fish. The “fish fragrance” come from the addition of oyster sauce and fermented bead paste. This combination gives the dish, which would otherwise be a simple stir-fry, a whole lot more depth of flavour

烤 (grilled, baked…)

  

There is nothing really confusing about the term “烤” itself. Rather, it’s quite difficult what restaurants mean when they use the term. For example, 烤羊腿 could refer to roasted, baked or grilled leg of lamb. (menu translations are usually not accurate). Get this: when a Chinese restaurant offers “烤鱼”, it’s not refering to grilled, roasted or baked fish. Chinese “grilled fish” actually involves pan frying the fish, then stewing it in stock and hot oil like soup, except there’s very little liquid。

Misleading Food Items

I saved the best for last. There are some delicious and famous dishes with strange sounding, even disgusting names. Here are a few of the more important ones.

Lion’s Head (Meatballs)- 狮子头

No endangered animals were harmed in the making of these meatballs. These are one of southern China’s most famous dishes. They are huge, usually 4-5cm in diameter, pork meatballs. Sometimes crab or crab roe will be mixed in. The dish is usually red braised

猫耳朵 (Cat ears)

Asians are infamous for eating animals such as dogs and cats, but this dish does not contain cats, or even meat. It’s actually boiled pieces of dough,which can be served in soups and stir-fries. The dough is cut so that the pieces roughly resemble ears.

夫妻肺片 (Husband and Wife Lung slices)

Again, Chinese people love nose to tail cooking, but there are no lungs in this dish- human or otherwise. This dish is a popular SiChuan dish consisting of marinated (Chinese style), thinly sliced tripe and beef, which is then doused in plenty of hot oil.

麻辣炒手 (Spicy stir fried hands)

When I first heard of this dish, I was imagining a plate of spicy, stir-fried pork trotters. I was disappointed to find out 麻辣炒手 was actually wontons in peppery hot oil. I don’t know how wontons are supposed to resemble hands, but the name stuck

Well, that’s it for this post. I hope it was helpful and see you next week!

Decoding Chinese Food Pt.1

Hi!!! It’s officially the New Year, well it’s been for about a week. School started last Tuesday and nothing’s been too busy. Last post, I wrote about my disappointing experience at Chow Kee Dim Sum and I realized that I made a few mistakes reading the menu.

This week, I’ll decode some of the most misinterpreted or mistranslated menu items,

1. 鲜 (xian) and 香 (xiang)

These terms roughly translate to unami and aromatic respectivitely. However, like most Chinese terms, one translation does not suffice. Most menus will actually leave these terms out of the translation, but here are some common uses:

鲜:describing the taste of fresh seafood, bright (when referring to sweets), well seasoned

          

香:fried or at least cooked in a lot of oil, pungent, savoury

 

2. 肉 or meat

Whenever 肉 or meat is used without the name of an animal before it ie 牛肉- cow meat (beef), it’s always pork. On menus, you will usually see items such as 回锅肉 (twice cooked meat) or 红烧肉 (red braised meat). Just know it’s always pork. This is usually not a big problem because translations usually clarify this; however, if you’re going to a local joint without English menus, this is good to know. Simple? well it gets more confusing. At dim sum places, some items will say 虾肉 (shrimp meat) or 鱼肉(fish meat). Do not be fooled, these items contain pork.

I hope everyone enjoyed this installment. I’ll be back next week with Pt. 2: Cooking methods and foods. Have a great week!!!!

 

 

Chao Kee Dim Sum

Hi!!!! Chinese New Years break is over so I’m finally back in school! Technically it ended yesterday, but the teachers had professional development so students got the day off. I decided to take advantage of my day off to try another new restaurant at the Kerry- Chao Kee Dim Sum. This choice wasn’t random; this was the dim sum place that was too full and forced us into Golden Old Village 😉

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It was a workday so I was expecting at least a half empty restaurant. I was disappointed and actually pleasantly surprised when I encountered this:

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Luckily, I only had to wait 15 min before seating. Time flew by, and onto the food!

Food

When I looked at the menu, I was immediately shocked by the prices. A single order of steamed veggies was nearly 30 RMB and an order of 3 custard buns was 21. It was in the Kerry and everything is overpriced anyways; I ignored it.

It was only me so I got my three favorites: Crispy skinned roast pigeon, Har Gao (crystal shrimp dumplings) and Siu Mai. I also ordered custard buns for my mom and brother. I must say, the food didn’t live up to the hype or the price.

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Har Gao- This was the best thing I had. The skin was thin and delicate. The shrimp inside was fresh and included chopped bamboo shoots, which gave the filling a nice texture. It cost 28 RMB, but it’s worth it

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Crispy Skinned Pigeon- In my opinion, this dish is a true test of dim sum worth. Literally every dim sum restaurant, and a lot of others, offer crispy skinned pigeon, but very few get it right. It should by piping hot with a crisp skin that crunches and tender, juicy meat. Most places can get the tender meat, but not the crisp skin- a result of letting it lie around prior to service or low cooking temperature. Surprisingly, Chao Kee got the skin crispy, but the meat was pretty dry, especially on the thinner pieces. The wings, which should have been crunchy, were instead strangely leathery. Lastly, the skin was over seasoned. Not worth 40 RMB

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Shrimp and Mushroom Siu Mai- Definitely the most disappointing dish. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a decent siu mai so I was really looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I was confronted with 4 dwarved, oversteamed little nuggets. The skin was gummy and shrunk into the filling. When I separated them, the skin tore. The filling was equally disappointing. It said shrimp and mushroom, but there was barely any shrimp or mushroom. Not worth it.

Custard Buns- My mom and brother really enjoyed them.

Service

The service wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t stellar either. The waiters had a rather impatient attitude, but they were obliging and the food came fairly quickly (within 20 min).

Overall Impression

Overall, I was disappointed with this restaurant, but since I only ordered 3 dishes, I can’t make a decisive judgement on the overall food quality. However, considering how overpriced the menu is, I don’t think I’ll go back anytime soon.

Happy Chinese New Year!!!!!

HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Last night in Shanghai was New Year’s eve. Usually, I would be at my grandparent’s place, like last year, but we stayed this year. My aunt arrived back from vacation in Japan two days ago, so we invited them for a New Year’s feast at our place. Thus, this year’s dishes are predominately Zhejiang/ Shanghai style. But, before getting into the food, there are a few traditions and etiquette rules that must be shared:

  1.   There must be 10 dishes- 10 in China, and many other countries, represents perfection. 10 dishes at the feast represents a perfect start to the New Year
  2. Flip your “福” posters or stickers upside down when hanging them- The character for upside down is homophonous to the character for come. 福 means wealth.
  3. …but NEVER flip the fish- Steamed whole fish is a must have at New Years since the character for fish is homophonous with the character for surplus. Flipping the fish is said to ruin it. Instead, ask the host to remove the spine, or just do it yourself.
  4. Leave the head and tail of the fish- Leaving the head and the tail or 有头有尾, symbolizes that everything you do will be complete from start to finish.
  5. Clean the house and get rid of old stuff: This is the same idea as spring cleaning

Ok, boring part finished, lets get to the food!!!!!!

Veggies

Ice plant with soy sauce- Ok, this is far from traditional, but we had really fresh ice plant and needed a light dish to combat all the meatiness to come.

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Stir- Fried Bok Choy with Tofu– Tofu and veggies are a tradition on my mom’s side of the family. We also happened to have some amazing homemade firm tofu

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Fat Choy with Mushrooms and Bamboo shoots– The characters for Fat Choy are homophonous with “get rich”. Bamboo shoots resemble a ladder, so let’s climb to success

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Julienned Potatoes

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Stir-fried Eggs and Tomatoes– A quick, delicious dish. The acid of the tomatoes helps cut through the richness of the following dishes

Soup

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Turtle Soup – Turtles are not exactly traditional, but they represent longevity. Plus, we still had 2 left from the three my grandparents sent

Meats

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Red Braised Pork– Another family tradition.

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Steamed Pork Trotters– Pork trotters represent the chinese proverb “脚踏实地 ”- feet on solid ground.

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Dry Wok Chicken– My dad needed a Hunanese dish in to be fully satisfied. With all the relative lack of spice in the other dishes, this one is a great kick

Steamed fish- Any whole fish will do. We steamed 2 pomfrets because that was freshest at the fish market, but perch or groupa is far more popular. Any recipe will do, as long as it doesn’t mess with the structure of the fish. We steamed ours with soy sauce.

Again Happy New Year, Happy Feasting and remember to watch CCTV New Year’s show!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Stirfried Bok Choy with Tofu

Not too long ago, my aunt went back to her home town and came back with some beautiful, homemade firm tofu. We decided to take full advantage of this amazingness and turned it into this simple, yet delicious dish:

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Stirfried Bok Choy with Tofu

Ingredients

  •  200-250g bok choy, chopped
  • 200-250g firm tofu, sliced fairly thickly
  • salt
  • stock or water
  • ginger, sliced

Directions

  1.  Heat some oil in a wok on medium high heat and stir fry the bok choy with salt and ginger until softened, about 2min
  2. Add the tofu in with enough stock or water to partially cover the veggies. Cover and let simmer for  3-4 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, serve and enjoy!

Note: Aged firm tofu has a very distinctive taste, so this recipe does not call for pan- frying. If the taste is undesirable, or the tofu lacks flavor, you can lightly pan fry it before stewing with the bok choy

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Fat Choy with Mushroom and Bamboo Shoots

Fat Choy, or 发菜, is a traditional New year’s food, at least in the Zhejiang area. It’s a type of alge and its Chinese name is homophonous with get rich (发财). It consists of countless thin strings and is flavourless; however, the intertwining of those fibers makes it a flavour sponge…. Soooo good. It’s great for soups, stewing and stirfrying.

Mushrooms are also a flavour sponge and bring a nice chewy texture as well as a deep unami flavour. The bamboo shoots add a crunch element, and the structure of the shoots resembles a ladder. This is supposed to encourage upwards movement in the new year. Here’s the recipe:


Fat Choy with Mushrooms and Bamboo shoots

Ingredients

  • 10-15g dried Fat choy, soaked overnight (should yield 2-300g)
  • 7-8 dried button mushrooms, soaked at least 1-2hrs- sliced
  • 150-200g bamboo shoots, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • 1cup stock
  • 1/2 cup mushroom liquid

Directions

  1.  Heat water in a pot and parboil the bamboo shoots for about 2 min. Drain and set aside
  2. Heat a wok to medium-high, add a bit of oil. Stirfry the bamboo shoots and mushrooms with some salt for 2-3min, or until the mushrooms are quite softened. Remove from heat and set aside
  3. Add a bit more oil in the wok and sir fry the Fat Choy for 2-3 min. Put the mushrooms and bamboo shoots back in and stir fry for another minute or so.
  4. Add the stock, mushroom liquid and more salt if necessary. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, serve and enjoy!

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Turtle Soup

Chinese New Years is coming up!!!! It’s the year of the Rooster, and my dad is a rooster! Usually, we (or at least I) would go to my grandparent’s place. Unfortunately, this year we can’t go. Luckily, my grandparents picked up the slack. They sent a box with smoked meat, local fish and 3 soft shelled turtles. I was not expecting the turtles, but one of my grandpa’s friends raises them…. what a nice surprise! Turtles represent wealth and longevity in China, so this is perfect. Anyways, I honestly had no idea how to prepare, but luckily they were armed with a really nice recipe.

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Turtle has a very distinctive but delicious taste, sort of like very tender, less fibrous chicken. The part around the shell is fatty and gelatinous, like tendon, except it’s impossible to overcook. Okay, it might not sound very good, but it’s AMAZING.


Turtle Soup

Ingredients

  •   1 medium- large soft shelled turtle, broken down
  • 1/3- 1/2 small chicken (for flavor), diced
  • ginger, sliced into wide thin peices
  • cooking wine
  • salt, to taste
  • green onion, chopped
  • 1-1.5l water

Directions

  1. Wash the chicken and turtle, remove most of the blood
  2. Heat a wok to medium, add a little bit of oil and cook the chicken with some salt until browned
  3. Transfer the chicken into a pot with the turtle. Add water, ginger, wine and more salt. Bring to boil
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 40-50min. Garnish with green onion. Serve and enjoy!

Tip: do NOT skimp on the ginger and cooking wine. Turtle has a strong flavor that needs to be neutralized by the ginger and wine. This is especially important if the turtle wasn’t killed within 6 hrs of cooking.

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