Category: Travel

Quick Trip to WuXi- Food!

Hi!! I’m back with the second part of my segment on WuXi- the FOOD!!!!! Food was definitely not the focus of this trip, but foodies manage to snag delicious eats everywhere.

WuXi Cuisine

Technically, “WuXi cuisine” doesn’t exist. It’s actually just a regional variation of Jiangsu cuisine. Thus, WuXi food is sweet, vinegary and delicate. There are, however, some distinguishing features and outstanding dishes unique to the WuXi area. Let’s explore!

火爆- Our First Taste

Our hosts, two of my mom’s former classmates, hadn’t seen her in over 20 years. Obviously, everyone was overjoyed to see each other. No way they were going to let us leave without trying local delicacies. So, the night we arrived, they invited us to 火爆.

火爆 is famous for it’s local dishes, but it’s more famous for something else: Crayfish.

Crayfish sounds random, but it’s actually the mascot of Chinese nightlife. Although ubiquitous, crayfish isn’t easy to keep fresh and or alive. 火爆’s got it perfect. Out of the over 10 “flavours”, we chose three: Ice shocked, Garlic and Chili oil (multiple plates of each were ordered)

  

None disappointed. They were perfectly fresh and AMAZINGLY flavourful. Even my brother and his friends, who usually avoid seafood, cleaned out at least a plate each. Personally, I liked the ice shocked- crayfish boiled in rice wine and spices then chilled- the best since it brought out the natural flavour instead of coating it in heavy sauce.

After we demolished over 5 plates of crayfish, the other dishes came rolling in. Here are the highlights:

WuXi special sauce ribs- This is WuXi’s signature dish. Basically the ribs are braised with sugar and spices until they are stupidly tender and covered in an incredibly sweet and rich sauce that. My mom, the boys and her classmates loved it but my dad and I found them too sweet.

Cow cheek meat- The ribs were too sweet for me, but this dish was just my style. I have a love for the stranger parts of animals. Even if you don’t share my love, ORDER THIS! The meat is perfectly tender and flavorful. Even the tendon (there was plenty of it) was nearly at a melt- in- your- mouth level.

Duck Blood and Offal with vermicelli in thick broth- I realize blood and offal aren’t on most people’s favorite foods list, but trust me, this dish is worth it. The star of this dish is actually neither the blood nor the offal nor the vermicelli; it’s the incredibly rich broth. That stuff will make ANYTHING taste good.

Fish with sour pickles- This is another seemingly ubiquitous dish that the restaurant took to new levels. The fish, which was alive until the chef decided to cook it, is braised in pretty much the same broth that made the duck dish sooooo good. The meat was velvety and tender yet pleasantly springy.

The Old Town

Last post, I mentioned that we popped over to old town for lunch before heading home. When we arrived, I was stunned by the beautiful, well preserved architecture, but one thing was missing: street food. Most shops were either selling tourist goods (ie cheap toys), or the famous WuXi “clay people”

 

There was an abundance of flaky pastries of every which flavor and size. I personally don’t like them, but they are one of WuXi’s specialties. They’re definitely worth trying, even if it’s only a bite.

The main food scene in the old town is in it’s restaurants and tea places. I have to credit my little bro and his friends for scouting out the best one: A Bite of WuXi. The entire Jiangsu area is legendary for it’s soup dumplings. This restaurant is doubly qualified because it’s the exact place where they filmed a segment on soup dumplings for A Bite of China (I highly recommend this TV show)

 

We ordered the generic pork and crab roe dumplings as well as one of the Giants (a bigger version of the generic with 5x the soup). Words cannot describe the amazingness of the dumplings. each one is made to order and the skin was sooo thin and delicate. The soup level was also off the chart and not too salty. Come HERE!!!! even if it takes a while to find.

 (some samplings)

So that’s it for this quick trip. See you guys soon!

 

 

Quick Trip to WuXi- Let’s Clean a Mountain!

Hello World! School is OVER!!!! Even better, I passed my finals with flying colors! My plan was just to lay low for the first week to unwind after finals. My mom had a far better idea. On the 10th, we joined up with two other families and popped over to nearby WuXi to help clean up some trails. While this seems a bit random, it’s actually a test run for a project we’re trying to get started called Beautiful Mountains and Rivers.

WuXi

WuXi is a historical city in Jiangsu province about a 2 hour drive from Shanghai. At the city’s center is a lake bordered by some low mountains covered in scenic forests. From a hiking perspective, the “mountains” are only 400m, but what they lack in difficulty they make up in scenery

 

More importantly, we went to WuXi because two of my mom’s former high school classmates are prominent members of an organization, started some local entrepreneurs, called 丹顶鹤 that’s been helping to keep the mountains clean every weekend for the last 4 and a half years.

丹顶鹤, not only helps pick up trash, but also does advocacy to promote environmentalism, physical well- being and happiness. (This included shouting out the slogan on the middle of the mountain)

 

It was an absolute blast. The weather was absolutely perfect, and since it rained the day before, it wasn’t even that hot. The lack of tourists also meant a relative lack of trash, but there was still plenty to do:

After a few hours, everyone was pretty pooped, so group leader led us up to a little tea place at the top of the mountain.

There, the whole group sat around and had a lively discussion  philosophical debate about the differences between education in China and the US. The takeaway: America needs more basics; China needs to CHILL OUT and let children do what they enjoy.

Time flew by. Unfortunately, we had to leave or face late checkout costs and impending traffic on the way back. The first problem was avoided by getting down the mountain and checking out without showering 😦 As for the second problem, we ignored it and shopped around old town  instead- screw traffic!

After a great lunch and a box of wax berries (Highly recommended), we headed back. What a great trip!

Next post, I’ll share some of the delicious eats. Until then, See ya!

 

 

Spring Trip to JiaXing

Hi!!! It’s officially spring now!!!! In China, there is a tradition of going on 春游, or spring vacation when the weather gets nice and flowers bloom. Sunday was bright, sunny and free so we decided to go on a 春游.

We were going to take a quick train to SuZhou, but earlier that week, my mom and a couple of her friends went to JiaXing.

 

They were WeChatting for days about the beauty and the delicious food. Plus, she came home with some VERY DELICIOUS pumpkin steam buns, salted vegetable stuffed glutinous rice dumplings and 粽子stick rice packets. So, I couldn’t have been more excited when my mom offered to take me there instead.

JiaXing

JiaXing is a fairly small town about 1.5 hrs outside of Shanghai. It’s a pretty big deal in China because it is where Mao and his comrades established the communist party after being chased out of Shanghai by the Nationalists

I love history, but I didn’t come to JiaXing for educational purposes. JiaXing is also, if not more, famous for it’s South Lake and old town. As one poet put it, JiaXing has “one lake, two rivers and three streets” (it sounds a lot nicer in Chinese). Both were BEAUTIFUL

We took a very scenic walk around the lake.

 

That was all we needed to stoke our appetites before hitting old town (well, one of the 3 famed streets). We meandered among old cobblestone alleyways and “old wood” buildings repurposed as modern pubs.

 

They were beautiful, but by that time, we were all pretty hungry. After a few pictures, we beelined for the food. Boy did we find some!

Marinated Meats

Right as we turned the corner, we ran into this:

Old shop marinades are no joke. These recipes are often family treasures. We were not disappointed. We got some offal, tofu and chicken feet; honestly, those were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever put into my mouth. They were perfectly rich, flavorful and tender. I was very tempted to get the pork knuckle, but that thing had to be at least 2 lbs. I couldn’t afford squandering my stomach space

Side note: When making Chinese style marinades, preserve and reuse old liquid. The used liquid absorbs a lot of flavour, collagen or fat from the previous use, making the next one much tastier

Glutinous Rice Dumplings

Carbs are usually my last priority when it comes to sampling, but I LOVE glutinous rice dumplings. My mom brought some back last time and they were AMAZING! Luckily for us, the dumpling place was right next to the marinade shop.

The shop offered a fairly wide selection of glutinous rice delicacies from flower “cake” to rice balls filled with meat. They even had maltose candy- literally wheat that’s been pounded and heated until maltose is released and forms strings.

Again, I’m not a carb person. I headed straight for the rice dumplings. In April, there’s a special kind of glutinous rice dumpling called 青团. It’s basically a normal dumpling, but with a kind of leaf mixed in so it’s green.

I got a salted veggie and bamboo shoot one. AMAZING. They also have bean paste filled ones and pumpkin ones that are also filled with bean paste.

Sticky Rice Packets

While marinades and glutinous rice dumplings are good, JiaXing is really famous for its sticky rice packets. They’re so important, that there’s actually a museum dedicated to them.

Sticky rice packets, which originated during the Spring and Autumn period (nearly 4,000 years ago), are traditionally eaten during Dragon Boat festival. They’re pretty much glutinous rice filled with meat, veggies or even bean paste and chesnuts, then wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves. They usually look like this:

but I saw some pretty interesting regional variations

By the time we left the museum, it was about three, and we were very satisfied, but tired. Our one regret is that we only visited one old town street. I had a blast and will definitely be back for more of the delicious food and beautiful sights.

 

 

 

CASA Revisited

It’s about noon in Moscow now. Unfortunately, I am not there 😦 My visa got screwed up so that I am not allowed in Russia until the 27th. Instead of risking a layover in a foreign country, my parents and I decided not to go. So, I’ll be posting on something completely different: the CASA team’s investigation of Shanghai.

A few posts ago, I talked about how the CASA team (Mrs. Peng, her husband, eldest son and first employee), with the help of Mr. Du, came to Shanghai to discuss the expansion of their charity (啄木鸟)and restaurant to Shanghai.

Since the dinner, the team had been hard at work investigating locations all over Shanghai- visiting possible locations, talking to owners and really doing their due dilligence

Their vision is to open an accessible but upscale western style pizza restaurant. Naturally, they visited some and even got to see some pros at work

Unfortunately, not everything was so rosy. They immediately ran into two big road blocks: Shanghai’s exorbitant rent and a proper location. Furthermore, in some locations, the managers wouldn’t even talk to them because of their lack of branding. There is certainly a big learning curve doing business in Shanghai, but the CASA team and the rest of us are determined to make it work.

I was not able to join them on their adventures, but I did get to meet with them for dinner before they left. We had a great discussion about their visit and her mission as a charity to help disadvantaged children.

It was great. They’ll be back next month for another investigation. I have full confidence they can make this dream a reality.

It’s 2017!!!!!!

Hi!!!!! It’s 2017 now!!!!!! The year’s really gone by fast. New Years is nothing too special for me, but it’s cool (and a bit freaky) to think about how fast time goes by. Usually, we don’t do anything to celebrate new years; however, a couple of my parents’ good college friends invited us to brunch at 唐宫 (Tang Palace) in Puxi near JiangSu rd

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唐宫 is a pretty typical Cantonese style seafood with an extensive selection of dim sum. The difference is how good it is. My cousin had mentioned it a couple of times, but I was not prepared by the sheer deliciousness.

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img_0256 No, these are not mushrooms. They’re bean paste filled buns.

So the dim sum was amazing, until our hosts brought out the big guns: roast pigeon

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Pretty much every Cantonese restaurant worth it’s salt offers roast pigeon, but these were on a whole other playing field. They were perfectly crisp and not over salted. I could actually pick up the spices.

Of course, such a delicious spot could not escape the notice of hungry locals

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Aside from the amazing food, I had a great time talking with my parents’ classmates. We covered topics ranging from hiking to China’s space program and were there until 12.

How was your New Years? Happy 2017!!!

Taiwanese Highlights

As promised, I’m back and ready to talk about the best part of the trip: the food and culture. Taiwan only has 23 million people (that’s 1 million less than Shanghai’s official population), but what it lacks in people, it makes up for in flavor and culture. It preserves much of pre communist China and many of the relics that were once in the Forbidden City are actually in Taipei. Since we were biking in the (more beautiful) countryside, we did not get to do some of the more touristy activities such as museums and night markets, but that didn’t matter.

Food

Taiwan is pretty much synonymous with good food, and the organizers weren’t going to let us starve. We were in the countryside so everything was extremely fresh and pretty cheap 🙂 My favorite dish had to be the salt baked carp

It’s a speciality of the Bu Nong tribe and it was DELICIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The carp is a special type of carp only found in Taiwan; so fresh!!!!!. It’s baked at a high temperature to render the fat; the salt locks in moisture and gives the meat flavor.

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There was also plenty of delicious salt water chicken. Salt water chicken is ubiquitous around Taiwan and Canton, but the ones we had were particularly good. A couple of the restaurants were actually raising the chickens in their backyard.

The most interesting thing I had was the milk hot pot. It’s literally hotpot except the soup is replaced with milk

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The milk was less than a day old so it was on a completely different playing field than the bottled milk in the cities

Hands down the best meal of the trip was at this place called CASA

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CASA is run by a charity group called 啄木鸟 (Woodpecker). It helps adolescents from disadvantaged, minority families develop skills so they stay on the right road. Our entire meal was prepared by four youths, all under 25. The owners of the restaurant had always wanted one; after many hardships, including having to use their own child’s college fund, their dream became a reality. Touching story aside, the food was AMAZING!!!!

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This place actually had the best salt baked carp of all the restaurants we went to. After the meal, one of the dads offered to help expand this restaurant and charity into Shanghai. We are all looking forward to that moment and will all be involved. I might even get to be a chef!!!!

Snacks

The organizers decided that three, huge, delicious meals a day weren’t enough, so they further tempted us with Taiwanese snacks.

Home made peanut candy

img_0074 Ice cream burrito with peanut shavings

Taiwanese mochi

img_0073grilled sausages

So that’s it for this amazing and delicious trip. I’ll definitely be going back to Taiwan and I encourage all of you to go too. Happy Holidays!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

Cycling in Taiwan

Hello! I’m back from Taiwan. It was AMAZING!!!! My family, and 12 others, biked over 270km over the course of 5 days and passed some epic views. This post, I’ll give a brief overview of what we did, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

20161227_114903_resized (our route)

We started in Yilan county, rode a train down to Taitung, then rode our way back up along the coast.

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The biking wasn’t hard for the kids, but there were two very long uphills (4km and 5km) that everyone climbed as families. Many of us teenagers balked at the idea at first; however, in the end, we all rode alongside our parents- encouraging them and making sure they didn’t quit. All the families made it. Not only that, the coaches said our group was the fastest in the program’s history

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It all went downhill after that. Everyone was relieved.

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It was the rainy season so I was worried about the weather, but……

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(that was actually the last day. It was hot. The other days when we were cycling were cool and cloudy)

We ended the cycling at the start of the SuHua highway. Group Pic!!!!!!
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That’s it for this post! Happy Holidays and see you tomorrow!

Why I Hate White Rice

There is no use downplaying the significance of rice to Chinese cuisine. As one anthropologist put it: “Rice is life”. Although a majority of Chinese people no longer depend on wet rice agriculture for subsistence, no Chinese meal is complete without a bowl, or three, of polished white rice. Let me make this clear: I hate white rice. Here’s why..

First things first, the point of good food is to enjoy the taste. That is where all that simmering, stir-frying, braising comes in. Imagine plates of garlicky vegetables, perfectly tender, braised meats, rich, salty stir-fries. Now imagine white rice: a bowl of small, tasteless grains. It’s not the carbohydrates I’m against; there are plenty of delicious sources. Fruit, for example, is naturally sweet and refreshing. Sweet potatoes are rich, and taste great. Other varieties of rice, such as brown rice, red rice and forbidden rice, have a pleasant nutty taste as well as a superior mouth feel. All of these alternatives are both more delicious and nutritious as boring white rice.

Regarding nutrition, white rice is akin to white flour. It is processed and nutritionally devoid. A cup, or two servings, of white rice contains 200 calories 45g of carbohydrates with a paltry 1.2 g of fiber and literally no nutrients except smidgens of iron and magnesium. Its almost the same as white flour. The thing is, white flour actually produces a fluffier, sweeter texture, which people actually like. Doesn’t a doughnut or a small steak sound much better than a bowl of boring rice. Furthermore regarding nutrition, it hinders any weight or body goals. For those trying to loose weight, every calorie is precious. Why spend those 200 calories on tasteless crap. The sheer amount of refined carbohydrates compounded by the lack of fiber is a recipe for constipation and water retention. The tasteless nature of white rice also dampens the taste of other dishes, making more salt a necessity. Again, more water retention, which only leads to more stress.

For those trying to gain weight, white rice is also not the best choice. It is dense in carbohydrates, but not calories. It can also be quite filling, as well as tasteless, making probably already uncomfortable portions even worse. Another tablespoon or two of peanut butter or olive oil is probably a wiser choice. The bloating and constipation aren’t much help either.

 

So rant over. Can white rice be improved? Yes. The easiest is just to switch to an alternative. I suggest forbidden rice, sweet potato or just plain fruit. Going paleo isn’t a bad idea actually. If that is not an option, mixing some millet, or the above mentioned grains into boring white rice also helps jazz it up. Porridge and fried rice can also be tasty alternatives.

 

What do you think of white rice? Post in the comments.

National Holiday!!

Hi!!! The past week was China’s National Holiday, so I’ve been chilling. Not at home, at my grandparents place. National Holiday is like China’s July 4th. On October 1st 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China after defeating Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist government in one of the longest civil wars ever. Anyways, we get pretty much an entire week of break because of it! YAY!

As previously mentioned, I spent the week at my grandparent’s house in Xiang Tan. Before I get into more detail, WE GOT A KITTEN!!!!

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Actually he followed my brother home, so we adopted him. Isn’t he soooo cuuuutttteeee! His name is Mao Mao, after Chairman Mao.

Back to Xiang Tan. As usual, it was AMAZING and full of delicious meals. There was also pretty much no WIFI, so I got a much needed tech break. Even better, the osthamus trees were in full bloom so my walks were scenic and shaded. I basically spent all day either eating, studying or walking.

Food

The food has always been one of my favorite parts about going to Xiang Tan. Xiang cuisine, is one of China’s big 8. Although it’s characterized by oily and spicy food (not my type), my relatives manage to make it absolutely DELICIOUS!!!!.

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I ended up with a food baby every night. I usually go straight for the steamed fish or bone soup, but this time, the pork trotters stole the show.

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On the 5th day, I went to some relatives’ place. More food awesomeness followed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures as it would have been rude

… About the Relatives

National Holiday means that everyone is on vacation, which makes it the perfect time to go see relatives. We met my uncle for meals many times since he lives nearby (he took the pictures above). On the 5th day, the party got started when we headed towards Changsha. First, we lunched with some of my Grandparent’s nieces and nephews. There was basically a restaurant takeover, with our family occupying 10 tables. If that wasn’t enough, we headed directly to another nephew’s house, where I met some of the most sociable and caring people EVER. The nephew’s wife happened to also be a foodie, so plenty of time was spent sharing recipes and such.

Overall Impression

Xiangtan did not disappoint and I will be heading back ASAP!

How to (properly) Boil Dumplings

Hi!!! Last week was a pretty eventful one. We didn’t go anywhere, but a website asked me to write for them. More importantly, SCHOOL STARTED. Yep, I’m officially a sophomore, ready to tackle AP world and Precalculus. What does that have to do with dumplings?

During the school year, we have a custom of eating dumplings for lunch on either Saturday or Sunday. This is not some traditional or superstitious thing; It’s convenient. They are (relatively) quick to make, quick to eat and cheap. However, they were never good. The dumplings themselves weren’t bad, but something was seriously wrong with our boiling method. They would end up broken and overcooked 😦

The good news is that my mom finally discovered the “perfect” method! Before I get into the steps, here are some VERY important Tips:

  •  Use a soup ladle  not a spatula. Soup ladles are rounded, so they give a gentler push.
  • Use a wok, the high width to depth ration of woks makes it easier to move the dumplings. It also gives each one more room. If you don’t have a wok, use the pot (pans don’t work for obvious reasons) with the highest width to depth ratio.
  • Do NOT go out of the kitchen, or worse, look at technology. Boiling dumplings requires a lot of waiting, which gets boring. However, it’s not enough time to check emails or messages. More importantly, there is no exact timing. It all about observation.
  • When adding water, do it around the edges

Onto the steps:

  1. Boil the water. Nothing fancy. The important part here is to KEEP the dumplings FROZEN. Normally I’m all for fresh foods, but for dumplings, keeping them frozen is the key. Do NOT take them out until the water is at a rolling boil, then drop them in. Letting them thaw will allow the liquid water to soften the skin, which makes them break easily
  2. Push the dumplings IMMEDIATELY after they go in. The dumplings will sink like rocks. If they are not pushed, they will stick to the bottom and break. When pushing use the BACK of the appliance (See the 1st tip). The pushing with the front will put the dumplings in contact with the edge. More breakage.
  3. Wait for the dumplings to float. If they look like they are sticking, give them a slight nudge. Other than that, do NOT touch them.
  4. After step 3 is completed, all a little bit of cold water, just enough so that it stops boiling. By this point, the wrapping is pretty much cooked through, but the filling is raw. Adding water reduces the heat and allows for longer cooking
  5. Wait until the water is at a raging boil. Push if necessary, but otherwise don’t touch them. Then repeat step 4.
  6. Boil for an aditional 2-4 min (depending on the amount and size of the dumplings) then Enjoy!

I hope that guide will allow you to say “No more” to overcooked, soggy dumpling. See you next week!

Sorry about the lack of pictures, The steam kept fogging up my  camera.