Friday, January 31, 2014

Chinese New Year Vegetarian Platter

Happy Year of the Horse! 恭喜發財 萬事如意 大吉大利 身體健康 龍馬精神 馬年進步! Chinese New Year is the holiday in my household. Yes, we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and every major commercial holiday, but this is the one that really matters and gets people together. The food, the festivities, the money... how can anyone not enjoy the first day of the Lunar New Year? 

Hong Kong people can be quite superstitious and there are a LOT of of traditions, customs, and rituals to follow to ensure the most auspicious start of the year. Washing your body with pomelo leaves to clean away all the dirt from the past year, eating lettuce because it sounds like "growing wealth," sleeping with lucky money under your pillow... all in a day's work. I know most of them sound crazy, but why not? 

One of the major customs that my family follows is to have the first meal of the new year be vegetarian. The purpose of this is to accumulate positive karma and to pay respects to the gods. After the break, I have included my mom's recipe for the most delicious Buddhist vegetarian dish. It uses a lot of different ingredients, so this dish is not only packed with the natural sweetness of the vegetables, but also has a range of textures and nutrients. 

The photos I have below are all from New Year's Eve. Chinese New Year's Eve is when the entire family gathers to have a very lavish meal with endless luxurious ingredients such as a whole roast pig, abalone, shark fin, and oysters. More importantly, there must be leftovers to save. This shows that your family is living prosperously and can afford to have excess. Below are some photos from my family reunion and food preparations for our midnight offering! 

Chinese New Year Vegetarian Platter
4 tbs canola oil
1 lb bok choy
1/2 lb Chinese celery
1/2 lb lettuce
1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup ginkgo nuts
1 cup shiitake mushrooms 
1 cup bamboo shoots
1 cup wood ear mushrooms 
1 cup fat choy (hair vegetable) 
1 cup tofu skin
1 pack fried tofu
1 pack tofu puffs 
1 pack vermicelli
5 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp salt
white pepper

1. In a pot, braise dried dates, ginkgo nuts, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom, fat choy, tofu skin, fried tofu, and tofu puffs in about 4 cups of water.   
2. In the meantime, heat vegetable oil in a wok. When boiling, stir fry bok choy. Then add the Chinese celery and lettuce. 
3. Stir fry until 80-90% cooked, then pour the pot of braised vegetables into the wok. Mix well.
4. Seasons with soy sauce, salt, and a dash of white pepper. Flavor to taste. 
5. If there is still liquid on the bottom of the wok, add the vermicelli. If not, add water then vermicelli. Mix well. 

Don't forget to check out my recipe for Chinese New Year rice cake, leen goh 年糕

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chicken and waffles at Amy Ruth's

I have a soft spot for fried chicken. That doesn't mean that I have to eat fried chicken whenever I see it. On the contrary, it means that I hold off on eating fried chicken until I know it's going to be some frickin bomb fried chicken. The last time I remember having jaw-dropping conversation-stopping eye-ball popping delicious fried chicken was down in New Orleans at Willie Mae's. Before that, all the fried chicken I ever ate was just the build up.

Last week, an old friend Johnny hit me up out of nowhere with first row tickets to see Sinbad at the Apollo Theater. I'm rarely out in Harlem, so I of course took the opportunity to stop by Amy Ruth's as well. I've heard the name several times whenever soul or southern food is mentioned in New York, so I looked up the hours and discovered that they are opened most days from 8:30am-5am. That's a lot of hours for a fried chicken and waffles joint! 

We weren't too hungry, so we just shared an order of the Tommy Tomita, which was an order of fried chicken wings served over a waffle. We also ordered baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens as sides. But best of all, Johnny ordered the Kool-Aid of the day, Fruit Punch. Kool-aid. Of the day. This place is real. Anyways, everything was just as delicious as I imagined it. The Kool-Aid was fresh, the corn bread was crumbly, and the collard greens were packed with flavor. The fried chicken was juicy, tender, and crispy. But my favorite pick was the beautifully browned waffle because it was exactly what a perfect waffle should feel like in your mouth: crisp on the outside, soft to the bite, and slightly moist on the inside. 

Apollo Theater? Worth the trip way uptown. House of Hoops right across the street? The stars are perfectly aligned. Amy Ruth's? Be back soon, I promise.

Amy Ruth's
113 W 116th Street
New York, NY

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Miss Korea

It's cold out. We know. So what do you do? Go eat Korean food. 

Korean food is hearty, flavorful, and belly warming, which is the most important point to address at the moment. When you go somewhere like Miss Korean where you can get barbecued meats, you don't really need much else to thaw you from you cold. Except maybe a soondooboo jigae. That stuff is absolutely necessary. It's a bubbling hot stone pot filled to the brim with silken tofu, spicy hot pepper seafood broth, and usually served with a cracked egg. But back to the barbecue. Always get the samgyupsal (pork belly) and marinated kalbi (short rib). Personally, I'm bulgogi (marinated beef) optional. I only really order bulgogi when it's a la carte and it's not a full barbecue occassion. But regardless, in order to eat all of this, you will obviously need a lot of the sticky short grain rice, lettuce wraps, and unlimited servings of kimchi. Because let's be real, no Korean meal is complete without ample amounts of kimchi.  

The way I eat my samgyupsal: 
1. Place a lettuce wrap in your left hand. 
2. Scoop a spoonful of rice into the lettuce. 
3. Place some sizzling hot pork belly dipped in the sesame oil+salt+pepper sauce on top of the rice. 
4. Wrap it up and stuff it in your mouth. Kimchi and/or raw/grilled garlic optional.
5. Repeat. 

Miss Korea is one of many many Korean restaurants in K-town. I enjoy coming here because it's newer, clean, quick service, and very dependable quality. Some places have a marinade that is too sweet or their pajeon (pancake) is too deep fried.  But I have to admit that my favorite places also give you a complimentary steamed egg with your meal; that always makes my day. Here are some other barbecue restaurants to try on the block:
- Kang Suh Restaurant 
- Kunjip
- New WonJo
- NY Kom Tang 
- Shilla

That pork belly. 

Soondooboo jigae

Cooked kalbi 

Miss Korea
10 W 32nd Street
New York, NY

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Claypot Rice in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon

If you know me at all you, you know that I love and need my white rice. But what I love more than a steaming hot bowl of white rice is a claypot filled with white rice and doused with soy sauce. Soy sauce is another thing that I need in my life because life without the ever versatile soy sauce would just be... bland. But what makes claypot rice special is the fact that the rice is cooked in a claypot directly over a flame. The result is an extremely aromatic pot of rice plus an irresistable slightly burnt crispy bottom rice layer.  

Here are some favorites:
- Chinese sausage- smoked, seasoned, and preserved 
- Chinese bacon- preserved pork belly 
- Preserved duck leg
- Mushroom and slippery chicken
- Yellow eel
- Minced beef and egg

But the real secret to a delicious claypot rice is not the rice or the ingredients. It's the soy sauce. Specialty claypot rice restaurants would never just serve you soy sauce out of the bottle. Their sauces are specially simmered with sugar and spices such as star anise. It really makes all the difference. 

Though claypot rice is a much celebrated winter food, you can easily get it year round. It's hearty, savory, satisfying, and I can eat it every day. I love all types of comfort food, and this is the ultimate Chinese comfort food. Please don't tell my professors. 

Temple Street is a famous street in Kowloon known for its nightmarket and fortune tellers, but if you veer away from the Jordan side to Yau Ma Tei, there are several restaurants for claypot rice that are packed any season. Below are photos from Hing Kee, also known for their heavily deep fried oyster pancakes. Enjoy the photos! 

When it arrives, pour on the soy sauce, then let it self steam a bit before mixing it up!

This is the best photo you will see in awhile. #foodporn

Oyster pancake!

I love anything cooked in claypots. Here's a preserved mustard green braised pork belly.

Here's the aromatic lining of slight burnt crispy rice. 

Hing Kee
15 Temple Street
Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Must haves in Hong Kong -- an adventurous visitor's guide

Happy New Year! I'm in Hong Kong again, and this time around I promise I will be updating regularly (... mostly because I won't be taking biochemistry online, aka the darkest period of my life). Many times when my friends visit Hong Kong, I will get asked where to visit and what to eat. I always have a list prepared of noteworthy neighborhoods, sites, and activities, but now I have a detailed list of things you have to eat when you're here. Some are entirely unique to Hong Kong, but most are just things that Hong Kong does best. Not all ingredients are familiar, but if you're here, you might as well, right? 

To begin: My favorite street hawker food is fried pig intestines. Sliced and skewered large intestine is dipped in boiling hot oil until crispy then served with an optional sweet hoisin sauce. Every bite it crispy, chewy, and incredibly aromatic. What's not to love? But I do understand if it really is not for you, so the other popular option is the shumai. Shumai at dim sum eateries are usually made with pork, but the street side ones are just doughy goodness drizzled with soy sauce. 

However, the most popular street side food by far are the fishballs (...not testicles). They're bouncy, chewy, and usually laden with spicy chili sauces. They're usually made with a combination of minced fish and flour and rolled into individual balls. They're boiled in water then served on a skewer. All these street side snacks can be found on virtually every few blocks on side streets and main avenues in Hong Kong. They're stalls with very high traffic that have a variety of other fried or boiled snacks such as squid, eggplant, and many others. 

Turtle herbal jelly can be found at many of the herbal tea shops that dot the streets of Hong Kong. It's a traditional remedy for a long list of ailments ranging from inflammation to digestive issues. It's a slightly bitter jello that is served with a sweet syrup. Definitely worth a try, especially if you are breaking out or have a sore throat from all the fried pig intestines. 

"Western toast" or Hong Kong styled French toast is always a treat. It's usually a thick slice of white toast (sometimes spread with peanut butter) dipped in egg batter then deep fried and topped with a generous pat of butter and served with syrup. Definitely decadent. Definitely a guilty pleasure. 

Who doesn't love a good egg tart?? I loosely translate it as the Chinese version of creme brulee or flan because it is essentially an egg custard baked with either a flaky or tart-like crust. And trust me, great egg tarts are hard to come by. It really is an art to get the desired consistency and flavor of the custard plus the perfect texture of the crust.   

Pineapple buns, like egg tarts, are a product of British colonization. Let's be real; Chinese people did not use ovens (it's an inefficient use of resources) until the art was introduced by the west. Do not be fooled because there is no pineapple in a pineapple bun. The topping just of the bun just makes it vaguely resemble a pineapple. A popular breakfast and tea time option, pineapple buns are a supple baked delicacy with a slight chew topped with a sweet crumbly crust. It really is special and can be served with a hefty slice of butter, which I actively avoid. 

When you're in Hong Kong, you have to have a wonton noodle soup. Wontons were by no means invented on the island of Hong Kong, but it is sure where it was popularized. There are numerous stores that are solely dedicated to serving these succulent wrapped balls of shrimp and pork splendidness. There are also numerous schools of thought on what an authentic wonton should be. They can come in bite size or larger balls, some contain only shrimp, and many chefs take pride in having the thinnest silkiest skin wrappings. But what everyone can agree upon is this: a wonton soup is nothing without bouncy thin egg noodles. Be sure to enjoy your wonton noodle soup with some red vinegar and chili oil sauce. 

Another thing that Hong Kong is great at is Cantonese barbecue. You know those perfectly browned poultry hanging from all those window fronts? That's the right stuff. There's barbecue pork (char siu), roast pork, roasted duck, roasted goose, soy sauce chicken, and many others. Get it over white rice or with a range of different noodles in soup. Adding a salted egg is always a plus! 

And finally, you cannot leave Hong Kong without at least a few meals of dim sum! Almost every other restaurant serves dim sum, and you will surprised at how packed they can get on any given day. Order all the staples such as shrimp dumplings, shumai, and rice rolls, but definitely try anything that looks unique because there is some serious dim sum master competition, and chefs churn out very creative specialties. 

So where exactly do you get all these delicacies? Favorite spots update is coming soon! Research is still underway :)