Saturday, October 22, 2011

And now, a change of scenery...

So I've moved myself to London. Yes, London as in England. After living in New York for 15 years, it was time for a new adventure. It's been a week so far and I'm doing quite well...when I'm not comparing everything in London to NY. It's like what they tell you: now that you live here, you can't do the exchange rate conversion for everything or you'll never spend another dime (or 6.2p as it were) on anything. But it's hard not to!

And so I will, make comparisons all over the place. And observations too, and rants and raves about my life as a new Londoner. Oh, and don't you worry, there will be plenty of eating and drinking and traveling to provide inspiration. Watch this space for more.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Guest Blogging on Tribeca Citizen

It's been over a year since my last blog entry...I've been suffering from laziness, writer's block, you name it. I haven't stopped eating and drinking around the world, but just haven't really felt like writing anything longer than a series of 140-character tweets. Recently, I was inspired enough to do a write up for Tribeca Citizen, the definitive online guide for my neighborhood (get their e-newsletter, it rocks). Take a look at my choices for places worthy of a field trip from our Triangle Below Canal.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

How to Make My Mother's Awesome Pork Sauce Noodles

My new year's resolution is to learn how to cook better Chinese food, especially the dishes that I remember fondly as a child. My recent visit to Baozi Inn in London inspired my first lesson: Zha Jiang Mian, or fried pork sauce noodles. These noodles are a staple of Northern Chinese cuisine which is more noodle focused than the South. If my memory serves me, I had these almost everyday as my first snack at home after a long day at school. My grandmother use to tell me Marco Polo brought this dish back to Italy and it became the inspiration for spaghett bolognese. Here's my mother's creation and her recipe below.

Chinese style dried noodles (thin spaghetti type)
Minced garlic
Minced scallions
Ground pork
Tian Mian Jiang (sweet bean sauce)
Dou Ban Jiang (soya bean sauce)
Cucumbers, bean sprouts, carrots or other crunchy vegetables as garnish

Stir fry the ground pork in vegetable oil (medium heat) until just browned. Empty into a bowl and put aside. Stir fry the minced garlic and scallions together in more vegetable oil, until cooked and soft. Then add the ground pork with the garlic and scallions and mix well, ensuring everything is cooked together. Lower the heat and stir in the sweet bean sauce (2 parts) + soya bean sauce (1 part), adding just enough sauce to coat the whole pan of pork. The consistency should be like spaghetti bolognese so add water if too thick. Add salt to taste. Separately, boil the dry noodles per instructions on the package. Usually it's a quick boil, again similar to spaghetti. Combine sauce and noodles. Devour.

You can serve this with raw cucumbers or carrots julienned or bean sprouts flash boiled. The crunchiness of the vegetables will give the dish a nice texture and a balance with the rich sauce. Some people also like to put some raw minced garlic and scallions on top too and I used to have some chopped up scrambled eggs mixed in. Try anything, to your own liking!

Chinese Street Food in London: Baozi Inn

Chinese food in Chinatowns around the world can be hit or miss. More often than not, especially in large cities, the restaurants in Chinatowns cater more to tourists and Western palates. But there are some gems in the sea of General Tso's Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork and I found one at Baozi Inn in London.

Tucked on a side street that is literally a hop, skip and a jump away from the famous grand entrance gate that marks London's Chinatown, Baozi Inn is famous for its reasonably priced Northern Chinese street food. Baozi is the chinese word for pork bun and the menu is filled with an assortment of dumplings and buns, steamed and fried. There are also the noodle and rice dishes and small plates like poached peanuts and pickled vegetables...all familiar dishes from my childhood. The decor is faux plebeian Maoist China...old black and white photographs on the walls, wooden stools and tables. Reminds me of a modernized version of a Chinese inn set in an old Jackie Chan movie, only no one's there to start a kung fu fight.

Even though we wanted to try everything on the menu, we really only had the stomach for two dishes. The first was a lunch special of spicy tofu with ground pork over rice (below). I can tell this one was fiery right when they dropped the plate off in front of us and indeed it was. Delicate tofu lit on fire with chili oil and paste. We were sweating profusely (in a good way) with every bite but couldn't put our spoons down.

The second dish was what I was really looking forward to: Zha Jiang Mian which was noodles with a stir friend ground pork sauce on top. This is one of my mother's signature dishes so I had to see whose was better. The Baozi Inn version (below) had a slightly sweeter sauce than I prefer but the raw garlic on top was a genius move. Overall, a very very good execution of a dish that I grew up eating almost everyday.

Chinatowns in the US up until now, are made up mostly of restaurants serving cuisine from Southern China since that's where the early immigrants came from. Nowadays there is definitely more and more variety of Chinese regional cuisine in New York and hopefully London is also seeing this trend. In 2010, I'm gonna try to learn more about the different regional flavors of China through eating and cooking. If you live in London, check out Baozi Inn and then start with my mother's recipe for Zha Jiang Mian. And decide for yourself which is better!