I recently came across this amazing essay (with recipe) about bakers in Kashgar, China. Kashgar is located in the far western region of Xinjiang, which is home to the Chinese Muslim ethnic group known as Uyghurs. Uyghur cuisine is completely different that what North Americans are familiar with as Chinese cuisine, and has more of Middle Eastern and Central Asian flavor. Bread, in particular has a central place in Uyghur cuisine.
Tag Archives: China
Happy New Year! Monday, Jan 23rd marks the start of the Lunar year – and the Chinese year of the Dragon. In Salvador, there actually are a few Chinese restaurants, so maybe we will be able to partake (we even saw a Macanese restaurant – cool!). One Chinese food we are craving in honor of the new year is Xiao Long Bao (XLB). XLB are dumplings from Eastern China, which are filled with gelatin (which then melts to liquid through steaming), earning them the English nickname of soup dumplings. While we are admitted XLB novices, XLB have quite a cult following among foodies, and there are countless blog posts reviewing and critiquing dumpling offerings in America and abroad. Eating XLB is also an art unto itself, since the liquid filling of the XLB has the potential for explosion!
Soup Dumplings at Bund Shanghai in San Francisco
Lao Sze Chaun
2172 S. Archer Ave
During a recent episode of “No Reservations” where Anthony Bourdain jetted off to Melbourne – he ate at a Szechuan restaurant and devoured a delicious looking dish that was basically a pan of red chilis studded with meat. M, ever the capsaicin lover, was practically salivating at the screen. So we figured the next time we were in Chinatown we should go someplace for Szechuan food, known for its particular heat. We did a bit of scouring to test the Szechuan options in Chicago, and Lao Sze Chuan came out on top. Lao Sze Chuan is located in the heart of Chinatown and earns rave reviews for its more innovative take on this Chinese regional cuisine.
The interior is your basic spartan eatery, but, as always, decor matters little to us and we dove right into the intimidatingly massive menu. We stuck to the page of ‘specials’ since we were frankly overwhelmed by the massive amounts of choice. Though we didn’t venture too far afield, we especially enjoyed the demarcated section with “Very Chinese Specials” including Stir-Fried Pork Stomach with Dry Bean Curd ($7.95) and Pork Blood Cake with Chives ($8.95). It’s always a good reminder that we still have a ways to go to truly appreciate all of the world’s food – including offal.
M ordered Tony’s Three Chili Chicken ($9.95), a dish that constantly garners rave reviews when Lao Sze Chuan is mentioned. Despite the “3 Chili” label M found the dish not too spicy. In fact, it was not spicy at all. It was so unspicy in fact, that L even commented it was a bit bland. The only discernible spice was the few whole red chili peppers tossed into the dish. This was particularly perplexing – since we told the server to make the dish spicy, and to not tone it down. The chicken was mostly breading as well, which disappointed us a level further. As an accompaniment we ordered the garlic spinach ($7.95), perhaps in uninspired choice, but it arrived as advertised – garlicky and spinachy.
Our two table-mates had some formidable looking smoothies, which they reported that they quite enjoyed. We looked a bit longingly at the overflowing pastel fruit drinks as we picked through our bland chicken. Lao Sze Chaun left us scratching our head a little – everyone raves about its authenticity and flair, but we got neither. There was nary a hint of spice on even the dishes marked a spice-denoting ‘pepper’ in the menu and a dish named the “3 Pepper Chicken” didn’t even make us reach for a glass of water….
Appetite for China has an intriguing post about Chinese restaurants found in unusual places around the world including a traincar in Chile and a church in England. The photos in the post come from the inimitable Flickr group, “Chinese Restaurant Worldwide Documentation Project.”
We are really loving the blog Appetite for China lately. They have lovely pictures, and we are learning all sorts of fascinating facts about Chinese cuisine. One AforC post in particular that struck us was about an alternative tea party, featuring food made with tea, including classic tea eggs and tea flavored banana bread. Well, when we think ‘tea party’ it conjures up images of either kids and dolls or old stuffy ladies with watercress sandwiches, so we were pretty inspired. The recipe for Matcha Almond Icebox Cookies sounded so good we might make them for our own alternative tea party. No watercress allowed.
The egg tart may be the perfect example of a truly transnational and international food! Egg tarts are pretty simple in their perfection, baked egg custard in a flaky pastry shell. Egg tarts are a big part of Macanese cuisine, and expanded later in Hong Kong and China. Macau was a former colony of Portugal. The egg tart was supposedly invented at Lord Stow’s on the island of Coloane in Macau. The tarts are related to the Portuguese Pastel de Nata an egg tart that is something of a national institution.
The tarts were introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940s through tea houses called cha chaan teng, which are known for their extensive selections of snacks and treats. Today, in Hong Kong and Taiwan you can even get Egg Tarts from KFC.
One major differentiation between a Macanese egg tart and a regular egg tart is that the Macanese varieties have a layer of caramelized sugar on top. You can get these little treats for a steal at many bakeries around town. We got this tart above for only $0.95 at Richwell Market in Chinatown – where you can get both plain and Macau-style tarts. For a taste of Macau via Portugal, China and Hong Kong, that’s a pretty good deal.
1835 S Canal St
Chicago, IL 60616
I recently came across a new food that, while it looks kind of frightening, is pretty intriguing – black garlic! Black garlic is popular in China, Korea and Japan and is really just aged and fermented whole cloves of garlic. The flavor is more mellow than raw cloves with a bit of a tang. And it’s spreadable. Some Whole Foods stores sell black garlic, but you can get it online, too.
It’s a well-known fact that Chinese food is available in most countries around the world. However, I have not had many of these international Chinese permutations. Flor de Mayo, an NYC restaurant boasts one of the more interesting amalgamations I have heard of to date, Chinese-Peruvian-Cuban. M and I were intrigued by the Upper West Side restaurant, which at first appears to be a garden-variety Chinese restaurant, with an unassuming exterior and simple decor. However, the posted menu was indeed extraordinarily eclectic and was divided into three neat parts: “Peruvian Specials,” “Spanish Food” and “Hong Kong Specials.”
On the front door of the restaurant there is a sign advertising their rendition of pollo a la brasa as “the best Chicken in NYC.” I (L) ordered a lunch portion, a 1/2 a la brasa chicken ($7.55) with a side of plantains. The plate of food was absolutely enormous – the chicken itself had a spice rub and was fall-off-the-bone juicy and tender. While we cannot verify the “Best in NYC” claim – it was some pretty good chicken. M ordered Ceviche de pescado ($9.25) a Peruvian-style fish salad tossed with onions & fresh lime juice. Though tasty, the dish was a little short on the seafood and heavy on the onions. But he was just happy to get some Peruvian food, one of his favorite cuisines. Our Chicago dining buddy Anne, who is now an NYC resident ordered the Sweet and Sour Chicken lunch special (normally off the Hong Kong Specials section) with a side of plantains, definitely the most cross-cultural of our dishes. Though we were expecting more of a fusion of all three cuisines instead of selection from each, we enjoyed our food at Flor de Mayo. I couldn’t imagine a Chinese/Peruvian/Cuban restaurant anywhere but NYC!