From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chinese Food & Wine Pairings

I am still, to this day, constantly debating what kind of beverage to enjoy with a tasty meal Beer typically was and still is a good partner with many Chinese dishes. That was, however, before I learned to love wine. Then everything changed, and I needed to discover what wines go best with Chinese food. Over the years, I have done some research (tasting) and some experimenting (more tasting), and I learned a thing or two. Please understand that my opinions are just that.  I understand that many people have different preferences. You will probably have to do a little experimenting of your own. Here are some guidelines that should help.
(For those of you who constantly suggest that "There's an app for that," amazingly, you're right.  While I don't agree with ALL of the suggestions from the app, feel free to check it out here: Chinese Wine and Food Pairing )
GENERAL PRINCIPLES: When matching any food with wine, there are several basic rules to keep in mind.
1) Similar foods and wines pair well. A delicate dish, for example, demands a delicate, light-bodied wine, and a hearty, rib-warming meal needs a rich, powerful, full-bodied wine.
2) Contrasting foods and wines can also be good partners, although these matches are trickier.
3) Food and wine should complement, rather than overpower, each other. You do not want a wine that will overwhelm a dish; you want one that will stand up to it.
4) Fiery dishes are best with wines that are low in tannins and alcohol, which fan the flames, and with off-dry (slightly sweet) and sweet wines, which tone them down.
5) In general, the lower the alcohol the sweeter the wine.
6) If beer goes well with a dish, sparkling wine will too.
7) Here is a rule of thumb: the milder the dish the drier the wine; the spicier, the fruitier; the hotter, the sweeter.

But that is not all. There are other things to take into account, like cooking methods. Fried foods, for example, are great with sparkling wines because the bubbles cut through the richness. And then there is seasonality: The wine you choose to accompany roast duck served on a cold winter day should not be the wine you pour with roast duck on a patio. Sauces too play a crucial role in deciding what wine to select, which is especially important in a cuisine like Chinese. In fact, as wine importer Terry Theise advises, you should "match the wine to the sauce, not to the meat. Orange-flavored Beef calls for sweet Riesling, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape."
TAO OF CHINESE MEALS: It is also important to keep in mind two other distinctive things about Chinese food:
1) the frequent combinations of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavors, which play a great part in determining which wines are appropriate, and
2) the wide array of vegetable, bean curd, seafood, poultry, pork and beef dishes served at the same meal.
Given all these factors, it may be tempting to raise your hands in surrender and say, "I will have a Tsing Tao." But, in a way, these considerations make the choice of wine easy: The best thing to do is to serve the most food-friendly wines.
A bit of personal insight:  I prefer above all others, white wines.  Most specifically, a good peppery chardonnay, which has a flavor profile that changes and evolves with the meal, usually to complement the courses as you dine.  The acidity in the white wines, especially in a Riesling cuts through the oil in the food, and the slight sweetness in the Kabinett level wine complements the spiciness perfectly.
I have tried many whites with Chinese food -- Chenin Blancs, Chardonnays, Gewurztraminers, Pinot Gris, Albarinos -- none match as well as German Riesling (apple, peach and mineral flavors). Though many people recommend a Spatlese level Riesling with Asian cuisine, I prefer Kabinett level (lowest level of sweetness in German Rieslings, but still plenty sweet for me). And this particular bottle of Riesling was a really great example of what I expect from this grape.
SPARKLING WINES: There are no more versatile wines than sparkling wines. One of their many virtues is that they can be served throughout the meal. While sparkling wine may not necessarily be the best wine for a particular dish, it’s usually at worst a good accompaniment--and often much more. Sparkling wine does not have strong flavors or tannins that overwhelm food; its thousands of tiny bubbles do a stellar job of cleansing and refreshing the palate; and its acidity and fruit temper spicy heat in food. Sparkling wines are wonderful with Chinese food. (The Chinese themselves gravitate toward bubbles with meals, although bubbles of a different sort: They often mix carbonated drinks like 7-Up with wine, whiskey or brandy.) These days there are many excellent, inexpensive sparkling wines on the market.
If expense is not a consideration or you are celebrating a special occasion, you might opt for Champagne. As importer Theise says, "Do not forget Champagne! In fact, never forget Champagne." (Actually, I personally would be likelier to forget my own name than to ever forget Champagne!)
Champagnes and some sparkling wines come in several sweetness levels: Brut nature or Extra brut or Ultra brut: bone dry; Brut: no perceptible sweetness; Extra dry: slightly sweet; Sec: noticeable sweetness; Demi sec or Dry: very sweet; Doux: sweetest of all. (Brut is most common.)

ALSACE WINES: After sparkling wines, when eating Chinese, I often turn to Alsace and its food friendly, aromatic white wines. Their fruity flavors and (generally) high acidity cool the palate and complement flavorful, spicy and sweet dishes. Their lack of oak is also a plus. "[Aromatic] white wines excel particularly with cuisines that are challenging for other wines," especially those with some sweetness or hot spiciness, write Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy in Wine Styles. "Alsace wines in general are great choices when the meal has you wondering what wines could possibly work."
There are several Alsace wines to consider. Riesling is its outstandingly flexible star. (Actually many think it is the greatest and most versatile of all white wines.) Riesling is an excellent choice when you want one wine to serve with many different dishes–from seafood to fowl to meat. It can be fruity, flowery, sometimes minerally, usually crisp, often elegant. Pinot Blanc, sometimes called the poor man's Chardonnay, is a light, crisp, fresh, lively, delicate, all-purpose wine. Pinot Gris is like Chardonnay in weight and texture. It is dry, rich, round, opulent, powerful, complex, sometimes smoky, with lots of fruit flavors. While it has the acidity of a white wine, it is full bodied and can often take the place of a red. Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with very flavorful dishes. Gewürztraminer is extremely expressive and exotic, highly aromatic, with scents of lychees, rose petals and honeysuckle. It is full bodied and sometimes slightly sweet. For these reasons, it’s often recommended with spicy cuisines.
GERMAN REISLINGS: Also at the top of the list as accompaniments to Chinese food are German Rieslings. Generally low in alcohol, they have high acidity, which makes them crisp, fresh, zesty and good with food. The sugar in them is balanced by acidity. They can handle the wide range of dishes served at Chinese meals. (Some pair Rieslings with game, like venison, pheasants and wild duck. Others recommend them with braised meat or steak.)
German Rieslings are made in several ripeness levels, which are indicated on the label. The most important styles for our purposes include: Kabinett–light, delicate, refreshing wines from ripe grapes with a touch of sweetness; Spätlese–fuller, more flavorful wines, characterized by high acidity and light sweetness, from grapes picked at least a week after normal ripeness; and Auslese–fuller, riper wines with significant sweetness, made from ripe and overripe grape clusters.
The Kabinetts favor subtly flavored, delicate dishes with light sauces. The Spätlese cut the heat of spicy foods and are also good with dishes with some sweetness. The Ausleses demand aggressively flavored dishes, including those with sweet-and-sour and orange-flavored sauces that benefit from more residual sugar.
Rosé is another food friendly wine that takes to Chinese food. Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé and co-owner of SoloRosa, a rosé-only winery, writes, "Rosé is blessed with a fruit-driven, bright-edged core that blends well with the fiery, ripe fruit found in chiles. Refreshingly chilled, dry, pink wine also cools down the palate." He recommends it with many dishes, but especially with Sichuan cuisine. If you are a red-wine lover, I recommend Pinot Noir with Chinese duck and meat dishes. Some enjoy Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Côtes-du-Rhône, Shiraz and Syrah, Burgundy, inexpensive red Bordeaux, Sangiovese and Barbera.
I invite you to experiment, if you have not already, and to seek the guidance available at a good wine shop. Chances are, you will find many pairings that appeal to you. And if not, remember, there is always Tsing Tao.
Cantonese food has some sweetness, is not very spicy, has many dishes that are sweet-and-sour, uses fermented black beans and/or soy sauce and is salty. Try sparkling, Pinot Blanc or Riesling (especially for seafood), Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer with roasted meats and poultry, and rosé.
Sichuan foods are spicy, use hot-and-sour sauces, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Pair with sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Moscato d’Asti, rosé and Beaujolais.
Hunan foods go well with sparkling wines, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Beaujolais.
Shanghainese foods partner well with Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.
Food and wine combinations to try:
Barbecued Spare Ribs: sparkling wine, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, rosé
Chicken with Cashews: Gewürztraminer
Chicken Chow Mein: sparkling wine
Deep-fried dishes: sparkling wine
Dim Sum: sparkling wine, Riesling
General Tso’s Chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, rosé
Hot Pepper Prawns: sparkling wine, Viognier
Kung Pao Chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño
Lobster Cantonese: white Burgundy
Lobster with Ginger and Scallion Sauce: white Burgundy
Minced Squab with Hoisin Sauce: Zinfandel
Mu Shu Chicken: sparkling wine, Pinot Noir
Mu Shu Pork: Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
Noodles with Sesame Sauce: Gewürztraminer
Orange-flavor Beef: Riesling
Peking Duck: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir
Roast Duck: Pinot Noir
Salt-and-pepper Shrimp, Salt-and-pepper Squid: sparkling wine
Sesame Chicken: Pinot Grigio, Riesling
Shellfish dishes: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Albariño
Singapore-style Noodles: Sauvignon blanc, rosé
Soup Dumplings: sparkling wine
Spring Rolls and Egg Rolls: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, rosé
Stir-fry Chicken and Vegetables: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer
Sweet and Sour Pork: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
Tea-smoked Duck: Pinot Noir
Twice-cooked Pork: sparkling wine, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Noir

Until then, Good Eating, Friends...
  • Red Cooked Lamb (紅燒羊肉)

    • Preparation time: 20 minutes
    • Slow cooking time: 2 hours
    • 1 lb. stewing lamb (1 1/2 lb. if bone is attached) cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 5 cups water for par-boiling the beef
    • 1 medium carrot cut into one-inch pieces
    • 1 medium daikon radish cut into one-inch pieces
    • Chopped cilantro for garnish
    • Braising Ingredients
    • 3 whole star anise (八角)
    • 2-inch length of cassia bark (or 1 cinnamon stick) (桂皮)
    • 2-inch square piece of dried tangerine peel (陳皮)
    • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn (花椒)
    • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (小茴)
    • 4 pods dried red chili (optional)
    • 3 thick slices ginger root
    • 1/2 cup Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
    • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (老抽)
    • 1tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 5 cups water (or lamb stock)
    • Par-boil the lamb in boiling water for about 15 minutes and scoop off all the scum that forms on top. In a wok combine all the braising ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the lamb and simmer for about 1 hour 30 minutes. Add more water if the liquid evaporates too quickly. Add the carrot and daikon pieces and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro.

  • Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Chinese Fitness Foods


    Michelle, one of my lifelong friends, is the owner of TeaMe Fitness and works as the fitness trainer with a goal of creating a fit body, healthy mind and lifestyle by using proven training methods.  The results have been remarkable for many of the people willing to subject themselves to the rigors of a good hard work out.
    One of the primary reasons why I wanted to mention Michelle’s work is because she bases much of her training on the foundations of proper nutrition.  One could work out for HOURS but if their post work out meal is a Big Mac and Large Fries (especially the extra large Diet Coke) then they are not doing themselves much good.
    I often surprise a lot of people by suggesting that Chinese food is a healthy option for a family. Some people will write Chinese food off as fatty and full of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Saturated fats and excess salts are considered bad for the heart and so it follows that Chinese food is unhealthy, right?

    Wrong. Many Chinese dishes, corrupted to become popular to western palates, are breaded, fried, over-sauced and thus fit this bill. (I have written about this often…) Authentic Chinese food is not fatty, and MSG, if used at all, is used sparingly. In fact Chinese food has a long history of being directed towards promoting health; a much longer one than any local 'fad' in the west.

    Food plays a central role in Chinese culture. Cooking healthy food for the family is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the health properties of their food and dietary restrictions are commonly understood and observed. Eating healthily is almost an obsession and forms an unspoken bond between family members.

    Traditionally, foods are classified in 4 groups:

    Grains are for sustaining

    vegetables for filling

    fruits for supporting

    meats for enhancing

    Using modern terminology we can identify Grains as equivalent to carbohydrates, vegetables as roughage, fruits as vitamins and minerals and meats as protein.

    A balance of 40:40:10:10 is considered ideal, with perhaps some variation in the balance between vegetables and meats.

    Note that dairy products do not feature here. Most Chinese do not eat any dairy foods after childhood and, in fact, become intolerant to them as young adults.

    Bearing just this little bit of knowledge in mind it is possible to order better and more healthy Chinese food. By definition that will also be more authentic Chinese food.

    Steamed rice, preferably brown, is the staple of choice at any Chinese meal and if cooked properly should be tasty. Forget the various forms of fried rice and try it next time.

    Avoid dishes in which meats have been coated and deep fried. The batter soaks up fat whereas fat used to stir fry meat and vegetables forms only a thin film. A little bit of fat is fine (and indeed necessary) but keep it reasonable.

    Avoid dishes with sauces. These are laden with sugar and are often the culprits if excess MSG is being used.

    Finally, watch what you are drinking. Boiled water and tea are traditional, though usually only before and after a meal not during the actual eating.
    I look forward to collaborating with Michelle on some of her healthy eating efforts.
    Take a look at the nutritional information provided for some of the more popular dishes.  It will definitely make you think twice before ordering everything off the menu.
    Until then, Eat Well, Friends…

    Appetizers & Soups


    Egg Roll (1)
    Calories: 200 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 400 mg
    Spring Roll (1)
    Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 300 mg
    A thinner wrapper and smaller size give spring rolls fewer calories than egg rolls.
    BBQ Spare Ribs (4)
    Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 14 grams Sodium: 900 mg
    An order is equal to two pork chops. Some appetizer.
    Vegetable Dumplings (6 steamed)
    Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 1,100 mg
    Pork Dumplings (6 steamed)
    Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 900 mg
    Add just 10 calories per dumpling if you get them pan-fried. (All bets are off for calories in the deep-fried wonton appetizer.) Dipping sauce means even more sodium.
    Egg Drop Soup
    Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 0 grams Sodium: 900 mg
    Hot & Sour Soup
    Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 1,100 mg
    Wonton Soup
    Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 800 mg
    Soups are bad for your blood pressure (but not your waistline). Think of every ½ cup of fried noodles as a small (150-calorie) bag of potato chips.
    Stir-Fried Greens
    Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
    Yikes! Spinach and other greens are packed with vitamins, but (thanks to the added oil and salt) your waist and blood pressure pay a price for them.
    Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
    Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,000 mg
    Eggplant isn’t a vitamin-rich superstar, but it is a vegetable. It also really soaks up the oil, which boosts the calories and saturated fat.
    Tofu & Mixed Vegetables (Homestyle Tofu)
    Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
    Blame the deep-fried tofu (bean curd). Ask them to stir-fry it instead.
    Szechuan String Beans
    Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
    String beans in chili-pepper-garlic sauce don't sop up as much oil as spinach or eggplant, but the sodium is still ridiculous.
    Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables (Buddha's Delight)
    Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
    A veggie lode. Mix it with a vegetable-poor dish to create two (or three) healthier meals.
    Ma Po (Hunan) Tofu
    Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
    A pound of soft tofu (bean curd) with scallions isn’t too bad if—like the samples we analyzed— it comes without the pork that some restaurants add.
    Meat & Seafood
    Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
    Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 5 grams Sodium: 3,800 mg
    Expect ½ to ¾ pound of sliced stir-fried chicken with chunks of green pepper and onion. If only it weren’t so high in sodium.
    General Tso's Chicken
    Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
    The name may sound exotic, but it’s essentially fried chicken with a smattering of vegetables.
    Lemon Chicken
    Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 700 mg
    It’s like eating three McDonald’s McChicken sandwiches plus a 32-oz. Coke. The culprit? The deep-fried breading.
    Kung Pao Chicken
    Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
    The calories may be high (thanks to nuts). But at least you’re getting stir-fried (not battered and deep-fried) chicken and veggies.
    Moo Goo Gai Pan
    Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 1,800 mg
    Stir-fried vegetables and chicken keep the calories and saturated fat (but not the sodium) relatively low.
    Chicken Chow Mein (with crispy noodles)
    Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
    Chow Mein varies. Our numbers are for vegetables and chicken served with rice (not soft noodles). Add 120 calories if you eat the thin, crispy fried noodles that come on the side.
    Mu Shu Pork (without the pancakes)
    Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
    Two-thirds of the dish is veggies. Add roughly 90 calories for each 8-inch pancake or 60 calories for each 6-inch pancake. Mu Shu Chicken cuts about 200 calories and 5 grams of sat fat.
    Orange (Crispy) Beef
    Calories: 1,500
    Sat Fat:
    11 grams Sodium: 3,100 mg
    Orange (or Crispy) Beef has roughly ¾ pound of flour-coated, deep-fried meat that isn’t outweighed by the garnish of vegetables. Shrimp or chicken might trim the sat fat, but you’ll still be downing more than 1,000 calories and two days’ sodium.
    Beef with Broccoli
    Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
    Although more than half the dish is broccoli, the ½ pound of beef still packs half a day’s worth of saturated fat.
    Sweet & Sour Pork
    Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 800 mg
    More sugar means less salt. Sweet & Sour Chicken may be slightly lower in calories and saturated fat. But either way, you’re eating more oil-soaked breading than meat.
    Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
    Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 3,000 mg
    Shrimp stir-fried with veggies. The calories and saturated fat—but not the sodium—stay on the lowish side.
    Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
    Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
    Shrimp in wine sauce with a sprinkling of mushrooms, egg, and scallions isn’t quite as good as shrimp with snap peas, broccoli, or other veggies. But at least it won’t pad your midsection like battered, deep-fried dishes will.
    Szechuan Shrimp
    Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
    Shrimp stir-fried with vegetables in chili pepper-garlic sauce. It’s likely to be almost half vegetables, so the calories (though not the sodium) stay under control. If it’s breaded and deep-fried or contains nuts, the calories climb.


    Rice & Noodles


    Chicken Chow Foon
    Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,400 mg
    Like the thinner lo mein noodles, these soft, wide, rice noodles are a blow to your belly and blood pressure, and the veggies are still largely AWOL.
    Combination (House) Fried Rice
    Calories: 1,500 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
    Why blow three-quarters of a day’s calories on 4 or 5 cups of salted white rice, oil, and meat sprinkled with vegetable bits?
    A single version (vegetable, shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork) still has at least 1,000 calories.
    Combination (House) Lo Mein
    Calories: 1,100 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,500 mg
    Beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables, and oily noodles. Budget fewer calories for the solo chicken, shrimp, or vegetable version, but it’s still a load of greasy refined carbs.
    Combination (House) Chow Mein (with soft noodles)
    Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,600 mg
    This version of chow mein features soft egg noodles stir-fried with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a smattering of vegetables. It looks like lo mein on the plate...and on your hips and arteries. You can lose a few hundred calories by switching to a single version (chicken, shrimp, or vegetable).

    Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet): Saturated Fat: 20 grams. Sodium: 1,500 milligrams.


    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    "NOT" Chinese Food

    I was at a gathering recently where many vendors were offering the attendees samples of the cuisine offered at their restaurants.   One of the restaurants featured was offering a sampling of their Pad Thai, a flavorful noodle dish.  While eating my sample, I overheard another attendee saying that it was some of the most flavorful Chinese food she had tasted recently.  I about choked on my food from the shock of having heard that statement.  Such a statement is indicative of not just the local ignorance of Asian cuisines, but the wide array of Asian foods that “Chinese Restaurants” now offer.
    Chinese food presents a fascinating phenomenon. It is perhaps the most widely eaten definable ethnic cooking in the United States, with the exception perhaps, of pizza. As extensively as it is eaten, it is written about in newspapers, magazines and books, and presented on television. It is discussed to such a degree that most people believe they know just about all there is to know about Chinese food.
    Those who write about it and others who present it, generally do so with confidence and often with arrogance and ignorance. They allow us, their audience, to believe that they, too, know just about all that there is to know about this great historic kitchen. Actually, they do not. Very few of those who profess such knowledge really know very much. Worse, perhaps, is that in most cases they proceed with ignorance. They do not take the time or the effort, and they seem not to care or learn about Chinese food and cooking.
    For the most part, they write and present time-worn clichés, blatant inaccuracies, information gotten from second- and third-person sources, or from inaccurate translations. Suppositions and ill-founded research become perpetuated. What results is a circle of ignorance regarding Chinese foods, traditions, and preparations.
    So what is offered is a great deal of information as to what Chinese food is, when it is not. What are presented below are what Chinese food is thought to be; examples have appeared and continue to appear in newspapers, magazines, or on television. In none of these examples, are names of authors given; the purpose is not to embarrass anyone, rather to hope that those who write about food will devote the time necessary to study what Chinese food is before they write or broadcast what it is not.
    Witness the following statements, assertions, and/or conclusions. All are in error even though all are reported as Chinese food fact. Along with them are what I will call occasional notes, in italics, all mine.
    * From a magazine food critic who described a dish as 'Cantonese Empanaditas' and really loved the 'Grilled Black Grouper Szechuan.' That type of inattention to detail sends incorrect information to their readers.
    * From a television cook who described hoisin as a sauce of 'mostly soybeans, sugar and tomatoes, I think,' and later referring to sambal ulek first as 'Indonesian' and later as 'Malaysian.' Reading what one writes before allowing it to be printed is needed here.
    * From a newspaper writer, generally well-regarded, who said 'The dim sum (called Yum Cha in Australia) knocked our socks off.' Yum Cha is a Cantonese phrase meaning 'drink tea;' it has nothing to do with Australia.
    * From a magazine writer discussing cooking in Shanghai: 'Duck is the mainstay of the eastern provinces.' For the record, Shanghai is a city, not a province. And this from a magazine writer: 'Shanghai region is partial to chicken dishes.' Look; this city now becomes a region!
    * From a magazine writer: 'Chinese foods are most often fried in cottonseed oil.' Currently, rapeseed oil is popular in China; in the United States, soy bean oil is used more frequently.
    * From a television presenter, after dropping more than a spoonful of MSG into a wok, as he demonstrated: 'It's natural. They always use it.' No, it is not always used, and certainly not by a teaspoon full of it.
    References, too numerous to mention individually, are made to 'Mandarin' cooking or cuisine or to 'Mandarin' restaurants, as a school of Chinese cooking. There is no such school of Chinese cooking.
    An article about Fujian food contains recipes that are not from Fujian, likewise one about the cooking of Chiu Chow. A restaurant review is presented about supposed Hakka food when the dishes reviewed are not Hakka. Likewise, an article on Asian green vegetables that misstates their properties and tastes, but which were beautifully photographed. In this country, foods from New Orleans would not be touted as Bostonian; why such ignorance about China, or about properties or tastes?
    * From a food magazine quoting a Western teacher of Chinese food. 'Very few Chinese can cook dishes from other regions than their own'... (the) 'food of native Cantonese chefs is usually bland.' This was followed by an assertion, 'I know how to teach them what they need to know. I have never met a Chinese-born instructor who does.' Aside from the obvious prejudice of this one, it surely is most outrageous.
    * From a newspaper writer on the cooking of the Chinese-Malay people of Singapore known as Nonya, when describing what a 'rempeh' is, said it was 'A spice mixture called rempeh cooked like a roux, (it) is a base for most curries and sauces.' It is not rempeh but rather rempah and it contains pounded raw ingredients, which when cooked are referred to as sambal.
    * From a food critic who loved a 'flavorful and densely packed eggroll.' The eggroll is not Chinese, the spring roll is.
    * From another writer who suggested that a 'Spring Egg Roll'...(is) 'similar to a typical egg roll.' He hedges his bet, do you not think so??
    * From a magazine writer who described Hunan as 'China's rice-producing province.' Geography and agriculture lessons needed here; as to the latter, all southern provinces raise considerable quantities of rice.
    *From a food critic who said she could not make out what a 'water dog' was in the Chinese restaurant she visited. What she reacted to, in ignorance, was the word gow which, depending upon intonation, is either dog, the number nine, or a dumpling. In this case, had she done some work and not opted for a laugh, she would have found that what was referred to as 'soy gow' was a water dumpling, a staple of the 'dim sum' kitchen.
    * From a newspaper food writer describing a preparation as 'washed' in a 'sticky, sweet Hoisin style glaze.' Whatever is that?
    * That same writer, in the same account, suggests that a dim sum dumpling skin would stretch 'two, even three inches' and that in Peking Duck, the 'fat is hardened' and that crisp-fried seaweed is 'actually deep-fried shredded cabbage.' What is the purpose of stretching and how much dough was stretched? In Peking Duck, rarely is there any fat because most is melted and drained in the roasting of the duck...and it is never served. As to seaweed, it, Chinese broccoli leaves, pearl leaves, and other greens are occasionally deep-fried.
    * Nor is this writer alone. Another writer, interviewing a Chinese restauranteur noted that in his restaurant there was 'no cornstarch, no MSG and no gunk' and then actually set down as fact the restauranteur's assertion that all of his food was cooked only with scallions, ginger, garlic, tangerine skin and a 'hint of chili' and 'that's about it.' What is gunk?
    * From a magazine writer: 'Fish balls...can make or break a (Chinese) chef.' No one succeeds on one food item, and anyway, fishballs are served only in Chiu Chow, Hakka, and noodle restaurants.
    * From another, a critic, who wrote about 'Plum Duck' as a 'lightened-up version of Peking Duck; it is lean and boneless in a beany sauce.' Beany? And, variously we have the 'five' schools of Chinese cooking referred to as 'Canton, Szechuan, Peking, Honan, and Fukien,' or the three as 'Peking, Szechuan, and Hunan.' Then there are such marvelous additions to the pseudo-Chinese table as an authentic 'Chili Crustace Sauce' or 'green oriental radishes,' or 'souffle balls,' even 'Melon balls in ginger ale.' Not to mention the ghastly food called Chinese served up not only in those steam-table, fast-food outlets, but also in such chains as China Coast and Chopstix, to cite just two, or the all-purpose Chinese sauce marketed as 'Soy Vay.' Think you have my point.
    * From a cookbook author, whose announced expertise is not Chinese, yet felt she could describe the 'traditional' way of presenting Peking Duck classically....the first course, she said, consisted of skin in a dipping sauce of hoisin, sherry, and sesame oil; the second course 'meat folded into flour doilies;' the third, duck appetizers 'which included the liver and jellied duck webs;' the fourth, a 'thick duck soup.' All of this is so inaccurate as to defy correction. Perhaps that was its intent.
    * From another cookbook author, who wrote in a food magazine that prosciutto could be substituted for Yunnan ham. How soft sweet ham can replace hard, salty ham is beyond belief. Also mentioned was Beggar's Chicken as 'roasted' instead of baked, and that it was cooked in a paper oven bag. How far can tradition and adaptation be stretched?
    * From another cookbook author who advises that if fresh water chestnuts are not available, then substitute apples. Or another, who suggests that tortillas can be substituted for the pancakes served with Peking Duck and Moo Shu Pork. Read on dear friend.
    What all of the above say is a lack of knowledge, or sadly, an indifference to the properties and tastes of foods that make up the Chinese kitchen. The following are other substitutions, all of them offered in a book alleged to be about Chinese cooking: For bamboo shoots, substitute celery, green peppers, carrots, or rutabaga; for water chestnuts, substitute basically the same; for bean spouts, substitute shredded onions; for brown bean sauce, substitute Bovril; for ginkgo nut or lotus seeds, substitute blanched almonds; and for fermented black beans, substitute salt. Yes, salt.
    * From a television food person who demonstrated how to steam a fish 'the way the Chinese do.' He said to place all of the ingredients of what normally would be a marinade into the bottom of a wok, heated to boiling, then place a fish on a rack over the boiling marinade. Really!
    * From a food critic who wrote of her Chinese meal saying that one dish was covered with a 'malty black bean sauce,' that another was beef 'plated with colorful Asian vegetables;' also, that 'despite being fried the duck had a light taste' and, that a breaded pork dish was 'without a whit of the flaming taste of lemongrass.' Mixed cultural signals, I think.
    * From a magazine food writer who, after a visit to that public relations exercise in Singapore known as the Imperial Herbal Restaurant, wrote that its food 'combined haute cuisine techniques and delicate, subtle flavors with traditional Chinese herbal cooking.' Huh?
    * From a newspaper writer who described as 'dim sum' as a dish of soft shell crabs cooked in a black bean and coriander sauce. Huh? again.
    From television food people who seem to have difficulty with the word Sichuan. It usually comes out as 'Sesh-Wan' or 'Shush-Wen' as it did in a program about 'white Taro cake' which in reality is a cake of turnips. Listen also to what happened with Shao-Hsing wine which on television becomes 'Shee-Shing' or 'Show Shin' or simply 'Chinese cooking wine.' Seems they rarely make such gaffes over locales or words related to the news.
    And so on. As I noted earlier, all of these, all of which are incorrect, now reside somewhere in newspaper morgues and libraries, in computer resource banks, in television storage facilities waiting to be found and used as research. How sad!
    Let us hope that those that are interested, or who regard it as an obligation to tell the reading and watching world what Chinese food is, will discard all of the above and study and consult with those who know what Chinese food is, really is.
    Until then, Eat Well, Friends…

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    Find the Best

    Having lived in Georgia for 6 months, it is safe to say that the area around me is a hotbed of culinary activity.  The international fare ranges from all American to Caribbean, Chinese, Korean, Mexican and more.

    I have experienced a good bit of these different cuisines and I have found a couple of favorites.  1 would be the sushi experience at Lobster House in Duluth.  Assuming they have a sushi chef that day, it is worth the visit, and the lunch specials are generous for the price.

    For authentic Chinese food, I will definitely go back to Golden House.  The atmosphere harkens back to my days enjoying meals with my Mom at the Golden Dragon in Chinatown, San Francisco.  The food is markedly more authentic in flavor, creation, presentation and ingredients.

    There are, however, some strange establishments that draw a large Asian crowd, both at lunch and dinner.  A buffet restaurant whose dishes I will never try again is always full.  I attribute the crowd to the price.  ($6.95 for all you can eat plus a drink is reasonable, no matter where you go, as long as you do not have a critical palate.)

    Either way, I have asked many people around here what their impressions of Asian restaurants, most specifically, Chinese restaurants are, and what their thoughts are about identifying an authentic Chinese restaurant.

    Here they are, in no specific order:

    1. The toilet is clean (the restaurant will be too).
    2. There’s a good-looking roast duck in the window.
    3. There are long queues outside the restaurant full of Chinese people – the Chinese are impatient when it comes to food, so if they are waiting, its going to be an AMAZING restaurant.
    4. In my opinion, MSG should not be on the menu.
    5. If you feel intimidated about going in, you probably should.
    6. To get the best Chinese food, ask Chinese foodies: friends, colleagues, uncles, aunts, people in the community who adore good quality food and want authentic flavors of “home,” someone whose palate you trust and is quite critical about food.
    7. Go where the fish and seafood are swimming happily in tanks.
    8. The head chef and his crew are Chinese.
    9. None of the waiters speaks English.
    10. The diners are Chinese and there is only one menu – the Chinese one.

    Feel free to let me know what other elements of the restaurant deciding process need to be included.  Until then,

    Good Eating, Friends...

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    MSG - revisited

    My boss sent me a text message recently and said that she was having Beef & Broccoli, then later sent me a message saying that she wasn't feeling well.  I asked about the origin of the food and she said that it had been made with the seasonings and flavors coming from a package. We enjoy discussing
    the many different Chinese food options, as well as the need to be sure that specific meals are made as authentically as possible.

    She has confided that one of the only Chinese measl she chose to eat was mine, because in the past, she had many attacks of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. I blamed them on the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and suggested that she look for a restaurant where she felt secure that no MSG was used. (I am very strict about NOT using MSG in my cooking because of the sensitivities my Dad had informed me he suffered from.)

    The illness dubbed 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' was first described in 1968 by Robert Ho Man Kwok in a letter to the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. He reported that MSG, which was used by Chinese chefs as a flavor enhancer, might be responsible for the syndrome of headaches, flushing and palpitations that some people experienced when they were eating in Chinese restaurants.

    In my years of cooking and researching Chinese food, I have encountered a good deal of skepticism exists about the authenticity of MSG-induced illness because careful research has shown that very few people experience detrimental effects from MSG.

    Studies have shown that when people who believed themselves sensitive to MSG, drank soup with and without MSG; most who claimed to be sensitive to its effects had no reactions after drinking the soup that contained more MSG than typically found in Chinese food.
    My own experience with people who believed they were sensitive to MSG taught me that such people are usually very sure of their ability to identify any foods that contain this flavor enhancer. Christal was no exception, especially given her reaction to the packaged Top Ramen, consumed with varying amounts of the seasoning package that was included.

    It is interesting to note that varying amounts of MSG come in everyday foods and seasonings.  An example is Doritos.  And Knorr Chicken Boullion cubes.  Cheezits. I am willing to bet that if we were to take 20 prepared or packaged foods, over half of them would have MSG.

    For health's sake, it is worth reviewing the ingredient list on packaging. 

    Until then, Good Eating, Friends...
    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Super Food Offerings

    Super Bowl Sunday features good, hearty fare, or lots of junk and snack foods, either of which is perfect for the game. Chili is always popular, and a make-your-own-sandwich spread would go nicely alone or with a hot main dish or stew. Crockpot "barbecued" beef or pulled pork sandwiches are always a hit, or you might consider po' boys and gumbo or barbecued beans and easy ham sandwich melts.

    Take Asian Cuisine into consideration, and when you put Super Bowl Asian Food together, I think of a rice noodle soup, or congee, or rice porridge.

    Congee is not some East Asian panacea.

    Chinese by birth — Raised USA all the way— but this 37-year-old was nonetheless raised on congee.

    The rice porridge’s pull apparently is strong even among a generation of Chinese Americans who have grown up in a Western culture that daily promises something new to provide comfort or rejuvenation. It might be a pill, an app, an energy drink, a fortified foodstuff, a friend request on Facebook. For millions of people, whether in China or Washington’s Chinatown, those ephemera can’t compare to the simple, unadorned comforts of congee.

    Tradition, of course, plays a large role in congee’s appeal, as if the porridge has been hard-wired into the DNA of the people who have been consuming it for centuries. The earliest reference to congee that Meyer-Fong found dates it to the Han dynasty, circa 206 B.C. to A.D. 220, but Yin-Fei Lo maintains that congee’s origins go back further, to approximately 1,000 B.C., during the Zhou dynasty.

    Regardless of its starting point, congee has outlived hundreds of now-extinct species and even an explorer or two who thought he’d find a fountain of youth. Most people think of congee as a rice porridge, but the term generally refers to almost any watery gruel. Depending on where you lived in Asia, your congee might have been prepared with millet, barley, corn or even a legume such as mung beans, mixed with or without rice.

    For some reason, the South China version made with rice (called “jook” in Cantonese, or “soft rice”) has conquered all, probably because it’s creamy and mild and, as noted above, beloved by babies and the elderly. It has to be the blandest food you’ll ever love.

    The dish was born from a human need still prevalent in the 21st century: It was “created as a way of stretching a meal in times of need, when there was not enough rice to go around,” writes Corinne Trang in “Essentials of Asian Cuisine” (Simon & Schuster, 2003). It’s not uncommon to prepare congee with one part rice to 10 parts water, flavoring the porridge with whatever remains in the pantry, essentially feeding a family with a cup of grains and leftovers. Think of it as Asian hash.
    Congee typically is eaten for breakfast, but you can get it in the Washington area at any time of day, typically spiked with the ingredients beloved by Chinese immigrants, because they are the ones who order the porridge most in these parts.

    When eaten with a length of fried dough called yao tiew, the congee might be the most satisfying winter dish you’ll find around here.

    So why don’t more Americans — and by “Americans,” I crassly mean those of non-Asian descent — embrace congee? Why hasn’t congee started to trickle into the mainstream, as have sushi, ceviche, tapas and even banh mi and pho? Part of it, I think, is because there are still many inferior bowls available, in places such as Eat First in Chinatown, where I sucked down a watery, flavorless congee prepared with jellyfish and duck.

    But a more plausible reason is one offered by Scott Drewno, executive chef at the Source, who ate his way through China earlier this year and has since been working to assimilate the country’s dishes and flavors into his menu. Drewno theorizes that the word “congee” simply doesn’t mean much to most Americans.

    “If I write ‘congee’ [on the menu], people aren’t going to order it because they don’t know what it is,” he says. “It’s not mainstream enough.”

    Still, Drewno has been tinkering with some congees, one of which requires day-old rice (much like the classic “rich and noble congee,” so called because only wealthy families in China had leftover rice) that the chef dries in the refrigerator, then pulverizes in the blender and prepares like risotto. Drewno hopes to introduce his congees to Source diners one day soon; he’s just not sure what to call them. The alternative monikers he has toyed with — rice porridge, creamed rice — might be even less appetizing than the original.

    Name aside, congee might be a cook’s best friend. Easy to prepare (if time-consuming) and enjoyable on its own, it is also highly suggestible. It assumes whatever personality a cook can foist on it. “It’s pretty neutral on a taste level,” Drewno notes. “You can really do what you want with it.” The trick, he adds, is not to obliterate the flavor of the rice. Congee, after all, should still be congee, not a meat stew with rice.

    Such was the mantra I had in mind as I prepared my own personalized congee, one that would incorporate some of my favorite flavors but still honor the inherent milkiness of the rice. That proved trickier than anticipated. My first attempt, a sort of turbocharged congee with spicy sausage and garlic and ginger, was dead on arrival. When paired with the mild starchiness of the rice, the rubbery, store-bought sausage was a traveling freak show trying to entertain a flock of sheep.
    After spending several hours on that poor porridge, and after another miss, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself of a quote from Yuan Mei, the Qing dynasty writer, gourmand and author of “Food Lists of the Garden of Contentment”: “Officials and men of letters say it is better for a man to wait for his congee than to make the congee wait for him.” My third attempt would reward my fraying patience.

    It was a riff on boeuf bourguignon, a dish I consider as vital to surviving winter as a good wool cap and a heavy overcoat. I prepared hunks of red-wine-braised pork shoulder perked up with Chinese five spice powder and a small colony of garlic cloves. Once finished with its laborious simmer toward tenderness, the pork, I figured, would be a succulent, slightly sweet, highly aromatic counterpoint to the porridge. I was right. I just forgot to factor in one thing: When folded into the congee, the braised pork turned the rice a deathly shade of gray. Prison walls look more appetizing by comparison.

    When I told Drewno about my problem, he casually reminded me of how the Chinese serve their congees back home: with the extra ingredients spooned over the top, not incorporated into the rice.  That was my "lightbulb" moment, because I remembered my favorites being served to me with the fish, or the duck, or the pork on the side, ready for ME to put in the congee.

     Problem solved. Now if someone could only help me devise a congee to cure an upset stomach.

    Soul Warming Congee


    • 5 1/2 cups water
    • .7 ounce (1 packet) "gastro granules" herbal supplement, such as Wei-Tai 999 brand (see headnote)
    • 1 cup short-grain rice (unrinsed)
    • 1/2 cup homemade or no-salt-added canned chicken broth


    Combine 5 cups of the water and the herbal supplement in a large pot over medium-high heat. While the water is heating (5 to 8 minutes), stir to make sure the granules have dissolved.
    Add the rice and increase the heat to high; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the liquid turns cloudy and starts to thicken (after about 30 to 45 minutes), stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of water and the broth. Cover and cook (over medium-low heat) for 30 minutes or as needed (for a total of about 75 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking or scorching. The congee should be thick, more like a porridge than individual grains of rice.
    Divide among individual small bowls; serve hot.


    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner