Cooking in the Time of COVID – Roast Pig Stir-Fry

Instagram Post 3/27/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

Much of New York City is akin to a ghost town now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Manhattan’s Chinatown alone maintained that dubious distinction. Back then, when I visited to scope things out, I procured a pile of provisions from some of my favorite restaurants, markets and vendors to show my support. Great NY Noodletown, 28 Bowery, has some stellar roast pig and roast pork, so I stocked up and, of course, bought more than I could consume in one sitting.

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Now, roast pig’s claim to fame is its eyeball-rattling crispy skin that (1) swathes its juicy meat and (2) puts a smile on everyone’s face. The catch is, once it’s been refrigerated, it loses all its crunchy charm. So I dealt with the leftovers by separating the skin from the meat and flash frying it (think Chinese chicharrones) to use as a garnish for a stir fry that I made from the meat and some vegetables I still had on hand. Here’s how it looked. Totally worked.


The roast pig as it was on Day One.

Stay tuned; you’ll be seeing more “Cooking in the Time of COVID” posts from me and my kitchen.
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Hong Shao Kao Fu

Instagram Post 3/23/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

A few days ago, I posted about New Kam Man, 200 Canal St in Manhattan, a Chinatown market that’s been open during the COVID-19 crisis and deserves our support. I highlighted a couple of bean curd skin snacks (they have top-notch barbecue and roast meat options too) and I spotted another that I was less familiar with, so of course, I bought it. The label read “Stewed Gluten Kao-Fu 5 Spices”.

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Hong Shao Kao Fu is an appetizing Shanghainese dish made from wheat gluten (kao fu), dried mushrooms, wood ears, dried lily buds, and peanuts that’s served cold and is so good that it’s something I make at home. Now, although the kao fu I buy in Chinese markets looks a little like whole wheat bread, this product was different. But I thought it might be fun to experiment with using it in place of my usual kao fu – even though it’s not an orthodox usage – so I modified my recipe and here’s how it turned out. It’s rather different from the original but pretty tasty if I say so myself. And yes, my vegetarian friends, it’s perfect for you too.


This is NKM’s “Stewed Gluten Kao-Fu 5 Spices” in slices, straight out of its container, before I started messing around with it. Since we’re very much in the throes of coping with COVID-19, you’ll be seeing more “Cooking in the Time of COVID” posts from me. Hope that’s okay. 😉

And a reminder: you can stay current with which Manhattan Chinatown restaurants are doing take out and deliveries during the COVID-19 crisis here. Please give them your support.

🥡 #keepcalmandcarryout #supportchinatown #supportsmallbusinesses

Stay safe and be well. It’ll be a long row to hoe, but we’ll get through this together.
 
 

New Kam Man – Bean Curd Skin

Instagram Post 3/19/2020

Continuing my posts about Chinatown favorites:

In addition to all the great restaurants that are open for takeout and delivery in Manhattan’s Chinatown during the COVID-19 crisis (see a detailed list updated daily here), please remember to patronize the markets that are eager to serve you too.

The venerable New Kam Man at 200 Canal St has everything you’d expect in a celebrated marketplace including a complete line of Asian ingredients and kitchenware along with all the necessary cookies and sweets to help us all get through this together. Of course, the sidewalk window displays tempting siu mei (燒味) – barbecue/roast meats like roast pork, roast pig, soy sauce chicken, and ducks galore, but since I’ve posted a lot of duck photos recently, here are two treats from the prepared food section worthy of your attention, especially if you’re a vegetarian.

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Both are made from bean curd skin. When soymilk is boiled to make tofu, a skin forms on top, it’s skimmed off and dried and when it’s reconstituted, it has dozens of delicious uses from dumpling wrappers to “mock” meats. These two examples are unassuming but tasty. The first simply consists of layers of bean curd sheets, rehydrated with water, soy sauce, and sugar, then pressed together and sliced; it’s as much about the texture as it is about the flavor. The label reads “NKM Stewed Bean Curd Pastry”. It’s a little saltier than

these rollups which are similar but a bit sweeter. The package was identified as “NKM Braised Gluten Stick” although I don’t think gluten figures into it and I see rolls rather than sticks, mislabeled perhaps. Either way, yum!

I bought a bunch of stuff from New Kam Man for some COVID-19 cooking. Will post photos ASAP. So grateful that they’re there and open for us; please help them continue to thrive!
 
 

Chinatown COVID-19 Update

This too shall pass. Most of us 🤞 will emerge from this dreadful episode unscathed. But Chinatown businesses are taking a double hit because they were unfairly singled out at the very beginning of the COVID-19 scourge and consequently may have less chance of survival. We can help. Some Chinatown restaurants are still doing takeout and delivery and we can show our support by patronizing these establishments.


I realize this table may be difficult to read and it’s hardly dynamic, but you can find an even better, up-to-the-minute, printable grid view here. Note that all listings are subject to change as time progresses.

Learn more at the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation and sign up for their e-newsletter. And check out Explore Chinatown NYC for more information.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the tweets from the Chinatown Business Improvement District @ChinatownNYC.

And you can see my original posts from early on, when restaurants were open but Chinatown was practically deserted here and here.

Stay safe and be well.

#supportchinatown #keepcalmandcarryout #supportsmallbusinesses
 
 

Chinatown During COVID-19

This.

This.

This.

This was Saturday afternoon in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Saturday afternoon, people.

I’ve said it before. Businesses in Chinatown are struggling to make ends meet as potential customers’ trepidation over COVID-19 festers and deters patronage. Chinatown has been an ineffable source of delight, indulgence, and comfort to so many of us. Now is the time for all of us to do the right thing and show our gratitude and support for these businesses. If ever you’ve felt the desire to give back, this is your chance.

#supportchinatown #dineinchinatown #eatinchinatown #explorechinatown

Self-quarantining? I get it. So order in! #keepcalmandcarryout

(BTW, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the conclusion of your confinement than a sumptuous dinner in our beloved Chinatown!)

All I’m asking is this: please don’t treat Chinatown restaurants any differently from the way you would treat any restaurant anywhere else. That’s the very definition of racial profiling.

#chinatown #chinatownnyc #chinatownnewyork #ilovechinatown

Over the next few days, I’ll post some photos of deliciousness from Chinatown’s restaurants, markets and street vendors taken during the past week. Stay tuned.

And thank you.


 
 
Note: This post was originally published on March 15, 2020.
 
 

Support Chinatown!

These days, businesses in Chinatown are struggling to make ends meet as potential customers’ trepidation over COVID-19 festers and deters patronage. Chinatown has been an ineffable source of joy, gratification, and comfort for so many of us. That’s why I’ve organized a visit to one of the neighborhood’s stalwarts, Wu’s Wonton King, with one of my dinner groups to show our support. Now is the time for all of us to do the right thing.

Read Chinatown Needs Your Love More Than Ever Right Now in Food & Wine.
 
 

Wu’s Wonton King

Instagram Post 2/21-24/2020  and  3/16-22/2020

It seems to me that authentic Cantonese cuisine is often overlooked in favor of other, less subtle, regional Chinese fare. That may be because Chinese-American food, a poor excuse for gastronomy IMO but a stepping stone for the totally uninitiated I guess, has its roots in Guangdong.

Our group recently visited Wu’s Wonton King at 165 East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown and came away more than pleased – so much so that I brought another group there a few weeks later! Here’s a compilation of everything both groups enjoyed.

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You’ve probably had mediocre wonton soup with nondescript flaccid dumplings in Chinese restaurants so many times that you don’t even bother to order it. It seems to be ubiquitous. But I urge you to try Wu’s New York Number 1 Wonton Soup. The sturdy dumplings packed with shrimp, pork, and watercress are bathed in a bone broth soup, cloudy, flavorful, and rich with collagen. A great starter for which they are justly famous.


Solo.


The inner workings.


Here are two dumpling orders from the Dim Sum section of the menu. Pan Fried Shrimp with Green Chives, just what it sounds like and totally delicious…


…and Steamed Chaozhou dumplings, halved so you could see the filling (and yeah, so we could share). Peanuts provide the crunch in these classic pouches in addition to an ample complement of carrots, peas, shiitake mushrooms, ground pork, and dried shrimp. Love these.

I was especially keen to try their take on a dish I’ve had elsewhere that features osmanthus clam/mussel. My “clam/mussel” equivocation stems from the fact that the seafood in question is actually neither. Rather, it is an internal component of the sea cucumber, an echinoderm that inhabits the ocean’s floor.

If you’re unenthusiastic when it comes to even reading about innards, skip to the next paragraph. Now. Sea cucumbers have a soft, sausage-shaped body with no solid appendages and don’t even have a proper brain, so one might reason that they wouldn’t be particularly adept at self-defense against predators – but for one saving grace. From Wikipedia: “Some species of coral-reef sea cucumbers…can defend themselves by expelling their sticky cuvierian tubules to entangle potential predators…in an autotomic process known as evisceration.” [I’ve heard the term “stomach eversion”. Simply put, they literally puke their guts out.] “Replacement tubules grow back in one and a half to five weeks, depending on the species.” The tubules look very much like squid tentacles which is how they appear on the plate. Here’s a photo in vivo.

That having been said, the name of this absolutely delicious dish is 脆奶拼雙蚌, #10 on the Seafood section of the menu; its English name is Sautéed Clam with Fried Milk (although the menu uses a different word for “fried”).


As presented: there are king oyster mushrooms and sautéed asparagus beneath the Chinese chives and clams. It’s pricier than some other menu items, but I thought it was excellent.


Post-bite close-up of the crispy, sweet, creamy fried milk; these could be a snack by themselves. So good.


Close-up of a clam; its flavor and appearance are similar to that of a razor clam but perhaps a bit more slippery and chewy. Now here’s where I need some help from the cognoscenti among you. Is that red bit (which tasted completely different from the other part, brinier and spicier for sure) part of the clam, or something different? TIA for the info!


Our foray into the real deal at Wu’s Wonton King was rewarded with this bowl of Pan Fried Noodles with Seafood.


Revealing the crispy noodles beneath that are the raison d’être of this dish.

They say that timing is everything and that’s surely the case with this presentation. Mix well: if you start crunching before the sauce has a chance to permeate the noodles, you’re missing the point; wait too long and the rich seafood mélange will have saturated and drowned them into a submission of sogginess. Nope. There is a window of culinary opportunity in which the noodles still have crunch but have absorbed enough of the sauce to be flavorful – and that’s what you’re going for.

This may very well be the best rendition of Cantonese pan fried noodles with you-name-it I’ve ever had.


You’ve probably gazed at the awesome roasted/BBQ meats (and sometimes cuttlefish if you’re lucky) hanging in the windows at Cantonese restaurants: roast pork, roast pig, soy sauce chicken, and so many more. The collective term for these favorites is siu mei (燒味), not to be confused with the popular dim sum dumpling, shu mai (燒賣). But if you’d like a change from roast duck, give this marinated braised duck, beautifully rare and perfectly succulent, a try.


I’ve worked my way through most of the duck options on the menu from roast to marinated braised. This one is Honey Roast Duck; gotta love that sweet and shiny skin protecting the succulent meat within.


Check out the framed posters on the wall and you’ll spot “Dried Squid Sautéed Fried with Silver Anchovy”; it was that photo that tempted us and it proved to be another outstanding choice. (It’s “Dried Squid Stir Fry”, #16 on the Seafood section of the menu, if you don’t see it on the wall.) Tender squid contrasted with the crispy little fish, but don’t envision European salted anchovies packed in oil like you might find on a pizza; these are half a world apart. Literally. I’ll be returning with a different group very soon, and this dish is at the top of our gotta-do-this-again list.


If you’ve never tried a Chinese casserole you should add it to your repertoire. The cooking vessel is a clay pot and the variety of recipes and ingredients seems limitless. Often a rice dish with a crispy bottom layer, this one is a rich home style stew featuring chunks of lamb and bean curd sticks – another example of bean curd skin’s many guises (see this recent post).


To me, this dish is Sichuan comfort food: the menu calls it Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce, the commonly used descriptor. The Chinese characters are 鱼香肉丝, literally fish flavor (or fragrance) shredded pork, but don’t infer that it tastes like (or contains) fish from the phrase “fish flavor”; it simply refers to a method often used for cooking fish, and it’s delicious. A little sweet, a little sour from vinegar, accented by the omnipresent garlic and ginger, it’s chili sauce based – and it’s the kind of chili sauce that tastes a bit like ketchup. (As a matter of fact, one theory holds that the word ketchup comes from the Cantonese words “keh jap”, literally tomato sauce, but there are others of course.) Etymology notwithstanding, the dish is classic.


This is Snow Pea Sprout with Dried Scallop. The dish as presented has the appearance of an ocean of sauce with a school of shredded dried scallops swimming just beneath the surface.


Only by parting the sea are the snow pea shoots revealed. Subtle and delectable.


Chinese Broccoli (gai lan), stripped of its leaves, included here to dispel the myth that I tend to overlook vegetables. 😉


Complimentary mango jelly for dessert.
 
 
Wu’s Wonton King is located at 165 East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
 
 

Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory

Instagram Post 2/26/2020

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Easily identified as an outpost of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory by the insatiable dragon logo, the Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory also produces delicious high quality ice cream in Asian inspired flavors like durian, ube, and lychee as well as “exotic” ones like vanilla and chocolate 😉. I particularly like the fact that the LES offspring features exclusive flavors that give a nod to the neighborhood’s roots like Rainbow Cookie and Horchata.

One of the two flavors in this cup was rainbow cookie. I don’t know if it’s always available or if it was an experiment; pretty good, but I wish it were more intense and had more pieces of rainbow cookie in it.

That horchata tho! For the uninitiated, horchata is a luscious beverage that can be made from tiger nuts or jícaro or rice (as in Mexico) depending upon the provenance. This rendition actually had actual grains of actual rice in it and it was outstanding! Find it on the street level of Essex Market, 88 Essex St, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
 
 

Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle

Instagram Post 2/16/2020

Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle, 83 Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, serves up a wide variety of agreeable Chinese rice rolls (cheung fan, amid alternate spellings) in a casual, no-frills atmosphere; you’ll find the usual beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and veggie options among numerous tempting multicomponent combinations. Condiments are available tableside, but we had to request peanut sauce, so be forewarned.

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Our choices for the day included this crab & egg version, fully dressed,


roast duck (prior to condimentation, just for comparison),


and Tonii’s Special: pork, chicken, and dried shrimp, the best of the three.

Incidentally, way back in March 2016, I did a comparison of Chinatown sponge cakes here called “Sponge Information” and the winner was Kam Hing. Perhaps you’ve been enjoying these puffy paragons of perfection a few storefronts away but if you’ve noticed that their doors have been shuttered recently, not to worry: both business are owned by the same folks and Kam Hing’s peerless sponge cakes are available at Tonii’s.
 
 

Jian Bing Man

Instagram Post 2/10/2020

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Part One. Someone mentioned Korean food and my thoughts went straight to Northern Boulevard in Queens. But I realized I hadn’t visited Manhattan’s Koreatown in far too long and that includes the time since the renovation of Food Gallery 32 (11 West 32nd St) so a jaunt was long overdue.

One of the first floor vendors there wasn’t Korean at all (don’t worry, there’ll be Korean food in subsequent posts); Jian Bing (煎餅), literally fried pancake, are Chinese street food, griddled crepes flipped, filled, folded, and frequently found in Flushing’s Chinatown. The eponymous stall, Jian Bing Man, serves these along with a few noodle and rice dishes. It’s a familiar DIY format – [1] choose your type: signature (crispy bao cui, like deep fried wonton skins on steroids), you tiao (like crunchy fried savory crullers), or egg (neither crispy nor crunchy and therefore flaccid and pointless IMO since the first two incorporate egg anyway); [2] your sauce: spicy, hoisin (they call it soybean paste), or both; and [3] extra toppings (actually fillings, but why quibble?).

The 16 toppings included the usual suspects like pork floss and sausage in addition to the less common BBQ chicken and cheese. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to jian bing so my first mistake was to investigate what they did with BBQ pork (actually pork belly) and BBQ chicken. As you can see, there was an abundance of meat inside, but less would have been more; better yet, I should have cleaved to my time-honored favorites. My second mistake was to get it to go. It arrived tightly wrapped then boxed which had the effect of steaming any crispy crunchitude out of it and left me biting into a study in sogginess.

Don’t do what I did and you’ll probably end up with an okay jian bing. More KTown soon.