Crispy Prawn Chilli

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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At least that’s the way that Heng’s spells it on their label, and orthography notwithstanding, this stuff is outrageous.

On a recent visit to a market in Sunset Park’s Chinatown as I was ogling the infinitely many sauces and condiments, I couldn’t help but spot this product with its flashy reflective gold label. I suspected it might be a fishy requisite that could take its place beside the jumbo jar of spicy chili crisp in the fridge and I was not disappointed.

Remember when you first heard about sriracha and soon began dousing everything in sight with it – until you heard about spicy chili crisp and started slathering everything in sight with that? That’s where I’m at with Crispy Prawn Chilli now: I’ve even incorporated it into a dressing for seafood salad. There are other brands, of course (it’s not a new creation) just as Laoganma has its challengers in the spicy chili crisp division and Huy Fong has among sriracha rivals; Heng’s is a product of Malaysia.

The label lists its main ingredients as soybean oil, chilli, shallot, garlic, dried shrimp, sugar and salt; it’s spicy but not overly so, crispy and shrimpy, and can be used as a condiment at the table or in a stir fry as in this hastily flung together dish. For its maiden voyage, I decided to do a stir fry with Chinese cauliflower and peanuts to ensure that the prawn flavor wouldn’t compete with another protein in future applications, but now that I’ve experimented with it, I don’t think it would present a problem any more than fish sauce turns a dish “fishy”. Got a little delicate brown char on the cauliflower which played well with the crunch of the peanuts and the crispness of the prawn chili.


The verdict: delicious!

It’s also available in Fish and Cuttlefish versions, so now it’s back to Chinatown to sample its mates. (As if I needed an excuse. 😉)

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Quite literally.

I don’t usually report news here, but this event is special and deserves all the digital ink it can get.

After a devastating fire in January 2020, Xi’an Famous Foods’ outpost at 26-19 Jackson Ave in Long Island City was forced to close, much to the dismay of its multitude of fans. And now, in case you missed it on their Facebook page, they are excited to announce that they’ve reopened and take-out is available for their eager customers.

I can remember standing on line, appetite at the ready, back in the days when Jason Wang and his dad occupied only a tiny stall in the depths of Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing. Now they’re a mini-chain and I’m happy to affirm that the quality is as top-notch and the food is as outrageously delicious as the original. Old photos of two of my absolute favorites:

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The N1 – Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles


The F4 – Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings

Find a Xi’an Famous Foods near you and go!
 
 

Many Had a Little Lamb

…or so it would seem due to the convergence of spring and the heightened popularity of lamb cookery and feasting this time of year.

Springtime and lamb are inextricably intertwingled throughout religious travails, pagan tales, and supermarket sales; it’s all about timing. The Jewish Passover (Pesach) Seder recounts the dictum of marking doors with lamb’s blood to signal the Angel of Death to pass over those houses; in Christianity, Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus, symbolized by the Paschal Lamb. Wasn’t the Last Supper a Seder? It’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word Pesach (פֶּסַח) and the Greek word Pascha (Πάσχα) share a heritage.

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Anyway, the vernal equinox has occurred, Passover is upon us, Easter is just around the corner, and lambs spring eternal (or maybe that’s goats – just kidding) so since this is a thinly veiled Cooking in the Time of COVID post, here’s a dish I made that has nothing to do with religiosity and everything to do with lamb.

I’m often struck by the affinity lamb has for cumin and chilies in certain Chinese and Central Asian dishes so it’s always a treat to make this Xi’an Style Spicy Cumin Lamb dish. It features cumin seeds, coriander seeds, Sichuan peppercorns and dried red peppers; onions, bok choy, fresh long green chili peppers and scallions; plus the usual suspects (fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Zhenjiang vinegar, etc.). Oh, and lamb and noodles.

But no matter how you celebrate the season, Happy Spring!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Brown Sugar Boba Ice Cream

I still haven’t been back to Flushing because of the damndemic but I do manage to make it to Manhattan’s Chinatown for my idea of essential provisions. On a recent shopping spree, I picked up a package of frozen Brown Sugar Boba Ice Cream Bars.

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It transported me back to the day in May, 2019 when the Taiwanese chain, Tiger Sugar Bubble Tea, first opened its window at 40-12 Main Street in Flushing. We all stood patiently outside in the seemingly interminable, glacially slow moving line to get our first taste of this refreshing treat – refreshing indeed because IIRC temperatures were pushing 90°; on subsequent visits when it was pouring rain, the management handed out loaner umbrellas to keep us dry and happy as we waited.

The popular milk drink with its Instaworthy tiger stripes of dark brown sugar syrup was an instant success spawning multiple competitors like this excellent version from nearby Yi Fang Fruit Tea.

Its sweet syrup and melt-in-your-mouth boba were warm and flavorful and contrasted harmoniously with the ice cold milk. Before long, an enterprising challenger, With Sugar and Tea, opened up next door to Tiger Sugar featuring a drink with a snazzy cap…

…that tasted like White Rabbit taffy, one of the first Chinese candies I ever sampled decades ago.

Like Cream Mousse options elsewhere, this one sported Cream Cake topping, the thick foam enhancing its signature White Rabbitude. Alas, I understand that they’re no longer in business. Tiger Sugar went on to open multiple locations and the competition from legitimate contenders and a host of knock-offs hasn’t subsided.

But I digress. As usual.

Here are a couple of pix of the frozen confection incarnation of the now ubiquitous drink.



 
 
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 

Shanghai You Garden

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

From a visit in April 2017 to their Flushing venue at 135-33 40th Road.

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Soup Filled Bun. Yes, that’s a standard size drinking straw. Shanghai You Garden is famous for this Brobdingnagian novelty, but in addition to being a show stopper, this pillowy pouch is a taste topper too.


The inner workings.


Steamed Crab Meat Xiao Long Bao; these more modestly sized soup dumplings were tasty as well.


Spotlight on a soup spout.


Deep Fried Yellow Croaker with Dried Seaweed. If you’re a fan of fried fish like me, this will satisfy your cravings.


Ca-rrrunch!


Sautéed Tofu with Salted Preserved Egg Yolk and Shrimp. Instagram is fairly dripping with egg yolk porn, so its popularity seems to be universal. If you’re in that camp and you’ve never tasted salted preserved duck egg yolk in some form, you’re missing out on an intensely rich and flavorful experience that almost makes chicken egg yolks pale into insignificance. Once you go quack, you’ll never go back.
 
 
If you haven’t sampled Shanghainese food, Shanghai You Garden is the perfect place to get your feet wet; everything we ordered that day was a treat.
 
 
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Shanghai You Garden has two locations: 135-33 40th Road in Flushing and 41-07 Bell Blvd in Bayside.
 
 

Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip. This one originally appeared as two posts, published on March 28-29, 2018.

Ever been up for Southeast Asian food but couldn’t decide which cuisine would best tickle your tastebuds? Then Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen, 11 Mott Street, Manhattan, has your answer with its dizzying array of Southeast Asian fare. They cover a lot of territory serving up dishes from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Singapore, and various regions of China, and perusing their colorful menu is like taking a survey course in popular street food of the region.

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We started with Original Roti, a dish you may know as roti canai, consisting of Indian style flatbread with a chicken and potato curry sauce for dipping. Properly crispy outside and fluffy within, it was the perfect medium for savoring the luscious sauce.


Roti Murtabak, another crepe, this time folded around a spiced chicken and egg mixture and also accompanied by the potato chicken curry, had a pleasantly spicy little kick to it. A cut above what we’ve had elsewhere.


Our soup course was Hakka Mushroom Pan Mee, a study in contrasts. Springy handmade noodles topped with silvery crispy dried anchovies, earthy mushrooms, chewy bits of minced pork, and tender greens in a clear broth that was richer than I had anticipated.


Spicy Minced Chicken, Shrimp and Sato – ground chicken and chunks of shrimp with sato cooked in a belacan based sauce. Sato, also known as petai and sometimes stink bean, is a little bitter, a little smelly perhaps, but quite enjoyable. Belacan is fermented fish paste; most Southeast Asian cuisines have their own spin on this pungent condiment, and it’s particularly characteristic of Malaysian food. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but I think it imparts a subtle flavor that renders this dish delicious.


Spicy Sambal Seafood – plump and juicy jumbo shrimp sautéed in spicy Malaysian belacan sambal with onions and peppers was excellent – best enjoyed over rice.


Malaysian Salt & Pepper Pork Chop had a tiny bit of sweet and sour sauce gracing it. We’ve tasted versions of this dish that were crisper and thinner and unadorned by any manner of sauce. Not bad at all, but not what we were expecting from the name.


Four of a Kind Belacan – to me, the only thing these four vegetables have in common is that they’re all green! Beyond that, the flavors, textures, and even the shapes differ radically – and that’s a good thing in my opinion. String beans, eggplant, okra (not at all slimy), and sato are united by the medium spicy belacan sambal; stink bean and belacan play well together and the combination is a singularly Malaysian flavor profile.


Stir Fry Pearl Noodle featured eggs, bell pepper, Spanish onion, scallion, and bean sprouts with pork. This is actually one of my favorite dishes and not all that easy to find. Pearl noodles, sometimes known as silver noodles, silver needles, and other fanciful names, are chewy rice noodles that are thick at one end and then taper to a point at the other (look closely at the little tail at the bottom of the photo and you’ll see why one of those fanciful names is rat tail noodle). They’re generally stir-fried to pick up a little browning and a lot of wok hei (aka wok qi, the breath of the wok) that ineffable taste/aroma that can only be achieved by ferocious cooking over incendiary heat. Not at all spicy, this one is always a favorite.

Due to a communications mix-up, a couple of dishes came out that weren’t what we ordered. Everything we tasted that day was very good, but I want to make sure that you don’t end up with two or three similar dishes – for example, one belacan and/or sato offering is plenty for the table – because I want you to experience a broad range of flavors, and Wok Wok is most assuredly up to the task. Choose a wide variety of disparate dishes, perhaps even from different parts of Southeast Asia, and you’ll go home happy and satisfied!
 
 
And a reminder, once again, to please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen is located at 11 Mott Street, Manhattan.
 
 

Great N.Y. Noodletown

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

A fixture in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Great N.Y. Noodletown, 28 Bowery at the corner of Bayard St, is an absolute must-do (and you know I seldom say that) for two of their signature dishes in particular:

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“Salt baked” (read “delicately fried”) menu items like shrimp, scallops, squid, a couple of kinds of fish, eggplant and bean curd, pork chops, etc. are certainly excellent, but Great NY Noodletown is justifiably famous for their mind blowing (and you know I seldom say that either) Salt Baked Soft Shell Crabs. Of course, their eponymous homemade noodles are delightful as are so many of the other dishes they offer, but these are hands down (claws down?) the best soft shell crabs you will ever eat, the standard to which you will hold all other soft shell crabs henceforth and forever. Get ’em while they’re in season. Two orders on this plate, two crabs to an order, and trust me, you won’t want to share.


Extreme closeup: plump and delicious! And yes, they were all like that.

As to the other notable entry, 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, roast duck, 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). On our visit back in August 2017, we indulged in these three treats, all very different from each other:


Spare Ribs


Even though it’s not truly roasted, it proudly takes its place in the window and belongs with this group – the aforementioned Cuttlefish, aka squid.


Roast Baby Pig


And Sautéed Pea Shoots because you will surely want some greens to go with this!
 
 
And a reminder, once again, to please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Great N.Y. Noodletown is located at 28 Bowery, Manhattan.
 
 

Spicy Village

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

Spicy Village, a little off the beaten path at 68B Forsyth St, is one of Manhattan Chinatown’s hidden gems. Showcasing Henan (not Hunan) cuisine, it’s one of those restaurants where the cognoscenti whisper, “Don’t miss this place! And when you go, order the Spicy Big Tray Chicken (Da Pan Ji) and be sure to get an extra order of their wonderful hand pulled Hui Mei wide noodles to go with it.”

Here’s what we ordered back in August, 2016:

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Soup Dumplings


Spice Scallion Sauce Dumpling, captioned here as it appears on the takeout menu.


Spicy Big Tray Chicken. A classic dish, classically prepared.


Pancake with Pork


Spicy Lamb Hui Mei from the Dry Hand Pulled Wide Noodle section of the menu (as opposed to Lamb Hui Mei from the Hand Pulled Wide Noodles Soup section of the menu); IMHO “spicy” and “dry” are the way to go. For soup lovers, there is a choice of Flour Line Noodle, Yam Noodles, Rice Vermicelli, Rice Thin Noodle.


Garlic Chinese Baby Bok Choy, also captioned here as it appears on the takeout menu.


Beef Brisket Huimei, same options apply.
 
 
And a reminder, once again, to please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Spicy Village is located at 68B Forsyth St, Manhattan.
 
 

Home Brew Char Siu

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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One more from the Year of the Ox dinner.

Nothing fancy but very tasty: homemade char siu, Cantonese style roast pork. Marinated to make it flavorful and tender, steam roasted over hot water to keep it moist, then a searing stopover under the broiler for a crispy-edged finish. Leftovers destined for fried rice…or perhaps a noodle dish…wait, maybe a stir fry….

(Guess I’ve gotta give this more thought. Watch this space!)

Here’s to a healthy, prosperous, and happy New Year of the Ox!

新年快乐!

Xīnnián kuàilè!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Chinese New Year 4719 (2021)

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

The Chinese observation of the Lunar New Year is upon us: it’s 4719, the Year of the Ox, known for his determination and strength. Fortuitously, the Ox also possesses great patience, and I am positive that he will be standing by us diligently throughout these distressing times until next year charges in like a raging Tiger and we can all celebrate together as we once did.

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But even a pandemic can’t stop us from embracing all of the traditions that make this holiday so extraordinary. One that I particularly enjoy is the way in which wordplay and homophones factor into the selection of traditional foods specially prepared to mark the occasion. For example, at festive gatherings a whole fish will be served, because the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for surpluses.

Now frankly, I could use some surpluses these days and the notion of a whole steamed fish festooned with fresh ginger and scallions appealed to me. However, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to any Chinatown fish markets this year and since I’m cooking for one, the idea that I might find a small enough whole fish locally seemed to be a lost cause. But as I traversed the aisles of my neighborhood supermarket, what to my wondering eyes should appear (I know, wrong holiday), just lying there all alone, curiously out of place in the meat case, was this diminutive porgy, the only one to be seen.

Because it came from a chain operation, I expected it to be prepped and ready to face my culinary endeavors head on. But no. Removing it from its plastic wrapped Styrofoam tray, I found it very much unscaled, ungutted, uncleaned – in other words, totally intact! It’s not that I’m averse to prepping a fish – I’ve done it plenty of times – but I was surprised that this was how it was packaged at my local white-bread American supermarket.

Since it was the only one if its ilk in the case and seemingly untouched by human hands to boot, it occurred to me that it might have been freshly caught, straight out of the Gowanus Canal, perhaps. (“Hey, let’s see if anybody’ll buy this!”) I mused that it might lend a certain aromatic je ne sais quoi to its flavor profile. Since this is the Year of the Ox, a bullhead catfish might be a more appropriate choice – after all, it would cover both bases – but this rogue porgy was all I could land. In any event, I obviously lived to tell the tale and I’m happy to report that it turned out to be quite tasty.

But how that porgy got there is still a complete mystery to me. Which reminds me of another Lunar New Year tale when my inner ox was thwarted in attempting to access a particular nian gao (the traditional sweet rice cake and a homophone for high year) no matter how much determination and strength he could muster – and what should have literally been a snap became a classic mystery.

Curious? Please read my very short story, “The Case of the Uncrackable Case!”

新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè!

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️