Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hong Kong :: Hutong, More like Woo!tong

On the our last night in Hong Kong, Squids and I made 7pm reservations at a Michelin starred restaurant called Hutong. Hutongs are narrow streets and alley ways in Beijing and the food served here is a modern take on the food that can be found in hutongs. There are a few cuisines, like Chinese and Mexican, that I think is best in the mom and pop shops with plastic covered tables and sticky floors. But a few of Hutong's dishes really made me rethink this especially factoring the amazing view of Victoria Harbour. Much to the annoyance of our waiters, we ate very slowly in order to catch the 8pm Symphony of Lights shows from our table. Every night, the buildings on Hong Kong Island put on a lovely light show that is best viewed from Kowloon. We enjoyed the show while sipping on lychee wine and chowing down on crispy lamb, noodles and apple fritters. It was the perfect way to end our trip.

Lychee rice wine served in a classic clay tea pot. This would most certainly make my mom sing, as she tends to do when she has a little something to drink. 

 Simple noodle soup with shitake mushrooms. The broth was incredibly flavorful. This was Squidward's favorite. 
My favorite dish of the night, crispy lamb done in a traditional peking style. I have never had lamb so juicy and delicious as this. It has a salty and crispy"skin" (I don't think it was actual skin...that would be kind of gnarly) which gave it some texture. I hope they never take this off their menu. 

Apple "eggrolls" for dessert. This definitely reminded me a lot of my dad. He's doesn't spend a ton of time cooking. He's mostly responsible for stocking my mom's kitchen with the proper tools and gizmos and telling her how delicious her meals are. But he does have a few signature dishes up his sleeve, one being banana fritters with honey and sugar and vanilla ice cream. I think that's why I tend to like fruit desserts over chocolate. 

We actually ordered a lot more food than this, but the restaurant is VERY dark and my pictures were coming out pretty bad and I think my flash was really annoying some of our neighbors. The menu at Hutong, like many Chinese restaurants, is HUGE. I welcome the chance to go back and try some of their other dishes. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hong Kong :: Dim Sum Delight

Monday was "Respect for the Aged Day" in Japan, so I went to Hong Kong for the long weekend. You can't really mention Hong Kong without talking about the food and you can't talk about food without talking about dim sum. It's pretty tough to find good, authentic dim sum in Tokyo, so I was happy to be reunited with this Sunday morning tradition.

Really fucking happy, actually. I didn't realize how much I missed it, but once we stepped into our first tea house and I heard the clinking and clanging of tableware, I was transported to a happy place. This despite being seated at the most disgraceful seat in the house -- furthest from the kitchen! You gotta box out for the dishes you want! Naww, just kidding. Since it was lunchtime, we just ordered off an English menu, instead of the morning carts. But I would have gotten East Bay/SF Chinatown on the locals if I had to! Anyways, back to my happy place. I love snacks and can put away a ridiculous amount of food so long as there is variety. If I had to eat a huge dish of just 1 thing, I probably couldn't stomach too much of it. But place 100 little plates in front of me and I'll eat you under the table. That's a threat and a promise.

I wish I had written down the name of this particular tea house next to the Western Market. Basically, if you ride the tram down Des Vouex Road in Central, it is the dim sum restaurant next to the Western Market. There are bunch of cool old dudes off-track betting outside if you need another landmark. I'm almost certain they'll still be there if on your trip to HK.

I finally learned that these pork and shrimp rolls are called cheung fan in Cantonese. This was the first Cantonese word I looked up when we booked our tickets. This has been my favorite dim sum dish since I was a kid. Even though you're supposed to share everything on the lazy susan, my family would order me my own plates of shrimp cheung fan and just leave me alone. These are steamed rice paper rolls with pork or shrimp filling. Sounds pretty bland, but the key is the soy sauce. Cheung fan comes with its own special sweet soy sauce. I could drink it by the tubs and would save my empty plates to sop up the extra sauce with other dumplings and buns. Omagahh...I'm so disgusting. I love it.

The other must have dish at dim sum for me are phoenix talons. That's a fancy Cantonese way of saying chicken feet. Now, trust me when I say that it is not the meat of chicken's feet that appeals to me. I've been served cold, plain boiled, unsauced chicken feet (oddly enough, on a number of occasions) and they're pretty gross. (Special message to Squidward, my sister and mom -- remember those gnarly black ones we got in Vietnam?!) The dim sum style chicken feet come in a spicy black bean sauce and while they're not the sexiest things to eat (you have to spit the tiny bones out on to your plate and you constantly have sauce on your face) they just can't be resisted.

Hey wait a sec. That's not dim sum! That's right, it's not but I'm not afraid to order off the menu. When a restaurant goes out of it's way to hang their roasted meats in their window (basically every restaurant in HK), you'd better order it. This is a plate of chopped pork topped with crispy pig skin -- also a childhood favorite of mine (no seriously, I was a disgusting child! how did I have friends and not develop gout?) Salty, sweet, fatty and delicious.

Look at that shiny delicious morsel! 

Eating Dim Sum in Hong Kong was at the top of my list of things to do. Had we eaten at a tea house for every meal, I would have been perfectly happy. But we didn't. We had lots of other great food! Perhaps I will tell you more about it sometime. (Probably tomorrow.) 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Summer in Tokyo in 20 Pictures

Though it may not show, I do actually take a lot of pictures. Usually, it's with my iPhone but lately, I've been using my regular point and shoot more. Most of the pictures I like are ones that need some context but it's hard to muster up the energy to put in captions for every picture you upload on Facebook and Flickr. I have this blog for a reason and with the summer pretty much over (I hope), now is a good of a time as any to share some of the random things I've done this summer through photos.

3, 2, 1... 

It was great to be in Japan during the 2010 World Cup. Expectations were really low for the national team but with some luck and scrappy play, they managed to make it out of the group stage. After the tournament, we stumbled upon the JFA Museum where they were riding the soccer craze wave.

Oh, Roppongi. You just never know what you're going to see. This neighborhood of Tokyo is nightlife and foreigner central. It's loud, over the top and kind of weird -- much like this pooch on a bike. 

I really like taking pictures of produce. 

Drank some ice cold sake too keep cool. This sake is frozen and then shaken to make a sake slushy. Perfect drink for the Tokyo humidity. And you get to keep the glasses. 

Beer is another good option...but maybe not from this rusting vending machine in Chiba. 

Aside from fruits and veggies, I also like to take pictures of buddha statues. 

Rode on a boat in Saitama. 

Jonesing for some my mama's cooking, I went through an intense Vietnamese cooking phase in early August.  

Accidentally stumbled upon a photo of 3 of my former students from Asakusa Junior High School in a famous photographer's latest book. They're famous! Ume Kayo is a young Japanese photographer that takes photos of the quirky moments of daily life. She has a really great point of view and has a knack for taking hilarious photos. I got a chance to see her Tokyo exhibition this summer after discovering her book. She's great. Here's a recent interview

A couple of friends came to visit. I always enjoy this because it gives me an excuse to eat some of my favorite Japanese foods that aren't part of my routine. 

I despise the summer weather in Japan. I watched this rain storm from my balcony, begging it to come my way. 

By far, my best purchase in Japan. 

See, I told you liked taking pictures of buddhas. Like a moth to a flame. 


An unexpected but much adored gift from Squidward. 

Got a healthy dose of culture watching yosokoi dances in Yoyogi Park. 

The cutest shaved ice I've ever seen or eaten. 

Beer + Summer = Best Friends

Finally decorated the walls. 

Bye bye Summer. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trying It At Home :: Pain d'Or

I've been taking bread classes for about a month now. To be honest, I wasn't that excited about the bread course. I was more interested in the cake classes but I figured, I should branch out and try something new. It wasn't enough that the classes are in Japanese, I needed even more of a challenge. I'm such a go getter!

I'm so glad I went outside my comfort zone because making bread is AWESOME. Aside from a phase in my parents' life when a bread maker was purchased and used to make walnut and raisin bread, I don't have much experience baking bread. After 7 classes, that is no longer true. Up until last weekend, I had been under careful supervision which means that my recipes turned out perfect every time. I decided to take the training wheels off and give the pain d'or recipe a go.

Here we are with the basics. Bread flour, yeast, sugar and eggs. Two points to note here: always put the bread and sugar next to each other since as we all know from chemistry, yeast eats sugar and putting them close to each other accelerates the process. The egg should be somewhat separate from the sugar and yeast for reasons I'm not quite sure of because, like I said, my classes are in Japanese. All I know is that we always need to make an "egg pouch" in the bowl.
Here we are with more bread flour, salt and butter. This is the beginning of the dough formation process. Stir like a mad woman until the mixture turns into a ball.
Thank goodness for the marbal countertops! Dump the ball of dough onto a clean work surface and start kneading. There are two types of needing...the uhh...normal kind, which is to mix and work the dough. Once the dough is mixed well enough, it is time to move onto the V-style where you roll the ball back and forth in a V shape. When the surface is smooth and you see big gas bubbles, your dough is ready to rest.
After the dough has rested for awhile (each recipe calls for a different time, but it's normally around 30 minutes) you can do a finger test to see if it is ready. Coat your finger in flour and poke the dough. If the hole stays, it's ready. If the dough springs back, it needs to rest more. If your dough is ready, punch the ball a few times to release the gas.
Cut the dough into equal parts and shape them into round balls. Before you work the dough more, they need to rest again for about ten minutes under a damp towel.
Each recipe calls for a different shaping. Pain d'Or look like little mini-baguettes with cuts at the top. I've always wanted to make the cool cuts at the top of bread! Dream fulfilled! A healthy brush of egg wash on top and into the oven they go!
And voila! These baked for only 12 minutes and they were nice and fluffy. This was a really simple bread but most of our classes involve all of the steps above with varying rest times, toppings, fillings and shapes. This first solo attempt was successful, but not perfect. Hopefully the next batch will be better but even imperfect fresh baked bread beats the store bought variety.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kakigoori and the End of the Red Dye Ban

Summer in Japan. It's hot. You will hear people remark on this fact of life all summer long. Although they don't dress like it's hot (black leggings, cardigans, boots) Japanese people do feel the heat and they've come up with some ways to cool down. Most of these solutions involve eating something. Popular summer foods said to cool you down - unagi (grilled eel), goya (bitter melon) and kakigoori (shaved ice). Shaved ice is probably the only thing on this list that will physically make you feel cooler, though I'm not here to dispute a whole country that believes in the magical powers of eels and bitter melons.

If you ever visit Japan in the summer, you will see flags with the kanji for "water" hanging outside cafes and restaurants. (see above) This is their way of telling you to come on in and enjoy a refreshingly cool snack like ice cream and shaved ice. I'm a big fan of shaved ice mostly because it usually involves creamy condensed milk. I usually won't order shaved ice unless it has condensed milk drizzled on top - I find the plain snow cone style a little too sweet and syrupy.

Fresh strawberry shaved ice at the Super Yosakoi Festival. 

Another strawberry shaved ice w/out condensed milk at the top of Mt. Takao last summer. 

I might as well break the news here and now since these photos sell me out: I've dropped my ban on red candy. Yes, that's right. My personal moratorium on ingesting red dye has come to an end. It all started one Friday evening in Walnut Creek, CA. I was watching 20/20 with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs and they did a story on the dangers of Red 40 - a common dye used in drinks and candies. Apparently all dyes are somewhat carcinogenic but Red 40 is the worst. According to 20/20. Well, this stuck in my head and from that night on, every bag of Skittles, Starbursts, M&Ms had to be carefully inspected and removed of all reds. It actually wasn't so bad because I don't actually like the flavor of a lot of red candies. Artificial cherry flavor is gross. I've never had a red Swedish Fish in my life. I would risk dehydration and avoid the complimentary red Gatorade at gymnastics meets. The only candy that ever broke my rule was, on a occasion, Hot Tamales. I used to quickly discard all the red Sour Patch Kids from the bag before it got to dark to see what I was popping into my mouth. I even had a ziploc bag full of discarded red candies at my first job. I admit it, it was just plain weird. 

What ended it all? I don't know...probably laziness and the acceptance that everything in life can or does kill you. And on that note, have a nice day.