Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Sneaking contraband durian into the restaurant, disallowed in most public places due to its... pungency.

The verdict? Like eating creamed onion. In fruit form. The flesh is soft, and well, creamy, and somewhat stringy with a pit in the middle. The taste is somewhere between onion and chive, reminiscent of the delicious lily bulbs we had in China. I wonder if there are any durian recipes...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Phi Phi Island, Thailand - clear water, white sand, biting monkeys... do we have to leave?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

school of new thought

Safely back in Hong Kong and still recovering from the culinary adventures of China, I was informed that the menu for the tonight would include more specialties from our 'home village' that had been brought back. You just can't leave some experiences behind.

Fortunately, the prized victuals were not more cold sea creature bits, but roast goose and the ugliest tangerines I have ever seen. The goose was savory and the tangerine sweet, just like they were supposed to be, which led me to a new theory about food from Chaozhou. Foodstuffs must cross border in order to fully develop their proper flavor. In China, we had simply expected too much too soon from our meals. That being said, I think I'll stick to dining on the island for now.

Tomorrow? The quest for the best mango dessert place in Hong Kong!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

tasting the armpit of the rooster

Chaozhou is an area located in the easternmost part of the Guangdong province in southern China not renowned for their food. I'd like to think that I have an accepting palate, especially for Asian flavors, but this trip was truly a challenge to stomach.

After schlepping up and down a slick, jungly Chaozhou mountainside in the rain with forty people I am apparently related to for the burial ceremony I was ironically not allowed to attend due to my "astral sign karma" (more on that later), it was feeding time. Thus, we descended upon what I could only guess was the single restaurant in town with seating capacity for our party.

Allow me to regale you with some of the culinary delights served in the Chaozhou style:

  • Small clams in an odd, intensely flavored broth
  • An unidentified, armored relative of the shrimp: equipped with extra exoskeleton and a thick orange-red vein likening to overcooked egg yolk
  • Stir-fried lily bulbs: the onion/potato hybrid. It looks like a garlic bulb, slices like an onion, but has the mouthfeel of a mealy starch. And tastes somewhere in between.
  • Fried yam. Period. Not to be confused with delicious, orange sweet potatoes. (Yam fufu, anyone?)
  • Cold cod innards and other fish bits. I was informed the swim bladder is a delicacy.
  • Ginseng abalone soup. This was actually one of the better courses, but there's something about prehistoric mollusks with a furry yet chewy texture that gets me every time.
  • Cherry tomatoes. For dessert.

These and handful of other lackluster, poorly seasoned dishes rounded out the night. The grade? Points for diversity, but fail on execution. Judging by the fact that nobody insisted the fish bits be polished off, or that I needed another yam left me to believe that the restaurant was at fault and not the cuisine. At least till morning.

(Side note: There was a 911 Carrera 4 out front when we left the restaurant. What? How? Why?)

Morning was greeted with oversalted congee mixed to a disproportionate ratio of water to rice, and shoddy dim sum. Being with family from the region, I was starting to doubt that we just happened upon subpar places, but that Chaozhou was simply a gastronomically underwhelming place.

Lunch confirmed this suspicion as we became the only patrons of another nondescript restaurant. Having been told that a number of relatives had dined at this restaurant before kindled false hope that maybe Chaozhou cuisine wasn’t so bad after all.

Dish #1: Shady clams with chopped chilies. At first I thought they weren’t fresh because none of the shells were open. The fact was they were just still alive. Next came a series of dishes similar to the ones we had regarded last night as well as a few new friends. Highlights include:

  • Braised lettuce with membranous clam bits and other chewy sea creatures.
  • The lovechild of a fiddlehead fern precursor and a soba noodle. I was told it was a mushroom, but I have my doubts. Taste: inoffensive.
  • ‘Lotus seed’ in a fishy broth. This seed was more like a large great northern bean, but really firm and waxy.

Overall, this led me to believe that the previous night’s dinner really was bad, but that it was also time to head for the border back to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

return of the great pumpkin

What happens if you really aught to be moving and find roasted pumpkin from last November in the back of your freezer? You fill the apartment with yummy smells and tell yourself it's much easier to move 2 cups of flour in your stomach than in a box.

This recipe made a moist, dense loaf that slices well enough it might take to a cream cheese swirl in the future (note to self). The batter was quite runny even for a quick bread, but rest assured, you will be rewarded! Sadly, no photos.

Cranberry-Walnut Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Bon App├ętit | October 2003

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp fresh grated ginger
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

tsp salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9 1/4x5 1/4x3-inch loaf pan.

Whisk flour, spices, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend.

In a separate, larger bowl – beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, then vanilla.

Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions each. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Transfer batter to pan.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes.