Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Guangzhou Series: Dim Sum and Snacks


I realized that milk was scarce in the area. On a random morning, I was craving for milk and a bun, which is normally what I eat for breakfast at home. My grandma bought me a small plastic pouch of milk that you poke a straw into to drink. (Milk carton vs. milk bag? I say carton for ease of carrying, bag for going green, tie for ease of opening.) My grandma says that it's common for Chinese to not drink milk due to lactose intolerance. Just a guess - maybe less milk drinking accounts for their smaller body frames? Milk is a staple that I cannot live without in my diet, so I missed drinking milk during my stay.

Nonetheless, a congee (粥: "juk") and rice noodle roll (腸粉: "chern fun") stand along the main road outside my grandparents' apartment invited us with fresh, hot comfort food. I remember needing to wake up around 6 to 7 in the morning to get there in time (they open until they run out of food for the morning, which is typically by 9 am). I'm not usually a morning person, but it was worth every minute.

It was my first experience seeing front-of-house cooking, literally. There were two cooking stations outside of the restaurant: 1) stoves for congee and stir fry; 2) rice noodle tray steamer. The back-of-house was the general seating area similar to a "dai pai dong" (open air food stall well known in Hong Kong) with foldable tables and plastic stools.

Yummy congee making with fresh ingredients on the side!

A really cool foodservice equip I haven't seen before. Each "drawer" is a sheet that steams a rice noodle sheet. As soon as the chef takes it out when it's ready, she sprinkles the ingredients on top and scrapes the noodle sheet to form the rice noodle rolls! Fresh and ready to eat!

Beef congee with crullers ("you tiu"), deep fried dough that you dip into congee. Similar concept to biscotti & coffee?

Beef & lettuce cherng fun (牛肉腸 "au yuk cherng") over sweetened soy sauce. Absolutely the thinnest rice noodle, freshest, & tastiest I ever had!

Dim sum (点心):

Restaurant tables are reserved as early as 6:00 in the morning. Frequent dim sum-goers are retired elderly who enjoy mingling with family and friends and reading the newspaper. My grandparents like to say that they'd like to return to Guangzhou permanently to do the same. Personally, I enjoy dim sum no matter where I go :)!

For the dim sum restaurants here, you are given a weak tea called clear tea (清茶: "cing cha" in Cantonese) as soon as you are seated to wash your tableware. Also, you serve your own tea. A waiter will ask you which tea you would like, and then provide you with a small plastic bag of loose leaf tea per person and a tea pot of boiling hot water over a candle. You pour your desired tea (mine is jasmine) into another tea pot to customize your own tea.

Ordering dim sum is through a menu checklist, where items are arranged by different price categories (small, med, lg, special). After checking off items on the list, the waiter collects the list and the checked items are delivered to your table. Moreover, dim sum carts are pushed around the tables to offer other menu selections you may be interested in. There was one dim sum restaurant where customers go directly to the dim sum preparation area to pick up items to bring back to the table. Some of my favorite dim sum include dumplings (ie. 蝦餃 "haa gow", 小籠包 "siu lung bao"), rice noodles, black bean spareribs (排骨 "pai gwaat"), chicken feet (鳳爪 "fung zao"), turnip cakes (蘿蔔糕 "lo baat gou"), mango pudding (芒果布甸 "mong guo bou din"), and silky tofu dessert (豆腐花 "dou fu fa").

Dim sum table setting at the famous White Swan Hotel's Banquet Hall International
Steamed jumbo shrimp dumpling (蝦餃 "haa gow")
These shrimp & yellow chives rice noodle rolls were light, delicate noodles enveloping crisp & succulent shrimp!

Snacks, sweet, savory, spicy, hot and cold are plentiful, and many Chinese like to eat afternoon and late night snacks from food vendors in busy shopping districts. I wish these snacks are available at home too..

Spicy squid on a stick was the most appealing and appetizing 3-S snack! The smell and sound of crackling squidded kebobs on a teppan averted my attention from shopping. My grandma caught me eyeing them, and offered to share them with me. Three sticks for 10 yuan, what a great deal!

Even after the squids are done sizzling with the spices, you are still given the option to roll them over add'l chili powder. Did I do it? Why of course!
Black sesame tong yun is one of my favorite hot dessert soups! Tong yun (湯圓) are glutinous rice balls that can be filled with sweet or savory fillings, like red bean paste, peanut paste and minced pork. I enjoy black sesame tong yun the most, because of its delicately sweet sesame taste. Plus, who doesn't like a black and white dessert?

Black sesame tong yun soup at one of my grandpa's favorite snack shops. The shop plays "Mai Tang Yuan" song non-stop at the storefront to lure customers in. It got us in :)
Shrimp & garlic chives dumplings ("gau choy gao") were pan fried to my grandpa's delight at another outdoor food stand, despite the pan oil popping in our faces. He told me that he enjoyed eating them freshly made for years. They were greasy, but they tasted very fresh and savory!

While I was in Hainan for about a week, my grandma ordered roasted little bird on a stick. The story is that the little birds are still in their nest homes while their mothers fly away to get food. They still don't know how to fly yet, but hunters climb trees to pick them up to be eaten. =( I was hesitant to try it, but I tried one taste. I was pleasantly surprised; it tasted like a cross between chicken and quail.

When I wanted a light lunch or dinner, I would head on to a noodle soup shop to eat wonton noodle soup (雲吞麵: "wen tun mein"). The wonton were delicately wrapped pork and shrimp medley, and the thin egg noodles were cooked al dente, soft yet chewy... I felt like Naruto slurping up ramen. It was my best comfort food during the cold and rainy days.

Shrimp & pork wonton noodle soup, best served with red vinegar & white pepper!
 And that wraps up the final chapter of the Guangzhou series! :) Who wants to go to China now?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Guangzhou Series: Meals

Compared to the standard 3 meals for Americans, Chinese have 5 meals per day, including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and late night snacks. My grandma likes to say that they like to enjoy by eating small frequent meals. It definitely takes awhile to get used to though, because I felt like we were eating all the time…not like that is a bad thing. My justification is that I walk off most of the calories I eat, or at least I hope I did!

Guangzhou's trading port draws in a diverse array of imported foods and other fresh ingredients. Cantonese cuisine focuses on enhancing the natural sweetness of the main ingredient, be it a starch, meat or vegetable, not overpowering it. Thus, spices used are limited and herbs are often used as garnishes for fresh foods (and the reason for overpowering seafood with spices could be to recycle stale inventory...but that's a different story). Steaming and stir frying are the most common cooking methods, but braising and frying are also used.

The economy in Guangzhou thrives on small individual businesses, and restaurants are closing down and opening up everywhere. My grandparents travel to Guangzhou yearly, and they notice big changes every year. Their favorite restaurants may or may not be there anymore, and they get to experience new ones. My mother requested my grandparents to take me to a noodle shop that sells multicolored noodles that I enjoyed very much during my first trip, but the shop closed down years ago.

I posted up a cooking video in my previous post. CY got it correct, it's a noodle making video! A Northern Chinese style restaurant called Noodle King features a partial open kitchen for making dumplings and pulled noodles from scratch. Seeing the soft wheat noodles dance up and down into the huge boiling pot was simply magical flexibility. End result: fresh, bouncy, chewy, twist your fork-able (if you could, we were only provided chopsticks) noodles!
Noodle King ("lo mein deem" in Cantonese)
炸酱面 ("za jerng mein" in Cantonese): "fried sauce noodles" with stir fried ground pork, fermented soybean paste and spices
Steamed pork dumplings with black rice vinegar
My grandparents' apartment is along a busy road of small shops, supermarkets and restaurants. We went to this restaurant after I finished getting my hair straightened at a nearby barber shop (which I experienced the most relaxing scalp massage ever, and my cousin likes to call it "taan gan sai gai" (lit. meaning relaxing on earth)) for choy, steamed fish and rice.
Chinese mustard greens ("gai choy" in Cantonese), garlic braised and tender
Freshly steamed grass carp ("wan yu" in Cantonese) with filleted delicate fish slices and diced green onion
After paying respects to my great grandparents, we arrived to a hot pot (火鍋: "foh woh") restaurant for lunch. A large communal metal pot was placed in the middle of our table over firewood for simmering goose stew with purple taro root and garlic chives. Everyone stuck their chopsticks and spoons into the pot to pick up the sweet and savory hearty stew. While I was slowly savoring the stew, my grandma's younger sister sitting right next to me commented that I shouldn't eat "tai see man" (mannerly) and I need to eat faster. She has such a lively personality.
Hot pot style braised goose (鵝: "ngo") stew with purple taro root and sprinkling of garlic chives
Since goose isn't served in Chinese restaurants in my area, my grandma especially likes eating goose, roasted or stewed. It's similar to the taste of duck, but it has a greater gaming taste and tougher texture (which imo, may be due to less fat, less tenderizer). Even braised in stew, I still felt that it could be more tender (stews tend to taste better after several days anyway). My grandma argued that goose is a Chinese delicacy and duck is beggar's food, and thought I was crazy for my duck preference. I rather listen to my taste buds.
White cut chicken with diced garlic and onion on top of soy sauce
A food I frequently ate with my grandparents was white cut yellow feathered chicken (白切黃毛: "bak cherk wong mou gei"). "White cut" means that it is salt marinated and soaked in ginger chicken broth during cooking. Crispy skin chicken (炸子雞: "za zee gei") is also popular, due to the tender and juicy meat with its crisp, garlic skin. It's traditionally served with prawn crackers, but on the many occasions I've tried it, prawn crackers weren't given. Salt and pepper weren't given either. The replacement was sweet chili sauce, which pairs excellently!
Overall, my most memorable meal was homemade at my grandma's sister's house. Her husband is a great cook! He bought yellow feathered chicken and roasted goose from the market, and he prepared goose stew, fish balls and freshly steamed garlic infused prawns! He split the prawns halfway lengthwise and stuffed minced garlic to enhance their delicate and fragrant taste.
Freshly steamed garlic infused prawns
Rainbow colorful light up bridge on Pearl River
Their apartment was right next to Pearl River, so we got to see the colorful lights and tourist popular night cruises. The blue dotted line lights below the bridge actually move in one direction to depict water movement. It's peaceful to walk beside it with family, friends or a significant other, considering that the majority of rest of the city is very crowded and noisy.

Some interesting things to note:

- Be prepared to squat! Squat toilets are most commonly used everywhere, including restaurants. Bring your own tissue and hand sanitizer.
- Of course if you're expected to bring your own tissue, it's no surprise that you should bring your own napkins to the table when you eat. Some restaurants offer complimentary toilet paper in tissue holders.
- There is no complimentary water when you eat at restaurants. There is tea, which is complimentary or charged per person at your table.
Your rice bowl is your "plate." It is held close to your face while you eat with chopsticks. My relatives thought I was weird for using a plate as my dining dish.
- If you have a small party, be prepared to possibly share a large table with another group if a small table is unavailable.
- For large parties, restaurants have private rooms available for reservation. Typically, there is one host treating the entire party. The host is in charge of choosing the menu, and makes a toast before everyone starts eating.
- When there is not a designated host, be prepared to witness a fight for who gets to pay for the bill. Many sayings of "you'll pay next time" or "you are being unfair" are exchanged back and forth while they both snatch for the bill from the waiter and quickly pay before the other party can say another word.
- Restaurants are not "no smoking" areas. I've experienced many times where I start to enjoy the whiff of my food, then the cigarette smoke tainted its smell.
- Cooked rice at restaurants were sub-par to home cooked rice, which was disappointing.
- Waiters in Guangzhou are predominantly Mandarin-speaking. As Guangzhou is a Cantonese city, my grandpa was frustrated that he couldn't communicate clearly with the waitstaff.
- Other specialty foods not mentioned: fresh lotus root, quail, pomelo and other fruits

Stay in touch for the third and last post: dim sum and snacks! I save the best for last. :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Guangzhou Series: Intro

For my long-awaited post-grad trip, I spent about a month in Guangzhou, China with my grandparents to visit long time no see relatives, go shopping for my family and most importantly, eat yummy authentic foods! Previously, I traveled to Guangzhou once with my family when I was eight turning nine. My memories included piggybacking on my grandpa while touring sights, steering a motorcycle with my uncle, taking studio pictures, and singing karaoke while eating a private room dinner for my birthday.

上下九路 ("serng ha gau lo" in Cantonese): Popular shopping district along a pedestrian-only street
Colorful display of lights outside McDonald's
Highlights of the trip were seeing beautiful sights, bargain shopping for good deals (which my grandma is a master of), and eating fresh and authentic Cantonese cuisine.

Since fast food is heavily commercialized as American food, my relatives automatically assumed that I only knew how to eat fast food. They would jokingly ask, "So all you eat is hamburgers and hot dogs?" and comment that my curvy figure is too big for their standards. When we eat out at a Chinese restaurant, I am amused when they ask to see if I am accustomed to eating their food. I smile knowing that I am fortunate to live in such a diverse community where food choices are unlimited in flavor and variety. Not that I'm ashamed of my own culture, but it's sad to learn that those relatives only eat their own food and choose not to try others. It's easy for them to judge Americans by what they see through media, but I hope they choose to visit the US someday and experience it for themselves.

I had to admit though, I was tempted to try the fast food menu items that catered to Chinese, like KFC chicken porridge and McDonald's taro pies. My grandparents aren't fans of fast food though - so maybe on a trip next time.

Advertisements are everywhere. I rode on buses with my grandparents a lot, and the buses were literally moving advertisements! There were small tvs inside the bus that play short movie clips, shows and ads as well. Here's an Ariel Lin ad posing with a tea drink (any Ariel Lin fans?). Bottled tea drinks are popular in Guangzhou, especially when the dry weather makes your throat itch. My solution? Refresh yourself with a cold honey tea.

Last but not least, here's a video teaser. Guess what food this is?

Find out the answer in the next post ;) so stay tuned!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Chipotle Halloween!

Before you go trick-or-treating or crash into halloween parties, fuel yourself at Chipotle for free. No, it's not a trick but a treat! All Chipotle asks is that you blend in with them.

What's my favorite burrito? A chicken fajita burrito with lemony parsley white rice, onion/bellpeppers, pinto beans, grilled chicken, medium green salsa verde, pico de gallo, sour cream, corn and lettuce! It is so comforting to hold the warm burrito in your hands, bite into the soft tortilla and medley of rice, beans, chicken and veggies inside! Squeeze some lemon for that extra citrusy kick, and you end with a perfect 3-s burrito.

Have a safe Halloween tomorrow everyone! As for me, I'll be flying for my China trip tomorrow morning. I wonder if they'll decorate the plane to be a haunted plane, the dishes served will be spookified and the flight attendants to be dressed in costumes? I'll find out, and I'll be sure to record my China trip adventure when I return.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slurping 小籠包

Unlike other dumplings, this is a dumpling look alike. 小籠包 ("siu lung bao" in Cantonese) are made from thin, partially leavened dough for the skin. You can tell that it is a bun because the dough is pinched at the top crown, whereas dumplings are pinched on the side. You can put a variety of meat, seafood, and/or vegetable fillings inside the 小籠包, but pork filling is traditionally used.

小籠包 are referred as soup dumplings in English, because aspic is also included in the filling. Aspic is a gelatin made from stock or naturally found in the meat. When the 小籠包 are steamed atop napa cabbage in the bamboo basket, the aspic melts into soup! This is where the dough is important, because a good dough will not break apart, keeping the juicy goodness retained inside the buns.

Freshly steamed 小籠包 at home <3/ See the pool of soup on the bottom? It means one of the buns popped :(
Because 小籠包 is so popular, it is mass produced and available in Asian supermarkets. Sometimes for a quick fix lunch or dinner, my dad would steam several batches of 小籠包 to treat us! :)

My favorite 小籠包 I've eaten at restaurants is pork w/ minced crab meat. At Koi Palace, they serve a whole dungeness crab with the 小籠包 (see 2nd page on the menu). You delicately dip the buns in the Chinkiang vinegar or red rice vinegar with ginger slivers, and slurp the entire thing in your mouth! It's so satisfying to taste the sweet and savory flavors from the soup and meat filling burst into your mouth! :) Personally, I prefer eating this rather than a dumpling soup; it's a dumpling soup in every bite!

Have you tried 小籠包; what do you think of this unique bun? What are your most favorite dumplings?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day Trip to Napa

Going to school in Davis, I always wanted to visit Napa for their high quality restaurant food and wine tasting. I was delightfully surprised to arrive at Bistro Don Giovanni, just moments off of their Howard Lane exit on Hwy 29. Their lush, green garden, inviting outdoor terrace and vineyards made me feel very relaxed and "away from it all," and their decor and alfresco dining truly embodied the Napa wine country feel.

Restaurant front entrance. The greenery just pulls you right in :)
Arriving at the restaurant early for lunch (literally the first customers for the day), we were served promptly with our beverages and freshly baked focaccia bread. The fresca strawberry lemonade was a great balance of sweet and tart, but I especially enjoyed their sport iced tea. The tea was a refreshing medley of sweet and herbal notes, and it tasted very crisp. It definitely prepared our palates for the delicious foods to come.

From left to right: Fresca strawberry lemonade, fresh focaccia, sport iced tea
I have never tasted as fresh of a foccacia bread until this day. The bread was very warm with a spongey texture and seasoned savory spices; I never knew that foccacia would ever taste this great. We dipped the bread in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette while admiring their garden and fountain from our table. We ordered at least two extra plates during the meal, because it was that great! I felt like I could just snack on focaccia and drink the iced tea all day, so next time, I should just ask for three orders of focaccia and iced tea to go, to take on a picnic. ;)

The waiter offered to de-bone my fish; that's great service! :)
I ordered out of their seasonal menu specials, which was a Montery Bay sanddab in a lemon-caper sauce, and sauteed broccolini on the side.The fish flaked very easily and easily absorbed the citrus flavors, so its moist texture melted in my mouth at every bite. The crisp and savory broccolini were delicious to nibble on, so this dish was an overall good dish. I am surprised to not see this item on the current online menu for the restaurant, but we'll try something else next time. :) I heard through Yelp that they serve really great olives, so I'm looking forward to trying that!

Front entrance on the far left revealed a quaint wine shop
After leaving the restaurant, we commenced to do our wine tastings at Hagafen Cellars, where they offered free tastings for two through their website. As a white wine fan, I purchased the 2008 Napa Valley White Riesling. I loved the wine for its light-bodied texture and sweet fruity tastes from litchi, cherries and peaches. It would be great to serve this sweet wine to offset the flavors of pungent and spicy foods in a homemade meal, or to serve with chocolate, cheese and crackers and/or complementary fresh fruit.

After wine tasting, we strolled around Napa Premium Outlets to window shop. Having been to the outlets at Gilroy and Vacaville, the Napa outlet lot is much smaller in comparison. It was fun to window shop around the U shaped outlets, especially stores like Coach, The Cosmetics Company Store (love love discounted, clearance makeup/skincare items), CK, and Banana Republic, just to name a few.

Have you driven to Napa recently? What are your recommended restaurants and wine tasting cellars? :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RR: Sushi House (Alameda, CA)

If you asked me to eat sushi 10 years ago, I would have flat out said no. "Raw fish? I like my fish fully cooked" would be things I have said. My mom took me to a sushi boat in San Francisco anyway, introducing me to unagi nigiri and reassuring me that not all sushi have raw fish. With slight hesitation, I bit into the freshwater eel and was pleasantly surprised by its tenderness and sweet and savory taste. I must have eaten at least 4 more plates.

Fast forward 5 years later, and Sushi House comes into the picture. Right next to Alameda Beach on Shoreline Drive, this restaurant used to be nestled in a shopping center before it moved to its stand-alone restaurant. With good quality food (note that I didn't say high, but good) at relatively low prices, this restaurant is pretty popular amongst locals. If you don't believe me, you can try waiting for a dinner table during the weekend. Let me know how long it takes to be seated (if you get seated before an hour, you're lucky!). To avoid the crowd, try dining during lunchtime, when service is more friendlier and the atmosphere is more peaceful than during dinnertime. The lunch menu has lunch specials, for those who want to save some mula in their wallet.

I haven't had Sushi House for several months, so I was psyched to eat there again! Here are the highlights from the lunch:
Four fresh oysters in their half shells, served with lemon slices and a tangy "vinegar cocktail" (tastes like a mix between vinegar and cocktail sauce). My first raw oyster was eaten at this restaurant, as their oysters are fresh and clean and served with a tangy sauce! Don't you hate it when you eat fresh seafood, but you suddenly feel yourself crunch (I'm not talking about shells)? It has never happened with these oysters, so they do a great job in cleaning them up!

Fresh salmon sashimi
appetizer atop shredded daikon with wasabi, ginger and small heart-shaped leaves (forgot what they're called!). Their salmon is very fresh and tender, and pairs well with the wasabi. My mom believes that wasabi fights off any leftover bacteria on the sashimi, so she insists that I use a big dollop of it. I do, but the strong sensation I feel in my nose is overwhelming at times. Got a stuffy nose to heal?

The front sushi roll is called
Hella Hot: fresh salmon, white tuna wasabi mayo, spicy sauce, cucumber, avocado and chopped jalapeño peppers rolled in soybean wrapper, topped with spicy tuna, unagi sauce, mango sauce, tobiko and green onions. The back sushi roll is called Island Roll: prawn tempura, crab, salmon, tobiko, cucumber, avocado topped with house sauce. As you read, you can tell that my love for salmon doesn't end with sashimi. I prefer the Island Roll for its sweet and savory taste, as I felt the Hella Hot roll was just plain spicy. A medley of flavors suit my palate better.

Deep fried appetizer: Soft Shell Crab served with a spicy, sweet & tangy vinegar. Doesn't the crab look pretty to eat? It's lightly breaded outside and juicy inside, and pairs well with the sweet vinegar that's spiced with Japanese spice mixture. It's called shichimi tōgarashi ("seven flavor chili pepper") due to 7 ingredients, which includes mandarin orange peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, nori (seaweed) and ground sansho pepper. Crunch away to soft shell crab heaven!

Two more highlighted dishes that I enjoy are bay scallop roll and green tea icecream desserts. Sushi House serves two special rolls that are baked, including bay scallop roll and lion king roll. Lion king roll has baked salmon over CA roll, whereas bay scallop roll features baked bay scallops over crab meat and avocado, topped with tobiko (mini orange beads). The bay scallop roll just melts in your mouth with every bite of its sweet and savory taste! Not every sushi restaurant has bay scallop roll, so it is a must try for this restaurant.

If you still have room for dessert, there are two green tea icecream desserts that I recommend. The first is Green Tea Ice Cream Tempura, which is a fried green tea icecream ball (with tempura batter) atop raspberry sauce. Back then, the size used to be the size of your hands meshed together. Now, the size is roughly the size of your fist. I used to have to share it with someone, but now I feel like I can eat the whole thing by myself, almost. Anyway, it's a great dessert to share with a friend or relative, and I love to enjoy it for my birthday. The second option is Mochi Green Tea Icecream, served in a set of 2. The mochi will satisfy your tastebuds with its powdered, soft and gooey outer layer enclosing cold green tea icecream. Of course, there are other icecream flavors for these options, but I'm sticking to green tea because it's my favorite icecream flavor.

Overall, the restaurant strives to deliver a variety of sushi rolls, appetizers and other dishes. I challenge you to check out the restaurant yourself to sample good quality sushi at below average prices. To learn more about Sushi House, visit http://www.e-sushihouse.com/.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

On every August 15th of the Lunar calendar, it's the Mid-autumn Festival (中秋節, "zhong chau zeet" in Cantonese) celebrated by Chinese (of course, there are variations celebrated by Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese). It usually takes place during the end of September or early October, and this year, it's on October 3rd. It's also called the Moon Festival, because the moon is at its brightest, fullest and roundest. Guess what the traditional food is?

No doubt, it's the mooncake! Considered a delicacy, the traditional round or square-shaped Chinese lotus seed paste filled pastry is found in Asian markets and bakeries. Plus, some of these chewy mooncakes contain 1-2 salted egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. Another traditional food is pomelo, a light green to yellow citrus fruit that tastes like a mild grapefruit.

My favorite mooncake brand is the popular Hong Kong Wing Wah Mooncake (香港榮華月饼). Their mooncakes have a chewy thin crust and white lotus seed paste (the blue box for no yolk, the golden box for 1 yolk, and the pink box for 2 yolks). Typically, a box of 4 mooncakes costs around $20-40. The mooncake box comes with a plastic knife for you to cut the mooncakes into eighths, so be sure to not take these pastries lightly. According to the golden box, 1/8 of a mooncake is already 100 cals with 5g of fat. Multiply those numbers by 8... I don't need to go further. My boyfriend says that eating 1/4 of a mooncake is like eating 4 bowls of rice. To that I say, we only celebrate this holiday once per year, so indulge lightly and drink some tea!

Nonetheless, it's the yearly mooncake exchanging, house visiting, Chinese storytelling, traditional Chinese meal holiday! For my family, we visit our grandparents to pay our respects to the elders. Sometimes my maternal grandmother invites us over to her apartment for a traditional Chinese meal! This year though, we opted to dine in a Chinese restaurant in Oakland called Chopstick Chinese Restaurant (328 14th Street).

Now some of you may look up this restaurant on Yelp, but hold your horses. I already checked; it's a measly 8 reviews with an overall thumbs down. I beg to differ. The service is good and timely even with just 2 waiters, and the taste of the food overall is pretty decent. The reviewers just haven't chosen their specialty dishes, which I give kudos to their curry crab and lion's head meatballs. However, I do admit that their portion sizes are small for large parties (we were a party of 7 adults and 4 kids), so you might want to eat with a party of 4. We compensated by ordering many dishes, as they had a special of buying 3+ dishes for $5 each!

Lion's head meatball is one of my top 2 favorites. I heard of this traditional Chinese dish but haven't gotten to taste it until dining in this restaurant! The oversized pork meatballs represent the lion's head, and the bok choy represent the mane. Served in a set of four, they're also called "Four Happy Balls" (四喜丸子, "sei hei yuen zi" in Cantonese). This is the red variety, braised in soy sauce! The minced meat is made with fatty pork, mixed with chopped water chesnuts for the crunch. Once you bite into it, it just falls apart in your mouth in sweet and savory goodness! Not your average meatball you find in pastas and pizzas. It's a definite must try for this restaurant!
Not a fan of green leafy veggies? This dish might change your mind. It's snow pea shoots of the big leaf variety, called "dai dau miu" in Cantonese. According to Epicurious.com, it's a cross between spinach and peas. I highly promote eating spinach for being a superfood, but if you dislike the taste of spinach, snow pea shoots can ease your way into eating your greens. In Chinese restaurants, dau miu is usually stir fried with whole garlic cloves, so they have a tender pea taste.

If you celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival at a Chinese restaurant tonight, make reservations. Arrive early. Luckily for us, we just decided to celebrate about a week in advance. Happy mooncake eating, and remember to check out the full moon!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Women of Taste

On Sept. 26th, I volunteered at the Girls Inc. 18th annual Women of Taste Event held at the Oakland Museum (http://www.girlsinc-alameda.org/women-of-taste). Being claimed as one of the largest food & wine events in the East Bay, I couldn't resist. And I brought a friend along with me, because my stomach can only hold so much...

At our arrival, we were assigned to volunteer in the silent auction. The silent auction consisted of many things from gift baskets to nutrition consultations (Did you know that they're worth $250? Amazing! I should be doing 'em for some extra cash...) to game tickets to vacation getaways. We ended up helping out in labeling compost and recycle bins on-site, as this was a waste-free event! But of course, we nibbled on some amazing foods, from sweet crab chowder in a mini bread bowl to tiramisu.

Chocolate covered raspberries in a chocolate platter. These were as yum as chocolate covered strawberries. Kudos for dipping raspberries in chocolate though, as they are very delicate and can easily break. This booth also served lavender & mint lemonade, which was very refreshing! It was our favorite drink of the evening, as it just clears your palate.

Tri-tip steak with mild to spicy barbecue sauces at the T-Rex Barbecue booth. Behind the serving table, they were cooking whole steaks in two small grills. Smelled phenomenal! There was a long line waiting for this tri-tip. Besides letting you choose your sauce, they also let you choose how well done you wanted your steak. Me? Medium rare.

On the left is vanilla bean custard topped with a raspberry sauce and grapes. This custard is unique in that it uses milk in place of eggs, so it has a velvety taste. On the right are two types of thin crust pizzas. The above is a pesto, tomato and feta cheese pizza. The bottom is prosciutto and artichoke heart pizza. I was excited to try out prosciutto for the first time, because it's frequently used in Giada Laurentiis's "Everyday Italian." Prosciutto is thinly sliced dry-cured ham unique to Italian dishes. It tastes like a cross between ham and bacon!

Two types of bruschetta: enoki mushroom with goat cheese and ahi tuna with orange zest. What surprised me was that the bread wasn't fully crisp; it was crisp on the outside and doughy inside. I thought that was an interesting texture. I especially loved ahi tuna with orange zest!

Last but not least, my favorite is Zinfandel icecream from Tucker's Icecream. The flavor of the red wine was strong, but not overempowering. It was my first time trying wine-flavored icecream! We had to get seconds of this - it was a sweet frozen treat that made us blush. Just a bit of Asian glow.

This event proved to me that women really do have good taste, as I saw mostly females attended and volunteered. Just kidding! Or am I?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chocolate Galore

Another post about chocolate proves how much I love this food.

I was thrilled to attend Ghirardelli Square's 14th annual chocolate festival yesterday! I invited quite many friends that shared my chocolate obsession along with me, and we were completely satisfied. Overwhelmed even.

The festival gathered 40 chocolate-related vendors together to benefit Project Open Hand. It's free to attend, but it costs $20 for 15 tastings you could use at the vendors. Fortunately for my friends and I, we received free tasting tickets, courtesy of Cadillac Ride & Drive. Thank you Cadillac!
The following pictures reflect my highlights of the festival:
At the Main Stage: Icecream Sundae Eating Contest for Kids! I believe there were six contestants, and they weren't allowed to use their hands. The sundae was eight scoops of icecream with whipped cream, nuts..basically all the works! Those kids probably walked off with brain freeze and sugar high afterwards. This was so fun to watch! The winner won a Ghirardelli chocolate gift basket (as he/she doesn't have enough sweets already...). By the picture above, guess who the winner was?
At the Cadillac Ride & Drive tent: make your own Ghirardelli sundaes! Start off with traditional vanilla icecream, choose a drizzling topping and top it off with whipped cream, nuts and a maraschino cherry! I chose Ghirardelli's famous specialty: hot fudge. It was a small simple treat to start off our day!
At the Cost Plus World Market's Wine & Chocolate Lounge: 72% cacao dark chocolate square, spicy tortilla chips and chocolate covered peanut butter-filled pretzel bites. The bitter dark chocolate (at only 4.25 gm fat & 55 cals) was perfect to pair with red wine (a wine glass costs $5, so we didn't go for it), and the chips and pretzel bites were a 3-S (sweet, savory and spicy) combo! And I'm not usually a fan of peanut butter outside of PB sandwiches. I had to get a second serving.

Plus, Cost Plus World Market gave us free $5 coupons! I'll be shopping there soon.
At the Boomerang Australian Vodka tent: Chocolate Martinis! Yummy chocolate concoctions. The vodka rolls down smoothly with a sweet chocolate finish. Boomerang Vodka is 5x distilled - very pure, ultra-smooth and elegant. Definitely a good cocktail to include in your chocolate & wine parties.

Side note: One of my friends noticed someone using all of his tastings at this tent!
At the Rustic Bakery: The title says it all. This looked absolutely delicious! I didn't get a chance to try it, but one of my friends liked it! It looks like a fresh donut hole drizzled in cream and chocolate. It's comfort food for the sweet tooth.
According to Epicurious.com, crème anglaise is made by whipping egg yolks and sugar together until it turns white, then slowly adding hot milk and cooking until thick. It's usually flavored with vanilla. It's used as a dessert sauce and a base for crème brûlée! Yum!
At the Sterling Confections tent: Sterling Truffle Bars! They served long decorated Toblerone-like bars. They were confectionary chocolate bars. I bet they make a popular gift during Christmas!
At the Island Breeze Macaroon & More tent: Chocolate Drizzled Coconut Macaroons! I chose the white chocolate & cranberry combo. It was sweet, tart and coconutty. A good treat to eat for a tea party!
At the Mary Louise Butters Brownies tent: Assorted Brownies! They were generous, because they gave us 2 brownies per tasting. The selections were orange, rose, ginger and chipotle. I chose the last two (ginger on left, chipotle on right). I liked that the brownies had chunks of ginger and chipotle; I could taste the strong flavors really well. My favorite was the chipotle, as the chipotle spice went really well with chocolate. Care to have a spicy dessert?
At one of the Ghirardelli tents: Decadent Drinking Chocolate! This is no ordinary hot chocolate. It was literally chocolate liquor! My friends and I couldn't finish our small 4 oz. cups; it was too decadent for us. I tried dipping a chocolate covered almond biscotti to finish it... but it didn't help much. I had to throw it away, which saddens me because I hate wasting food.
At the McCormick & Kuleto's tent: Mini Chocolate Truffle Cakes! They were assembled on-site for the whipped cream and assorted berries (blackberries, blueberries and raspberries) as toppings. I chose the raspberry truffle cake. The chocolate truffle was semisweet, the tart was flakey and the raspberry was a sweet "cherry on top"! This booth was very popular; there were 3 lines for it!
Last but not least, my favorite tasting was at Gelateria Naia's tent. They generously served fresh gelato waffle cones: Stracciatella (Italian's version of chocolate chip icecream) and Ferrero Rocher. Gelato is a healthier alternative to icecream, because it has a higher milk to cream ratio than icecream (less fat). Plus, gelato is churned more slowly than icecream, which makes it more dense to intensify its flavors (less air). Gelato is served fresh while icecream is served frozen. [Info from http://cookingequipment.about.com/od/icecreammachines/f/gelatovicecream.htm.]
Since FR is one of my favorite chocolates growing up, I had to choose it! It tasted exactly like FR in a frozen creamy treat. This completed my chocolate indulgence for the day. I chomped it up before I realized that I forgot to take a picture of it!
To learn more about the chocolate festival, visit http://www.ghirardellisq.com/ghirardellisq/events.php?id=2.