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?