Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Hollandaise!

Hey sorry for the bad Christmas/food pun but I've had one too many bottles of Sapporo and Sake. Just came back from a stellar sushi dinner at Sushi Zo and I'm about to pass out. Anyway, I wanted to thank all the fellow LA foodbloggers and loyal readers for supporting my low-budget site. I've had a blast this year. I'm leaving for Hong Kong and Taiwan this week and have a plethora of food to eat and write about. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Let's give it up for food!!! As always, thank you for reading. Regards, ED&BM. Read more!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Salmon Makes For A Good Snack

Happy Saturday everyone. Just wanted to post on a snack I had one Saturday. The difference between raw and cooked salmon is night and day. Cooked salmon becomes fishy and dry. But it's the best when raw... so sweet and somewhat similar in fattiness/softness to hamachi (yellowtail).

I think salmon sushi is probably the most beautiful looking out of the common dishes. Ikura (salmon roe) is also nice to look at. The lines in salmon remind me of the marbling on a nice juicy steak. Mmm. Sometimes when I'm at Mitsuwa or Marukai, I'm tempted to buy a block of salmon and just eat it like a sandwich.

I got this block at Mitsuwa for like $5 and yielded nearly 18 small pieces of nigiri sushi. I put too much wasabi in between the rice and fish. Nose-hair fire!

What's your favorite kind of sushi? Read more!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cha Gio Recipe - Good Things Come in Pairs

Back in the Sichuan hot pot posting, I explained a little about Chinese 'hot air' and how you should balance out the scalding hot food with cool drinks. The chinese feel it is a sub-category of the 'yin and yang' ideology – that everything has a complementary opposite. If you're tormenting your body with fried chicken on a hot, blistering day, your body is going to whine and moan... "give me a freaking cold drink right now." If not, you won't be doing the body any good. There are endless things that work well in pairs in our universe. But the only one I, and you as a food blog-reader, really care about is food. And the 'yin and yang' ideology somewhat applies. What's a peanut butter sandwich without jelly, carne asada tacos without a
Jarritos bottled-soda
, franks without beans, a chili dog without a roll of toilet paper, etc.

This brings us to one of my favorite sidekicks of Vietnamese pho. At places like Golden Deli or Saigon Flavor, it is rare to see a table occupied solely with piping hot bowls of pho. Sharing the real estate is 'cha gio' of course, Vietnamese egg rolls. Eat one egg roll, eat some pho, eat another egg roll, kill the bowl of pho. It's a rollercoaster ride of delicious food. Oh the joy.

I've been wanting to make 'cha gio' for a while but could never find the right skin at the markets. The only kind available to non-chefs were Chinese-style egg roll skins. When these are fried, you don't get the nice bursting skin on egg rolls I've grown to love. After a few minutes of staying out in room temperature, they become flat and soggy. Not so good. Golden Deli, Saigon Flavor and Vietnam House are all San Gabriel-based sister restaurants which make my favorite egg rolls. Pho 79 in Alhambra is damn good too. I think most pho restaurants make the majority of their profit from egg rolls because the ingredients are cheap.

One day while I was at Golden Deli, I decided to approach the owner and ask him. I had heard before that the recipes within these three restaurants were cryptic and top-secret. You basically had to marry into the family to get your hands on the blueprints. I can see it already... a big, cult-like ritual inducting a new family member in. Heart-pounding bongos and drums banging... the tempo increasing as the main event nears, flames rising from pits, snakes wrapped around vines, people with face paint circling around you in attack mode. The whole nine yards. For these egg rolls and pho recipes, it might even be worth a big chicken-bone-through-the-nose piercing and a ritual neutering.

Me: "Excuse me?"
GD Guy: "Yes."
Me: "Do you guys make your own cha gio skin?"
GD Guy: *stares at me*
Me: "These are the best. I'd like to --"
GD Guy: "It's rice paper."
Me: "Oh. I thought you guys made your own skin."
GD Guy: "No, just soak the rice paper in some warm water for a few seconds. Let it air really quickly, and roll your filling."
GD Guy: "Nice."

Quite painless. For a minute, I thought I had struck a wrong nerve. He knew very well that I wouldn't be able to replicate his prized dish. Course not. But it wouldn't hurt to try.

I headed over to 99 Ranch and bought 1.5 lbs. of ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, bean thread vermicelli, romaine lettuce, red/green chilis, mint and rice paper (7" size). Total cost... under $10. You can make at least 25 of these.


Party time:

(1) First soak the bean thread vermicelli and wood ear mushrooms in separate bowls of water. Both come in dried form, water rejuvenates them. Should be ready to go in 10 minutes. Chop the bean threads into 1/4" to 1/2" cuts and roughly mince the mushrooms.

(2) Use salt and white pepper to season the ground pork. Add a little bit of Shao Xing rice wine in to tenderize the pork. Add vermicelli and mushrooms (carrots are optional) and mix everything well. Let them sit and party for about 10 minutes.



(3) Prepare a bowl or pot of hot water for soaking the rice paper. Dip the rice paper in for at least 10 seconds and pull it out, laying it flat on a cutting board. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling on the rice paper and fold it like origami. Bring the sides in, bottom over the filling and keep rolling. Lost yet?

That's why I've prepared a quick "Cha Gio For Dummies" instruction manual. The phallic/fecal-shaped representation of the pork filling is purely a combination of midnight blogging and lethargy.) Everyone knows the Japanese are masters of Origami, but its the Vietnamese that have adapted clever techniques of making paper cranes into digestible food. That's good thinking. I'll take an egg roll over a heart-shaped dollar bill any day.


"Cha Gio For Dummies" Manual


Figure A - This is based on 7" rice paper. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling and shape it into a rectangle as shown in the diagram.

Figure B - What appears to be an angry baseball with eyes and eyebrows is actually Figure B. Grab A and B flaps and fold them right where the filling is placed, as straight as possible. Careful not to mash the filling.

Figure C - While holding A and B with your fingers, use your thumbs to grab part C of the rice paper and fold it over the meat and A & B flaps. Tuck flap C right under the filling, making sure the rice paper isn't loose.

Figure D - As you start to roll everything, make sure you're tucking the filling into the skin. The egg roll shouldn't be loose nor super-tight. Because your soaking the rice paper in water, there is no need for an egg wash because the rice paper will adhere to itself.

Back to the cooking.

(4) Heat up a pan, pot or deep fryer with vegetable or canola oil over medium heat. Never use EVOO – too low of a burning point. Make sure the oil is hot enough by dropping in a piece of soaked rice paper. If the oil is TOO HOT, air will fill in the egg roll and separate the rice paper from the filling and you'll lose the familiar shape of an egg roll.

(5) These take a long time to cook, probably 12 minutes. The skin may still be somewhat white yet edible. If you can achieve the golden look, all the better.


These tasted so good. The skin was super crispy and the filling had a good ratio of meat to mushrooms/vermicelli. I've left out a few things in my original recipe that are unnecessary, like fish sauce and sugar in the filling. The condiments should be doing all the work. Next time, I will try adding grated jicama and minced shrimp. I simply wrapped them in romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber, mint and dipped it in freshly made 'nuoc cham' (fish sauce mixed with water, sugar, chilis, garlic and lemon). I ate about 8 of them and suffered minor blistering on the roof of my mouth because they were so damn hot. Well worth the agony. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dear Green Onions... Get Well Soon

Sad day, green onions from Salinas, California have been traced with strands of E. coli (Escherichia coli). Several people have fallen ill in the Northeast from eating green onions. Taco Bell has removed green onions from all of their 5,800 restaurants. Taco Bell is also investigating the facility that provides other produce for their food. Ready Pac Produce supplies Taco Bell with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I'm sure most of you have heard of Ready Pac salads. They are the ones that sell the 'triple-washed' packages. I've never trusted that. Always wash vegetables efore eating.

E. coli along with other diseases such as Hepatitis C come from food handlers that DO NOT wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Not #1... #2! Nasty.

Yesterday, I was at 99 Ranch and walked by the green onions in the produce section. I stared at them and shook my head in pity. I cannot survive without green onions. I was planning on making Chinese beef noodle soup this week but MUST have green onions. I'm sure they are safe to buy, but I'm not going to risk getting ill until its clear. Just wanted to make sure everyone was aware of this issue. Green onions... please come back soon haha. Read more!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Din Tai Fung & The Dumpling Factory - Din Tai Fung, Arcadia

In a land far far away (far, if you're from the SF Valley and Orange County), there exists a place that beckons people from all over Southern California to experience its culinary treasures - the Valley of San Gabriel. It's a long and arduous 45-minute journey through wicked, poisonous smog, reckless face visor-wielding and glove-wearing drivers speeding at a whopping 25 mph and seas of red lights. The Valley of San Gabriel is heaven for the hungry and sees tens of thousands of travelers every week. Here, fragrant orchids smell of Vietnamese egg rolls. Lush forests are abundant with dim-sum berries. Grassy hills made of Crispy Beef Chow Mein and Beef Chow Fun. Flowing rivers filled with the wonderful Vietnamese pho broth. (Ok, this is getting gross. But just play along.) And there is one place that produces a highly coveted treasure: the Xiao Long Bao (shao loong bao - which literally means 'little basket buns'.). A treasure so powerful and delicious that it causes midgets, centaurs, leprechauns and unicorns to do the riverdance to, in unison. A place many consider as the Chinese version of Pink's, Tito's, Philippe's and the like. It's called the Din Tai Fung factory and its known for its skill in making delectable Xiao Long Bao. Xiao Long Bao comes in the form of a juicy, steamed pork dumpling. So juicy that if one were to eat hot off the plate, could cause serious burns/blisters in your mouth. One must not be so greedy when encountering this treasure.

Although XLB's come from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai, DTF is a Taiwanese establishment. Din Tai Fung originated from Taiwan in 1969 and has graciously offered its treasures to people all over, including locations in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Indonesia. Fortunately, my trip to the DTF factory is under 20 minutes, not a 16-hour flight. The original founder of DTF was a man named Yang Bing Yi. He ran an oil business at a shop called Heng Tai Fung, but was soon forced to find other means of making money b/c of the introduction of pre-canned oil. And dumplings would soon be his key to success. He opened up DTF in respect to the man who gave him the job at Heng Tai Fung and helped keep his family afloat.

My friend SK and I finally decided to make the journey up to the DTF factory and experience world-class dumplings. When we got there, we found ourselves in a crowd of about 50 people, as well as the midgets, centaurs, leprechauns and unicorns doing the riverdance. They were annoying. I walked up to the hostess and put my name down for two.

Me: "Hi, table for two, please."
DTF: "45 minute wait. Is okay?"
Me: "Sure."
DTF: "Take this menu and make order!"


I walked out and joined the disgruntled crowd. They provide seats and parasols so people don't pass out. I came here during the summer and it was punishing. Anyway, we made our order and held on to it. ( They provide english translations too.) 45 minutes later, we were called on the loud, muffled Aiwa-microphone.

As soon as we walked into the DTF factory, our eyes widened with amazement. For those that haven't seen the inside, you're in for a killer treat. I was able to sneak in my camera.

Wow, XLB's are really harvested in trees and plants. I always thought they were made by humans with ground pork, ginger, green onions and freshly-made wrappers and then steamed in metal/bamboo baskets. Guess I was wrong. Amazing!

We were careful not to walk under the XLB tree in fear of them dropping down on us. It would be tragic to die in this juicy manner.


We saw many Oompa Loompas breaking out into chorus while harvesting the XLB's. Here they are doing a routine to a techno-remix of Celine Dion's "Titanic" song. Awful.

A close-up of a greedy customer. Proof that XLB's can be addicting and turn you into a wild beast. She thought you could chew XLB like gum and quickly snagged it off another group's table. Little biatch!

This brat was throwing XLB's all over the place. The XLB's exploded against the walls like water balloons. Din Tai Fung was furious and immediately had the boy caned. If I'm ever in a food fight, I'm running straight for XLB's aka Chinese Pork Juice Grenades.

Because the sun shines more brightly in the Valley of San Gabriel, it is advised that you equip yourself with one of these face visors. Only $5.99. Warning: wearing these will result in bad driving, a rather notorious characteristic of the SGV.

I was able to sneak into one of the rooms where they prepare the harvested XLB's. Here, they seem to be singing a song as they work, but it's in Taiwanese. So I'm helping you sing along by providing a karaoke version with the bouncing ball. Oh joy.

Another look at the meticulous preparation. DTF is pricier than most Chinese restaurants but they have to pay the 15+ servers and 25+ kitchen workers. We finally found a grassy area to sit and an Oompa Loompa came out with our order right away. That's the good thing about submitting an order early. You wait long to get in, but eat right away. Works both ways.

DTF's Xiao Long Baos are average in size. The ones pictured here are the standard pork dumplings. 10 pieces for $6.50. Most Chinese places are 10 for $4.50. The crab version at DTF is 10 pieces for $8.00 but I never order those. Something about the crab meat that soaks up all of the juices.

There are a few ways I've seen people eat the XLB. Your main concern is not to tear any of the dumpling skin or the guts will come out and you'll get boo'd by your fellow diners.

The Crater Technique
This is common of first-time XLB eaters. They'll take a bite of the XLB, like a crater-sized bite, learn that it's hot and drop all the juice over the plate. Lost cause.

The Double Meal Technique
Carefully select your XLB with chopsticks, only grabbing by the 'head' of the dumpling. Since it is twisted there, the skin is sturdier. Take a little bite on the side and pour the juice into the spoon. If you can get 20-50% of the spoon filled with pork juice, you've got a good XLB. I've been to places where it was completely dry - so disappointing! Next, you drink the soup and dip the XLB in the vinegar/ginger provided and devour it. See, 2 meals in 1.

The Commando Technique
This is the way I eat it. In order to do this, you have to let the XLB's cool down in the steamer. After like 3 minutes, you're good to go. I add vinegar and ginger slices on the spoon, carefully place the XLB in the spoon and eat it all once. Boom! Pork Grenade!

This next dish is what I think separates DTF from other Chinese restaurants. They offer this special dish only on the weekends. It's the same concept of XLB's, only they give you 20 mini versions of it. In addition, a beautiful bowl of chicken broth with shredded egg and green onions. You're supposed to put the XLB in the spoon, dip the spoon into the bowl for soup and take one bite. An even bigger pork grenade. I love it. $10 I believe.

The total damage with 2 baskets of XLB's (regular and crab) + 2 side dishes came out to like $23 without tip. Still not bad. I like DTF but it's not the best XLB I've ever eaten. There are a few places on Valley Blvd. that serve decent XLB's for much less. Green Village and Mei Long Village in San Gabriel aren't bad. One of my favorite XLB places is in New York, at a place called Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown. And they serve you XLB's on steroids. Each one of these dumplings can fill 1.5-2 spoonfuls of pork juice. They are simply massive and require small tongs to pick them up. I think they sell 6 pieces for $6. Thanks for reading.

Din Tai Fung
1108 South Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, California 91007
(626) 574-7068
www.dintaifungusa.com Read more!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sichuan Hot Pot & the Chinese Ideology of "Hot Air"

The winter season is something everyone looks forward to. Things get fuzzier and people are nicer during the holiday seasons. Some people can't wait for the first drop of snow and go boarding/skiing. Fashionistas start hopping on websites for online clothing shopping. People with nothing better to do run around the neighborhood, harassing civilians with annoying christmas songs. But for the Chinese people, winter only means one thing: hot pot. In chinese, we call it 'huo guo' which literally means 'fire pot', or 'da bean low' in cantonese. The concept of hoarding over a pot with a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables, seafood and thinly-sliced meat originated in Mongolia. Just imagine big, nomadic people in armor with shields/swords throwing a campfire sans marshmallows. It is absolutely freezing in the desert! Korean-style bbq and Japanese yakiniku bbq also originated from Mongolia. They would grill meat on their metal shields and use their helmets to boil soup. Genius. The same shield that is stained of blood also serves as a culinary gadget. Maybe it adds flavoring.

My college friends and I get together once in a while to shoot the sh*t and we love to do it over a big communal meal with beer. I headed over to 99 Ranch Market to acquire the goods. I love buying stuff for big meals. Everyone stares at you like your a pig because you're pushing around a 100-lb cart of grub. Oink.

Every one has their preference of hot pot ingredients. You can pretty much put anything in there. We ended up getting nappa cabbage, enoki/oyster/king/maitake mushrooms, egg dumplings, fish and pork balls, vermicelli, shrimp, tofu, quail eggs and about 6 lbs of meat for the 10 of us. I of course, bought way too much food. The nice thing about hot pot is that everything will be boiled and is pretty much good for you.

We had to kill some time to let the water boil in the 4 pots we had. I grabbed some of the fish balls we had and skewered them. I made a quick marinade using satay bbq sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, sugar and water and basted the fish balls. Threw them on the grill for a few minutes till they were lightly charred. Mmmm, these were so good. Just how I had them in Hong Kong.

While I grilled, I had a cool bottle of Taiwan Beer. I love the name - so simple and generic. Although the label proclaims it as World Class Beer, I think it's a little too light. Very crisp and refreshing though, like Korean Hite beer. This still tastes better than Tsingtao beer which I think of as bottled urine.

There are many different sauces you can use for the hot pot. I just do the cantonese style which is pretty much the same as the fishball marinade. I take 2-3 tablespoons of the satay bbq sauce and add one raw egg, soy sauce and a little sugar. Mix that up and you're good to go. For a nice kick, add thinly sliced green onions, cilantro and green chilis. So good! Hot pot can be done with plain old water. After about an hour of cooking the meats/seafood/veggies, you'll get a nice rich broth which can be seasoned with salt for soup. Talk about double dinner in one sitting. We just used a 1 can of chicken broth and 2 cans of water and added shrimp and daikon into the pot. You can start eating once the water boils.


Here are two of the three platters we compiled. The sliced beef, shrimp and vermicelli are not pictured.


Because we had four pots, we decided to designate two for the Lava Pot, also known as "Sichuan-style Hot Pot" (Ma-Lah-Huo-Guo). 'Ma' means numbing and 'lah' means spicy. And that's exactly what it is. Ladies and gentleman, you are looking at the inside of a volcano. Sichuan-style hot pot uses a lot of red chili peppers and spices. And lemme tell you, it's lethal. My friend and I took a whiff of the broth and immediately teared. Our nose hairs felt like they were just singed. Wow, some potent stuff. But it tasted fabulous. My friend W was at the market and didn't know which flavoring pack to buy and had to call his mom up. She told him to look for the bottle with the "ugly old woman" on it. Some of you may know about Chinese packaging. It's so vain of the creators to smack their face on the label. But thanks to the "ugly old woman", we loved it. The spiciness of her sauce must reflect her self-hatred for the lack of beauty. Caution: Sichuan-style hot pot will cause the "Ring of Fire" or "Sting Ring" if you know what I mean haha.



It was time to start and everyone dove in for the food. Within 15 minutes, you can hear people sniffling and see them wipe sweat off their foreheads. That Sichuan pot was destroying us. One of my friends filled up a 64-oz cup of water and I ended up refilling my water cup 3 times. After about 45 minutes, I started to slow down. My stomach was hurting with goodness and my mouth felt a little numb and swollen.

I was starting to have the symptoms of "yeet hay" or "huo qi da" which literally means "hot air". Although there is no medical explanation for this in English, the term is widely-used in Chinese. Some people say it's similar to a canker sore but really it is an imbalance in the immune system. The Chinese believe in "yin and yang" which is the ideology that everything has a complementary opposite. And it applies to food as well. Ever eat fried chicken or something oily on a hot day? Yeah, you don't feel too good after that. Chinese will balance out a hot meal with a cold cup of tea and eat a cold meal when it's hot. Makes sense. They will rarely eat hot, fried food on a hot day. Symptoms of 'yeet hay' are bumps on the tongue and inside the mouth, sore throat and possibly bloody noses. Basically, this is a term that reminds people to keep a healthy diet, get lots of rest and do things in moderation. It made sense when I ate the food, it was just way too spicy and scalding-hot for me, but drinking water helped balance things out.

After the hot pot, we all sat down on the couch with food coma. It looked like a cemetary of gluttons. We stared at each other like zombies but it was ok, we just had great food. I love the feeling of eating something good and relaxing. That's what hot pot is all about. The whole meal cost about $180. MUCH cheaper than going out to a restaurant to eat. Hot pot is something usually done at home. Good seeing you guys! Thanks for reading.

Check out the Japanese version of hot pot done by Oishii Eats here - shabu shabu. It's good sh*t! Read more!

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