Thursday, November 22, 2007

Paris Hilton's xiao long bao style

"Celebutante" Paris Hilton just hit Shanghai like a typhoon for an MTV event and the local PR folks immediately set the staqe for her to display her xiao long bao eating technique at the very shrine to XLB, the Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian.

STEP 1: Lift it from the steamer and dip it in vinegar.

Not bad Paris, but it's traditional to use chopsticks....

Step 2: Place it on your spoon and nibble delicately at it.

You've got it, girl. Sometimes, though, using the fingers just won't do:

For the record, Paris Hilton stayed at the..... Hyatt???

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

IHT journalist's Shanghai xiaolong bao quest.

The International Herald Tribune has a nice, perceptive article about xiao long bao and its aficionados, including a nod to "the notoriously fussy eaters at the U.S. website". Its travel writer, Daisann McLane, has obviously paid attention to the discussions on that forum (some instigated or propelled by yours truly). I don't agree that Din Tai Fung's XLB are more worthy than those of Jia Jia Tang Bao (which seems to have lost points for no longer being an out-of-the-way funky dive, I found it to be overall a fair and intelligent review of some of the options. She even called out a place new to me (Fu De, in Hongkou) which I've put on my list for my next trip to Shanghai.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Perspective on the "MSG is bad for you" Canard

SH magazine has published a good opinion piece on "the greatest urban legend of all" by Christopher St. Cavish. It's a good sumary of all the pros and (very few) cons of MSG, including the now famous quote by Jeffrey Steingarten: “If MSG is so bad for you, then why doesn’t everyone in China have a headache?”

I'm in full agreement with the writer, but I wish he had added one of my favorite talking points: one of the richest sources of digestible glutamate in nature is mother's milk. And you thought it was the cute containers that bring the kids back for more.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bearding the Dragon in Montreal's Chinatown

I don't eat sweets, so I obviously can't indulge in Dragon's Beard candy, which is mostly spun, well, pulled sugar. But I can't resist visiting Johnny Chin's small stand in Chinatown every time I'm in Montreal, just to watch it made and schmooze with the affable Johnny.

Dragon's Beard Candy, loved by children (and maybe even adults) in China and Hong Kong, is a mass of hair-thin strands of sugar wrapped around sweetened peanuts, chocolate and coconut or the like. Labor intensive to make, and with a very short half-life of freshess, it's extremely difficult to find, and Johny Chin's storefront stall at 52B R. La Gauchtiere may be the only bricks and mortar location in North America dedicated to the craft.

On a recent visit, Johnny had an apprentice working for him, an attractive but unsmiling young Chinese woman who was obviously well on her way to mastering the craft. Johnny was cagey about her relationship to him, if any, but she obviously was trusted enough to free him up for some holiday travel. Johnny and his wife were on their way the very next weekend to San Francisco for the first time, he told me.

For the young woman, who appeared to be of college age or younger, it was the coolest of summer jobs, I imagined, and wondered if she got to eat her mistakes.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The 10 Famous Teas of China (all 20 of them)

One often encounters references to the "Ten Famous Teas of China." The list is somewhat problematic, however, because there is really no "official" list and it differs slightly from source to source, with the only constant being that my favorite, longjing (Dragonwell) tea always tops the list. One enterprising website,, has taken the bull by the horns, collecting 20 different lists and ranking the teas by the number of times they appear on the lists. Only two, longjing and biluochun, achieved a perfect score. Here is the list developed by

Score Generic Name Chinese Name Province

20/20 Dragon Well XiHu LongJing Zhejiang
20/20 Green Snail Spring DongTing BiLuoChun Jiangsu
18/20 Iron Goddess AnXi TieGuanYin Fujian
17/20 Fur Peak HuangShan MaoFeng Anhui
14/20 Silver Needle JunShan YinZhen Hunan
12/20 Qi Men Red QiMen Hong Anhui
11/20 Big Red Robe Wu i Da HongPao Fujian
11/20 Melon Seed LiuAn GuaPian Anhui
10/20 White Fur Silver Needle BaiHao YinZhen Fujian
10/20 Pu'er YunNan Pu'er Yunnan
9/20 Oolong DongDing WuLong Taiwan
9/20 Cloud & Fog LuShan YunWu Jiangxi
7/20 Fur Tip XinYang MaoJian Hunan
5/20 Sweet Dew MengDing GanLu Sichuan
4/20 Fur Tip DouYun MaoJian Guizhou
3/20 Jasmine SuZhou MoLiHua Jiangsu
3/20 Jade Dew EnShi YuLu Hubei
2/20 Pearl Tea PingShui ZhuCha Zhejiang
2/20 Monkey King TaiPing HouKui Anhui

Friday, March 23, 2007

"We're not in China anymore, Toto!" -- Chinese food in Lawrence today

Those of us who live on the Coasts, or in the City With Broad Shoulders, sometime take the availability of reasonably authentic Chinese food for granted. If all we had to eat was the stuff that the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently pilloried again for having a lot of salt and fat (I am shocked, SHOCKED to find that fast food is being sold with salt and fat in it!) we probably wouldn't be Chinese food fans. Or would we? There are plenty of Chinese food fans in places like Lawrence, KS, even though the Chinese food they have available might be somenthing we vaguely remember from distant and simpler times. The Lawrence-Journal World recently interviewed persons in the street, asking what their favorite Chinese foods were, and invited readers to comment with their own favorites. Here's the Chinese dishes of choice in Lawrence:

What is your favorite Chinese food?

March 22, 2007
Asked at Massachusetts Street

"I like General Tso’s chicken. I guess I like it because it’s always the same in all the restaurants, so I always know what I’m getting."

— [Name Withheld], engineer, Lawrence

"I really like the combination fried rice because of the variety of all the ingredients they use."

[Name Withheld], title abstractor, Kansas City, Kan.

"Crab rangoon, because it’s somewhat sweet and it doesn’t have anything too crazy in it."

[Name Withheld], Washburn University freshman, Topeka

"General’s chicken. I keep trying other things, but I always go back to it. It’s something about the sweet and spicy flavor."

[Name Withheld], Lawrence High School senior, Lawrence


[Edited by Gary Soup to delete flippant and/or demeaning comments or excessive prolixity; each bullet represents a separate reader's comments]

  • Broccoli and chicken
  • Beef and broccoli with steamed rice from Hy-vee. It is always fresh and the broccoli is still crisp in the center. Yummy
  • cashew chicken. mmmmmmmmm.
  • Chinese burritos.
  • Hot and Sour Soup, Sweet and Sour , Lo Mein whatever, Crab Rangoon.
  • Their green beans. Also Mushroon Chicken, and the Pepper Beef, and the skewered chicken. At China Buffet in Leavenworth they have steamed mussels on the shell (evenings). Yum.
  • Mongolian Beef with Beef.
  • Hmmmmmmm....Can't say that I've tried everything yet, so, I dunno. I can say that I tend not to like Chinese desserts. A dessert must contain more than a dash of sugar!
  • i love the broccoli beef.........hold the broccoli
  • Lo mein noodles. Love them.
  • I have to watch how much sodium I eat, so Chinese food is a once in a great while treat for me. I love hot and sour soup and anything (well almost) in hot garlic sauce.
  • mu shu shrimp
  • shrimp lo mein with crab rangoon simple but goooood
  • Bu zhidao, keshi wo chang chang xihuan chi yi pan mongol niu rou he yi wan suan la tang.
  • Egg drop soup from the Plum Tree
  • Cashew Chicken in Plum sauce from The Royal Peking (I think the best Chinese in town). I don't think any place else does the Plum Sauce with their Cashew Chicken. I like General Tso's Chicken also.I like most Chinese food, actually.
  • ... I'll go dine with jayhawk1234 as I like the broccoli beef minus the beef. Bring on the fried green beans, too. General Tso's Chicken, one spring roll, one rangoon, and some dry fried pork will fill up my plate nicely.... The kids like the authentic Chinese ice cream bar there.
  • actual favorites are oriental salads........with tofu
  • 酸辣土豆丝
  • I forgot - crab rangoons are a food group unto themselves. The hubby-to-be has to be reminded often that eating 6 of them at a sitting is unhealthy. But they are so GOOOOOD.
  • I love Jade Mongolian BBQ. It is so cool to be able to pick the veggies you like and mix it with whatever meat and sauce you like! They also have a regular chinese buffet. Hot and Sour Soup rocks!
  • My favorite is Grilled Lemon Chicken from Peking Taste chinese buffet and Crab Rangoon from Jasmins in eudora
  • Love them Raman Chicken Flsvor Noodles too.
  • Favorite foods...pretty much everything. I love the Spicy Peppered Beef and their fried potatos.
One long quote was too revealing to butcher by shortening:

"I love Panda Garden, King Buffet and Royal Peking also. Oh, and the answer to the question: Cashew Chicken or the sweet Walnut Shrimp from King Buffet. I still remember the first time I had Chinese food. I was a senior in high school 1985 and my mom and I went to Wichita to shop. She saw a little place that was a converted hamburger drive in. You parked by the old speakers and there was a paper menu taped to the old sign. It indicated that you could wait for a server to come out, or you could come in. We went in, and I tasted my first Cashew chicken. Also my first Chinese hot tea. I couldn't drink it because it smelled like A&D ointment (diaper rash ointment). Still can't! But I treasure the memory of that "exotic" lunch with mom, and have been a fan of Chinese food ever since."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Haute Chinese Cuisine: The Novel

As mentioned in my previous entry, I had planned to be in Shanghai by now, but I ended up postponing my trip until later in the year, for a variety of reasons. Someone who is in Shanghai at this moment, however, and who just sent me a report on the crab xiaolong at Jia Jia Tangbao's new location is Nicole Mones, a new e-Friend and Chinese food soulmate. Nicole is an Old China Hand, a novelist, and a food writer for Gourmet. She's just written what may be a literary first: a contemporary novel entirely framed by the world of high-end Chinese culinary art, The Last Chinese Chef. It's not due to be published until May 4, but she was kind enough to offer me an advance copy, which I have just received. I undoubtedly will have more to say about it once I've read it; in the meantime, you can get a preview of her novel, including a taste of Nicole's stimulating verbal food porn at her website.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Blogger in Town (Me)

Now that I've retired and have more time to indulge in my truest passions, Shanghai and Shanghainese small eats, I've decided to focus on this fetish in a new website,
I'm about to set out on another month-long trip to Shanghai, hopefully in better shape and with a better Internet connection than last time, and will be posting directly to the front-end blog for Shanghai Bites.

I won't be neglecting, though. My obsession with global Chinese food and hyphenated Chinese food is as great as my obsession with its Shanghainese bites subset, it's just harder to get my arms around it. After all, I'll be spending only a small percentage of my pasturage years in Shanghai, and the Shanghainese aren't the only Chinese with small eats. In San Francisco I live in walking distance of scores of Cantonese walk-away small eats (read dim sum) establishments as well as sit-down Cantonese restaurants, compared to zero Shanghainese joints, and wherever I go in North America, I'm always within an eggroll's throw of an American-Chinese, Canadian-Chinese, or Mexican-Chinese joint, each with its own fascination.

Drop in on Shanghai Bites, esepecially when I'm travelling, and wish me luck!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Weird Meat: Bourdain's got nothin' on Michael Ohlsson

In searching for a particular dish I wanted to try in Shanghai (I'll leave it to you to guess), I stumbled across Weird Meat, a blog by reformed vegan Michael Ohlsson. It's such a gem I can't believe it hasn't come to my attention before. Michael's a former San Franciscan, a current Shanghai resident and looks a mensch, so I'll forgive him for dissing Shanghai cuisine generally (though he liked the vertical pork bone).

Despite the title, Michael's blog is not meant to shock or tittilate, certainly less so than the posturing of Bourdain (which Ohlsson gently twits for wussiness in one post) occasionally becomes; it is a sober-sided and truly intrepid expedition in food anthropology, even accompanied by reading lists. Although the blogger's travels have taken him all over Asia and elsewhere, his his most fruitful (weird meatful?) hunting ground is Chain, and it includes the fare served at some of Shanghai's most popular restaurants.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The "Wok Wiz" and the Tea Wiz

Red Blossom Tea, in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, is one of my favorite little corners of the Universe. It's where I go in San Francisco to sample good tea, buy my precious Longjing tea, or just swap Chinese restaurant gossip. It's the product of a makeover of a generations-old tea, ginseng and herbal medicine shop. While the senior Luongs still dispense ginseng and other potions (including Wolfberries, or Goji Berries, a "superfood" just now hitting the pop charts), young sprouts Peter and Alice Luong dispense knowledge and love of fine tea in an attractive modern space.

If you've come to San Francisco Chinatown to learn about Chinese food, you may have taken one of the "Wok Wiz" tours, and if you lucked out, got the "Wok Wiz" herself, Shirley Fong-Torres (sister of journalist Ben) as a leader. She's made the tea shop a regular stop on her tour and on Sunday I happened be there seeking refuge from the noisy street festival outside when Shirley and her tour group showed up, and snapped the above picture. That's Shirley on the left, and Alice Luong on the right.

Fortune Cookies going to the dogs...

The late muckraking journalist Paul Jacobs once ate from a tin of dog food on live TV, to illustrate a point: the labeling requirements for pet food are more stringent than for people food.

What has this to do with fortune cookies for dogs? Well, they do exist, Virginia, and I spotted them at Cost Plus World Market. Intriguingly, they are advertised as being chicken-liver flavored and therefore are most likely far more tasty than the stale vanilla-flavor variety I sometimes get at the end of a Chinese meal. I have no idea what fortunes are inside the cookies, but the next time I run across a dog that's just finished a Chinese meal I'll ask.

What precedes the fortune cookie reward for eating all your doggie veggies most likely is served in one a dish like the one at the right (they come in two sizes). These strike me as having a purpose in life. Was your last takeout or delivery Chinese food unfit for human consumption? Put it in front of Fido. Was some offal dish from that authentic Sichuan restaurant just too, well, awful? Fido will lap it up. Hmm..... that makes me wonder if.... never mind.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Offal Truth about Sichuan Home Cooking

On the website I recently added a new feature, "Nasty Bits, Sichuan Style" which is a left-handed tribute of sorts to Anthony Bourdain, who sometimes seems to have invented the eating of offal. It features "Nasty Bits Recipe of the Month", such as "Home-Cooked Ox Penis", the inaugural selection for January. Admittedly, I created the feature to titillate and perhaps draw a few eyeballs to the site, as much as to tweak the self-assured A. B. a little. But there is nothing sensationalized about the source of my recipes, it's a little book called "Home-cooked Sichuan Cuisine" published in China. The recipes, therefore, are presumed to represent a cross-section of dishes served in Sichuan homes. The entire list of recipes in the book is presented below, and perusing it may

a) impress upon you the waste-not-want-not sense of economy of China's cooking and eating culture,

b) give you food for thought about "authenticity" and whether you REALLY want to find it in a Chinese restaurant, or

c) make your mouth water.

  • Stir-fried Preserved Ham with Celery and Pot-Stewed Tofu
  • Stir-Fried Shredded Pork and Green Pepper
  • Steamed Streaky Pork and Taro
  • Pickled Pigtails with Wild Chilli Pepper
  • Stir-fried Meat Stuffed Egg Rolls in Fish Flavor
  • Fried Steamed Streaky Pork
  • Stir-fried Preserved Ham with Pickled Cowpea
  • Steamed Upper Part of a Leg of Pork
  • Sichuan Sausage
  • Home Cooking Style Shredded Pork
  • Shredded Pork with Sweet Brown Sauce
  • Stir-fried Pork Liver with Pickled Chilli
  • Steamed Streaky Pork with Rice Flour
  • Fried Streaky Pork Stuffed Bean Curd Sheet Rolls
  • Steamed Pork Spare Ribs with Rice Flour
  • Stir-fried Preserved Ham and Heartleaf Houttuynia Herb
  • Stir-fried Preserved Ham of Home town with Garlic Bolt
  • Pork Large Intestine in Casserole
  • Dong-Po Pork in Bamboo Canister
  • Rice Crust and Pork in Luzhou Mellow Wine Flavor
  • Dry-stewed Pork Balls
  • Dry-braised Upper Part of a Leg of Pork
  • Steamed Pork Spare Ribs in Little Bamboo Cage
  • Dry-stewed Pork Tripe with Pickled Radish
  • Steamed Pork Spare Ribs with Glutinous Rice
  • Golden Pork Large Intestine with Crisp Skin
  • Dry-stewed Pork Large Intestine with Mushroom and Fermented Bean Curd
  • Hot and Spicy Stir-Fried Pig Uterus
  • Home-cooked Pork Tripe
  • Hot and Sour Tendon
  • Stir-fried Pork Kidney
  • Home-Cooked Tendon
  • Dry-Stewed Tendon
  • Stewed Pig’s Brains and Minced Pork
  • Stir-Fried Tender Ginger and Shredded Pork
  • Stewed Streaky Pork and Sweet Potatoes
  • Boiled Mushroom Sprout and Fat Beef in Chafing Dish
  • Dry-Stewed Oxtails with Garlic
  • Sichuan Style Fat Beef Rolls on Hot Iron Plate
  • Stir-Fried Mutton with Sweet Brown Sauce
  • Hot and Spicy Fried Rabbit’s Head
  • Dry-stewed Dog’s Meat with Pickled Radish
  • Home-cooked Ox Penis
  • Stir-fried Eggplants with Mashed Pork in Fish Flavor

If you answered c) to the above, you are either Anthony Bourdain, an Anthony Bourdain wannabe, the person who A.B. is striving to become, or a Chengdu homie.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 gets our Zeal of Approval

In light of the suspension of eatingchinese's discussion forums, and while its lazy webmaster searches for a more spam-resistant alternative, suggests, nay, insists that its visitors try hanging out at For those who are unaware, chowhound is a shining example of what God or Gore or whatever Geek invented the internet intended it to be, a vast Community Memory Project, an attempt to pre-empt the power of the computer for the use of the community. Sure it covers "civilian" cuisines, but within its vast network of discussion boards it contains as much appreciation and deconstruction of Chinese cuisine and its bypaths as any two single purpose message boards might have. You can dissect your favorite (or least favorite) Chinese restaurant on the appropriate regional discussion board, ask about restaurants in Turpan on the China board, share your recipe for Strange Taste Chicken on the Home Cooking board, indulge in some serious wok talk on the Cookware board, or give your props to Panda Express on the Chains board. No one will stop you from crying in your pijiu over burgers or doughnuts, either, if that's your perversion.

And you probably will run into me.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Communist Party unit formed at Wal-Mart HQ

Being a, shall we say, non-fan of Walmart's, I've liked the way that Beijing has jerked Wal-Mart's around, forcing them to allow trade unions in their China stores. Although symbolically stunning, though, that didn't have a whole lot of meaning (as it was probably explained to the Good Ol' Boys in the Bentonville HQ) because independent trade unions in China are just a form of window dressing and have little real power. Imagine my glee, therefore, to read the news that the 300-lb. gorilla, namely the Chinese Communist Party, had decided to camp out at Wal-Mart's China headquarters in Shenzhen.
December 21, 2006

Following the foundation of a trade union at its headquarters in November 2006, Wal-Mart China has now announced the establishment of a Communist Party Branch at its China headquarters in Shenzhen.

Wang Suiming, commissioner of the Shenzhen CPC Standing Committee and director of the Shenzhen Municipal Organization Department, says that the establishment of the Communist Party Branch at Wal-Mart China's headquarters shows that Shenzhen has made a great achievement in pushing foreign enterprises to open party branches in their companies. Wang also says this will help promote the city's efforts in constructing the "Two New Organizations"–economic organizations and new social organizations–particularly the construction of a party league in foreign-owned firms in the city.

Wang asks party members and members of the Two New Organizations to play an example and work to constantly expand the Communist Party's influence and sense of team spirit.

All the glad tidings are in this article.

OK, no more Wal-Mart's postings in 2007. Unless they force my hand, of course.