Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chinese. Perhaps it is the American debt crisis. Perhaps it’s their government’s , how shall I phrase this politely, umm… interesting position on the UN use of force against totalitarian governments repressing democratic uprisings…but most likely it’s just a personal problem… such as what’s for dinner? Lately I’ve been a bit bored with my diet… Greek, Indian, South East Asian are all still fun to cook, but I’m looking for something new. Still needs to be healthy, but with some new flavors that really challenge me…and if it happens to be incredibly hot…all the better. Which brings me back to China; somewhere in that vast land must be some flavor combinations that I haven’t tried…
While visiting my brother’s family last fall in Plano Texas I took a field trip to a local Asian supermarket with my sister in law, Rebecca, to stock up on some ingredient that can be hard find where I live. Rebecca, a professional photographer, took some fantastic pictures for future use in this blog. Some of which appear now. After we finished our shopping we decided to have lunch in the area. Now, I don’t want to generalize but I’m going to… the vast majority of Chinese restaurants in the US , again how to say this politely,… SUCK. The food is bad and bad for you, the menus are identical, deep-fried everything with insipidly sweet sauce of a hue not actually found in nature. Yes there are exceptions… but if you have eaten at ten Chinese restaurants in Colorado Springs I guarantee it applies to at least nine but probably ten of them… but we weren’t in Colorado Springs so what the heck.
To be a “good” Chinese restaurant in most places all that is required is that you serve Chinese food or perhaps I should say “food in the style of China.” To be a “good” Chinese restaurant in a place with a huge Chinese community you need to be actually good… and this place was. As we entered I began to look around at the clientele and the signage and I said to Rebecca “I think we might be out of our league here” And sure enough, I was right. Problem one… Rebecca is a vegetarian and they were serving Dim Sum. Cart after cart of steaming dumplings were offered to us; all of which we declined, mostly because it was unclear as to their contents. I would have loved to feast on random mystery dumplings but wanted to eat with Rebecca so we waited for menus to appear… and waited. While I’m sure there were English speakers in the building they were neither pushing dim sum carts nor waiting on us… and hilarity ensued. The menu was in both Chinese and English but resembled very much the one pictured here. There was however a section pretty clearly labeled “vegetarian” and Rebecca picked a random dish from that section and using the “point and nod” method we both managed to place our orders… mine a random dish from the beef section.
On to the next phase of our adventure… as I have since learned, in traditional Chinese restaurants, everything is served family style and presumed to be shared so dishes are brought when they are prepared with no particular attention to the order or timing. Not surprisingly, given Rebecca’s luck this day, mine arrived and hers did not… After waiting about 10 minutes Rebecca insisted that I eat and I wasn’t about to say no. It was delicious: light, well balanced, and more importantly different… I couldn’t say exactly how but new flavors to my palette. When I was almost finished, Rebecca’s dish appeared … beautiful: noodles, vegetables, and MEAT lots and lots of meat. Rebecca is very sweet and polite and with more amusement than anger used the menu to indicate that this was not what she had ordered. The waitress who was clearly more frustrated than we were grabbed the plate and stormed off. A minute later the manager arrived and apologized sincerely, but communication was still a problem so once again the point and nod method was used and off he went to correct the problem. No question he was trying, and less than five minutes later he returned personally presenting a brand new steaming plate of… exactly the same thing. At this point the sun went down and we had to get a box so we could go home and make dinner… Good news I ate the take home and it was equally fantastic. We both left with a smile… I had a great meal and we both enjoyed an entertaining, cross-cultural, shenanigan-filled afternoon. Best we can figure the English words did not match the Chinese characters and as to the “Vegetarian” section well… almost. Translating Chinese is an inexact science at best, especially when it comes to food.
Long story… but it was a long lunch… and there is a point… sort of. Skip forward to this week: I made a new friend who has traveled extensively in Asia and she was lamenting that Colorado Chinese restaurants don’t even serve a bad version of her favorite dish… Mala Tofu. She even sent me a recipe:
- tofu 200 grams
- 50 grams of meat
- 50 grams of vegetable oil
- red pepper 1,
- 5 pepper
- diced green onion
- sesame oil
- the amount of MSG.
Approach to take a small bowl, into the 25 grams of vegetable oil, salt amount, respectively, diced green onion, minced garlic, add a little broth to boiling water 2 / 3 bowl, stand-by and turned into juice.
Tofu cut into small boxes, into the boiling water for 5 minutes or so I fish out.
Wok set the fire, pour the oil until the oil temperature to Bacheng hot, pour the minced garlic, flavor burst immediately into the meat with a shovel zoned fry, meat color, then add pepper, red pepper Chao Chu flavor, and then against the good juice into the.
Pot-open, into the tofu, compaction, do not stir, use a slow Dunzhi soup decrease, with the shovel flip until the bean curd into a bubble, the leaching of starch in water, to leave the eyes of fire, holding wok Britain turn, tofu hang time syrup pan.
On pre-poured sesame oil, sprinkle MSG can be.
Well since I couldn’t exactly follow that recipe… I did some research of my own and made up my own version.
Stir-fry some chopped or ground pork in a little or lot of chili oil, when cooked add a LOT of crushed red pepper, some ginger and garlic and fermented broad bean paste, stir-fry for a few seconds, add some stock (any kind will do) a pound of tofu cut into one inch cubes and a bunch of green onions cut into 1 inch pieces. Simmer for 15 minutes or so. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry and just before serving sprinkle with a generous dose of ground Sichuan peppercorns. One note of caution be careful when adding the pork to the hot chili oil… if the pork is too wet and the oil is too hot it can vaporize and fill your kitchen with rather nasty smoke… the commercial name for vaporized chili oil: Pepper Spray.
Sichuan peppercorns are not hot they instead are a natural anesthetic and numb the mouth… eat enough and you could perform home dental surgery. This dish is also referred to Mapo Tofu which translates as Smallpox Grandma’s Tofu???? Note to Chinese: stick to manufacturing or hire better branding people that name is not ready foor the international market. The combination of heat from the chilies and numbness from the peppercorns is uniquely Chinese and something I haven’t previously experimented with. But I’m intrigued and can’t wait to continue my Chinese adventures. This could in fact be my new favorite dish but beware it is unbelievably hot…