Monday, 31 March 2008

Shanghainese Feasts - continued

Continuing on our cultural experience of Shanghai, my mother and I went on a day (which lasted all of one morning) trip out to the 'ancient' town of Qibao. Apparently built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1126), whatever that was ancient about the town seems to have now disapeared. In its place stand mock ancient Chinese buildings (in the style of the mock Tudor style buildings) that cater to the mainly local crowd. Despite the architecture that wouldn't inspire anyone to venture out here, I had a good time. A good sniff in the air brought me straight to the food street, where every shop and stall sold a tasty morsel.

Candied fresh fruit tang hu lu- I really wanted to try this since I saw pictures of them sold as street food in Beijing. I got a traditional Chinese hawthorne fruit stick (the fruit is supposedly very good for you) but ERGH! Two bites was all I could take. It tasted like apple...gone wrong. Soft and tasteless, it had nothing going for it except the hard candy shell. My mother had it in Beijing on a previous trip and admitted this one didn't taste so good. In the bin it went... what a waste! Maybe we should have stuck with a 'normal' strawberry and kiwi fruit stick. The man was also selling grilled bananas in bamboo - and that's him breaking open the bamboo. It wasn't particularly we moved on to the next stall.

Next stop, the tong yun shop. Dough balls filled with either a sweet filling - peanuts, black sesame, etc or savoury - pork (what else?this is China after all!) and boiled. It doesn't sound particularly appetising and these weren't the best. The dough was too thick but my filling of choice, black sesame, was good. The balls were also served with the water they were boiled in .. perhaps a little sugar syrup would have perked the dish up a little.

We passed quite of these stalls selling all sorts of meat on sticks. Actually, not just meat. All parts of any animal on sticks, which was fried, grilled or boiled. I can't say if any of it was any good. I had a good look and moved on to more recognisable food.

The wine shop didn't seem to be doing very good business that morning.

One of many shops selling packs of sealed glutinous rice with dried fruit, nuts and beans. I've seen this sold in the Chinatown supermarkets in London but nothing in comparison when it came to variety. I'm no dried fruit, nut and bean girl so I passed on this.

I found this oddly fascinating - lotus root stuffed with what looked like a mashed bean mix then drenched in syrup. I've never seen this before and maybe one day I'll get round to asking my mother to translate what it says on the glass case.

These dumplings were made in a special griddle mould. The girl would pour a mixture into each individual mould and as it cooked topped it with bits and bobs...cabbage, cooked squid tentacles are the only two that come to mind. It looks so yummy when I look at it now but it didn't call out to me then. Sigh... what a wasted eating opportunity.

This goodie I did try :) Fried dough with spring onion, Chinese 5-spice powder and very liberally sprinkled with sesame seeds. I found the 5-spice powder a little over-whelming so I left my mother to it. She really liked it, perhaps she fancied she was eating something healthy with all those sesame seeds te he he...

After lots of tasty treats, we found that there wasn't much to do so decided to head back downtown to the very touristy area around Yuyuan Gardens. I was nicely surprised with the gardens itself. Away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping area outside it's old walls, it was very peaceful and surprisingly clean. I was a little anxious I would be told off for the cup of coffee that I had brought in with me but no one gave a fig.

After emerging from the gardens, we passed a stall selling braised tofu and quails eggs in a herbal broth. I'm a huge fan of braised tofu (not so much the eggs, which mum happily ate anyway..everyone was happy) and couldn't resist. The firm tofu was braised long enough for little air holes to be formed inside, which was then penetrated by the soya sauce-herbal broth. Ohh, tasty goodness. You can sometimes get this in shops with just the eggs sold as 'herbal eggs' but hardly ever the tofu, so you can see why I was so excited :)

Further along there were two girls selling pancakes filled with red bean paste. These pancakes did smell very good. The girl cooked up a batch by adding batter to oiled moulds and as it cooked added mashed red beans and added another dollop of thick batter. She then sprinkled a thick layer of sugar to a flat pan on her left and flipped the half cooked pancakes onto the melting sugar. Ohhhh smells so if only I liked beans....

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Shanghainese Feasts

Back in January I made it over to Shanghai to meet up with my mum. I thought it would be a great breather from London and a lovely half way point between my trip home to Malaysia last September and another trip back this coming May. Oh...but how wrong I was. Shanghai is definitely not made for visiting in January! I had also arrived right BANG in the middle of China's big freeze. Huge snowstorms, freezing temperatures, power cuts.... However, I was mostly unaffected by all this. I was snug in my coat, warm in the cars that ferried us everywhere and only slightly irritated by the ice on the pavements that threatened me with a broken limb. I was in Shanghai and I was determined to feast on as much food as Shanghai could offer.

The famous Shanghainese xiao long bao (little basket dumplings), a ball of minced pork with a little chunk of solidified meat broth wrapped in a pleated flour dough skin and steamed in a bamboo basket. Dumpling perfection! As you bite into a freshly steamed dumpling, expect a shot of wonderfully meaty broth to fill your mouth before trickling down throat. Eaten with ginger and vinegar, these beauties make a brilliant snack or meal (snack for me, meal for others! heh) and with all the different variations - pork and crab, plain pork, pork and vegetable, plain crab, crab and crab roe - I could never get bored. Oh, I do love my dumplings! From the cheap to the expensive, I loved all of them.

I'm told that Shanghai really isn't anything else like the rest of China (not counting Hong Kong, of course). It's more cosmopolitan and modern but I won't really know since before this trip I had never ventured any further than standing on a hill in Hong Kong's New Territories and staring across the border when I was about 10. So I thought what better way to balance the old and the new of Shanghai with a few visits to Starbucks. Love it or hate it, there was no better way than to beat cold, cold Shanghai with a brew of Starbucks' finest beans. I find comfort in the familiarity of it all (and also much to my mother's relief it was the one place where she didn't have to act as translator). I have to say, I found one of the nicest Starbucks I have ever seen. Located on the ground floor of one of the hotels (the name now escapes me), it was all marble and the staff with that comforting twang of wobbly American-English. A skinny grande latte with an extra shot for me and I am ..home :D I also found these yummy cashew brittle that they had down by the counter. An excellent balance to all those salty baos.

At some point of our trip, my mother and I decided we should do the 'cultural thing' while we were in Shanghai. The only problem was finding them. The city isn't particularly known for its historical heritage. Shanghai is a city of commerce but thanks to our handy Lonely Planet guide book (which I borrowed from our hosts - the Gates) we found ourselves some temples to visit. And what is a Chinese temple without a visit to their vegetarian restaurant? At first glance, I have to admit I was a little reluctant to go in to the restaurant at the Jade Buddha Temple (Yùfó Sì). The restaurant was practically empty (it being about 3pm) and it was cold (thanks to its marble floors and the lack of heating)!! The waitresses were even wearing their coats :( But persuaded by a very hungry mother, I was treated to one of the most memorable meals in Shanghai.

I ordered the lion's head meatball and preserved vegetable soup noodles (I didn't take a photo of) and my mother settled for the mushroom noodle soup. My mother dug in as soon as the food arrived and after a few bites we both agreed that we preferred each other's noodle bowl to our own and we promptly swapped. The mushroom noodles (pictured above)- oh so ...divine. It was filled with fresh and dried mushrooms, which gave the dish a nutty earthiness. Although a little too oily (which I overcame by skimming it a little), it was full of flavour .. sigh, and I still dream about it...

We also had a few side orders - fried turnip cake (top right), steamed bao of some sort (top left) and fried sweet pastry filled with Chinese custard (bottom). I say Chinese custard because it's less creamy and a tad bit more egg-y. None of the side dishes took my breath away - in fact I won't bother if I ever went back. However, another bowl of mushroom noodles would do very nicely.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Weekend Baking

The long Easter weekend had finally come. I have to admit I had looked forward to it for a long, long time. Work was getting to be a bit of a drag and was I ever so happy to get 4 days worth of sleep. Yay! Sometimes I do think I love my sleep more than my food *shock horror*.

But by Saturday I had enough of the sofa and watching 6 hours non-stop of the very delectable Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. So out I went to John Lewis to buy myself a muffin tray ... a nice deep dish American muffin tray. But alas all I found were little bun trays ... it will have to do. As this baking was more spur of the moment, which did indeed include a long trip out to buy the tray, I didn't seem to bother too much with the recipe. These banana muffins with a crumble topping aren't the best ever so I won't even bother with the recipe but they do look quite pretty :) The little cakes in the background of the picture above are fairy cakes but they were too egg-y. Perhaps the custard powder in the recipe was a mistake? Another baking session is called for I think to iron out the kinks of this session. Soon, very soon.

A night in with noodle soup

I'm very fond of noodle soups. More so when I make it myself - maybe because I don't make very good dry noodles or fried noodles..who knows. A big, big bowl of soup with yummy bits of veg and meat floating around. It's all good. Except maybe the part where I load it with salt. Oh yes, I'm also very fond of salt, in all it's glorious forms, especially all those beautiful Asian forms -light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce.. oh happy days!

Noodle soup is probably one of the first things I ever learnt to cook. That along with omelette, which I still can't cook properly 'chef style' but that is another story. Noodle soup I think I do quite well. My best so far has probably got to be Maggie Mee (every Malaysian child must have gave grown up on this brand of instant noodles) with Tuna and Tomato. Ah my brainchild..

On this particular occassion I made Thai Style Noodle Soup. Mainly because I had some left over green curry paste sitting in the fridge.

  • Put a few tablespoon fulls into a pot of boiling water (how much depends on how much soup you want and how concentrated the flavour you like it to be - it's all about personal preferences).

  • As the water comes up to boil again, add some mince pork (during lazy times I open a packet of mince and spoon the meat into the water) and break down the mince as it cooks.

  • Add seasoning - fish sauce, thai sweet chili sauce, ketchup (a personal favourite), lime juice.

  • Add the broccoli stems (is it odd that I think it's perfectly normal to eat the stems?) about half a minute before the broccoli tops go in along with the noodles (I tend to go for the South Korean instant noodles nowadays - only because it's a bigger pack and I'm very greedy!).

  • Just before the noodles are done add some chopped up cos lettuce and some coriander. Cook for a minute longer and it's done.

  • Pour into a large bowl, sprinkle with some extra coriander and lime juice, arm yourself with some chopsticks and you're ready to dig in!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Happy New Year.. a wee few months too late

I guess it's a little late for new year wishes seeing that it's past Easter weekend now (and what a horrid cold weekend it has been in London!). However, there's always room for a few food-ing posts! Gorgeous feedings have generally been a little scarce - if you know London, it's expensive - but I will happily make do with what whatever comes my way.January started off well with a visit to Villandry on Great Portland Street. I had been hoping to visit it for some time and thanks to I got my wish. With a 50% off food, how could I possibly refuse? Nor could my fellow food addict, Jo, whom I dragged along. We arrived early enough and probably due to the fact it was only a few days into the new year, the restaurant never got more than half full. It suited Jo and I well, giving us good time to tuck into three courses and gossip to our little hearts content. Villandry itself is 1/4 wine bar, 1/4 delicatessen and 1/2 restaurant with entrances on Great Portland St and Bolsover St. Needless to say Jo and I entered through the wrong door and were treated to a nice wonder round before finding the restaurant hiding behind some great curtains that separates the food store and restaurant.

The menu was a selection of French dishes - the usual steak frites, duck confit, etc. For starters, I had the red mullet soup which had a wonderful flavour of the sea. Served with rouille, croutons and grated cheese, it was a meal in itself. Jo had the french onion soup which was topped with a slice of baguette with melted cheese. She happily slurped her way through, so no complains there either :) No photos, I'm afraid. Those that I took were terrible!

I decided on the steak (medium-rare, of course!) for my main - served with ... no, not fries but crispy thin onion rings, a whole oven roasted tomato (which was amazing despite it being winter and only lacklustre tomatoes available in the supermarkets) and some flavoured butter of some sort (anchovy perhaps?).
Jo had the lamb with bean mash (or am I totally making this up? I'm staring at my not very good picture and 1) I do remember her having lamb and 2)it does look like butter beans beneath the meat) but one thing I do remember was the overwhelming flavour of rosemary in the lamb. Jo seemed very content with her dish - rosemary or no rosemary! A special mention should also go to these beautiful lightly battered vegetables Jo and I had as our side dish. I can't remember what the vegetable selection included but it did come with some very nice tomato salsa.
Ahhh... dessert! We were utterly stuffed at this point but we weren't going to let this little fact get in our way. Onward we trudged our little bellies towards a banana tarte tatin (with ice-cream) and sticky toffee pudding (also with ice-cream). These two desserts top my list of all time favourites and I was a little anxious how well they would turn out. Banana tarte tatin? Oh dear me! Paddy (my dear aunt Sally's mother who is brilliant cook) makes an absolutely delicious apple tarte tatin and on occassion, pear. Villandry had a lot to live up to and they did. It was very good. There should never have been any worry on my part - bananas and caramel is a match made in heaven. Ohhh YUM!
The sticky toffee pudding didn't come up to expectation, however. Again I based this pudding on Sally's version of Delia Smith's recipe. The gooey-ness of the extra sauce, the extra bite from the added pecans and the slight grittiness from the chopped dates were all sadly lacking from Villandry's, perhaps, more traditional version.

It was a delicious night. We left feeling very happy and more than a little too heavy on our high heels. All in the name of a good meal which only left our purses £30 lighter per person including a glass or two of wine.

PS Apologies for the poor photos.

Food to tempt, food to lust after....

To eat to live or to live to eat? I personally live to eat. Yes, I am that dedicated to the nector of life. Always have been and probably always will be. I know not otherwise! Is this another food blog? Yes, I suppose it is. But it will be my food blog. Why now? Why not now. I live it, dream it as it is...why not drag it a notch further and write about it and have a great time doing it. This blog is more than a little about myself and be warned I am new to this. So please be generous and be patient :)