Well, That Was Unexpected

Real life is stranger than fiction...depending on which authors you read, of course.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

chinese culinary tricks

Many of you know the love/hate relationship I have with Chinese culture. And I think Chinese people would say that it is a testament to the inherent superiority of their culture that despite how much I despise about it, I just can't seem to get away from it. Anyway, sometimes there are little pockets of understanding--usually in the form of someone being unnecessarily kind and sacrificial, loaning me an umbrella, or eating delicious food.

Anyway, this morning I realized that something I fully appreciate about Chinese (well, Taiwanese, to be fair) people is their ability to make totally plain food into an ethnic extravaganza. This is evidenced in this morning's breakfast. This morning I decided to try a mantou dan (pronounced man toe don) which is a thick, totally tasteless, piece of spongelike bread with egg in the middle. this egg happened to be scrambled with chives. Still, pretty basic. pretty plain. But then: the lady soaks it in soy paste and hot sauce and voila, it is a totally salty, spicy flavorful creation. If any of you know me well enough, then you know about my passionate love for sauces and condiments in general. I had to marvel in awe at the simple and lightning quick transformation of my breakfast from something so ho-hum that even a westerner would find it bland, into something crazy and bizarre. and because of the spongelike nature of the bread, the sauce soaks in and even changes the texture. It's fascinating! Anyway, some other examples of this phenomenon:

hot pot: essentially, this is just boiled, flavorless food--cabbage, eggs, weird reconstituted fish stuff, mushrooms-- in a (very) lightly flavored broth. The first two times I ate it, I thought Taiwanese people were insanoids because hot pot restaurants are all over the place. and i was like, what kind of genetic freaks like to go out and pay extra to eat boiled food? but the trick is that they have a super special sauce stand--including soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, weird bbqish sauce, garlic, radish, chives, hot sauce--full of ingredients with which to make an extraordinary dipping sauce. Ah hah! And then, once you have created your own alchemist's brew, you dip everything in it and ladle it into your broth thereby bringing your boiled food to life and making a drinkable soup. The English should have thought of this centuries ago. The difference between hot pot and lu wei, which follows, is that most hot pot places offer a buffet that includes unlimited low quality espresso drinks, popcorn and some form of dessert.

lu wei: again, boiled food. they have stands. stands where you fill a little basket full of food you would like to have boiled. tofu, veggies, all boiled. but then they throw it in a bowl, dump a heckuvalot of soy sauce and garlic and ginger and pickled veggies in it, send you off with a bowl to go--you have a basically healthy, delicious meal in like 5 minutes. there's one place near our house that serves only beige colored boiled food. boiled taro, radish, fish balls, etc. but then you put this mysterious red sauce on it and voila! the place is always packed.

fried goodness: the fried food stands. after they fry your food in a large vat of oil in which they have already fried everyone else's food that day, they put salt and pepper and hot spice and, oh, probably msg, on the food. it's phenomenal. sweet potato fries, tofu squares, green pepper, mushroom, rice sausage, chicken breast, even squid if you want some cheap calamari, oh my! You also get to stare at the fun stuff like chicken necks and chicken butts and blood rice that is out on display and which people who are not Julie do indeed order daily. whoa, that's quite an epiphany: my food has been fried in the same oil as chicken butts. I don't know how I feel about that.

danbing: a breakfast food consisting of a tortilla and egg, and whatever meat or filling you want: corn, tuna, ham, bacon, etc--also loaded with soy paste and hot sauce--cut up and eaten with chopsticks.

There are probably countless other examples. I think the lesson from above is that once you reconcile yourself to soy sauce/paste and the sweet/hot hot sauce, you're golden.

So, I put my resume out yesterday and I got one interview offer already. I can't take it because it's an ASAP thing, but it was still a nice confidence booster. Please, God, please let there be more!


Blogger Dakota Kid said...

dudette...I'm SOO jonesing for some Chinese food right now! You took me down memory lane, granted some of the stuff (ie: hot pot and the fried chicken butt) aren't on my good memory side, but there's just something about Chinese/Tiawanese street food! Could you bring some back for me in Aug? ha! not sure it'd be the same!

Hope your transition to Drea's goes well! (and I was wondering why they didn't just move you next door in the first place!! Them ORTV peeps are smart one's they are!!)


8:46 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

oh my goodness yes i am so missing taiwan right now.
ah well.
someday i shall return.
love you!

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Bethicus said...

I am sorry to say Washington cannot compete with the culinary jewels you describe. We have hot dog stands, and there is a place around the corner from my apt that does free wine tastings 5:30-8:30 daily. that is all. But behold, miraculous products of my kitchen will make up for the lack of other exociticities when you visit me in August!

2:07 PM  

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