42-35 Main Street
I. Love. Dumplings. So. Much.
Dumplings are my ultimate comfort food I think. Especially the handmade kind where the skin is not too thin nor too thick… where the skin has this amazing stretchy, chewy texture. Machine-made skin is so boring compared to handmade. It’s just thin. And just thin is never good. Handmade can be thin yet have so many other qualities. But poorly handmade skin where it is so thick it’s like bread is also no good. It’s hard to find a good dump. Ranking would probably be:
Handmade Thin Skin > Machine-made Thin Skin > Handmade Thick Skin
Okay now that you understand the skin, onto the fillings. The best fillings are ones that are not too fat or lean (GOTTA GET ‘EM JUST RIGHT), that have an ingredient combo that when cooked, excretes a juice worthy of having as a standalone soup. My mom makes the best dumplings. The skin is not too thin or thick, the fillings not too fat or lean, and sized just right so you pop one into your mouth all at once each time – maximizing the juice intake. Continue reading
179 Second Ave (between 11th and 12th streets)
New York, NY
When Mimi Cheng’s first opened in 2014, I was skeptical. But now I feel bad for judging Mimi before even trying them out. I was skeptical because it seemed like an upscale dumpling restaurant pandering to people who are willing to pay too much for, what I assumed to be, meh dumplings. There was too much branding. Too much buzz. For some reason, I thought a polished restaurant couldn’t be a great dumpling restaurant. It’s like having an expensive chicken and rice.
But now thinking about it, why can’t we have an expensive chicken and rice? Why is it that Korean food is in general more expensive than Chinese food? Or that French food is almost always pretty upscale? It can’t just be that ingredients may be more expensive. I should be promoting the elevation of Chinese food!
Anyway, let me get back to Mimi’s. The place is super cute. It always seems to be bright inside. Lots of natural light. They have a good spot.
I had the boiled Reinvented Classic (six piece for $8), which had a filling of pasture-raised pork, baby bok choy, and cabbage. The classic is usually pork with cabbage. The addition of the baby bok choy was great. More color and an extra bit of crunch. You can taste that the meat is so much higher quality than the usual chinatown dumpling. It was tender yet not full of fat, and did not contain any cartilage bits that you sometimes get with chinatown dumplings… really tasty and light. How dumplings should be! Continue reading
Oh, home. I love home. Whenever I go home I find that I’m in this room most of the time, watching either my mom or grandma prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or some snack. During every waking hour of the day, someone is always in the kitchen prepping or cooking. This past Christmas, I learned how to make Braised Pork Over Rice (卤肉饭), a classic Taiwanese comfort food. I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t enjoy this.
Finished product! The pork belly that we used was a bit too fatty… hence all of the extra oils. Feel free to use less fatty meats or skim the fat (or eat it like me because it has so much flavorrrrrr). The recipe is very simple and very similar to my Red Cooked Pork Belly that has become quite popular.
Couple pounds of pork belly (sorry, this recipe isn’t super precise but it’s also because it doesn’t need to be). Blanche the pork belly (aka. dump slabs of the meat into boiling water for about a minute and take out). This gets rid of some of the gamey flavors. Then chop them up into 1cm thick bits.
Diced onion, garlic, and ginger.
Star anise, cinnamon, ginger, a few bay leaves, and rock sugar (not pictured). Continue reading
located throughout Xi’an, China
I’m back from a two week trip home in Beijing where I ate five meals a day, mostly from my mother’s kitchen. I also did a short two day trip to my dad’s hometown in Xi’an. If you live in New York, you probably recognize Xi’an from the deeeelicious Xi’an Famous Foods chain. Well, I visited the original Xi’an Famous Foods and (no offense) it blew me away. Xi’an Famous Food is amazingly great. But compared to what it aspires to be, I think there is still room for improvement. 子午路张记肉夹馍 (Zai Wu Lu Zhang Ji Rou Jia Mo) is a chain that has apparently been around for ages and ages. It serves up just a handful of classic Xi’an foods.
Check out the menu board. Just a few items. All incredibly affordable (8元 is about $1.30, which in this case buys you one stewed pork burger and almost two Liang Pi noodles).
You order and pay at the front.
Then find a seat and wait. Fast food style.
This is where the dude chops up that juicy, flavorful stewed pork for the burger. Continue reading
Egg tofu is one of my favorite things in the world. And that’s only a slight exaggeration. For some reason, I haven’t seen it any any restaurants in Manhattan. Why isn’t anyone making this? Well, I took the matter into my own hands and have been making this version of egg tofu for years now. It’s delicious. Simple. And reminds me of home. Not much more you can ask for in life.
- 2 tubes of egg tofu (Yes, they come in tubes. No, it’s not gross. You can find at HK Supermarket)
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 longhorn peppers
- 1-2 stalks of scallions
- 0.5 pounds of ground pork (about a fist size)
- chili bean paste 豆瓣酱 (which I also use in my Braised Chili Fish and Yu Xiang Eggplant)
First slice the egg tofu into half inch slices and pan fry each side until golden. Takes about a minute per side. Continue reading
St. Marks between 2nd and 3rd Ave
(no website yet!)
This might be the most excited I have been about a restaurant in a long time. The Bao is a new Chinese restaurant in East Village. It’s so new it doesn’t even have a website or Yelp review yet (someone please get on it!). I was lucky enough to be invited (okay, forced to go because I was already so full at this point) by N.T. because her aunt’s friend opened the place. And let me tell you guys, it has, HANDS DOWN, the BEST 小笼包 xiao long bao (aka. soup dumplings) I have had in the United States. Thanks, N.T. and Auntie Judy for bringing it into my life!
The restaurant sits in the middle of the craziness on St. Marks, yet offers a peaceful, spacious space with pretty great modern design. We literally just had a huge barbecue meal and ice cream before this, so only came to show support for the restaurant. We said we’d just try one soup dumpling each and would be on our way. One led to two, three, four, five…
The restaurant serves up a combination of Shanghai, Hunan, Sichuan, and Guangdong dishes – all the owner Richard and his wife’s favorite foods. This here is a glass of sour plum juice, which tastes slightly medicinal but is super refreshing. I love that they have some of the lesser found things like this on the menu.
TURNIP PUFF PASTRY (萝卜丝饼). I friggin LOVE this and have only ever had it in Beijing where I get it at every restaurant I go to that has it. I’ve never seen it on the menu over here and was so excited when I saw it at The Bao. Unlike the traditional kind that are a bit bigger, about 2 inches in diameter, these little guys are bite size. The filling is typically freshly shredded turnip, scallions, some ginger (I believe), and a little bit of Chinese smoked ham (fattier the better). Not sure exactly what The Bao uses, but the filling tastes very similar to what I get in Beijing, maybe even less greasy. Continue reading
104 2nd Ave (between 6th and 7th streets)
New York, NY 10003
Before Hot Kitchen opened, the only Sichuan food I ate was from my own kitchen and the occasional trip to a random Gourmet Sichuan-esque restaurant. Most of these restaurants had the basic necessities: the double cooked pork, the mapo tofu, the GBSJD (we actually call it that – the 干煸四季豆, or dry sautéed string beans), the fish fragrant eggplant (check out my recipe here!). All these basics were too sweet, too greasy, and not spicy enough, and not nearly numbing enough. Hot Kitchen does all the basics a bit better, and has dishes beyond the basic Sichuan ones that I love. As a result, I go at least once or twice a month. The restaurant is always packed with sounds of home: loud chattering in Chinese and Qing Dao beers clinking.
I always get the 川北凉粉 or Mung Bean Noodle with Spicy and Peppery Sauce ($6.50). This is a Shi’s family favorite. The sauce is a classic Sichuan sauce. It’s spicy, sweet, numbing, and crunch from all the crushed peanuts. The noodles are served cold (goes great with the spice) and are thick but light. You know you’ve got some good noodles when they are elastic and don’t break on contact. Too many Sichuan restaurants in NYC use day(s) old noodles that are refrigerated, which causes the noodles to break. Hot Kitchen doesn’t!
麻婆豆腐 or Mapo Tofu ($13), always a must. Mapo Tofu sauce should NOT be brown. If you order this dish and get brown goopy sauce, you know your chef isn’t Sichuan. It should be bright red and way less viscous than goopiness. The tofu isn’t silken, but also isn’t that hard stuff you find at salad bars. It has enough density that it holds its own shape and doesn’t break. Hot Kitchen’s Mapo Tofu tastes pretty different from how my family makes it (we have more numbingness), but it’s still great. Super flavorful. Could just have this with a bowl of rice and be the happiest person ever. Continue reading
Man, Chinese New Year came and went so quickly. CNY is one of my favorite holidays because it brings together all my close friends and forces us to stuff our faces. It’s like Thanksgiving where the only purpose is to eat (and be thankful) but with better food (sorry).
So, on Chinese New Year, you pretty much HAVE to have a whole fish because of the Chinese saying “年年有余” or “every year you will have a surplus”. The word for “surplus” sounds like the word “fish” so… we eat fish to ensure that we’ll have more than enough to eat for the rest of the year (the culture really does revolve around food). You also can’t finish the fish (to show that there is, in fact, a surplus).
On the morning of my Chinese New Year party, I went to HK Supermarket in Chinatown and picked up a Live Striped Bass. The fish monger helped me gut and scale the fish so I didn’t have to attempt the mess at home. Continue reading
25 Pell St
(between Doyers St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013
If you live in NYC and like Chinese food at all, chances are you have heard of Joe’s Shanghai, a restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown that is known for its soup dumplings. Joe’s Shanghai has over 2,200 reviews on Yelp and a solid 4-star rating. Its sister restaurant, Joe’s Ginger, only has 247 reviews and a 3-star rating. This isn’t because the food is any worse. This is because the people who go to Joe’s Ginger aren’t the people active on social media. (Case in point. Joe’s Shanghai has a Facebook page and Joe’s Ginger doesn’t.)
Joe, presumably the owner, has smartly branded his soup dumplings across two very different consumer groups by offering the same product in two separate restaurants (that happen to be right next to each other). The tourists, the American NYC-ers, the review-chasers all know about Joe’s Shanghai. On any given weekend night, you’ll see a long line of J.Crew wearing hungry customers waiting outside of Joe’s Shanghai. Joe’s Ginger, on the other hand, almost never has a line and is usually just at capacity with Chinese diners.
This is changing as more people write blog reviews like this one. Here is a happy non-Chinese family slurping down soup dumplings at Joe’s Ginger on Friday night. Notice the tacky pinkish glow from the florescent lighting. Reminds me of all the cheap (and delicious) restaurants in China.
This is the classic Pork Soup Dumplings ($4.95 for 8). The ideal soup dumpling has thin, yet chewy skin. It should be just thick enough so it doesn’t break with the weight of the pork and soup. The soup should be fragrant, hot, and light. Joe’s does a decent job, probably one of the best soup dumplings in Manhattan, but is far from great compared to the ones in China. The skin is a bit thicker than ideal. The soup is also too heavy and greasy. Still tastes delicious enough that I keep coming back. Continue reading
This is LAW’s favorite dish and definitely one of my favorite ones to make because it is very, very easy, and very, very tasty. Twice Cooked Pork Belly (回锅肉) is a classic Sichuan dish. Every household has its own version of it. Common recipes include scallions, napa cabbage, and bell peppers. Twice Cooked Pork Belly literally translates into return-to-wok-meat because the fundamental part of the recipe is to boil the pork belly first (some use just water, others use broths with ginger, cloves, star anise, etc.), freeze it, then slice it up and return to the wok for stir fry.
My version breaks this fundamental rule but I promise it’s still really good. It’s very quick to make and goes really well with a bowl of steaming rice (下饭). I only use 4 ingredients: Continue reading