Sunday, November 18, 2007

from dim sum to diner, or how I ate too much today


There are reasons why going to dim sum, baking scones, and hitting a classic diner, all in the same day, might not be considered a smart idea. I'm sure the reason "That leaves very little time to do the Contracts assignment you weren't really absorbing on Friday" is one of them. But the only reason that really matters is my quietly protesting stomach: I could probably rival a Thanksgiving turkey in stuffed-ness right now.

So how did I get to this state? Well, it starts with Wing. A lot of things start with Wing, because he's one of those characters who comes up with mad ideas and then convinces people to go along with them.* Two weeks ago, he announced that he would be in town this weekend. Plans were promptly made for a dim sum lunch in Chinatown.

Dim sum are Cantonese, and Wing is originally from Hong Kong, which means he's right at home in a dim sum restaurant. My parents are from Beijing, so technically, it's not part of my "home" cuisine. However, my parents are skilled in the art of eating other people's cooking, and dim sum are one of those things they latched on to with great enthusiasm.**

When I was young, my family would go out to dim sum every Saturday for lunch. The restaurant would always be loud, chaotic, and crowded. (A quiet dim sum restaurant is either an oxymoron or a mob front.) The scene at China Pearl this morning was familiar, to say the least.

We were a party of eight - Wing, Matt, Tom (the photographer of the previous entry), myself, and four other friends whose names I won't mention because I don't yet have permission to blog about them. Of these eight, Matt and Tom had never had a real dim sum experience before, so Wing and I took it upon ourselves to educate them. Of course, Wing did most of the actual ordering. I recognise most dim sum by sight, but I only ever learned some of their names, and in a mixture of Mandarin and Cantonese, no less.

We started out slowly, with the dishes that go over well with just about everyone: shrimp dumplings (ha gau), pork dumplings (siu mai), and roast pork buns (cha siu bao.) Shrimp dumplings are one of my personal favorites (something about those chewy rice skins), but most of the party professed a love for the roast pork buns. I admit, China Pearl does do them well: the buns were full and fluffy, and the filling had generous chunks of roast pork in a glossy, sticky sauce.

Matt and Tom were keeping up without a problem, so we proceeded to the next round of dishes: various types of rice noodle rolls (cheong fan), and sticky rice and chicken in lotus leaf (lo mai gai). I thought the sticky rice was particularly good, but then again, I'm somewhat biased because it's another of my favorites.

Next up: steamed meatballs (ngau yuk gau), stuffed tofu, stuffed green bell peppers, and turnip cake (lo bak gao). I was a little disappointed with the turnip cake - the squares were pan-fried to a golden crispy finish on the outside, but a little too mealy within. However, Tom particularly liked the steamed meatballs, so I considered that round a success.

We hadn't lost anyone yet, so we presented the final challenge: chicken feet and steamed tripe. Both Matt and Tom gamely tried the former, but we had to do a little prodding where the latter was involved. Matt was initially wary because he'd experienced French-style tripe (strong odor and flavor), but cheerfully joined us in egging Tom on once he discovered that the steamed tripe was quite a different dish (remarkably mild).

Tom was wary because, well, tripe is cow's stomach, and the idea created something of a mental block in his head. When he finally tried it, his reaction was mixed: taste fine, texture bad. "It's like chewing on a ginger-flavored rubber mat," he remarked. I wasn't too upset - I love tripe, and no-one else at the table was a big fan, so I had most of the dish to myself.

We finished the meal with silky tofu in syrup, and mango pudding. (We tried to get egg tarts, but every time the pastry cart came by, they were out.) The tofu wasn't bad, but the mango pudding looked and tasted like insipid Jell-O. I suspect it may have been bought ready-made, rather than prepared in-house, which was a little disappointing. Still, it was a good meal overall, and both Matt and Tom professed to enjoying themselves. Wing and I were pleased.

Late afternoon found us back at Matt and Nathaniel's, which is where I made another batch of not-scones, and we ate more than half of them as a teatime snack.

The first tentative noises about dinner plans came around seven in the evening. Somehow, in the time between dim sum and not-scones, Tom had managed to develop a craving for cheeseburgers, so we debated the merits of various pubs and burger joints before finally settling on the Deluxe Town Diner.

Wing, Matt, and Tom all ordered burgers, but I couldn't face the thought of red meat, and opted for a Cobb salad instead. Note that a Cobb salad is still not an example of dietary restraint: it contains chicken, bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, and blue cheese in addition to red onions, black olives, cherry tomatoes, and mixed greens. At the Deluxe Town Diner, it comes in a bowl almost large enough to serve as a bath for a small infant. It was also far tastier than any salad served in an establishment billing itself as a diner had a right to be (no iceberg lettuce or mealy tomato wedge in sight), and of course I polished off the entire thing. It's a wonder I didn't have to be carried out to the car on a stretcher.

So if anyone needs me, I'll be curled up on the sofa with a cup of peppermint tea and and my Contracts book, digesting away. I still have to make sense of that reading assignment.

*Ideas like beer-battered, deep-fried bacon. Which I'm not writing about unless I get at least three comments from the morbidly curious. You can find more of Wing's mad ideas at his blog.

**My mother, as I've mentioned, doesn't like to cook. Our usual Sunday lunch is "Kitchen Sink Soup," a concoction made by boiling noodles with a week's worth of leftovers. (Not only does it contain everything but the kitchen sink, it also looks a lot like the gunk left in the sinktrap after you've done the washing up.)


Matt said...

April, you misrepresent me!

I love strongly fragrant french tripe. My comments at table were aimed only at freaking out our compatriots.

My favorite form, being influenced by the savoie region, is andouillette (although the Lyonnaise dish Tablier de Sapeur is also delicious). This is a sausage made from thick slices of pigs intestines and stomach. Properly made, these are have a deep and rich flavor, as opposed to most tripe I have had in Asian resteraunts (which, in my experience, is mostly flavorless but for what it's cooked in).

If anyone's interested in andouillette, the most authentic gamey flavor can be had in examples from an AAAAA (L'Association amicale des amateurs d'andouillette authentique) certified resteraunt).

In researching this I found Wikipedia's list of acquired tastes:

Wikipedia's entry on andouillette is particularly threatening, by the way.

Kathleen said...

OK, I want to hear aobu the beer battered fried bacon. It sounds even more disturbing than fried oreos *shivers in disgust*

(And why does everyone have to wait until the weekend AFTER I leave to get together and have fun?!?!)

Kat said...

Your description of your mom's Kitchen Sink Soup made me laugh - it totally reminds me of my mother. She makes something my family calls "Freezer Soup." Everytime she uses canned veggies and has to drain them, the drained bits go in a plastic tub in the freezer. When it the frozen juices hit critical mass, she upends the tub into her big blue Le Cruset pot, adds in the veggies and leftover meat dishes that have been languishing uneated in the fridge, spices it up a bit, adds some barley, and then heats it all and serves it for dinner. And - craziest thing - it's actually good.


adele said...

I wish I could say the same of Kitchen Sink Soup. I developed my most basic cooking skills as a defense against Kitchen Sink Soup.

John said...

For the record, the beer-battered bacon was Tom's idea, I believe

John said...

And although I had the bacon, I am curious to hear your comments on the subject.

trs said...

John is correct: the bacon was my magnificent idea, although Wing and John both immediately latched onto it.

Wing said...

You forgot to mention the discovery we had at the diner: Tabasco + whipped cream = delicious.