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Showing posts from February, 2006

Egg Custard King Cafe

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clockwise from the right: original, egg white, Portuguese, banana, almond, strawberry. Middle: Honeydew


Egg custard tart is one of my favorite items at dim sum. I've always been fond of eggy desserts like creme caramel, creme brulee, flan. It's especially good when it is fresh out of the oven -- hence dim sum is a great place to get it. It's not always easy to get it so freshly made at bakeries.

The concept is quite easy. An egg and milk based custard is baked into a tart shell. There are about three different tart shells. One is a puff pastry, with layers of thin and crispy crusts. Another is made like the sweet tart dough (Pate Sucree), which is crumbly and sweeter. A third kind of dough is more like a pie dough (Pate Brisee), not sweet, and the sides are braided. The filling contains mainly eggs, milk, flavoring, and sugar. Yolks contribute creaminess and richness. The albumin in egg white and proteins in milk help the custard set (solidify). There is always a risk of ove…

Chikalicious!

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My friend Ada and I also went to a dessert bar last Friday. It's called Chikalicious, but chicken is not on the menu. Apparently, it's a name made with the chef's name (Chika) and the word delicious. For $12, you are served an amuse (like an dessert appetizer), the actual dessert (which you get to pick), and some petit fours. Our amuse was honey parfait in a pear soup. This was good, since I really love pear. But the other table got the same parfait with cranberry soup. I thought it would be better with cranberry since the tartness would cut into the honey sweetness. My dessert was almond cake, toasted almond ice cream, and apricots cooked in amaretto. I guess I have been using almond extract for too long. I had forgotten the real almond essence is derived from the variety of bitter almonds, which really has a discernable taste from just almond extract. Ada had a molten chocolate tart served with pink peppercorn ice cream. Mmmmm, so good!!! And in the picture we were serve…

Downhill alert!

So I have officially begun my adventures into the NYC Chinatown. When it comes to choosing ethnic restaurants, there isn't any source that is truly reliable. I have long given up on Citysearch, a website that seemed to have been sold to the other side. Zagat usually isn't very helpful, and can be outdated due to its long delay between its reviewing and publication times. Michelin, useless to say, is more geared towards fine cuisine. Chowhound is a pretty up-to-date and honest (though very subjective) information pool. But with the mind-boggling number of restaurants in NYC, the chance of finding current information on one particular small place is pretty slim. In Taiwan, going out to eat with this lack of information is often called "watching out for landmines (踩地雷)." The landmines refer to those restaurants with bad food that cannot be easily detected by a casual passerby.

Anyway, the downhill alert is not for a new place. I went to Joe Shanghai (鹿鳴春) for crab soupy …

Dinner with Albert#2

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Albert#2 is also from Taiwan. We met when he was a visiting scientist in my lab at MIT. Now he is back in Taiwan, he and his wife played host and treated me to this Shanghainese restaurant (紅豆食府). We had a really good time. The food was very good, except they all got cold really quickly. The portions were little, so we got to sample many things. The service was really thoughtful and timely without being intrusive.

Dessert: "Too-soft-hearted" (left, 心太軟) and red bean pancake (right, 豆沙鍋餅). The dish on the left is dried jujube, a kind of red date, stuffed with chinese rice cake, cooked in a syrup flavored with osmanthus flower (桂花).
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Stir fried rice cake with blue crab (青蟹)
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Daikon puff cakes (蘿蔔酥餅): shredded daikon is cooked with scallions and Chinese ham, and then wrapped in Chinese puff pastry. The puff pastry is cut against its "grain" and opened up to create the surface pattern.
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Pork rib stewed with rock sugar; soupy buns with Chinese okra and shrimp
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My favorite: Lacquered pork (東坡肉). Pork belly stewed with scallions, spices, rice wine, soy sauce, and sugar
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Marinated brocolli stem; bamboo shoots stewed in sweet soy sauce and oil; stir fried river shrimp (served with Zhen-Jiang vinegar)

Nan-men Market

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Nan-men Market is arguably one of the best managed traditional market in Taipei. Most traditional markets have no organization whatsoever. Anyone can rent a stall and sell anything. You can buy shoes and skirts right next door to a pork butchershop. But in this setting you establish a relationship with the vendors. In supermarkets most items are mass produced and packaged, and the quality may not be as fresh. In Nan-men Market, produce and raw meat/poutry/seafood are exclusively sold in the basement, while the street level sells freshly prepared dishes, candies, dried goods, and dumplings, cakes, pastries, etc. Seafood is very fresh here. Live fish can be bought here. Clams are kept alive in shallow pans with flowing water. Peas just shelled from the pods can be easily found. No wonder I miss my mom's dishes -- anything made out of these excellent ingredients can't be bad.

When I lived in Taiwan, every Sunday morning ritual was to go to Nan-men Market and buy freshly prepared …
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Tofu "flower" in gingery syrup with boba/pearl seeded with red beans
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Crabs galore!
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KeeLung Temple Entrance (night market)

KeeLung Temple Entrance dinner (night market)

I always try to hit at least one night market when I come back to Taiwan. Its atmosphere can only be experienced, and is not for the faint hearted. I would not say it is a pleasant experience. Most night markets are packed with crowds with barely enough room to walk. The air is thick with smoke from all kinds of food stalls: grilled squid + buttered crabs + eggy sponge cakes + candied sweet potatoes + fried pork chops, etc. A socks vendor can be situated right next to a oyster pancake cart; a sushi stall neighbors a sandwich shop. Besides the stalls on the two sides of the walkway, vendors with push carts (usually without legal licenses) randomly dot along the path. Occasionally you need to jump out of their ways if the cops decide on an unannounced raid. Pleasant or not, it's a cultural phenomenon not to be missed, especially if you are in the mood for sampling Taiwanese street food.

My friend Joe lives in KeeLung, a city about 20-30 minutes north of Taipei. It's got one of t…
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Sweet miso soup in a paper pot over charcoal
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Crab claw

Wonderful reunion dinner

I finally met up with some of my middle school friends. It's amazing how time flies. One of them now has a 7-year old son! Of course, the meeting took place at a restaurant. Our culture just dictates food and drinks at all gatherings. Business deals are usually struck at dinner tables over cups of sake.

Asians really can drink. I just happen to belong to the sub-group that can't. The drinking culture is quite something to watch. I used to think chugging down a glass of beer or taking liqueur shots are better left to college kids. Apparently this is quite common among adults here. I also had some beer, some plum wine, and a few sips of sake, but nowhere as much as the amount my friends had. It's quite cute actually. They urged each other on, pouring drinks for each other, joking and laughing as they went. The drinking games are very different here. No props are needed, just your two hands, and the games are played one-on-one, and the loser has to down a drink. Some games ac…