Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

Eyo. Eyo. Sorry I haven't been updating more recently but this last weekend was Chinese New Years and I've been running around all over the place. Luckily, by "running around all over the place" I mean I've been stuffing my pudgy face to the point that I'm starting to sweat stock. I love the food in China. I love the street stalls, the tea houses, the restaurants and the banquet halls but nothing can even come close to a home cooked family feast. I'm thrilled that my friends here are some of the sweetest folks around and I was honored to be invited to meet their lovely families and gorge myself irresponsibly on their Mommies' home made snackies. I'll get to the details in a moment but first just a quick thought about the quantities. Do Chinese mothers ever sleep? The amount of food prepared for these meals was staggering! I swear to god they must have started cooking over Thanksgiving. The first home cooked NYE meal I had was at my friend Rainbow Ryder's house. Rainbow, his parents, brother (lil' Ryder), his girlfriend Piano, Lucky and I all sat down around eight and I dunno what time we left (somebody must have carried me to the Taxi) but I'm sure it was late. It all started innocently enough with a soup. Cantonese soups are world famous. Rightly so. I went into some detail about bangin broth earlier on this site but I had heard Rainbow's mom is especially slick with the soup and god damn. This was a light but flavorful fish broth with big chunks of carrot, squid, geoduck and fatty fish belly. This fish belly was just amazing. As soon as you put it in your mouth it was gone leaving only a memory of intense fishy satisfaction.

Let's see what else was there... My god there were so many. Oh yeah, big chunks of soft yam in a thick sauce flavored with big chunks of salty pork and spring onions (and maybe oysters? I should write this stuff down...)

There was a big bowl of this absolutely wild dish that I had never seen before (although would see more of before the weekend was over). In Cantonese the name of the dish is a homophone for Happy New Year so it's a popular holiday snackie. It's made of tender vegetables, spring onions, pork, sea cucumber, mushrooms, more fish tummy and HUGE oysters. All of the ingredients are stewed together with... well with whatever that is. I thought it was sea weed but was assured it was a kind of grass that only grew in the desert. I can't remember the Chinese name except that it had the character for "hair" in it. On its own the grass brought more texture to the table than flavor, but all together the grass was integral in bringing all of the disperate ingredients together into one rich and delicious dish. Sorry about the photograph; this might me the most difficult dish to photograph in the world.

Next came, well not really next as everything pretty much came at once, one of my favorites. A large plate of fresh steamed shrimp with a simple sauce made by adding scalding oil to a dish of soy, sugar and pepper. I love these little guys and would have happily eaten the whole plate of them. The family made fun of me for the way I ate them, leaving the shells, heads and appendages in tact, but let me say loud and proud that my way is better! The shells add a nice little crunch, I'm sure it's good for your skin or something and by not peeling every single one you can stuff you gullet more efficiently.

Now it was time for the WHOLE STEAMED CHICKEN. Oh man I love simple steamed chicken. Chicken at home just doesn't taste chickeny enough. This bird was steamed beautifully and served with a thick condiment of ginger, scallions, garlic, soy and scalding oil. Just look at this beautiful bird! See those dark bits on top? Those are the gizzards and assorted offal and they were unbelievably delicious when loaded up with ginger and garlic. Yum!

Now peep Lucky being a fat beast!

I feel like I'm not even doing this meal justice. I'm forgetting so much. Just look at these gorgeous greens!

Oh yeah and look at this! This was actually one of my favorite dishes of the night, assorted vegetables with slices of fish and pork meatloaf and chinese sausage. Anyone who knows me will know that it was the sausage that really did it for me. This stuff is just amazing. It is made with Bai Jiu (a strong sorgram liquor) and the booze perfectly cut through the greasiness of the cured pork fat and lent the whole thing a kind of sweet, warming alcoholy flavor.

Oh wait! Let's not forget the whole steamed fish! The Cantonese sure know how to rock a fish. This one was steamed simply in soy with spring onions and strips of ginger. Every ingredient (all three or so of them) carefully selected to highlight the fish's natural flavor. I usually have a problem with Chinese fish (which is a shame because they might just be the best fish in the world) because of all the bones but this one wasn't to boney at all, just fleshy and succulent. Also, because I was a guest Rainbow's Mom offered me the fishy's plump little cheek. What a wonderful woman...

I was really starting to slow down at this point. Surely we were almost done... but wait! Save room for the whole steamed crabs. Full of garlic and spring onion and so fresh they still tasted of the sea. Unbelievable.

Now it was time for what I was assured would be the last dish. A yummy simple soup of a light barely-there broth enveloping lovely little tender silky smooth dumplings. I'm sorry to say I could only eat one or two but they were delicious.

Now, only forty eight hours later I headed out to my other friend, Killer's family's house for another New Years Eve feast. I forgot my camera but this was another off-the-rails meal. This time it was hot pot. We started with blueberry cheesecake (always a good sign) then gathered around a caldron of boiling water. Ingredients were scattered all around the large table and as people laughed, chatted and drank we all threw them in with abandon. There were fish balls, meat balls, little sausage nuggets, fat mushrooms, skinny mushrooms, tomato slices, yam chunks, lettuce, bok choi, fatty pork, thinly sliced lean beef, and paper thin sheep. Served with everything were heaping platters of the best god damned kimchee I have ever put in my mouth and a dipping sauce of garlic, ginger, spring onion, Thai chili paste and fragrant fish soy sauce. Just as the meal was winding down his mother brought out a heaped bowl of bou zai fan (rice cooked in a pot, see my previous post). This particular bou zai fan was topped with minced pork and salt cured fish and was the best I have ever eaten. Even my Hong Kong freinds agreed it was the best they'd ever eaten. The fish, which Killer's aunt brought from the fishing village where she lives, was especially incredible.

Then a quick bite of left over "Desert Hair Grass New Years Dish" and after dinner, fresh oranges and pomello slices. Life is good.

Now I can hardly convey how amazing these meals were or how gracious the family Rainbow and the family Killer were for sharing them with me. Thank you so much and happy new year to all!!

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