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Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot! Part 1

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Hello everyone out there and happy new year!  Today’s post I will be doing something that is a bit different from the typical Mastication Monologues that you all know and love.  Instead of reviewing a restaurant, I will be talking about a certain type of cuisine that I have never had before but have always wanted to try:  hot pot.

Now I do love my Panda Express and other types of insanely Americanized Asian food including the ubiquitous fortune cookie and orange chicken, but I always have found authentic Chinese cuisine to be quite interesting in terms of how many different types of ingredients are used and variations there are on dishes depending on which city you are in.  Hot pot is no different.  To ring in 2013 right, my friend David invited me over to his family’s hot pot dinner, so I naturally was honored to be brought along for this culinary adventure.

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

I had already some basic background knowledge about this type of meal going into it, but I quickly found out that hot pot is much more complicated and nuanced than just sticking random vegetables and strips of meat into a boiling pot of water.  Before we even sat down, I was immediately faced with my first new snack of the evening, congealed roe with slices of daikon radish.  I’ve had daikon radish before from sushi platters, but I have never consumed fish eggs in any form.  Upon first glance, I was surprised that the roe looked like small woodchips instead of the more recognizable orange or black caviar pearls.  I ended up eating the roe on the radish like a slice of cheese on a Ritz cracker, and it was an interesting blend of textures and flavors.  Biting through the fish roe felt almost like eating a piece of hard cheese that had elements of beef jerky and smoked fish coursing throughout its semi-smooth interior, and the daikon left a light and crisp impression on my palate.  I helped myself to a couple more servings of this fish dish, but I was quickly whisked away to try a new drink.

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

Even though I had a Blue Moon in my hand, my friend David asked me if I’d like to try a homemade version of soy milk.  Naturally, I said, “Bring it on!”  He led me over to the kitchen where he poured out some pastel green liquid in a cup for me.  I had initially spied these containers of green goop thinking that it was going to be some sort of sauce for meat, but boy was I wrong.  So I took a sip of the soy milk, and it was quite thin in consistency with a mostly neutral taste and slightly grassy undertones.

Soy milk on the right, prawn paste on the right

Soy milk on the left, prawn paste on the right

However, David kicked it up a notch Ming Tsai style by adding some honey to this Chinese drink, and it made it taste sort of like milk with sugar in it.  Plus, the highly viscous honey added a bit more body to the beverage which made it more filling and complimented the spicy three-ring circus that was to come when we finally sat down for the actual hot pot where I managed to finally use chopsticks for an entire meal, eat Chinese pizza, and cheers to the new year…but you’ll have to wait for the next post to hear about the second part of this delectable dinner!

I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire

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Hello to all out there on the interwebs!  Sorry for the immense amount of lag time between my last amazing post and this one, but I have been enjoying the last fleeting moments of my summer before going back to the grind of graduate school.  Anyway, I’m going to be telling you today about a food adventure I had this past weekend in Chinatown in Chicago.  The place in question is called Lao Sze Chuan located at 2172 South Archer Avenue Chicago, IL 60616 which is part of the new Chinatown square which is a bit further north of the older Chinatown.

My friend invited me out to lunch in Chinatown, and she asked me whether I wanted Dim Sum or spicy food.  Now, I had already went to a Dim Sum restaurant (check out one of my previous posts if you haven’t already!), so I went with the spicy food option.  Apparently, Lao Sze Chuan is one of the most popular restaurants in Chinatown, so naturally there was a wait.  However, it didn’t take long for us to get a table.  Upon opening up the menu, I was greeted with the story of the restaurant and all of the famous people who have dined there in the past including one Bill Clinton.  Anyway, there were plenty of options with spicy, chicken, beef, seafood, and traditional Chinese sections to name a few.  In the end, we ended up going with an order of Ma Po Tofu, LaLaLa spicy chicken pot, and double fried sliced pork with cilantro Jiazhou style.

I’ll start off with the Ma Po Tofu since I’m going to be up front with my dislike for tofu (sorry veggie readers).

A delight for veggies

However, I still wanted to try it since I never pass up an opportunity to try something new.  It was served in a brown, pork based broth along with chopped up red chilies, and the small tofu cubes looked like tiny spicy icebergs bobbing in the Arctic ocean.  With my small sampling, there was no arctic chill with this tofu as it was very soft and disintegrated in my mouth instantly with a brief spicy flourish.  If you’re a vegetarian, I’m sure you’d be more of a fan of this dish, but it was dead last during my trip to Lao Sze Chuan.  Moving on to the LaLaLa spicy chicken pot, I am a sucker for picking out food that has a funny name hence my choice.  Thankfully, I did not regret it at all as it arrived to our table on a mini-grill that kept the chicken nice and hot.  The perfectly grilled chicken was marinated in a red chili sauce and came with diced red and green peppers and onions.  It was bringing that heat that makes me sweat which let me know that I was in an authentic Chinese restaurant that didn’t pull any punches with their use of spices.  Even though some of their food might be hellishly spicy, it keeps on bringing people back since every table in their restaurant was full during our four-hour visit, but I digress.  The final choice, the double fried sliced pork with cilantro Jiazhou style, was just alright.  It consisted of thinly sliced pieces of fried pork along with blackened red chilies, whole stalks of marinated cilantro, and celery.

Definitely pigged out on this dish

The only downside was that the cilantro was a bit too overpowering and left a strange, bitter aftertaste.  Plus, the fact that the pork was dry did not go well with so much cilantro.  However, when I isolated the pork, it was very crispy and filled with bacony goodness along with some spicy highlights.

So as a whole, I would rate my visit to Lao Sze Chuan as very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone looking for authentic (read: very spicy) Sichuan cuisine along with a slice of one of Chicago’s most famous/oldest neighborhoods.

Lao Sze Chuan on Urbanspoon

¿Cómo Ni Hao Ma?/In Cod We Trust

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This post is a two-part feature on two restaurants I went to in New York City recently. I took one of the Bus Tours to New York from Moncton. Restaurants here come from completely opposite ends of the culinary spectrum, but the result was the same both times:  me being extremely satisfied and delving into a deep food coma soon thereafter.  The two establishments I speak of are Flor de Mayo and the Chip Shop.

When I was originally looking at restaurants to try in NYC, I was deciding to go the Adam Richman Man vs. Food route and perhaps try the curry challenge at Brick Lane or the seppuku wing challenge at Buffalo Grill in Brooklyn…thankfully I realized that I didn’t feel like being cooped up in a bathroom while my temporary glory from the previous day was painfully all for naught.  Thus, this one restaurant, Flor de Mayo, caught my eye.  It was advertised as a Chinese Cuban restaurant with apparently the best Peruvian chicken in the country.  Those three nationalities in one establishment had my mind spinning with ideas of what exactly they would serve there, but I´d be sure the Cuban and Chinese cuisine would serve up some decent pork at least.  However, I did have worries that it would be some sort of pretentious fusion restaurant that attempts to combine Asian flavors with some sort of Latin dish or just completely think outside the box in terms of presentation and flavor combinations.

With my fears in hand, I reached the surprisingly unassuming storefront located at 484 Amsterdam Ave. between 83rd and 84th St.  Upon entering the very claustrophobic entrance, I could see that this place was the real deal.  Mostly locals were waiting for tables as the wait staff promptly seated us after a less than ten minute wait.  The seating was a bit cramped with the waiters and waitresses running all over the place like mad men/women, but I think it added to the atmosphere of the place.  Looking over the menu, I didn’t know where to start because not only did it have classic Cuban delicacies like congri (red beans and rice), black bean soup, and even mofongo for the Puerto Rican crowd, but also Spanish tapas, Chinese classics, and Peruvian chicken.

Naturally, I went with what they did the best, Peruvian chicken, which also came with a choice of fried rice/noodles all for about 12 dollars.  The wait time from ordering to receiving my food was pretty average for a busy place (around 25 minutes), but I couldn’t believe how much food I got such a small amount of money…

The half chicken was roasted with a slightly seasoned skin that nicely complimented the fall-off-the-bone, succulent meat.  As for the fried rice, it was not greasy at all, but they really did pack a lot on the plate as you can see by the mini-cannonball-esque pile of bbq pork fried rice.  On the side, I received a slightly spicy relish that was a mix between gazpacho and pico de gallo, but provided a nice cooling sensation on the palate to balance out the piping hot chicken.  Long story short, Flor de Mayo was a great bargain dining experience, but they did not sacrifice quality for quantity which was all the more amazing which is aptly demonstrated through the aftermath of my dinner…

Needless to say, I enjoyed the food

Flor de Mayo on Urbanspoon

Switching gears away from strange and intriguing culinary mixtures of East vs. West, the Chip Shop located at 383 Fifth Ave. (at 6th St.) in Brooklyn, NY provided a slice of England/Scotland with many classics brought back from old Blighty, including their namesake:  fish and chips (French fries to us in the Colonies).  It is quite easy to get there by subway or bus, and the neighborhood is quite interesting to walk through with many different types of specialty shops and boutiques (even a superhero shop where you can dress up as your favorite crime-fighter or super villain).  The actual dining establishment is pretty tiny, but I learned it was bigger when the English ex-pat owner originally opened it up.

Me before my arteries were clogged with fried goodness

though business may be slower, they still provide the option for you late at night to get take-out fried goodies at their side window or even bring in your own food to fry.

Upon entering the restaurant, the walls were coated with various types of British memorabilia from throughout the ages, including the usual Beatles/Queen Mum/Rolling Stones/James Bond pictures, but also some less common ones like Bovril/Marmite/Pingu and Ali G (Booyakasha!).  Upon looking at the menu, I could see that their prices were a bit higher than average with the cod and chips being $14, but I resolved to get it and a fried item.  Along with the plethora of British favorites:  the English breakfast, Welsh rarebit, bangers and mash, chicken parmos, and various curries, the Chip Shop also sold other foods to go for cheap (including a tin of mince pies I pounced on for $1).  The drinks also came from across the pond which surprised me as they actually had Lucozade of all things on their soft drink menu (it’s like a carbonated version of Gatorade for those not acquainted with British beverages).

Anyways, I finally got my fish and chips which was gigantic compared to some of the fish and chips servings I’ve purchased in London from street vendors.

English food with American sized portions

Upon tucking in, I found that the batter was superb since it was light, buttery, but not too greasy.  It also made up for the cod which I found to be too flaky for my liking, and having it piled on top of the chips made it a lot harder to eat.  The chips were fried to perfection with a creamy inside which tasted good with the tartar sauce or the malt vinegar that came with the fish.  Once I finally destroyed my main course, I decided to represent the mighty Scotland by ordering a fried Mars Bar instead of the fried pizza slice…I definitely made the right choice.

One small step for my mouth, one large problem for my cholesterol

It was a bar of pure fried decadence as I needed to pause in between bites for fear that I might develop type II diabetes if I carried on any faster.  Strangely enough, I think the haggis I had in Glasgow was actually better for my health than this tiny candy bar.  Calories and Atherosclerosis aside, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who doesn’t really have the money to fly to Great Britain to try some standard fare that is prepared to an extraordinary standard.  As I received my bill after a satisfying meal, their slogan was a great mixture of British wit and American roots which sums up the wicked deep-fried humor of the Chip Shop.

Chip Shop on Urbanspoon

Flor De Mayo Restaurant on Foodio54

Park Slope ChipShop on Foodio54

The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.  ~Confucius”

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