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Some Really Mean Cuisine

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Ah, Spring!  You have been nothing but cryptic so far in Chicago.  You have teased us with near bearable temperatures only to blindside the city with waves of freezing rain, snow, and chilly winds.  While the weather might get you down, you definitely should hit up one of the top dim sum places I have ever ate at, including America, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  The name of this wonderful eatery is MingHin Cuisine.  My girlfriend had been there before and had nothing but great things to say about it.  It is located in the New Chinatown on the northside of Cermak Road right next to the famous Lao Sze Chuan.IMG_5718

When I arrived before Janice, I was greeted with a horde of anxious diners waiting for a table in the bustling main rooms or the side tea room that is devoted solely to the warm brews.  IMG_5719So, I put our name in and got a post it with a number on it.  It’s a simple but functional system they have for alerting customers when their tables are ready.  You have to try and hear your number on the Post-It note being shouted out first in Chinese and then in English above the din of the restaurant.  Eventually, they yelled out my number, and they quickly seated me. IMG_5743 They offered me a selection of teas to sample while I was waiting, so I plumped for a pot of chrysanthemum tea.  Janice took a seat opposite me soon thereafter, and we sipped on the tea that oddly looked like urine.  IMG_5721Thankfully, there was no trick to be had there, but it wasn’t Janice’s cup of tea.  I found it to be quite interesting with its earthy and highly herbal personality, but a bit more intense than the green or black teas I’m used to.  While the tea was warming our bellies, we looked over the two different menus on the table. IMG_5720 One consisted of the dim sum options we could pick from while the other menu was more focused on barbecue.  After much intense deliberation and taking into account Janice’s recommendations from her previous visits, we made our choices.  IMG_5737

The first dishes that came out were from the barbecue menu.  We tried the barbecued spare ribs and the crispy Macau style pork belly ($5.95 each).  Both were fantastic. IMG_5725 The honey spare ribs were lip-smacking good minus the bones, but the taste was similar to Korean kalbi ribs with a soy marinade that was both sweet with a little salt mixed in.  Then there was the pork belly. IMG_5728 Talk about a contrast of flavors and textures.  The top of the meat had a thin yet crunchy skin of sugar and perhaps a bit of cinnamon that was the perfect compliment to the multi-layered and uber-tender and juicy pork.  IMG_5731These nuggets came with a side bowl of sugar to dip them in, but I found it to be a bit excessive.  We also had a side of fried sticky rice, but I was not impressed at all by this bland and flavorless pick.  We moved on from the meaty opening salvo to more traditional dim sum options like the barbecue pork buns, fried sesame balls, siu mai, shrimp egg rolls, and chao zhou dumplings. IMG_5741 All of the dim sum plates are priced based on size with small ($3.15), medium ($3.85), large ($4.25), and special ($5.50).  I won’t go into tons of detail with most these plates since I’ve tried these a million times over.  I did love my bbq pork buns because they were fluffy and filled with that sweet sweet char siu style pork.  As for the sesame balls, the ones at MingHin are my new favorite ones because they aren’t filled with my old enemy of the Far East:  red bean paste. IMG_5733 Instead, they are filled with a more neutral and less obnoxious white bean paste.  What I found out at a later visit is that if you get the giant fried sesame ball, they just give you fried slices of the chewy rice paste that is coated with plenty of savory sesame seeds and no beans to be found.  Another stand out in this meal were the chao zhou dumplings I ordered.  They were filled with pork, but two huge surprises were the crunchy peanuts and the slightly spicy kick with each dumpling.  Another great pick were the shrimp egg rolls. IMG_5739 They were slightly addicting with their crunchy, golden-brown exteriors that were light and not greasy at all with plenty of shrimp inside.  While all of these choices were quite standard, I knew I had to try something new, something slightly frightening to those who are happy to stick with the tried and true favorites.  Enter the pork knuckle and lotus root. IMG_5734 When it was placed in front of me, it looked intimidating, but I’m not one to back down from a culinary challenge.  I picked up a piece of the burgundy flesh, and it was oddly soft.IMG_5742  It was like eating ginger-flavored jelly.IMG_5735  It was slightly unsettling but not terrible once I got used to it.  I also tried one of the lotus roots as well, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t get it again.  I’ll just stick to chicken feet.  By the end of the meal, we were quite happy with the food we got and for the reasonable price.

So, if you’re looking for a new and high quality dim sum eatery, check out MingHin Cuisine!  It’s a small slice of culinary amid the jungle of restaurants, and it’s fun for the whole family!  Afterward, you can check out everything Chinatown has to offer including their square of zodiac signs among many other sights.

Tame rabbits love it

Tame rabbits love it

And wild tigers love it too!

And wild tigers love it too!

MingHin Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Furama Is Fureal

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Welcome one and all to another spectacular edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today finds me absolutely freezing my toes off, but that hasn’t changed much from the previous week or so since the weather has been less than tropical.  January in Chicago, go figure.  However, today’s post will put you in a sunny mood if you are craving Dim Sum right now or ever for that matter.  I mean, can’t go wrong with Chinese tapas!  Variety is the spice of life.  If you have been to Chinatown in Chicago, you’ll find that their dim sum menus are often reserved for dinners starting roughly after 5 pm.  However, at Furama in the Edgewater/Little Vietnam neighborhood, you can overdose on the little plates of goodness from 9:30 am to 8 pm!!!  The prices for each choice range from $3 for extra small plates to $7 for extra large plates.

The exterior doesn’t look like it has changed in 50 years, and I was alright with that. IMG_4705 Inside, we had to climb stairs, similar to Three Happiness in Chinatown, to the main dining room. IMG_4702 It was spacious and somewhat filled with people on a Sunday morning.IMG_4706  There was a stage in the front of the dining room which raised my hopes for some live entertainment, but sadly no one came out to bust a move or serenade us.  No matter, the food was plenty of fun by itself.  First, there are an army of servers zooming around with carts like some sort of culinary chariot race calling out what they have to offer in both Chinese and English. IMG_4707 We could mark down what we wanted on a card, and they could get it for us, or we could just pick something off their cart.  We opted for the latter, and the first thing we picked was the 猪肠粉 or rice noodle roll ($3.50).  I must warn you that if you do not have excellent chopstick skills, this slippery mass will be extremely difficult to eat.IMG_4708  After living for a year in South Korea, I thought I was the Mr. Miyagi of eating with chopsticks, but these noodles were so hard to pick up.  The shrimp inside were cooked perfectly, but the slippery and savory soy drenched noodles had to come later when I used Mr. Fork to be less than cultured.  Next, we got an order of the pork chow mein noodles ($9.25).  IMG_4709They were crispy but a bit too greasy for my liking.  In the background you can also see the pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings/韭菜虾饺 ($3.75).  Those were great since the crispy rice skin gave way to chunks of shrimp and plenty of verdant onions.  The 蒸餃 spinach and shrimp dumplings were really eye-catching.IMG_4710  I had never seen a spinach-infused dough used before in dim sum, so we helped ourselves to a plate ($3.75).  The spinach in the chewy dough didn’t make much of a difference, but the greens and shrimp found on the inside were very lightly seasoned which left the earthy veggie tones come through and blend nicely with the shrimp. IMG_4712 Our next stop on our dim sum adventure was my call when I heard them shout “叉燒!” or “Char siu!” ($5.60).  I may not know a lot of Cantonese/Mandarin, but I know that this pork option is off the hook or more like off the fork since more like it since char siu literally means “fork-roast”.  What makes it so great?  Well, consider this the ancient form of barbecue where they use a molasses-based rub that creates a sweet crust on the pork skin and permeates throughout the meat.  IMG_4711It is then treated with some red food coloring to make it really stand out along with a bath of spices and wine on certain occasions.  When all of these ingredients come together, you get a plate of pork chunks that are both savory yet sweet that no Western pit boss could get close to.  We then stepped it up to get 叉烧包烤 or baked cha siu bao which are Cantonese baked pork buns.IMG_4713  I had tried the 蒸 (steamed) bao in Hong Kong, and I think I prefer them over the baked version.  Still, these buns were delicious.  Their shiny exteriors concealed a moderate pocket of the aforementioned sweet meat, but I feel like they skimped on the meat and focused more on the bread.IMG_4715  After we had our fill of savory treats, we hit up the dessert cart.  We got 煎堆 (Jin deui) or sesame buns ($3.50), sweet rice pastry ($3.50), and  蛋挞 egg custard tarts ($3.50). IMG_4716 I had the sesame buns before, and it’s probably the only time I’ll willingly eat red beans in Asian cuisine (click here to see my reaction to red bean in Korea). IMG_4714 I think it’s because it’s surrounded by sweet, super chewy mochi (rice dough) and drowned out by savory sesame seeds.   I really was a fan of the sweet rice pastries which utilized the same rice dough in the shrimp rolls we got to start this entire meal.  Instead of floating in soy sauce, they were coated with coconut and filled with chopped peanuts and sweet syrup. IMG_4718 Talk about decadent yet not really.  It was a Taoist dessert with a mix of sweet yin to the subtly savory yang.  Finally, there were the egg tarts that were competently made but nothing like what I tried in Macau or Lisbon where they are originally from.  These tarts made their way into Cantonese cuisine in the 1940s via the Portuguese colony of Macau, and now they are served in dim sum halls from San Francisco to NYC.  By the end, we were stuffed like the dumplings we just destroyed yet in a Buddha state of bliss.IMG_4719

So if you want some delicious dim sum that you can get any day of the week at reasonable prices, definitely make the trip up to Furama!
Furama on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong (Part 3)- A Lil’ Dim Sum-Sumthin’

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What is happening, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you didn’t read my last post, I finally made it to the century mark in terms of blogging, i.e. 100 posts.  So this a small step towards the next 100 posts.  Today continues in the same vein of the last couple of posts where I talk about my food adventures during my Korean Thanksgiving vacation in Hong Kong (Post 1, Post 2), Macau, and Taiwan.  Today I wanted to bring you the food that I enjoyed during my last full day/night in Hong Kong.  We begin with my journey to the quaint fishing village of Tai-O on Lantau Island.

I originally went to Lantau to see the big Buddha statue that I saw on posters and on friends’ Facebooks, but while doing my research, I found out that a lesser known attraction is Tai-O fishing village.  Naturally, I always prefer checking out lesser known spots that aren’t crawling with tourists like a honey-smeared popsicle chillin’ (see what I did there) on top of an anthill.  When we arrived, I saw on my map that the little blurb said that the village was once known as the Venice of Hong Kong due to its location in relation to the sea, and all of the houses are on stilts which creates mini-canals for their boats.  Plus, they have wild pink dolphins.  That’s right.  Flipper and friends got a new paint job courtesy of excess blood vessels under their skin.  If you go to Lantau, skip the Buddha and go on the dolphin tour.  Nothing like whipping around on a tiny fishing boat and seeing these unbelievably beautiful animals in the wild.  Food-wise, obviously it’s a fishing village, so they’re known for their dried fish filets and shrimp paste.

Mmm, dried fish

Mmm, dried fish

However, I’m not the biggest seafood fan, but I do have a sweet tooth.  So, I found another Tai-O specialty:  nougat.  I got a variety pack for 20 HKD that contained black sesame, plain, and green tea chunks, and I did not regret it at all. IMG_0819 It made a great snack while hiking up to see the Buddha and also look out at the pristine forests of the island.  My personal favorite was the black sesame because it tasted like a mix of vanilla, sesame seeds with a slightly earthy aftertaste, and lightly salted almonds.

Some black sesame nougat

Some black sesame nougat

The mix of sticky and crunchy really hit the spot.  After a long day of walking and sightseeing on Lantau Island, I had dinner.

I ended up going to one of the most popular dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong with a Michelin star:  Din Tai Fung located at 20 Canton Rd in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Let me warn you that the wait might be long if you don’t get reservations or are picky about seating.  Thankfully, I timed it perfectly. It was very busy, but I liked the surroundings in the shopping mall and my friend I made at the entrance.

Look at that punam.

Look at that punam.

Main dining room

Main dining room

I started the meal off with some xiaolongbao (小籠包) that had soup on the inside.

Secret soup attack dumplings

Secret soup attack dumplings

You had to be very careful not to bite into them too quickly or else your mouth would be treated to a piping hot broth bath.  So I saw the proper way to eat them was to nibble a hole in the top to let it cool and put some of the soy sauce marinade on the inside.  Then you could pop the little tasty pockets in your mouth once they cooled down.  Before I could even finish my second dumpling, they were bringing out the second and third plates.  One was a mini-bowl of longer dumplings filled with  shrimp and pork, and the other plate had orange spicy chicken. IMG_0828 The longer dumplings were extremely slippery and hard to grab with my chopsticks, but the struggle was worth it.  The skin was tough enough to hold the contents back from erupting all over the bowl, yet tender enough to give way with the slightest grazing of my teeth.  As for the filling, the shrimp and pork was simply decadent with a whole surf and turf meal condensed into one bowl of dumplings.  As for the orange spice chicken, I liked it because it was all white meat coated in a sweet orange sauce that had a gentle spice level, and the dried seaweed garnish was a good addition because it complimented the wet, sweet meat with some dry, crunchy vegetables.  Just when I thought this parade of great food would stop, they bestowed upon us a dumpling the side of probably a newborn baby’s head.

Big old softy

Big old softy

It was more bread than meat, and the bread was sticky yet soft as a cumulus cloud.  Inside I encountered a large, seasoned pork meatball that was similar in taste to the soup dumplings’ interiors.

Big dumpling fall hard

Big dumpling fall hard

I also ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup which is a Taiwanese specialty which made sense I had it there because Din Tai Fung is originally from Taiwan.  I can see why Taiwanese people always crave this national dish.

Elite beef to eat

Elite beef to eat

From the strong and salty beef broth to the tender pieces of beef, it was a solid dish that I’d ask for on any cold day in winter.  Oh yeah, and the noodles were not too bad either.  Finally, I had “dessert” in the form of taro dumplings.

Taro dumplings

Taro dumplings

It was a nice change of pace from all of the aforementioned meat laden dishes, and it was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate of the strong flavors with the slightly sweet purple paste that I always love in my boba tea. IMG_0833 It was a great end to my night, so if you’re looking for great dim sum, check out Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong, but be prepared to wait since the quality and price always ensure that there is a horde of hungry people waiting their turn to try the greatness that awaits them inside.

Next installment, I go to Taiwan and eat out of a toilet.  Need I say more?

Three’s Happiness Too

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  It has been a long time since I last posted on Mastication Monologues, but I have finally emerged from the madness is grad school (actually I’m only in the eye of the storm right now) to bring you a new post about a type of cuisine I have never truly experienced:  Dim Sum.

Mmm So delicious and MSG laden

When many people proclaim that they enjoy “Chinese food” and then proceed to rattle off such favorites as General Tso’s chicken, orange chicken, or sweet and sour chicken, this culinary adventure I embarked on was the furthest from these Panda Express concoctions.  Instead, my good friend David finally fulfilled a promise he made to me a long time ago that he would take me out to an authentic dim sum dinner, and yesterday we finally made it happen.

We ended up making our way down to Chinatown to Three Happiness Restaurant located at 2130 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL.  There is parking available nearby, and the establishment will validate your parking which eliminates a gigantic headache for anyone who has tried to find parking around the city.  It was an interesting/surprising coincidence that we were actually going to this specific Three Happiness because I had visited it on numerous occasions when I was just a young little spring roll and yet never had Dim Sum but rather the Pu-Pu platter (oh immature humor).

Poop jokes aside, we were promptly seated in the spacious and very clean dining room.  The wait staff was very helpful initially with providing us with drinks.  I say initially due to a minor incident later on in the meal that somewhat soured the experience, but spectacular food can always make up for service problems.  Now, the only previous experience I had with Dim Sum was in the basement of a YMCA during college with the Chinese Student Association, so I only knew of two or three types of plates you could order at Dim Sum.  However, my friend David explained Dim Sum perfectly by saying that there are many options to sample yet they’re portions that are just enough to share with friends kind of like tapas in Spain.  It was the perfect culinary storm as my love for sampling random foods combined with my affinity for tapas to create a wave of mass consumption that laid waste to all dumplings, cakes, and small watercraft on the table (OK, maybe not that last one).

The first round of Dim Sum consisted of turnip cakes, taro root puffs, sesame buns, and shrimp wraps.

Our waitress also provided us with a small bowl of chili sauce that looked very dangerous which made me happy.  I say happy because I love spicy food with a burning passion.  Unfortunately, often times I am disappointed by dishes in more mainstream restaurants that claim to be spicy but in reality are merely smouldering coals instead of raging infernos (i.e. any “spicy Southwest burger/spicy Asian stir fry/blazing chicken wings”).  However, realizing that I was in an authentic Chinese restaurant, I knew that they would be bringing the heat especially if I wanted to go Sichuan or get my favorite spicy mustard that makes me feel like I have Rocky Balboa inside my sinuses taking a left hook to the back of my nose.  As much as I would like to glorify the wonders of insanely spicy foods, I’m here to write about the Dim Sum.  I had already tried turnip cakes before, and the ones here were alright.  They were baked with a thin flaky crust and did not have much flavor aside from some potato-esque hints in the aftertaste.

The suspects in question going clockwise (turnip cakes, taro root puffs, shrimp wraps, and sesame buns)

The chili sauce definitely kicked them up a notch, Emeril-style BAM!.  The taro root puffs interested me as soon as I saw them on the menu, and I was not disappointed.  They looked like empanadas sporting very stiff Jheri curls, and biting into one felt like munching on a pine-cone but without the sap/pain and instead a delicious deep-fried flavor.  The inside surprised me the most where there was a meat and black bean concoction that was piping hot and quite savory with a flavor that could be most likened to a traditional meatloaf sans ketchup.  The shrimp wraps were brought to our table and had a dark brown fish sauce poured over them to provide more flavor, and it nicely complimented the cooked shrimp sleeping underneath their tender rice dough sheets.  I saved the best for last:  the sesame buns.  For some reason, a lot of great food comes in orb form like handmade doughnut holes or even pão de queijo(cheese bread) in Brazilian cuisine, and these sesame buns are no different.  They are roughly the size of a golf ball, coated in sesame seeds, and are firm with a semi-sticky texture when you bite into them.  The inside also contains a dab of red bean paste, but before you ready your barf bags, fickle eaters, I have to let you know that the paste actually carries a semi-sweet, almost vanilla wafer quality to it.  Satisfied with my first round of Dim Sum, we had a second helping.

Fried Calamari

The second round of Dim Sum delights entailed fried calamari, shrimp toast, beef and pork dumplings, and chicken feet.  My friend David order the fried calamari with sea salt which made me a bit wary since calamari seems to be more of a hit or miss dish from my experiences.  However, I was pleasantly surprised as the squid was tender and the batter was light and was adequately assisted by the sea salt to bring the squid back to its briny roots.  I did not know what to expect with the shrimp toast which led me to be pleasantly surprised when it confirmed some of my suspicions with a twist.  The shrimp was served whole on top of a slice of bread (like I assumed), but then the whole piece was completely fried which naturally made everything taste fantastic.  The beef and pork dumplings were nothing too special with the latter being encased in a thin casing of rice dough and the former looked like meatballs nestled in small pieces of cabbage that actually were chartreuse pieces of dough.  The presentation was very nice, and both of the meats were adequately seasoned and in harmony with the starch.  Once again, the last Dim Sum choice was the most interesting:  the chicken feet.

A quartet of delights going clockwise (beef dumplings, chicken feet, pork dumplings, shrimp toast)

Throughout my food expeditions both in the States and abroad, I have eaten various parts of animals, but I had never tried chicken feet.  David informed me that in Chinese, they are literally referred to as “Phoenix talons” (talk about a good marketing scheme through linguistics!), and thankfully they lived up to their fancy name.  They were baked in a soy based sauce that had some sweet elements to give the meat a slight barbecue flavor with prominent black pepper overtones.  The actual meat was juicy, falling off the metatarsal, finger-lickin’ good.  However, contrary to American customs of deboning any type of meat fit for human consumption (pink slime aside), the Chinese and many other cultures leave all of the bones in their meats to contain the various flavors obtained through the marrow and minerals.  Ergo, beware of the tiny bones lurking in the feet!

Jello Jigglers eat your heart out

The final movement to our Dim Sum symphony ended with mango pudding which was less like Jello and more like a tropical fruit version of flan without the pool of caramel.  Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with our order since we wanted BBQ pork buns for the end of the meal, and they said they were on the way.  However, we had to wait at least twenty minutes before they realized that they had made a mistake which kind of put a damper on the experience.  Nevertheless, they eventually brought out the BBQ pork buns, and they were well worth the wait.  The dough was thick and pliable, and the pork was neatly cubed and lodged within the dumpling surrounded by a sweet bbq sauce that most likely had a molasses base.

Definitely pigged out on these pork buns

In the end, I was greatly satisfied with my Dim Sum experience at Three Happiness.  If you are tired of the same old egg roll and fried rice dinner at your local Chinese restaurant, go outside your comfort zone and try some Dim Sum if you have the opportunity to do so.  My fortune at the end of the meal definitely came true, and I hope you find your own new adventures and foodie pleasures!

It came to fruition!

Three Happiness on Urbanspoon

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