Monday, December 31, 2007
The Dim Sum of All Things
Happy New Years eve! It's that time of the year when New York goes wild eating out. As previously mentioned, Fumie and I have decided that there are just too many dim sum goodies in New York and we have to ferociously attack and devour these little Chinese-dumpling-enemies before they take over the world. Our latest battleground was the Shanghai Garden (14A Elizabeth Street) said to be one of the more authentic mainland Shanghai style eateries in Chinatown. Arriving in Chinatown around 3:30 pm found almost every Dim Sum parlour closed - even the famed Jing Fong. Apparently they take a short nap between lunch and dinner services. Luckily, the nearby Shanghai Garden - definately a lunch joint and not a banquet hall - was open and serving.)Soup dumplings - xiaolongbao - have been all the rage for a decade, and are almost emblematic of Shanghai cuisine. Jellied cold pork stock is placed inside the dumpling skin and then steamed - so the soup is inside the dumpling. These were darned meaty as well, and the shiu-mai dumplings were also pretty carnivore-friendly, compared to the more seafood-phile Cantonese and Fujien dim sum we have been eating.No meal is complete without eating some invertabrate that would have made you squirm in your younger years. Soft shelled crab, for example. The one above is my first, and damn! What the hell was I thinking during that half century I spent turning up my nose at molting arthropodae. Basically, crabs gross me out, and given the amount of meat to shell/carapace/inedible lungs that you have to work through in order to get anything approaching a mouthfull, I usually passed on crabs. No more. When those babies shed their hard outer shells they are just begging to be battered and fried and delivered fresh and hot into my greedy digestive system. Sorry, crabs. Finishing off in true banquet style, Bob Godfried - accordionist extraordinaire - wrestles with the world's longest cold meat sauce noodle. At center is black bean sauced spare ribs on rice, and up front is sliced chewy rice discs stir-fried with shrimp and meat. These dishes averaged $4 each. (Note to friends in Hungary: Makes you ashamed to live in Europe, eh?The XO Kitchen (148 Hester St) is more of a Hong Kong / Cantonese style alternative youth dim sum restaurant. The young waitstaff all wear black pro keds and if I spoke Chinese I would probably hear them using the Cantonese equivalent of the word "dude..."You have probably seen those packages of wrapped banana leaves for sale in chinese bakeries... well, they are zongzi, steamed filled sticky glutinous rice packed into banana leaves and steamed for a long time. These had pork with chestnut fillings. Steamed chestnut - not at all like the sweet street maroni we eat in Europe at Christmas time. Very filling.Har gow... rememeber that name. Har gow. Har gow. Har gow. Now you have no excuse for not being able to ask for them at any Cantonese dim sum restaurant. Asking for "those little shrimp dumplings" could bring disaster - there are lots of such things on the menu. But har gow, encased in a rice flour wrapping that you can not really make at home, are the dim sum equivalent to heroin. Addictive. Addictive. Addictive.Garlic sauce spare ribs with black beans. Life before black beans was unthinkable, a dark, undefined chaos demanding the Big Bang. Now all is right. We have black beans. The XO Kitchen has a menu that runs about the size of a phone book - hundreds of items written in small print, and unlike other dim sum houses, it doesn't use the cart-delivery service common to the banquet halls.Fumie in awe of the world's biggest shiu-mai dumpling...Yes, I am fully aware of the effect these graphic dumpling images have on our friends in Budapest and in other dim-sum deprived regions of the world. I have been labeled a food pornographer, and yes, I admit there is some truth to that statement. And I understand that this may be considered a subtle form of torture, especially to those of you who come from New York but have had to spend the holiday season refusing yet another serving of carp head soup and beigli... and yet, oddly, I show no hint of empathy with your plight. These dumplings are all mine for another two weeks. We will continue eating them until we are so sick of quality dim sum that we won't be able to stand them anymore, and only then we will return to Hungary. "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my incredibly huge and juicy shrimp shiu mai dumplings, ye mighty, and despair!"After dinner a walk around the city, which is exploding with after christmas sales. The shops are stuffed with the dross of unwise Xmas marketing strategies - Penguin Poop obviously didn't sell well this season, go figure - and now is the time for wolfing down the Christmas overstock. Like Levi's jeans for $1.99 a pair. This is something you will never see in Europe - sales - and the shops along lower broadway were packed with French and Italian tourists drunk on their over-inflated Euro buying power. If we americans seem like puny ants to their superior purchasing power, that is because our President's economic policies has made us into puny ants. Thanks Georgie! And we look forward to 2008 - the year we will see the back of you once and for all! Happy New Year!