Thursday, March 18, 2010

Signs of Spring: Chinese Food!

Obviously, March is not a month that inspires an awful lot of comment. Now, February... that's what I call a month! Stepping out of our building we saw the first of spring's kolbasz buds on a tree in the back yard. Really... I am not sure whether my neighbor was saving this for an outdoor snack or whether there is some folky reason to stick sausage on a tree branch, but it stayed there for several weeks. My birthday was adequately celebrated by a trip to the new Chinese restaurant in my neigborhood, Master Wang's. Chef Wang was the original chef at the Lanzhou Restaurant on Luther Utca, and this is his fourth Budapest locale. Why get excited about a Chinese restaurant? Well, Budapest has a lot of them, but by and large they are mediocre, overpriced, or unspeakably bad. That last category is aimed at the numerous "Chinese Buffet" joints polluting our gastronomic scene, offering up cheap plates of faux-sinitic stew on rice. Due to a quirk in Hungarian immigration law, any ethnic restaurant has the right to sponsor a residence permit for its cooking staff. So the Chinese folks cooking your fried rice and aromatic duck at the corner take out in Budapest are far more likely to have graduated from business or even medical school than culinary school. And they are far more likely to come from Northern China than from better known culinary regions like Szechuan or Canton.There are some Chinese banquet restaurants dotting the back neighborhoods of the city, places where the local Chinese go to celebrate a business deal or a family holiday with an off the menu hot-pot party or dim sum blast, but these are constantly changing and none has ever stayed in one locality for very long. Chef Wang Qiang comes from Lanzhou, a region west of Beijing with a significant Hui muslim population. The Lanzhou always had a special Chinese language only menu offering various mutton dishes for errant Hui in Budapest, but at the new Master Wang on they go all out with a great spicy cumin lamb dish.Since I had recently stretched my boundaries of icky food by eating sea cucumber and sea squirts at the a Korean Restaurant in the States, I also went for the Hundred Day Eggs. I had heard they were good, I had watched Chinese diners at the Lanzhou order them, but... black eggs? Eggs pickled in clay and salt for a few months until they turn black and gelatinous? And surprise! They were delicious. Run, don't walk, to your local Chinese banquet hall and order these today. Wang's were served with chopped tofu and peppers. Not smelly, not slimey, not really anything I had ever related to eggs before. I want more.
Fumie was laughing at me for never having tried them before, but then, I had never seen Fumie order them either. And yes, I have already looked at the wikipedia entry on Century Eggs with a perverse mind to making them myself at home, and just as quickly discarded the idea. Chef Wangs is only a few blocks away(off the 7 bus along Thőkőly út at Gizella út 46) so why bother? And they serve one of my favorite Chinese beer snack plates: spicy mixed offal salad. Who says a salad need to be wholesome to be good? Sliced tripe, toungue, heart, and kidney in a firey red pepper oil sauce topped with chopped garlic and chile pepper. It is almost enough to make me like beer.
What's that? Not liking beer? That's right. I am not a fan of beer. I drink it mainly because when I go out it is the cheapest way to keep a drink in my hand for the longest period of time - because I don't really like drinking it. Yes, it quenches thirst, but so does lemonade, and beer tastes like sucking on old sneakers. But last month we did a concert in Solingen, Germany, and yes, I drank beer. That is what you do in Germany. And in fact, Germany does a pretty good beer - so does the Czech republic, and when I am travelling I like to drink what the locals drink, and so it was beer. The gig itself was a lot of fun - German audiences really know how to show their appreciation, and since we were essentially a string band for this concert we got to perform a lot of Transylvanian style music as well. This being Solingen, we were surrounded by knife factories - in fact the concert hall housed a knife museum and shop featuring a selection of Solingen's best... including this interesting knife: it is the biggest one in the window, and it is labeled "kindermesser" - children's knife.What kind of kid needs a Bowie knife?


Studiolum said...

Mmm… agnificent. I have been planning for a long time to visit Wang’s new place, but after this dégustation I will certainly do so. I have known both Lanzhous – in Luther utca and in Fő utca – since their foundation, and as we always went there with Chinese friends, the same items in the menu were converted for us into obviously different plates than for the neighboring, Hungarian-only table. I see in the new Lanzhou restaurant this is not the case. (Just a minor issue: it is Lanzhou, without -g-, 兰州, the Land of Orchideas.)

Claude Cahn said...

Dude, the kindermesser is for swift disembowelments and other handy disciplinary actions. Never read Struwelpeter?

emily parrr said...
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