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Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Annals of Chinese

Chinese food - from whence dost thouest come henceforth?

Being from a particularly homogeneous suburb in Pittsburgh, Chinese food was the most exotic, most ethnic cuisine which was readily available, with pizza, only a little less exotic, being the obvious rival.

Ah, Chinese.  As a young fellow, it was known to me in the following incarnations: chicken with broccoli, beef with broccoli, fried rice, and General Tso's chicken - which my dad ate and which seemed unbearably strange and foreign.

Fast forward a bit of time, and now I reside in New York, and I have eaten in many "authentic" regional Chinese restaurants.  My knowledge of regional fares is limited and hazy.  There is only one distinct region whose flavors have left a permanent marking on my soul and brain; only one region in which the famed peppercorns create a citrus-like symphony of tingling whereby the heat of chilies and the pungency of garlic and soy, among other flavors, cascade in crescendos of sensations and gustatory revelation. 

Of course I speak of Sichuan food.

I want to further explore the amazing food of the aforementioned province.  But I want to get better acquainted with other regions, as well.  The only real way to do this is to go to China and travel around the country for months or years.  Unless someone donates a rather large sum of money to this cause, the City of New York will have to do for now....

- Land of Plenty on the Upper East Side.  The Village Voice recently named their Whole Filet of Fish With Soy Bean Sprouts in Chili Broth as the most astonishing dish of 2011.  I went with a friend, and as we sat looking at the menu, I pulled out my smartphone and loaded the Village Voice article.  A waiter noticed the picture and asked what I was reading.  Apparently, the managers had no idea they were featured in the Village Voice, and asked me to e-mail them the article.  They were captivated and amazed that their few week old restaurant had been written up.

How was the food?  Goodish.  We had an order of bok choy sauteed in garlic, which was fresh, light, and garlicky, as per the name.  Tea smoked duck was flavorful, but I must say, I usually have issues with duck.  There always seems to be such little meat! And how was the most astonishing dish of 2011, according to the Village Voice? Um, not astonishing?  The broth was good, and indeed I experienced the classic Sichuan state of numbness and heat.  However, the fish was cooked whole, meaning there were bones and carcass aplenty that needed to be dealt with.  Perhaps this decreases my credibility as a seeker of authentic Sichuan, but god help me, it is such a pain in the butt to cut around cartilage and pick small pieces of bone out of your mouth.  Sure, the meat itself was tasty, but the whole dish seemed like too much trouble, and I felt the soy bean sprouts were oddly distracting and perhaps even superfluous.

Anyway, I have plunged into a sea of self-doubt.  Am I not the lover of Sichuan I thought due to my bone aversion?  Would a true Chinese person relish the carcass?  And also, regardless of this issue, was this dish really the most astonishing of the year?  Is this an example of food journalism hyperbole?  We'll find out next time...