A Four Hour Lunch

An ode to the four hour lunch in China … Over the years, there were times when a friend would invite us for a meal on a special occasion.  You must plan for a lengthy event, and T always had to plan for a significant amount of beer.

On such an occasion in early August, it was our driver, Pan, who invited us and friends to a newly renovated restaurant in Shenyang.  We arrived and socialized, took some photos with friends, then Pan exited to make the food and beer order.  Then the nine of us sat around a large, round table with a formidable lazy Susan perfectly placed.  Dishes began to arrive and chopsticks were put to use.

There were toasts and discussions in Chinese and English.  Memories and laughter were shared.  There was sad acknowledgment that we would soon leave Shenyang, but this lunch was a celebration of friendship and food.  It was a celebration of how friendship crosses borders and cultures, defying distance with hopeful longevity.

I won’t say this is my last post about our life in China, but it is for now.  Enjoy.

What Is It?

I don’t know.  Try it.

Every once in a while, someone would give us something to eat in Asia, and we wouldn’t know exactly what it was.  It could be identified as a chip-type snack, or a meat product, or a fruit or vegetable, but we wouldn’t know the name or what the flavor would be.  For the kid who wouldn’t eat green things growing up, this was a challenge.

I am a big fan of the seasonal way they eat in China, especially the fruits.  Little oranges in winter, perfect Dandong strawberries in spring, gorgeous peaches and expensive cherries in summer, crisp and just sweet enough apples and pears in fall, etc.  There are also giant pomegranates, sweet grapes, different watermelons, colorful tomatoes (yes, fruit), persimmons, blueberries, clementines, big and small bananas, pomelo and all manner of citrus, passionfruit and more.  I’ve eaten lychee, longan, mangosteen, Hami melon, berries I don’t know the name of, kumquat, hawthorn, apple pears, star fruit, yangmei, durian, rambutan, jackfruit, dragonfruit and loquats.  Loquats are, by far, my favorite.  I have not tried the reptilian-like custard apples or bitter cucumber fruit, but there is still time.  There is still time for quite a few tries.  And these are just the fruits!  We benefit from what is grown in China, and also what is easily and quickly imported from India, the Philippines, Thailand and beyond.

Over the years, Chinese friends have introduced me to many Asian fruits and snacks.  They can usually tell me the name in English, but maybe not.  At home, T asks, “What is it?” Then I say, “I don’t know.  Try it.”  That’s how it often goes when people try new things.  Sometimes, you like it.  Sometimes, you don’t.  Sometimes, you’ll discover a new favorite that you will crave when you can’t find it anymore.

Join me in this taste test of two Asian fruits.  To begin, we have a small melon.  It is about four inches wide and tall, with a thin, variegated, edible skin.  It grows on a vine and ripens in July/August.  The only English names I could find were green melon or Asian green melon.  Many eat it like an apple, or you can skin it and seed it too.  On the inside, the fruit is pretty green with a pale, seeded center.  It is soft with just a slight bite to it.  It tastes a bit like honeydew, but not that hard, out of season honeydew you get at salad buffets and breakfast meetings.  It tastes like sun-ripened piece of summer.

Second, we have a small snacking fruit called husk cherry, husk tomato, husk cherry tomato, physalis, ground cherry, cape gooseberry, and a cousin to the tomatillo.  They turn yellow and are harvested from the ground once they fall.  Easily peel the thin, papery husk away from the fruit and chomp.  One bite.  The skin has the texture of a cherry tomato, though the inside is thicker than one.  They have an interesting flavor that varies on your tongue between sweet and savory.  Perhaps depending on when you buy them, they might be sweeter or more savory.  They are perfectly good to snack on, and I’m imagining the more savory ones in a breakfast casserole with sausage and egg and some herbs I haven’t decided on yet.

That’s it for our latest installment of “What Is It? I Don’t Know. Try It.”  Enjoy.

For a funny view on Asian fruits, check out the Fung Brothers video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgfegiWS3Ds

 

Seoul Food

In November, we made a weekend trip to Seoul to meet friends.  In addition to palaces, bright lights, pottery, and fall colors, we enjoyed a great food.  T and I made a Saturday morning stop at Butterfinger Pancake in the Gangnam Neighborhood for a most amazing breakfast, then all four of us enjoyed Suji’s for an early Sunday brunch.  It is the most important meal of the day, after all.  We had some Korean BBQ, a stop for fruit tea, and even found a little Mexican food at Julio in Jongno. All good.

Special thanks to Daniel at O’ngo in Seoul for the fantastic street food tour.  It was delightful to walk around with some who knows Jongno and Insadong and knows where to go for Korean comforts and filling treats.  We had quite a few stops along the streets, as well as an underground market that would have been completely missed otherwise.  It was a wonderful afternoon with dear friends and good food.  Enjoy.

O’ngo Food Communications for tours and cooking classes – http://www.ongofood.com/taste-tour/food-tours-in-seoul/

Julio Mexican Cuisine – Jongno 02 730-5324. Other locations in Gangnam & Hongdae. www.juliokorea.com

Suji’s Deli & Restaurant – Add a cinnamon roll to your order.  http://www.sujisdeli.com/

Butterfinger Pancake – Check out the Yummy Yak for their review and perfect directions.  http://theyummyyak.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/seoul-butterfinger-pancakes/

And don’t let me forget the stylish hotel, Small House Big Door in Jung-gu.  What a great location and easier on the pocket book than so many others in this great city.  http://smallhousebigdoor.com/shbd/

Brew 3.14 – Daniel’s other business – For a review and a great blog about Seoul Food, click here  http://afatgirlsfoodguide.com/2014/08/27/brew-3-14/

Yes. Please.

There were quite a few authentic and traditional Chinese dishes we had to try when we went to Xi’an.  We did our very best to eat our way up and through the Muslim Quarter.  Some things, we had to try more than once or twice, just to give it a fair shake.

Rou jia mo is like a Chinese hamburger on a flatbread-type bun.  Every one of the 4 I tried (ha!) was fantastic, and the spicy vegetarian version (cai jia mo) was fantastic too.  Biang biang mian is a carbohydrate dream – wide, thick, long hand-pulled noodles in a sauce of varying spiciness.  Yang rou chuanr is a lamb skewer and at each stall, there are different spices available for you to add your own.  Cumin is a regular favorite.  There were sweet rice cakes, nutty candy, fried little potatoes, noodles, fruits and vegetables, drinks, nuts, breads and so much more.  Enjoy!