Book Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

bookcover

Dim sum is the Chinese version of small plates and offer a large variety of food types. The Dim Sum Field Guide: a taxonomy of dumplings, buns, meats, sweets, and other specialties of the Chinese teahouse by Carolyn Phillips covers about 150 different types of foods that may be found on the trolleys in a dim sum restaurant. Each entry has is two pages – one with a black and white illustration, also done by author Phillips, and the second page a playful description following the field guide style with “genus” (name of the dish in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese), “identification”, “sauce or dip” that is usually paired with the dish, “nesting habits” (how you are likely going to see the food arranged), “origins”, and “species” (similar dishes). Phillips, who has written a recipe book on Chinese food called All Under Heaven, lived in Taiwan for eight years and worked as a Mandarin interpreter back in the states before retiring to work on her food writing. (Explore her writing here.)

The illustrations are charming, though color would probably be helpful for a few of the dishes with complicated linework, and include a cross-section view of the food to give an idea of dimensions and proportions. They also indicate what type of meats are associated with each dish as well as which dishes are vegetarian and vegan, which is very helpful. The book is broadly categorized into savory versus sweet with a few subcategories.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun to flip through and informative, and I would recommend looking over it before going to dim sum to feel more familiar or after if you wanted to learn more about particular dishes. I would only take it to the restaurant with a patient group of friends. Dim sum is a pretty fast-paced environment, and I can’t imagine a waiter being particularly patient if you stop the trolley to flip through the book for each dish before ordering.

While reading the book, I found myself not thinking so much about dumplings and taro root but about the complicated relationship between exposure vs ownership of cultural foods. Something in Phillips’s writing makes me a little hesitant, uncomfortable, and un-trusting (when she writes of “the Chinese people,” I cannot help reading your people). She has a post listing the twelve points she believes Chinese restaurants must follow “in hopes of an epicurean Reformation” that is silly bordering absurd. I understand it must be difficult to devote oneself to another culture’s cuisine (is there a right way to do it?). Beyond the language barrier and geographical barriers, there will be those calling you a fraud from both sides. To publish anything, really, is to open yourself to scrutiny. All in all, I do believe that Phillips’s love for Chinese food is honest and without ulterior motive.

So to address my personal discomforts, I hope to continue having conversations with patient friends and people more thoughtful than myself about what it means that a white woman is publishing only Chinese cookbooks, why are there so many white people writing about Asian food (and conversely why shouldn’t there be?), what does it mean for food to be authentic anyway, why do Asian foods seem so vulnerable to becoming trends recently (from pho to matcha to poke bowls), and what is the right? best? appropriate? way to appreciate food with particularly strong cultural ties.

Related:

Why Hunting Down ‘Authentic Ethnic Food’ Is A Loaded Proposition

How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy

An Eater’s Manifesto For Chinese Restaurants

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Far from the Madding Crowd – what’s in a name

The protagonist of Thomas Hardy’s classic, Far from the Madding Crowd, is the beautiful and sharp Bathsheba Everdene.

She is named after Bathsheba from the Bible – the wife of first Uriah and then of King David, and mother of Solomon the wise. The story of David and Bathsheba is one of sin and repentance. One night King David saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop and “coveted her”. He got her pregnant and schemed to have her husband, one of his soldiers, brought back home, thinking that with a bit of luck in timing, her husband would assume he is the father. The plan failed, and David ordered Uriah to the front lines of battle, ensuring his death. After the mourning period, David and Bathsheba married. God struck down their first child to show his displeasure with their actions, which pained both David and Bathsheba greatly. David thoroughly repented and was eventually forgiven. We assume the same for Bathsheba, but less is written on her account.

Hardy references this relationship again through Sergeant Troy, Everdene’s first and very fickle husband. When Troy is still courting her, Bathsheba reprimands him for speaking to her inappropriately. He responds by saying:

… you take away the one little ewe-lamb of pleasure that I have in this dull life of mine.

The one little ewe-lamb refers to the when the prophet Nathan tells David a story of a rich man with a flock and a poor man with but one lamb, whom he raised with love and great care. When a traveler came through the city, the rich man offered him a meal made not of the sheep in his own flock but of the poor man’s lamb instead. David is outraged and misses the parallels between the story and his actions. Nathan clarifies that David, a king with many wives, is the rich man stealing from poor Uriah. It is also in this passage that David learns his first child has died. Troy is, of course, trying to guilt Bathsheba for his own reasons.

The story of David and Bathsheba is also the subject of Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered Hallelujah.

The surname, Everdene, is taken from a Dorset village named Evershot. Dorset is one of the locations that inspired much of the geography in Hardy’s novels. (See: Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.) Those who read or watched The Hunger Games may recognize the last name since Katniss Everdeen owes her last name to Hardy’s character. Suzanne Collins has said of the two women,

The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.

Related: Literature’s feistiest feminists: How Thomas Hardy paved the way for The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen

1Q84 – brief cult comparisons

Aomame, one of Murkami’s protagonists in 1Q84, notices slight differences between the world she is in and the world she knew; one of those differences is the existence of a religious cult, Sakigake (“pioneer” or “pathfinder”). We learn that Sakigake began as a peaceful commune of about 30 members founded in 1974. However, some members with more radical ideology and split, forming the Akebono (meaning “dawn” or “daybreak”) commune. The Akebono commune was destroyed in 1981 after a shootout with Tokyo police. The Sakigake commune carried on but retreated from public eye and grew increasing private and guarded.

Murakami has also written a book (Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche) about the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attack. The religious cult was founded in 1984 but grew to notoriety after they released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways as a coordinated act of terrorism in 1995. This attack killed 13, injured 50, and caused temporary poisoning in over 5,000 others. Afterwards, the Aum Shinrikyo cult split into two factions, with the Hikari no Wa (“Circle of Rainbow Light”) group disavowing the violent actions of Aum Shinrikyo, instead focusing on their spirituality. Regardless, both groups (with Aum Shinrikyo since renamed “Aleph”) are on terrorist watch lists to this day.

A pairing: 1Q84 and today’s supermoon

Expedition 50 Supermoon

There was just one moon. That familiar, yellow, solitary moon. The same moon that silently floated over fields of pampas grass, the moon that rose–a gleaming, round saucer–over the calm surface of lakes, that tranquilly beamed down on the rooftops of fast-asleep houses. The same moon that brought the high tide to shore, that softly shone on the fur of animals and enveloped and protected travelers at night. The moon that, as a crescent, shaved slivers from the soul–or, as a new moon, silently bathed the earth in its own loneliness. — Murakami, 1Q84

Photo credit: NASA

Vocab: -ocracies

Inspired by last night’s debate and a review of some word of the day entries, I present to you a list of -ocracies.

Add to the list in comments if there are any other good ones you know!

  • aristocracy – ruled by those born into a small, privileged class
  • autocracy – ruled by one self-appointed person
  • capracracy – (facetious) ruled by goats
  • corporatocracy – ruled by corporations, often private or with private components
  • epistemocracy – utopian government where those in government have ‘epistemic humility’ (epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge)
  • ethnocracy – ruled by representatives of ethnic groups and may hold more positions than is proportional to the population of the ethnic group
  • geniocracy – where problem-solving and creative intelligence are criteria for government officials
  • gynecocracy -ruled by women
  • kakistocracy – ruled by those least qualified
  • kleptocracy – government plagued by corruption and greed
  • kratocracy – ruled by those who seize power through force and cunning
  • kritocracy or krytocracy – ruled by judges
  • meritocracy – ruled by those who have demonstrated some applicable talent or ability
  • mobocracy or ochlocracy – ruled by the intimidation of a mob or mass
  • monocracy – ruled by an individual, not necessarily passed on to an heir, as with monarchy
  • panarchracy – government that encompasses all others
  • patriarchy – ruled by men
  • plantocracy – ruled by plantation owners
  • plutocracy – ruled by the wealthy
  • stratocracy – ruled by the army/armed forces
  • technocracy -ruled by technical experts, scientists
  • theocracy – ruled by a religious authority
  • timocracy – ruled by property owners

 

Book Review: A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches

Tyler Kord is the chef of the No. 7 Sub restaurants in New York and author of A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches.

The New York Times said I might be “the Willy Wonka of submarine sandwiches,” but I prefer “Sandwich Batman”.

Kord comes off as an irreverent sort of guy, but the sandwiches look delicious. The text in the cookbook includes quips, sarcasm, and notes from the editor left in for humor. The writing is a bit sophomoric, but the real content are the recipes, right? (How much value do you place in non-ingredient bits of a cookbook?)

The sandwiches are definitely more creative than what you can get at Subway, and so are their names (“The Battle on Pork Chop Hill”, “Lazaro’s Revenge”). They’re divided by what the main component is — you are probably thinking this means what meat but one section is dedicated to broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and another to muchim, a Korean brining/seasoning mix.

Included are directions for how to make a great but simple main component (how to make your own chorizo sausage, roast a chicken, and anything else needed) as well as recipes for sauces and sides that you might want with your sandwich — chips, salads, coleslaw, etc.

Overall, I think these sandwiches are very inspiring and require a bit more work than your usual ham and cheese. The book is also pleasantly well-organized, and I appreciated the extra recipes at the end. I would recommend this book to adventurous sandwich-lovers. Below is the recipe I am most looking forward to trying (though there are many close seconds).

This is a Chicken Sandwich
Makes 4 of the best sandwiches you ever had

  • 1/2 cup Special Sauce
  • 4 kaiser rolls, split in half
  • 2 cups shredded Roasted Chicken
  • 4 large slices Fried Eggplant
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 4 thick slices
  • 2 loosely packed cups of arugula

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

1Q84 – a list of meals

The plain descriptions Murakami uses to show the fairly mundane details about the characters’ lives are very comforting to me. He tells us their routines, the inventory of their closets, the ingredients in their meals. The meals are often described as simple; many strike me as quite lonely. Some meals are both, and very few are neither. At any rate, I have attempted to catalog what I think is a pretty complete list of meals across all three books and rank them in order of simplicity.

“the most famous French restaurant in the city”

“Have you decided?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Ayumi said.
“So what are you going to order?”
“I’ll have the mussels, the three-onion salad, and the Bordeaux-braised Iwate veal stew. How about you?”
“I’d like the lentil soup, the warm spring green salad, and the parchment-baked monkfish with polenta. Not much of a match for a red wine, but it’s free, so I can’t complain.”
“Mind sharing a little?”
“Not at all,” Aomame saiad. “And if you don’t mind, let’s share the deep-fried shrimp to start.”

the dowager and I differ on what is simple

“A simple meal is all I can offer you, if that’s all right,” the dowager said.

The dinner consisted of boiled white asparagus, salad Nicoise, a crabmeat omelet, and rolls and butter, nothing more.

“Sorry, but these simple things are all I can make,” says Tengo, who uses the word simple lightly

Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums.

if you think this is a repetitve meal, you should know what I eat for breakfast every day

Breakfast was exactly the same every day – dried horse mackerel and fried eggs, a quartered tomato, seasoned dries seaweed, miso soup with shijimi clams, and rice – but for some reason it tasted wonderful every morning.

Tengo makes “nothing special”

Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles.

I decided to look up wakame at this point

Listening to tracks like “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane,” he made rice pilaf using ham and mushrooms and brown rice, and miso soup with tofu and wakame. He boiled cauliflower and favored it with curry sauce he prepared. He made a green bean and onion salad.

this sounds less nice when you know it is hospital food

Tengo had a salad, cooked vegetables, and miso soup with asari clams and scallions, washed down with hot hojicha tea.

Tengo is good with knives

Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. … When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame.

that’s all

The waiter came for their orders. Fuka-Eri still had her coat on. She ordered a salad and bread. “That’s all,” she said, returning the menu to the waiter.

[Tengo] ordered seafood linguine and decided to join Fuka-Eri in a glass of white wine.

curry and pie

Once the film had been processed and printed, he went to a nearby chain restaurant and looked through them in chronological order while eating a meal of chicken curry. … He called the waitress over and asked her about the day’s dessert. Peach pie, she replied. Ushikawa ordered a piece and a refill of coffee.

Ushikawa buys noodles

Then he went to a soba noodle shop and ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth.

beer and barbecue

The three nurses ate and drank a lot, and Tengo couldn’t keep up. As they got livelier, he sat beside them, quietly eating a moderate amount of grilled meat and sipping his draft beer so he didn’t get drunk.

breakfast foods for dinner

He drank some tomato juice from the fridge, boiled water, ground coffee beans and made coffee, toasted a slice of bread. He set the timer and cooked a soft-boiled egg.

Tengo gets more on my level

Tengo was hungry, so he fried some eggs and ate them with the cauliflower. He made some toast and drank two mugs of coffee.

I think the portable stove makes it sadder

He heated a can of chicken soup over a portable stove and carefully sipped it with a spoon. He ate two cold rolls, then polished off an apple, peel and all.

definitely the saddest meal

He opened a tin of corned beef, spread some on a roll, and ate it, standing up in the kitchen. He drank a container of lukewarm canned coffee. Nothing had any taste.

Tamaru’s “simple dishes”

They were simple cucumber and cheese sandwiches on brown bread, but were subtly flavored.

more wakame but a pretty lame dinner 

At five thirty he made a simple dinner. … He made a tomato and wakame salad and ate a slice of toast.

snacks that I too can make

Feeling a little hungry, she took out some Camembert, cut a wedge, and ate it with crackers. When the cheese was half gone, she washed a stalk of celery, spread it with mayonnaise, and munched it whole.

a sad description of breakfast but at least he enjoys his lunch

The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese and crackers washed down by instant coffee. … Before noon he went to the discount store near the station and bought a small electric space heater. He then went to the same noodle place he had been to before, opened his newspaper, and ate an order of hot tempura soba.

like… airplane food?

He brought my meals on a tray and then took them away when I was finished. They used paper plates and flimsy plastic knives, forks, and spoons. The food they brought was ordinary prepared food in silver foil packages – not very good, but not so bad you wouldn’t eat it.

a spartan lunch

Lunch was usually a green salad and fruit.

sometimes sandwiches

Occasionally he would have a light sandwich, but usually he ate nothing.

a hot breakfast

As he ate his hot breakfast and drank tea, Tengo went over the events of the previous night.

a plain breakfast

She made herself a pot of coffee, toasted some bread, and boiled an egg.

a simple breakfast

She got up every day at six thirty and had a simple breakfast.

 

In conclusion, I have learned that all characters (perhaps except Tamaru) have much higher standards for their food than I do.