Book Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

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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.

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The Bloody Mary Club: Bespoke Kitchen

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The Bloody Mary Club hit up Bespoke Kitchen a while ago, because we had to see the famous Mary’s Walk of Shame with our own eyes. Richa spotted a picture of it on Instagram and we just *knew* we had to check it out for ourselves.

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Mary’s Walk of Shame is a whopper of a cocktail and it was the absolute highlight of our meal. It’s a bloody mary topped with grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly & pickles. The glass has a spicy salt rim.

The restaurant itself is very modern but in a charming way, not a clinical way. We made reservations but the place wasn’t very crowded, so I’m not sure if it was necessary. We ordered the biscuit bites (with fried chicken and gravy, naturally), shrimp & grits, short rib benedict, and Angie’s croast (which is a croissant french toast hybrid). Bespoke Kitchen is all about locally sourced ingredients and “New York style” food. Our food was okay, but the Bloody Mary was the highlight of the meal. Afterall, if I really wanted to eat a good shrimp and grits or biscuits and gravy, I’d be looking for an actual soul food restaurant, not a hip West Village “New York style” restaurant.

But honestly, the Mary’s Walk of Shame is worth a trip to Bespoke Kitchen on its own. It was practically a meal in itself. We were so full from the process of drinking the first one that we didn’t have room for a second drink – that’s almost blasphemous as far as Saturday brunches are concerned! We all agreed that next time we would hit up Bespoke Kitchen for a cocktail before going somewhere else for brunch.

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Cheat Sheet:

Bloody Mary:
Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Perfectly slurp-able
Spice: Not too salty – the toppings add all the salt you could want
Fixin’s: Grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly, pickles & a salted spice rim
Overall Rating:  4.8 out of 5

Bespoke Kitchen is located at615 1/2 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014. http://www.thebespokekitchen.com/

Running in the Family – A Sinhalese meal

We are having a formal dinner. String hoppers, meat curry, egg rulang, papadams, potato curry. Alice’s date chutney, seeni sambol, mallung and brinjals and iced water. All the dishes are on the table and a good part of the meal is spent passing them around to each other. It is my favorite meal – anything that has string hoppers and egg rulang I eat with a lascivious hunger. For dessert there is buffalo curd and jaggery sauce – a sweet honey made from coconut, like maple syrup but with a smokey taste. – Ondaatje

For my last Running in the Family post, I wanted to explore Sinhalese food since I truthfully didn’t recognize half the foods in the above passage.

While hoppers are like thin, crispy pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk made in a bowl-shape (which look really incredibly delicious), string hoppers or idyyappam are steamed and springy in texture. Their name is fairly evident once you’ve compared the two types of hoppers.

 

Egg rulang is a scramble of eggs and sliced onions. Papadums I have actually had before but never learned the name of! They are thin and disc-shaped, typically made from a black gram flour or a variety of other materials like lentil, chickpea, or rice flours. A typical variety I’ve had include ground black pepper and garlic.

Now, I’m not sure what Alice’s date chutney is like, but this chutney recipe is sweet and tangy with ginger and red chili spices.

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Seeni sambol is a sweet caramelized onion relish that, like what I’ve been learning about Sri Lankan food, comes with a punch of spices.

Mallung, also called mallum, is a dry dish of cooked chopped greens and coconut. One version with kale is shown below. Brinjals are what we know as eggplants!

Finally for dessert, a buffalo curd with jaggery sauce is like a yogurt and honey mix.

Here is an excellent introductory article to Sri Lankan food. More egg hoppers! They look so good.

A Literary Cocktail Party inspired by Arrowsmith

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I would call Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith a “pretty serious book”, but one of my favorite things about it is its setting within the Prohibition Era. We see the protaganist, Martin Arrowsmith, going into speakeasies with his friends and sneaking into the back rooms of warehouses alongside the general public warnings on the dangers of drinking and gambling. I think this especially stood out to me as the other Pulitzer winners set in this era have all shied away from any mentions of drinking. Without further adieu, I invite you to The Ice House in the West Indies to join Martin Arrowsmith for his signature “rum swizzler.”

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This is Barrio 47, but I imagine The Ice House is similar to this

The Ice House, that dimmest and most peaceful among saloons, with its cool marble tables, its gilt-touched white walls, had not been closed, though only the oldest topers and the youngest bravos, fresh out from Home and agonizingly lonely… were desperate enough to go there, and of the attendants there remained only one big Jamaica barman. By chance he was among them all the most divine mixer of the planter’s punch, the New Orleans fizz, and the rum swizzle.

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Recipe courtesy of Liquor.com

Bermuda Rum Swizzle Cocktail:

  • 4 oz. Gold Rum
  • 4 oz. Black Rum
  • 8 oz. Pineapple Juice
  • 8 oz. Orange Juice
  • 3/4 oz. Grenadine
  • 6 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake vigorously with crushed ice, and then garnish with pineapple, oranges, maraschino cherries, and any other tropical fruit that catch your eye.

Although I’m glad we no longer have this law, it’s a period of time that I don’t know much about and am intrigued by. I suppose finding a book on the Prohibition should be added to my to-do list!

Additional Reading:

  • Font courtesy of Manfred Klein
  • Curious about the difference between gold and black rum? Apparently there are four types of rum.
  • Check out our first Literary Cocktail Party post here, featuring Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
  • Arrowsmith was the 1926 Pulitzer winner, and Sinclair Lewis was the first (and only) writer to refuse the prize. Read more about it here.
  • Fun fact: 1926 was also the year The Great Gatsby was published. Some people would say that Gatsby deserved the Pulitzer much more than Arrowsmith did.

The Bloody Mary Club: Delicatessen

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Delicatessen, known for its take on “International Comfort Food”, is located in the Lower East Side. Because they don’t take reservations for brunch, we went at 10:30am right as the restaurant was opening. (Shout out to Richa for showing up first two months in a row!) The decor is modern and sleek, and I think it would be a great place to people watch in the summer when all of the glass walls are open onto the sidewalk.

The Bloody Mary at Delicatessen is known as the “Stacked Mary,” and it is definitely stacked. There’s celery, olives, cucumber, pickled vegetables, a lemon wedge, a shrimp, and a bacon salt rimmed glass. This is the kind of Bloody Mary that I envision people drink while tailgating at football games and create at those make-your-own Bloody Mary bars that I keep hearing about.

The Stacked Mary

The vodka and Bloody Mary mixture was smooth, savory, and well seasoned. I happily crunched on the celery while waiting for our food to come out, and I dunked the shrimp into the drink halfway through to give it some flavor. While I didn’t eat the olives, I loved the “stacked” presentation of the drink and would have been disappointed if there were no olives.

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Cook Book Review + Recipe: Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes

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I have been a distant admirer of Lucky Peach for a few months now, ever since I flipped through a few of their magazines at an independent bookstore in Boston this summer. I found the magazine hip, interesting, and just the right amount of an approachable pretentiousness. I’ve also decided that one of my new ongoing goals is to become a better cook. That being said, I jumped at the chance to review Lucky Peach’s new (and first) cookbook: 101 Easy Asian Recipes.

I thought that I would test Lucky Peach’s recipe for “Chineasy Cucumber Salad” and compare it to my mother’s recipe. Although my mother’s recipe is better in my opinion (she uses garlic instead of sesame seeds and peanuts and we add a splash of soy sauce.)

Makes about 2 servings, easily multiplied.

1T Chikiang vinegar
1t Sichuan chili oil
1t sesame oil
1t turbinado sugar
1/4t kosher salt
3 Persian or Kirby cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1t toasted sesame seeds
2T crushed roasted unsalted peanuts
2T cilantro leaves

1. Whisk together the vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set the dressing aside.

2. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. (If using English cucumbers, remove the seeds with a small spoon and discard.) Set them cut-side down on a cutting board and lightly smash them: Give them a couple angry thwaps with the side of a cleaver (or a large chef’s knife) until the cucumbers crack in a few places. (For less drama, just press down on them with the side of the knife.) Cut the abused cucumbers crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick half-moons.

3. Toss the cucumbers in the dressing, portion them onto plates, and top each serving with sesame seeds, peanuts, and cilantro.

My thoughts on the cookbook:

  • I am so thrilled that Lucky Peach even includes smashing the cucumbers with the side of a butcher knife or cleaver. I remember learning how to make this with my cousin and gleefully wreaking chaos in the kitchen.
  • I never thought that a cookbook could be written in a “fun” way, but I found the instructions easy to read, follow, and copy.
  • However, I found some of the photography kitschy, such as the meta-iPhone-taking-a-photo-of-food-at-the-dinner-table-shot.
  • Also, a few of the recipes were just a bit too glib – there’s a recipe for “sliced oranges” which would be okay, if it were the only one-item-recipe in the book, but shortly after, there’s a recipe for baked yams. I think I would have told Lucky Peach’s editors that it would be okay to stop at 99 or 100 recipes, there’s no need to force it!
  • I liked that the cookbook truly included all sorts of Asian recipes. There’s a lovely mix of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Malaysian cuisine. There may even be more that I haven’t recognized yet.

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I would recommend this book to anyone who’s a beginning chef, interested in learning more about Asian cuisine or a fan of Lucky Peach magazine. It might even be fun to read through like a book during a rainy hungry day.

Additional Resources:

Manhattan Beach, California

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Manhattan Beach is about 20 miles south of the Los Angeles Airport. When I visited Kimberly last month, this was the first place I went after picking up my car rental. I spent the morning walking along the boardwalk, peeking into the little shops along the streets, and taking some photos with my new camera!

Manhattan Beach’s City Motto is “Sun, Sand, Sea” which just about sums it up perfectly. There are volley ball courts all along the beach, mountain ranges on the horizon, and a lot of surfers hanging around. I thought it would be kind of silly to go from Manhattan, New York to Manhattan Beach, California, but I am so glad I did.
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The drive along the Pacific Coast was absolutely breathtaking. I didn’t even mind being stuck in the famous California traffic, because it gave me time to take in the sights. I saw a beautiful white heron flying along the road, which was really neat! I will definitely go to Manhattan Beach again next time I’m in Los Angeles.

If you’re in the area, I would recommend the following:

Have you been before? Where should I go next time?