Yang Wedding Banquet in Taipei

We were fortunate to be part of Andy (yang1815) and Sugi’s wedding banquet in Taipei last weekend. Here are some pictures from the banquet (especially the food!), which was hosted at the very nice Regent Taipei Hotel.

Andy and Sugi pose with their nephews in the greeting room just outside the banquet hall. We had met the middle of the three nephews at the wedding in Maui last year and enjoyed meeting the other two on this trip. 

There was a large ice sculpture of two cupids about to kiss, melting quickly underneath the lightbulbs. It wasn’t until the way out that someone pointed out to me that the “male” cupid was anatomically correct and, I suppose, less well endowed after two hours than he was at the start of the banquet.

Andy’s father speaks to the guests while Sugi’s father, Sugi, and Andy sit at the table and await the first course. Chinese banquets are elaborate affairs. Usually about a dozen courses and great care is taken to choose the best (read: “expensive”) ingredients as a matter of showing a good “face” to the guests. The Yangs certainly were outstanding hosts as this was one of the finest banquets I’ve attended and every course was impressive. Here they are in the order they arrived.  

The first plate (everything at this banquets was plated for us, not served off common platters) was an appetizer salad of smoked goose breast. The orange ingredient is a kind of solid “cake” of fish eggs, if I understand correctly, the saltiness of which paired nicely with the tender, smoky goose.

The next course was a small bowl of slightly sweet mochi (sticky rice) dumplings with longan fruit. This was an interesting dish that is similar to desserts I have eaten in Thailand. It seemed strange that something dessert-like would be served as a second course, but the dish was tasty. 

Third course was abalone. This is one of those big-ticket ingredients that impresses guests and this particular succeeded in doing so. The abalone was tender and flavorful, a really good example of why the price tag is so high. 

The fourth course was braised scallops. In general, scallops are one of my favorite ingredients and these particular scallops were cooked really nicely. 

The next course was shark’s fin soup. Yes, this is an unpopular ingredient these days as most shark fins are harvested in a horrific manner. While I don’t know the source of these particular fins, I can say that this was the best shark fin soup I’ve had. Normally, the fins are cut into very thin strips and the broth is murky with cornstarch. This was a clear-broth soup and the fins were in large pieces. A good example of why this dish is considered a must-have on Chinese banquet menus. 

The sixth course was steamed sea bream with scallions. Chinese know how to cook fish and this captured the reason why: steaming keeps the fish moist, captures all the sweetness of fresh seafood, and avoids overcooking.

The seventh course was braised pork tendons with okra and chestnuts. The gelatinous texture of pork tendons doesn’t appeal to everyone, I’m sure, but it is hard to beat the flavor! 

The eighth course was something I’ve never seen before, a pork chop that has been cooked confit style and crusted with what I swear were Doritos and corn flakes. The meat was tender and very tasty. Definitely unusual. 

The ninth course was a chicken soup made with “black bone” chicken. This type of chicken has black skin but tastes like any other chicken. One truth, though, is that chickens in Asia (in general, and Taiwan in particular) are so much tastier than the chickens in the United States. The broth had the type of flavor that you always imagine chicken soup should have, but rarely does. 

The tenth course was a small bundle of glutinous rice with Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and lotus seeds, steamed in taro leaf. This is a dim sum staple and provided a little starch to help fill you up, just incase the previous nine courses had left you hungry! 

 

The eleventh course (the first dessert course) was actually two types of pastries, the left one filled with sweetened daikon radish and the right one filled with barbecued pork. These are familiar to anyone who goes to dim sum.

We concluded with a platter of fresh fruit, something sweet but refreshing to conclude the banquet. By this point, nobody had the appetite to do more than just nibble!

Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and thanks to the Yangs for their very generous hospitality! 

 

Horsing Around in Omaha

While in the US, we flew back to Kansas City for a few days visiting family, then drove to Omaha for two nights to visit Andy and Sugi, whose wedding we had just attended in Maui. To make the trip even more fun, we brought my six- and nine-year old nieces along. The main event: ride one of Sugi’s mother’s horses.

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On the three-hour drive north to Omaha, we skirted around a rather imposing storm front, managing to stay dry most of the way. The first evening at Andy and Sugi’s house was a bit of a challenge as the girls were supposed to share a bed but the younger one takes a long time to fall asleep. Her older sister couldn’t take it, so decamped to our bedroom, where we set up a comforter, blanket, and pillow on the floor.

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The next day, we headed to Sugi’s parent’s house outside of the city. Sugi’s mother has three horses, one of which is very gentle and perfect for children to ride. When we first came into the barn, I think the girls were a bit apprehensive. The older one, Emily, is a little more reticent than her sister, Ava. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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We each took turns saddling up and riding for a little bit, first in the indoor riding area and then outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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Don’t I look like an old pro? (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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We had the girls wear a helmet for safety’s sake. Their reactions to the horses were interesting to watch.

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If you aren’t familiar with horses, I can understand how you would be a little in awe of them. They’re awful large, especially when you are a child.

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We pose with our ride and Sugi’s mother, Myra. Many thanks to her and her husband Mike for their hospitality. The girls had a great time and helped brush the horse after the ride.

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Andy and Ava seemed to be the perfect foil for each other.

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We stayed for dinner at Myra and Mike’s house, which was a mixture of foods (including grilled items!) that included several things that spoke to Myra’s heritage growing up in a Japanese-American household on Hawaii. There were a few dishes that the girls were unfamiliar with, but for the most part they gamely gave everything a try.

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After dinner, it was some time for Dance Nation!

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You can probably guess which song Andy and I were dancing to.

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Sugi and Emily share some dessert at brunch the following morning.

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After brunch, we went to the old Union Station in downtown Omaha, home of the Durham Museum, a science and technology museum geared towards children. The station’s lobby has wonderful period sculptures, including this businessman reading the train schedule.

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Downstairs at the station, there are several refurbished train cars you can walk through, to give you a sense of what life was like on the Union Pacific line back in the day.

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Everyone enjoyed hanging out in the lounge car.

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In the science part of the museum, we enjoyed an exhibit about puzzles. This one involved four people working together to raise and lower a “hot air balloon” to land on targets on the landscape. Each person controlled a rope that was attached to one of the four sides of the balloon. It took a lot of cooperations, communication, and coordination in order to land on the targets.

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Ava and Uncle Tawn pose next to a sculpture of a soldier and his sweetheart waiting for a train to depart.

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Ava and Andy got along quite animatedly.

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It was a fantastic two days in Omaha and I hope Andy and Sugi weren’t too overwhelmed by our nieces!

 

Andy and Sugi – The Wedding

Last Sunday fellow Xangan Andy was married to Sugi at the King Kamehameha Country Club on Maui. I shared one picture a few days ago, but let me share a few more for my family and friends who know the couple.

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Beautiful view of the wedding site, which offered a sweeping vista from one end of the Maui neck to the other.

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The flower girl (Sugi’s niece Taylor) and ring bearer (Andy’s nephew Cayden) needed a little encouragement.

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The bride is escorted by her father, Mike. As soon as she started down the aisle, tears started flowing. And lest you think that Andy is some tough guy, he started crying, too.

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Sugi and Andy exchange rings. A Shinto priest from the temple close to Sugi’s family’s house in Pa’ia performed the ceremony.

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Sealing the deal with a kiss. The flower girl, Taylor, is barefoot because she said her shoes hurt her feet.

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The newlywed couple walk down the aisle.

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The bride’s sister and matron of honor, Jessica, escorted by the groom’s best man Travis. The flower girl is Taylor, Jessica’s three-year old daughter.

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The bride’s mother and father. Beautiful Japanese-themed dress and cloak!

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The bride and her nearly 95-year old grandfather, who was the hit of the party.

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The couple immediately after the ceremony!

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Tawn poses with the flower girl while she still had her sandals on!

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Andy W (obscured by request), Kenny, me, Tawn, Sugi, Andy, Fei, and Travis. Fei and Travis went to high school in Omaha with Andy.

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The groom and bride address the guests. I was the emcee for the event and, with only a short while to practice, had to introduce all the out of town guests and family members!

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The beautiful wedding cake. They went for a small cake because the main desserts were pie including my favorite macadamia nut cream pie!

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Tawn and I pose with one of the cutest children at the wedding, Chinasa. The friend of Sugi’s college roommate, Chinasa was this perfectly calm one-year old who didn’t mind everybody holding her. No fussing, no crying. But she kept a poker face the whole time and was slow to smile!

It was a beautiful wedding – one of the nicest I’ve been to – and we were really glad we made the effort to fly over to be a part of it. Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and may you have many happy years together!

 

Rehearsal Dinner on Maui

It is our last evening on Maui. I’m a bit bloody, bruised, and battered from kayaking in the ocean in the cove outside Sugi’s aunt’s house. More about that soon. Nonetheless, it has been a lovely trip and I’d like to share some pictures with you.

We arrived in Maui last Thursday. Andy and Sugi’s wedding was Sunday afternoon and in lieu of a rehearsal dinner on Saturday, Sugi’s family invited the out of town guests to their oceanfront home in Pa’ia, on the north shore of the island.

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The family compound, which is where Sugi’s grandfather Ohata originally had his medical clinic and home, faces onto Pa’ia Bay with a view of Kahalui and the ‘Ioa Valley in the distance. Pardon my clumsy stitching in the above photo. At least, you have an idea of how spectacular the view from their backyard is.

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There were at least thirty guests from out of town. With Sugi’s more immediate local family members, the crowd was close to fifty. One of the first orders of business was to rehearse the wedding ceremony, which the celebrants did on the lawn.

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While everyone practiced, I shot some pictures, including this cute three-year old who is the daughter of Andy and Sugi’s friend Linda, who was also the wedding’s photographer. June, being the daughter of a photographer, was ready to strike a pose on request.

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The sun was still strong at this point in the afternoon – going on 6:00 – so Tawn was seeking whatever shade he could find.

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After the rehearsal, the tiki torches were lit and the luau began. Above, Tawn poses with the bride and groom to be, Sugi and Andy. To their left are another pair of Xanga friends, Andy (ungrandvoyage) on the far left and Kenny (kenpcho) second from the left. Andy has always kept his identity hidden on Xanga (sound familiar, Matt?) so he asks that we obscure his face when posting pictures that include him. Tawn and I have met Kenny a few times before but this was our first time meeting Andy.

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Several adorable children running around. In addition to the photogenic June (center) we have Sugi’s niece Taylor on the left and Andy’s nephew Cayden on the right. I enjoy watching children interact, especially young children as they can so easily play together and so easily ignore each other.

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Another shot of the children, who were helping Sugi’s youngest niece, Malia (in the yellow outfit), as she wobbled around the yard.

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We also met Sugi’s college roommate Amaka and her adorable baby Chinasa. Chinasa was so cute because she was totally willing to be held by one stranger after another without fuss, but she looked at each one of us with this poker face, as if she was trying to size us up without revealing her feelings.

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As the sun set over west Maui, the photographer has Sugi and Andy pose for some photos. While the sunset was subdued that evening, the pictures turned out well and – most importantly – we had a very Hawaiian welcome that made all of the guests feel very much a part of the family.

 

Visit to Omaha

Near the end of my trip, I drove up to Omaha to spent a night with Andy and Sugi.  It is normally about a three-hour drive form Kansas City to Omaha.  After about the first hour, I started to encounter snow which grew heavier the further north I went.  By the time I hit the Iowa border, I was passing cars that had spun off the road and took that as a clear warning to slow down.  Arriving in Omaha to sluggish and slushy late rush hour traffice, my trip took about an hour longer than normal.

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Sugi and Andy at the Mexican restaurant they took me to, Cilantro’s.  Sugi managed to order the really good dish, a mixed fajitas that included some tasty chorizo.  Andy had some tamales that were decent.  My fish tacos totally missed the mark.  Using tilapia, the tacos had a muddy flavor that I couldn’t get past.  All in all, I decided not to post pictures because the dishes pretty much looked like American style Mexican food from just about any American style Mexican food restaurant.  That said, the company was fantastic.

Now, I’m not totally unfamiliar with snow.  But at the same time, I live in Bangkok so it isn’t something I have to deal with very often.  Here’s a short video capturing my impressions.

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View of Andy’s street the morning after my arrival. My poor little rental car really wasn’t up to the task.  I wasn’t able to get it all the way up the driveway without it slipping on the ice.

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The culinary highlight of the trip to Omaha was a drive across the river into Councli Bluffs, IA, where Tawn and I were married a bit more than two years ago.  In the downtown area, just a few blocks from the courthouse, is Dixie Quicks, a combination restaurant and art gallery, which just recently relocated from Omaha.

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The space is fairly large, much more so than their previous space, and features an eclectic style of decorating.  Chef René Orduña’s menu is a hodge-podge of southern, Mexican, and Cajun, done to good effect.  It was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” although you shouldn’t hold that against them.  The staff is friendly (ask Andy about his new nickname) and the food is good. 

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A vintage toy robot stands guard on the beautiful terrazo counter.  The restaurant definitely has a retro-chic vibe.

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A real stand-out item on the regularly changing menu is the cornbread crab cake.  Loaded with plenty of lump crab meat, the use of cornbread gives the cakes an added dimension.  The sauce is a tomato butter which is made, interestingly, using the steamer on an espresso machine.  If I had it to do over, I’d just have ordered three of these and called it a day.

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Chicken Tortilla soup with a wonderful mixture of vegetables.  Good flavor and the avocado was a nice touch.

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Sugi ordered tortas, which were filled with avocados and lots of other tasty things.  Served with a side of pickled collard greens.  I’ve never had pickled collard greens which were, as you might expect, vinegary.  Made for a pleasant contrast.  While I liked the tortas, I do think that a crustier bread would have been nicer.  Just my preference, though.

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My breakfast was chilaquilles, a first for me. A common Mexican breakfast dish, chilaquilles makes use of leftover tortillas, which are fried then simmered in salsa.  In this version, tomatoes and peppers are used to create something that is reminiscent of lasagna but with Mexican flavors.  Served with black beans and two soft fried eggs, this was a really tasty treat and something I look forward to seeking out at other restaurants. 

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We managed to get on really well with one of the owners, the one who gave Andy his nickname.  Before we had even finished our main courses, two types of French toast had been sent out for dessert, compliments of the house.  The chocolate and banana is on the left and fresh berries are on the right.  The bread is the same as is used for the tortas and while I still maintain that a slightly crustier bread would be better, it was hard to fault this French toast.

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The gallery next door was open for browsing, getting ready for a three-artist show that was debuting that evening.  Here, a giant inflatable black squirrel holds an acorn.

All in all, Dixie Quicks was a highlight meal during my trip to the US.  A drive up to Omaha is worthwhile if for no other reason that to visit Andy and Sugi. But having this restaurant there provides an added incentive.

 

Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 1 – Guaytiaw

As Andy whirled into town for a three-day side trip from visiting his parents in Taipei, I had high hopes of producing this mega-video in which we would taste all the great things to eat in Bangkok.  Sure enough, during the course of two full days we ate a whole lot of things that would qualify for the “great eats” list.  But as I sat down to edit the video, I realized that I didn’t have enough footage to really address that many dishes.

Since I promised a video a few days ago, I’ve gone ahead and edited a first volume of what I expect will be at least a dozen (and probably more) videos that highlight various great eats in Bangkok.  Volume One focuses on guaytiaw – rice noodles – and particularly the pink-broth fish soup called yen ta fo.  It doesn’t provide as much depth on the various types of guaytiaw as I’d like, so I imagine a revisit of the subject will occur one of these days.

Before editing the next video, I’m going to shoot some more footage and do better advance planning so that I can make sure that future volumes provide you with the high level of quality that you deserve.  In the meantime, you can visit Andy’s blog to see some beautiful pictures of the other foods we ate and the places we went. 

Please share any feedback you have, let me know if there are any particular types of Thai food you would like me to address.

Thanks to Andy for taking the time and energy to visit.  We had lots of fun and look forward to seeing you again soon.