Chinese food comes to Paris

While in Paris, we visited two Chinese restaurants, one that playfully combines flavors, ingredients and concepts and the other that tries to more faithfully represent X’ian style cooking. One is more successful than the other, based on our visits.

La Taverne de Zhao

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The first stop was La Tavern de Zhou, located in the 10th arrondissement near Place de Republique and Canal Saint-Martin. This tiny restaurant is reputed for its faithful recreation of Xi’an dishes. In fact, multiple websites and reviews crowned it one of the best Asian restaurants in the city.

We arrived without a reservation but were shown to a table. Service  was a bit haphazard – I don’t expect California-like friendliness but they did seem a bit dismissive. We worked our way through the French menu and selected just a few items, highlighted specialties.

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The first was the raojiamo, or griddled steamed bun with meat filling. In this case, the choices are pork, pork with chilies, or tofu and egg. We ordered one with the pork and one with the pork and chilies. They were tasty although we added more hot sauce to both as they were in need of more seasoning. Perhaps Parisian palettes are delicate.

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The second dish was liangpi noodles. The making of this dish is interesting. I found this description on SeriousEats.com:

“…liangpi noodles are made by first washing a wheat or rice flour dough in water until its starches are completely rinsed off. This starchy water is then allowed to sit overnight until the starches collect at the bottom. The clear water above is poured off, and the ultra-starchy liquid below is steamed until it forms thin sheets with a uniquely crunchy-but-soft texture.”

The version here was dressed with a sesame oil and black vinegar sauce with cucumber and bean sprouts added. It was tasty but overall uninspiring. From what I’ve been told by friends who have visited, Xi’an offers a lot of really interesting, flavorful food. Based on what we tried (which was admittedly just a limited selection of the menu), it isn’t worth your time to eat here unless you live in Paris and are really desperate for Chinese food.

Address:49 Rue des Vinaigriers, 10eme arrondissement
Hours: daily except Monday
Telephone:01 40 37 16 21 (Reservations accepted, walk-ins welcome)

 

Siseng

The second place we visited was completely different. I would dub it the “Little Bao of Paris” in homage to my favorite restaurant in Hong Kong, which served steamed Taiwanese buns made into various types of burgers.

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Siseng, located adjacent to Canal Saint-Martin, has both a similar menu and a similar vibe. The space is small and cramped. The music is good. The energy is high. In short, it is a fun place to be.

IMG_0958Despite (or perhaps because of) the tight quarters and busy evening, the staff is extremely efficient while remaining friendly. Service in English was welcomed and they were patient when we tried our rusty French.

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The menu is much less bao-heavy than at Little Bao. In fact, there really are only two types of bao burgers. The rest of the menu has only about a dozen items plus a good selection of drinks and cocktails. We ordered these fried risotto balls that were made with coconut milk and lemongrass, which were spectacular. The flavor was rich and aromatic.

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We also enjoyed a vaguely Vietnamese dish called the “bo bun” – the menu says “don’t hesitate to eat it all!” – which are rice vermicelli with a chopped beef in curry sauce on top. Lots of fresh herbs and vegetables come with it. Authentic? Hardly. But tasty? Absolutely. This was a fun dish to eat and had great flavors.

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For the bao burgers, we had them both. This one, the Kaï, was a marinated chicken breast breaded and fried in katsu breadcrumbs and served with a basil and coconut milk pesto and a red pepper confit and homemade coleslaw.  The meat was tender and flavorful, the breading light and crunchy. It was a good bao burger.

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The second bao is the five spice burger, featuring a beef patty marinated in Chinese five spice mixture, served with a caramelized tamarind sauce, tempura fried onions, confit onions, rocket and spinach. It was nicely cooked and flavorful. The bao don’t seem to hold up quite as well as I would like, but that’s quibbling about details.

Overall, I think Siseng is a bit more “Asian-ish” versus Little Bao’s solid roots. Despite this, I think Siseng is one of the more interesting places we ate in Paris and is on the “visit again” list for our next trip.

Address: 82 Quai de Jemmapes, 10eme arrondissement
Hours: daily except Monday
Telephone: 06 68 89 77 88 (Reservations not accepted)

 

Visiting Tong Hua Night Market in Taipei

Last week I was in Taipei on business. One of my rules of business travel is, whenever possible, to explore the city and eat at least one meal out and about, so I come away with at least some sense of the city. Thankfully, Taipei is a familiar city and I was fortunate to have two friends join me for a trip to the Tong Hua Street Market in Da’an District.

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The objective of this visit was to locate a popular restaurant that serves gua bao, the steamed buns filled with braised pork belly and other goodies that I’ve previously tried making and have enjoyed at Little Bao in Hong Kong.

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Thankfully, one of the local HR team members did some research for me and found a helpful article on the Lauhound food blog. The target restaurant was Shi Jia Gua Bao, a local chain famous for their gua bao.

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The menu is limited: basically there are steamed gua bao with a few different types of fillings, a baked bagel-like bun with a more limited selection of fillings, and the Taiwanese version of xiao long bao, a steamed pork bun.

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The shop manager was friendly and more than happy for me to take pictures. Vats of steaming buns and all the ingredients sat at the ready, ensuring us of a freshly-made, high-quality meal.

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The basic gua bao features both slices of fatty belly and slices of leaner meat. The size of the bao is larger than I have seen at some places: about the size of a McDonald’s hamburger. While a little messy to eat, the flavor was rich and satisfying.

Prices range from 50-65 New Taiwan Dollars, or less than US$2. Quite a bargain for the quantity and quality of food.

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The baked version, somewhat akin to a bagel, was not as enjoyable. While filled with the same tasty ingredients, the baked bun was dry and brittle, leaving me thirsty. Better to stick with the steamed version.

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Another interesting item was the xiao long bao. The Shanghainese version with which I am familiar (think of the ones at Din Tai Fung restaurant) feature as paper-thin noodle skin and the filling includes not only pork but a cube of flavorful gelatinized stock that melts when the bun is steamed, producing hot soup that will gush all over if you do not eat it carefully.

In contrast, the traditional Taiwanese version is made with a thicker bread dough so there is no stock inside, as it would only be absorbed by the bread. This was much less satisfying, although the pork filling was tasty enough.

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Wandering through the rest of the market, we encountered a stinky tofu vendor. The tofu was stinky, not the vendor! Made by fermenting the tofu in a brine that can contain all manner of ingredients, the smell of stink tofu is as strong as that of blue cheese. It sparks similar responses, with some people loving it and others repulsed by it. Also similar to blue cheese, the flavor and the smell are different.

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Here, the tofu is served lightly deep fried with a healthy dose of chili oil and pickled cabbage as a garnish. It was a very satisfying dish to try, although the bottom pieces, thoroughly soaked in the chili oil, were blindingly spicy.

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My friends Nathan and Andrew (aka loserstepaside here in WordPress) join me at the Tong Hua night market. The stinky tofu was Andrew’s idea.

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At the far end of the market was a vendor selling sheng jian bao, a pan-fried bun that I fell in love with in Shanghai, where I ate several times at Yang’s Buns.

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The skins are moderately thick, not as much as the gua bao but not so thin as gyoza. However, like gyoza they are fried on a cast iron pan that is filled with a generous amount of water, covered, and allowed to steam. The cover is removed after about five minutes and the remained of the liquid boils off.

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The sheng jian bao are served in a box of ten or a bag of five, sprinkled with sesame seeds and, in some places, chopped green onions.

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The insides are still steaming hot and the pork, ginger, and green onion filling is juicy and salty. These are a mess to eat but worth it, as the combination of crunchy bottom, pillowy soft wides, and warm, juice filling is too much to resist.

All in all, the Tong Hua market will give you many great things to see, do, and eat!

Also known as the Linjiang Street Night Market, located near Xinyi Anhe MRT station.

Trying My Hand at Making Bao Burgers

After a long while, I finally had the opportunity to try making my own Chinese-style bao burgers. The verdict? Pretty tasty and easier than I expected!

One of my favorite restaurants in the word is Little Bao in Hong Kong. (Read my review of it.) They are one in a crowd of restaurants doing more modern twists on the Chinese (specifically, Taiwanese) gua bao, steamed flour buns folded in half around pork belly, braised chicken, or other fillings.

P1280602A spicy fried chicken with garlic black bean mayo and scallion coleslaw bao from Little Bao in Hong Kong.

The conceit at Little Bao is that instead of a folded bun, they make their bao more like hamburger buns. This makes it possible to include more tasty fillings, offering a better balance of bread to filling. It was that hamburger-like quality that I wanted to achieve.

Day One

I worked with my friend Chow (aka the Bangkok Glutton), my frequent co-conspirator in the kitchen. The basic recipe for the bao is simple: flour, water, yeast, a bit of baking powder and a bit of salt. Some versions have some milk added for softness – I didn’t try that this time. You let the dough rise a few times, punching it down between rises but trying to avoid over-working it, because bao are meant to be soft, not chewy.

IMG_4867The first day, we made bao the traditional way, rolling them out into an oblong shape and them folding them in half over a piece of wax paper. This allows them to be opened and stuffed more easily. They are then steamed for about 8-10 minutes and can either be served warm or kept covered and reheated if necessary.

As for the red decoration, I found that trick in one online recipe. You use red food coloring and the tip of a chopstick to decorate the buns just before steaming. Looks pretty professional! Our kitchen assistants became more creative and so we ended up with all sorts of designs on our bao.

IMG_4872For the first day’s bao, we used some braised pork belly, homemade radish pickles, some braised cabbage, and some Italian parsley. It turned out okay, but the bao were a bit flat, brittle at the fold, and the fillings were underwhelming in flavor. All in all, though, a good first attempt.

Day Two

The second day we let the dough rise more and also shaped it into balls, making it more like a hamburger bun. This worked better although I think we over-worked the dough a bit, as it was tough.

IMG_4928The pictures don’t do justice, but the fillings were a great deal better this time around. We tried a different recipe for the pork belly, which had much more flavor than the original recipe.

IMG_4933We also did a duck breast, which I paired with the seasonings I had used the day before for the pork belly. This, too, was very nice.

IMG_4939The star of the show was a more traditional Taiwanese version with chicken thigh meat braised in Chinese rice wine and soy sauce served with chopped peanuts. This was so tasty, I could have eaten a half-dozen and I will have to try it again soon.

IMG_4937As an added bonus, since I was also teaching two friends’ children to cook, we made a homemade chicken noodle soup with both the broth and the noodles from scratch. I think the noodles came out a bit too “spaetzle-like” but they were tasty and the broth was the first time I’ve made a chicken broth that really wowed me.

Stay tuned for more from the kitchen.

 

Food in Hong Kong: Little Bao

The final meal we had in Hong Kong over the New Year’s holiday was the most exciting and most memorable: a visit to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese burger bar called Little Bao.

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Located at the quiet end of Staunton Street in Central, a short walk from the escalator, Little Bao occupies a tiny storefront – maybe two dozen seats – with a large neon sign on the exterior. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so we arrived about 6:30 on a weekday and faced an estimated wait of one hour. The friendly woman taking names suggested some nearby watering holes and offered to call when our table was ready, despite the fact that my phone number was overseas.

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In about fifty minutes, my phone rang and she let us know we could finish up our drinks and head back to the restaurant. We scored four prime seats, nestled along the counter facing the kitchen. (A second counter is placed along the wall to the left.) This afforded us a great view of the action. Adam, a friendly fellow, was running the front of the house and despite the hectic operation, had time to walk us through the menu and answer questions.

Little Bao has a short wine list with excellent selections from the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to there being no duties on wine imports in Hong Kong, these were good values and complemented the food very well.

The menu is divided into two sections. The first features baos – steamed buns filled hamburger-style with different ingredients – that are not intended for sharing. They have a strict “no cutting” policy although we did share our baos, each taking a bite and passing them unhygienically amongst our friends. The other part of the menu are dishes designed for sharing. With four people, we ordered one of nearly everything on the menu.

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The first dish to arrive was the orange chicken – fried chicken with salty egg yolk, a honey glaze, and orange zest. The salty egg yolk, a common but sometimes overpowering ingredient in Chinese cuisine, elevated the fried chicken to another level. You had a nice balance of sweet, salty, and savory with the citrus zest cutting through to unite the flavors.

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These short-rib pan fried dumplings (essentially gyoza) were filled with slow-braised beef short rib that was tender and rich, and served on a bed of celeriac coleslaw. It was like a pleasant collision of a plate of barbecue beef brisket and coleslaw with a Chinese take-out container filled with potstickers.

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The next dish was clams with bacon and potato, served in a white pepper miso broth with toasted miso-butter baos. The clams were tender and sweet and the broth was an interesting study in complementary flavors: the umami that comes from the miso and the subtle heat of white pepper.

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As they had been recommended by many reviewers, we also ordered the LB fries, served with a side of roasted tomato sambal and kewpie mayo. There’s a spray of lime on the fries but there must be something else – cocaine, perhaps? – that makes these batons of fried potatoes so very addictive.

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Directly in front of us was the bao preparation station. There are only four bao on the menu plus one special. We ordered all of them except for the regular chicken bao. Each bao was about four to five bites – about the size of a modest (but very vertical) hamburger. I can understand why they have a no-cutting policy: ingredients would fall out and you would lose out on the flavor gestalt of the experience.

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If I’m not mistaken, from left to right the bao pictures are the fish tempura (with tamarind palm sugar glaze and pickled lemongrass fennel salad), the pork belly (slow braised with leek and shiso red onion salad, sesame dressing, and hoisin ketchup), the Sloppy Chan (Taiwanese braised shitake tempeh, truffle mayo, sweet pickled daikon, and fried shallot), the pork belly again, and the special of the day, a spicy fried chicken bao.

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In the interest of giving you a closer look, here is the special, the spicy fried chicken with garlic black bean mayo and scallion coleslaw. All of the baos were tasty and they all succeed for the same reason: there aren’t too many ingredients, but enough to make the dish interesting. There are different textures and flavors and the soft but toasted bao bun absorbs some of the sauce so it isn’t just a neutral carrier for the ingredients but very much a part of the dish.

The food, which is excellent, is only a part of what makes Little Bao such a pleasant dining experience. There is a really good energy to the place. Part of this is because it is small and crowded, but in a way that feels intimate instead of cramped. Part of it is because there is great music, but at a volume low enough that you can still hear conversations with fellow diners. But the biggest part of the good energy is that you can tell that the staff seems to really love what they are doing and they enjoy working with each other.

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From what I’ve read, credit for that goes to the chef May Chow (pictured above). With a Canadian and Hong Kong background by way of the United States, she has built a team that is chosen for attitude rather than experience, treated well, and motivated based on their own interests. (Read more about that here.) I had a chance to chat with her for a few minutes and was very impressed with the way she thinks about food and running a restaurant. Thanks to a quick response to one of my Instagram photos, I also discovered that we have a common chef friend here in Bangkok: Jess Barnes of Opposite Mess Hall. In-depth profile of May at SassyHongKong.com here.

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Just as we were reaching that point of satiation, dessert arrived. There is only one dessert on the menu and that’s okay because that one dessert is so perfect, there is no need for anything else! It is an ice cream sandwich made with deep-fried bao, green tea ice cream, and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. When I write that it is “so perfect,” I mean that it achieves a spectacular balance of flavors and textures that is satisfying and made for the ideal end to this meal.

You can probably tell that I enjoyed the meal, huh?

Anyhow, if you are in Hong Kong, I would strongly recommend a visit to Little Bao. Come with one or two other people so you can share but not with a large group otherwise you will never get seated. Come prepared to wait a bit – bring a book or go to one of the nearby bars for a drink. Most importantly, come with an appetite, because you’ll need it.

Food in Shanghai – Part 1

Shanghai is a city of immigrants and the most international of Chinese cities. This mixture of people and cultures means that there is an opportunity to try many different types of food from lowbrow to high-society. We arrived in Shanghai armed with a list of recommended restaurants and were hosted by people who had their own “must try” lists, so we had more places to eat than we had meals! I’m combining a few different meals into this entry.

Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Knowing that, we wanted to see how folks in Shanghai fuel their day. The morning that we arrived, Tawn’s cousins Paul and Nicha took us to a Kiwi restaurant near their apartment for a satisfyingly typical western style breakfast. On subsequent mornings, though, we went native for our breakfasts.

A common breakfast dish anywhere with Chinese influence: rice porridge, known as jok (“joke”) or congee (“con-jee”). For breakfast, you can also order these “Chinese donuts” which are fried sticks of dough perfect for tearing up and adding to your jok. They are not sweet, though. If you are a porridge sort of person, as I am, you will probably enjoy jok.

Another breakfast snack was what might be described as a rice burrito. Sticky rice rolled around some dried pork and pickled vegetables. This is the exact same thing we had for breakfast when we were in Taipei in November 2009.

Another breakfast item, bought from a Muslim vendor, was this roti – a thin, multi-layered pancake with salt, green onions, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Tasty but heavy.

At the same vendor, we sampled these thin cakes stuffed with black sesame paste. The cakes are griddled and have a very flaky texture.

Detail shot showing the light, flaky texture of the cakes and the black sesame filling, which is slightly sweet. We also bought a hot beverage that was made from blended black sesame seeds. It had a very pleasant flavor.

 

Lunch

Shanghai is known for its dumplings and everyone has their favorite type of dumplings and their favorite vendors. On this trip, I fell in love with sheng jian bao – a pan-fried pork soup filled dumpling sprinkled with sesame seeds.

We tried sheng jian bao from a few different places but kept returning to the place where we first tried them: Yang’s Dumplings. With a few branches in Shanghai, Yang’s popularity is clear by the queue that stretches from the front door most anytime during the day. You queue up on the left, ordering and paying at the cashier, and then queue up on the right to wait to collect your order.

 

A view of the cramped but efficient kitchen at Yang’s Dumplings on Wujiang Luu above the West Nanjing Street subway station. The menu has only about a dozen items but these dumplings are the superstar item.

The secret that makes sheng jian bao different from xiao long bao (made popular at places like Din Tai Fung restaurant) is that the sheng jian are fried in a heavy pan and steamed at the same time, a process making them a relative of Japanese gyoza – potstickers. This provides a crispy, crunchy bottom with a tender, steamed top – the perfect combination of textures. An order is four dumplings, enough for a hungry person or for two people to share if you have also ordered some soup or greens.

Tawn and his cousin’s wife, Nicha, demonstrate two techniques for eating sheng jian bao: steamed top up or pan fried bottom up. The trick here is to be very careful because the inside of the dumpling is filled with ground pork and a minor ocean of hot soup. You don’t want to let the succulent soup spill so you have to gently tear the top of the dumpling and slurp the soup out. I found the “steamed top up” technique to be easier.

The sad circumstance that we kept facing throughout our visit to Shanghai was this: an empty bowl, its tasty contents just a fading flavor on our tongues.

 

Food in HK – Another Tim Ho Wan Location

In April 2010, Tawn and I had the opportunity to visit Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin star winning dim sum restaurant in the Yau Ma Tei area of Hong Kong.  When you hear “Michelin star” the normal image is of a big, swanky restaurant.  Tim Ho Wan is quite the opposite, a modest twenty-seater emphasizing their food and little else.  Because of the chef’s success, a second location was opened in Sham Shui Po, the fabric district in Kowloon.  While in Hong Kong earlier this month, we stopped in for a visit.

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Tim Ho Wan Location 2


Tim Ho Wan
(Second Location)
9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Kowloon
Food: Amazing
Service: So-so
Ambience: None
Price: Bargain

Located roughly equidistant between the Sham Shui Po and Prince Edward MTR stations, the second location of Tim Ho Wan is fairly easy to get to.  Recognizing it will be a bit more challenging if you don’t read Chinese – there is no English signage.  However, the street it is on seems to have no other restaurants, and most of the time you will see a queue out front, so that’s your clue that you are in the right place.

There is also a third location now open in a decidedly more upscale and easier to reach spot: the MTR Airport Express Hong Kong station.  Look for store 12A on level one.  This way, you can zip into the city from the airport on a four-hour layover, have time to eat the Michelin star earning dim sum, and then head back to the airport!

We headed to the restaurant about 11:00 am on a weekday, sneaking in between the morning crowd (the restaurant opens at 8:00) and the lunch crowd.  That meant no wait for us, although just thirty minutes later the other tables quickly filled up.  This second location is probably three times larger than the first, so waits are reportedly much shorter than at the first location, where waits longer than an hour are common.

As for the food, it was still very good but I would dare say the quality and care of preparation is lower than we experienced at the original location.  And, in one case, the hygienic standards were lower, too.

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The cheong fun, wide rice noodles filled with pork, steamed, and served with soy sauce, remain a favorite of mine.  Tim Ho Wan prepares them beautifully, with the most delicate and silky noodles I’ve ever had. 

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Close-up view of the cheong fun, called “vermicelli” on the menu.  The dish is just HK$15, about US$2, and even at three times the price, I would classify it as a must-order dish.

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Another dish the restaurant is acclaimed for is its char siu bao, or barbecue pork buns.  These are baked with a crumb crust on top and have a delightfully flaky texture.

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Inside view of the barbecue pork bun.  As I understand it, the origin of these bao is that restaurants would use the leftover pork from the previous evening’s banquets as the filling.  Of course, that is probably not the case at most restaurants these days.  Tim Ho Wan’s are made of very high quality pork and I could eat a few servings of these buns and call it a day.

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Another winning dish is what the menu calls the “glue rice dumpling”, or glutinous rice dumpling.  Filled with sausage and other goodies then wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed, this is the most generously-sized item on the menu – about the size of my hand with fingers open wide.  The quality of the ingredients is very high and the rice is very aromatic.

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The pan fried turnip cakes, another dish that is usually a favorite of mine, disappointed.  On our visit to the original Tim Ho Wan location, these cakes were fantastic, with a nicely browned crust and a flavor that comes from only the most seasoned of griddles.  In fact, at the original location, this was my favorite dish.  Unfortunately, the version at location number two was undercooked and uninspiring.

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We made a wrong turn with the steamed beef balls in bean curd (tofu) skin.  Commonly nicknamed “Chinese hamburgers”, these meatballs were cooked very rare.  While I enjoy rare beef (steak tartare is wonderful), the texture didn’t work well in this dish.  Additionally, one of our dining companions found a hair stuck in one of the balls.  We brought this to the attention of a server, who replaced the dish but did not offer any compensation.  While I know that Hong Kong doesn’t have a reputation for good customer service, the least I would expect at a Michelin starred restaurant (at any decent restaurant, for that matter) is that we not be charged for the dish that had to be replaced. 

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We headed back on track with the siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimps.  These mainstays of dim sum were tasty, although there was nothing particularly impressive about them compared to siu mai I’ve had at a dozen other dim sum restaurants.

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Dining companions Tehlin with her daughter.  When I ordered, I ordered for four hungry adults, forgetting that a child isn’t going to eat nearly as much.  Oh, well, more for the rest of us!

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Chris, Tawn, and Chinese aunty.

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For dessert, we ordered two types of warm, sweet soup.  One was the corn and purple glutinous rice and the other was green peas with sea lavender (a type of fragrant seaweed).  Both were tasty but didn’t photograph very well.  The third dessert, described as “tonic medlar & petal cake”, was tasty and beautiful.  It is a gelatine of dried flowers, probably Chrysanthemum, that was beautifully golden and wonderfully aromatic.  This is the type of dessert that is at once very simple – Jell-O! – but also very dramatic.

All told, we had twelve dishes and tea for four, and the bill came out to UK$177, about US$24 for three and a half people.  While we did have the hair in the meatball incident and three dishes that were only average, the remaining dishes (especially the cheong fun and char siu bao) were fantastic and well worth the effort to find the restaurant.

 

Food in BKK: Din Tai Fung

After a year’s delay caused by the May 2010 political protests and subsequent fires, Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung recently opened its first branch in Thailand at the Central World Plaza mall at the Ratchaprasong intersection.  Last week, Tawn and I made a trip there to see how well it upholds the chain’s reputation.  The results?  Overall, positive, but a little bland.

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I almost didn’t write this entry because, well, how many times do I need to post pictures of food from Din Tai Fung?  I’ve been twice in Taipei and then again in Hong Kong and Singapore.  The pictures never look that different.  But I waited more than a year for this branch to open and I thought it would be a shame not to give it due consideration.

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One feature of Din Tai Fung locations is that the kitchen, or at least the dumpling making portion, is very visible.  The company takes pride in how they operate and their cleanliness is a sign of quality.  Plus, the army of cooks making thousands of dumplings is impressive to watch.  Here are some photos I took, which I think looked a little more interesting in black and white.

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The dining area faces large windows overlooking the Big C Supercenter across the street, letting in lots of natural light.  Another seating area is open to the rest of the mall, which leaves you feeling a bit exposed.

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The logos on the spoon and napkin have the Chinese, English, Japanese, and Thai versions of the restaurant’s name.  The lady working the front counter, taking names, and coordinating orders was from the Singapore branch, leaving me curious about how they manage operations in different countries.  Is this a franchise location or is it owned directly by the original company in Taiwan?

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We started with a special “Oriental Salad in Vinegar Dressing,” which is a combination of seaweed, sprouts, mung bean noodles, and thinly sliced vegetables.  While a tasty combination, it was underseasoned and benefitted greatly from a hearty splash of soy sauce.

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Sliced ginger in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar, the ideal condiment into which you should dip your bao, or dumplings.

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The original Xiao Long Bao, steamed pork dumplings.  Here in Bangkok, as well as in the Hong Kong location, I felt that the filling was under-seasoned.  My memory from Taipei is that the dumplings were full of flavor, but perhaps I need to go back and test that memory.

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Another variation on the dumplings, this one with vegetables and pork.  The filling was more flavorful than with the original Xiao Long Bao.

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Perhaps my favorite dish, the wontons with black vinegar and chilli oil.  Stuffed with shrimp, these lightly sweet dumplings are served in a sauce that is not as frighteningly spicy as you might imagine. 

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A good concluding dish was the fried rice topped with pork chop.  The lack of flavor in the bao was made up for by the pork chop, which was liberally dusted in salt and pepper.

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If you are thinking of ordering dessert at the Bangkok branch, be advised that nothing is yet available.  I didn’t ask why but perhaps one day they will fix whatever problem they are having.

All told, the quality continues to be high and the Din Tai Fung company can be confident that their good name will be upheld here.  I’m left with the lingering question of whether the blandness in their dumplings is something that I just didn’t notice at the original locations in Taipei and the Singapore location, too, or are the dumplings actually less flavorful here and in Hong Kong?  Further tests will have to be conducted!

Meanwhile, I am glad our wait for Din Tai Fung is over.