Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Peanuts + Cilantro + Pork Blood = Truly Taiwan

May 5, 2013

Last post, I wrote about sweet and savory street snacks involving peanut powder and cilantro.

Pork blood on a stick is a distinctively Taiwanese street snack.

Pork blood on stick

The first time I had this was at Minquan Lao Jie in Sanxia, another preserved old-style business district.  The local junior high school was letting out and some kids stopped by for an after-school treat.  It would be like swinging by Sturbridge Village or Disneyland for an afternoon snack, except that the vendors aren’t in costume or in character.  The seller said they’d have to come back later as the blood was still in the steamer.




The kids went off and got ice creams (served in longhorn pastries, another local specialty—unfortunately I don’t have a good photo of this, but they’re all over Taiwan) then came back for fresh salty snack.

Although it’s called zhu xue gao, pig blood cake, it really isn’t a “cake” in the American sense of the word.  There’s no crumb to it—I think the word “cake” is used more in the sense of “cake of soap” or “caked-on mud”.  Not just congealed pig blood, it’s primarily glutinous rice stuck together with said blood, and steamed in trays.

Taipei sign

Good place to get pork blood: stand near Di Hua Street in Taipei

Taipei Sign 2

It is then cut up into rectangular or isosceles triangles, covered with peanut powder and cilantro and hot sauce (optional), impaled on a stick, and handed to you in a paper wrapper for cleaner consumption.


Pork blood prepCilantro


Although versions are served in restaurants, nothing is as satisfying as the real deal on a stick, bought from a street vendor that really knows her stuff, for less than $2US.

Long ago, a friend described the blood pudding common on Irish breakfasts to taste “like a scab”.  Pork blood on a stick doesn’t have quite the same ferrous taste.  It has a rich saltiness and the enjoyment may be more about the chewy texture complemented by the peanut powder, or local nostalgia.  If you don’t think you can stomach an entire one, buy one to share!


The Day Before Thanksgiving

November 22, 2012

Our “It’s almost Thanksgiving” meal at the airport

Living on opposite coasts with our respective families, my brother and I don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving together very often. Our last Thanksgiving together happened three years ago during a vacation we took together in Korea. It was leisurely, elaborate and joyful capped by the memory of my then two year old niece stuffing her face with a mound of buttery mashed potato while ignoring the rest of the mouth watering spread before her. This year’s meal was rushed, squeezed in during a two hour layover at SFO, not nearly as grand, and happened the day before Thanksgiving, but I am so thankful for the pancakes and shrimp dumplings that I got to share with my big brother yesterday. Happy Thanksgiving!

We live in an amazing world…

May 1, 2012

Chipotle-flavored Korean toasted seaweed, marketed as a healthy snack.Image

Annie Chun was the first, but clearly not the last to see a wider potential market for gim or 김 as a snack and not just as a side dish. This biography of the SeaSnax founder is kind of fascinating–a perfect blend of Korean obsession with “well-being” meeting the hippie-organic American demographic:

Jin earned her Masters in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine at YoSan University. During her studies, she developed an interest in nutrition as a tool for prevention of disease, self-healing and self-empowerment. In her view, nutrition/food is medicine for the soul and body and the only lasting treatment for self-healing. While in school, she gave birth to her daughter Namu (tree in Korean). During her pregnancy and motherhood, Jin’s understanding and appreciation for nutrition and health gained more relevance as she realized that it was no longer about me, but we. She is committed to educating, empowering and serving children, mothers and families. She is also the founder of Acuparents, an on-line support community for parents in the health care profession sharing natural and holistic-minded parenting philosophies.

Staying the course: cookbook update

May 15, 2011

If some of you thought that we had given up and the cookbook was never going to be published, we would not blame you. The project has taken years longer than we thought it would take, but we are still working on it. Diane has been organizing a small army of dedicated volunteer testers all over the country. I, guiltily, have not been working on it as steadfastly, and I’ve realized my new job is no longer so new and does not work as an excuse.

But we are truly making progress. Last night, as I took stock of where we are and rewrote the introduction for the 50 millionth time, I realized we’re probably 85% of the way there, at least with regard to the text. There’ll be a lot more work to do with photos and design, and so we still can’t predict when the book will be out, but I’m so relieved to promise that it will happen.

열심히 하겠습니다! (We will do our very best!)

The photo isn’t really relevant, but I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s from a sign at one end of a short trail on the mountain behind my parents’ apartment in Seoul. You can see that if you take Course A, you will burn 300 calories, which is a little less than one serving of French fries or one hamburger. If you take Course B, though, you will only burn 75 calories, which is equivalent to one canned coffee. I hope there will something equivalent to a giant serving of delicious French fries for me at the end of this project.

California, land of milkshakes in the sun

May 12, 2011

Even though I decided long ago that California was not for me, it still has its allure as someplace magical, where the sun shines brighter, people are happier, and there are, wonder of wonders, palm trees everywhere!

I know this isn’t true. But I’m grateful that after a week of seeing such sights as 1) a lane devoted to bikes and golf carts; 2) a senior citizen out for her morning walk with a cat strapped into a baby carrier; and 3) Gucci (Gucci?) in the middle of the desert, I was able to find myself in a warm haze, slurping up a creamy milkshake flecked with bits of sugary sweet, almost candied dates — a date shake. (The glow is only slightly enhanced by Hipstamatic.)

I had this one, even thicker and creamier than the one I had the day before, at Oasis Date Gardens in Thelma, about two and half hours east of Los Angeles. When my friend Mark heard, via Facebook, that I was in Coachella Valley, he urged me to try a date shake. I admit I was skeptical. I don’t really like dates (too sweet) and I don’t really like milkshakes (too much). But the combination is something that is so delicious and so right for the heat of the desert, you would think date shakes grew from date palms, straws and all.

Coachella Valley is the heart of the American date industry, and maybe the whole body, too, given that dates are grown in only a few other places in the country. Dates come from the Middle East and North Africa, and are probably one of the oldest cultivated foods known to man. In the 1890s, the US Department of Agriculture determined that Coachella Valley looked just like Iraq (this being before Iraq had less magical connotations for America) and began experimenting. Now the valley is lined with date farms, exporting varieties with beautiful names like the Halawy, the Khadrawy, and the Zahidi all over the world. If you somehow miss the exotic Arabian Nights-connotation, you’ll be reminded by Oasis Date Gardens’ claim that it it has adopted the “harem” way of farming from the Old World, with one male palm “presid[ing] over an acre or about 50 female palms.”

The tourist stores built by date gardens in California, though, feel quintessentially American. The two I visited, Oasis Date Gardens and Shield Date Gardens, both sold dates, of course, as well as other dried fruits, diner food, postcards, and shot glasses with palm trees on them. Shield Date Gardens urged me to view the film,  “Romance and Sex Life of the Date!” (There are male and female components, though given that the female trees have to be hand-pollinated, I’m not sure they’re such a great symbol of potent sexual chemistry.)

And the date shake feels the most American and most Californian of all. Whether it’s nutty and sippable, like the one I had at Shield, or as thick as a Dairy Queen Blizzard, like the one I had at Oasis, the date shake is so rich and indulgent, you can imagine people who eat them regularly may truly be happier. Or maybe just fatter.

Mandu Wrapper Taste Off

January 27, 2011

In celebration of the New Year, I decided to make some mandu (aka mandoo or Korean dumplings) – only to walk into the Asian supermarket and find too many brands of dumpling wrappers. Not knowing anything about the different brands, I picked three to test:

New Hong Kong Noodle Company Pot Sticker Wraps

1) New Hong Kong Noodle Company Pot Sticker Wraps: 34 wrappers in the package, each 3.65 inches in diameter. These wrappers were obviously thicker than the other two. They held their shape fairly well as they were stuffed, unlike the other two, which were more prone to ripping.

Gyoza Skins

2) Gyoza Skins: 46 wrappers in the package, each approximately 3.4 inches in diameter. These wrappers were very thin, and I had to take care not to rip them.

Assi Brand "찹쌀" Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

3)  Assi Brand “찹쌀” Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper: About 24 wrappers per package, each 4 inches in diameter. In Korean, 찹쌀 is glutinous rice. Would this “special ingredient” affect the texture and flavor of the wrappers? I was eager to find out. While making the dumplings, I found these to be a bit too big and more unwieldy than the other two.

I thought that the best way to test the wrappers would be to cook them using three common methods: steaming, pan-frying and boiling.

Steamed dumplings. Clockwise from top left: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

I love steamed dumplings – unadulterated by oil or by too much water. I couldn’t tell if the Pot Sticker Wraps and Gyoza Skins were completely cooked through because their edges remained opaque and white. However, the durable Pot Sticker Wraps resisted sticking to the steamer while the other two didn’t resist, stuck to the steamer and ripped when they were taken out. In terms of taste, the Pot Sticker Wraps were tough and hard, while the other two, despite the tears, were soft and moist. Taste trumped presentation. Round 1 winner: Gyoza Skins (they held together better than the Jumbo Dumplings).

Pan-fried mandu. Clockwise from top left: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

That I love steamed dumplings doesn’t mean that I don’t also love the crispy yumminess of pan-fried dumplings! And perhaps there’s nothing that a tablespoon of canola oil can’t improve as all three wrappers were tasty. But the Pot Sticker Wraps remained tough, while the Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper mandus looked (crispy and translucent) and tasted delicious. Winners: It’s a tie! Gyoza Skin and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper.

Boiled mandu. From top to bottom: Pot Sticker Wraps, Gyoza Skins and Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper

For me, the mandus pictured above seem lonely bobbing around in broth without the chewy company of rice cakes (tteok). But I shouldn’t complain as they still tasted good. The Pot Sticker Wraps got points for consistency: that is, in all three trials, they remained tough and chewy. The Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper tasted a bit too flour-y and it was so loose that the stuffing seemed to get lost inside. The Gyoza Skins, on the other hand, were perfect: slippery, noodle-like in texture, vacuum-packing and becoming one with the stuffing.  Winner: Gyoza Skins.

This post is by no means a definitive mandu wrapper tasting and testing, but hopefully, it is a good start. My winner that day were the Gyoza Skins, but I vacillated a lot between them and the Jumbo Dumpling Wrapper. Did the glutinous rice make a difference at the end? Not for me. People who like chewy and tough will certainly prefer the Pot Sticker Wraps.

Twittering @tenchopsticks

January 15, 2010

I still don’t really understand the point of Twitter.  My favorite description of Twitter is from Anil Dash at ExpertLabs:

Apes will always need to groom each other, and Twitter is great for that.

But I’ve found out about some cool stuff from the people I’ve been following, and maybe someone will find out about cool stuff from me.  One can hope.  So if you’d like to follow me, you can find me @tenchopsticks.  (If I were starting a blog now, I’d call it “Ten Pairs of Chopsticks.”)  And if you’re tweeting interesting news about food, soccer, immigrant rights, dogs, or poetry, let me know so I can follow you.


December 24, 2009

Christmas isn’t a big deal in Korea.  Chuseok and New Year’s Day are much, much bigger holidays, and the best presents I ever got as a little kid weren’t on Christmas morning but on New Year’s, when I bowed all the way to the ground, forehead to the floor, to my parents and all my aunts and uncles and received envelopes with crisp, new money in return.

What can I say, it’s a Western holiday and Koreans celebrate it by eating Western cake!  Mona loved this cake we had a few years ago, with cross-eyed Rudolph cuddling up next to Santa.  (For more photos of wacky Christmas cakes, see ZenKimchi’s catalog.)  But this year, Christmas for me and my sister means an Italian-themed potluck dinner in Brooklyn.  So I’m off to make milk-braised pork loin!

Merry Christmas!

Monday lunch

June 25, 2009


A bellini: girly, pink and the perfect thing to drink at lunch when you are playing hooky on a weekday.  It’s rained almost everyday this month in New York, but it was almost sunny this past Monday, at least for a few hours around lunch time, and a peachy-champagne cocktail was the right celebratory thing.

I usually make fun of people at places like Pastis — wannabe Sex and the City tourists, self-serious Europeans, and girls who spend much too much on handbags — but who am I to judge?  They love the life of drinking cocktails and eating pâté bathed in the frivolous, delirious feeling of being out for a lazy lunch on a Monday.  I love it, too.

P.S.  Back to Korean food this Sunday!  We’re finally going to have summer weather.  Do I sweat my guests with a steaming bowl of chicken-ginseng soup, which really is a Korean summer soup, or cool them down with a raw fish-bibimbap?

Wednesday noodle lunch

June 11, 2009


Wednesday lunch: makeshift bibimnaengmyeon, made with the buckwheat memil noodles I bought in Korea in February, which are softer and less chewy than naengmyeon.

The red sauce is made with pureed Asian pear!  And some onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt.  I was riffing off of a recipe I found in “The Beauty of Korean Food,” a cookbook published by the Institute of Traditional Korean Food.  Don’t buy it, the translations are abysmal, with instructions like, “Cut the young pumpkin…add salt and fumble them with hands.”  But this sauce is definitely worth experimenting with.