Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany

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Steamy goodness: The Five-Spice Pork Shoulder @ China Village, Albany

The photo for this entry may not do the size of the dish any justice: The five-spice pork shoulder at China Village is a massive chunk of flesh meant for at least two people (priced at $18.95), and the spoon at the upper right is actually the large serving variety. Alas, I consider the “serves two” caveat as a dare, especially when it comes to pork shoulder. I entered China Village on a mission to check this signature dish off of my Bay Area bucket list, and I was not disappointed.

China Village specializes in Szechuan cuisine and its other signature dish is probably the West Style Spicy Fish soup, which brings quite a bit more heat than Five-Spice Pork Shoulder (at China Village, the intensity of any dish can be increased upon request, so I’m basing this comparison on [… read more …]

Al’s Chop Suey, Oakland Fruitvale, 1950s

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In Oakland, East Fourteenth Street became known as International Boulevard in 1996, so the former home of Al’s Chop Suey is currently occupied by Canchola’s Restaurant.

I discovered an old menu for Al’s Chop Suey while visiting an antique shop in Berkeley this afternoon. I dig this sort of thing, especially since the idea of “chop suey” denotes a very specific period in American food culture, namely the mid-20th century. Several myths surround the origins of chop suey, which has been referenced in the United States as early as the 1880s. However, despite the many stories regarding the genesis of this dish, chop suey was most likely inspired by the Cantonese dish “tsap seui” (meaning miscellaneous leftovers, according to Wikipedia). These days, it’s easy to dismiss chop suey as a Chinese-American bastardization, but I still regard this dish as an important gateway to Chinese cuisine. We had to start somewhere.

[… read more …]

The Dim Sum @ Ton Kiang, San Francisco

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A Few of Ton Kiang’s Greatest Hits: Shrimp-stuffed crab claws, pot stickers, foil-wrapped chicken, and steamed pork buns.

Living here in the Napa Valley, San Francisco’s Richmond District has been my gateway to the city over the years. For those who aren’t well-versed in San Francisco’s traffic culture, the Richmond District is definitely the “easiest” neighborhood in the city: There are no hills, there are very few one-way streets, parking is relatively plentiful, and the north-south avenues are all numbered. Add on the fact that it’s the first neighborhood that you encounter when taking the first exit from the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Richmond District feels almost like a San Francisco suburb, despite its geography. It’s a great way to visit the city without going (not just) knee deep into the mayhem.

Although you can find either cheaper (Good Luck) or better (Yank Sing) [… read more …]

Book Review: “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60″ by Various Authors

The cover of “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60.”

This book review is going to be woefully short on text, since I don’t read or speak a lick of Chinese. I’ll try to make up for it with pictures. I found “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60″ while I was browsing through Kingstone Bookstore inside Richmond’s Pacific East Mall (perhaps better known as the “99 Ranch Mall” by some). This cookbook was a serendipitous discovery — as many times as I’ve visited the Pacific East Mall, I had never before recognized Kingstone as a bookstore. Honestly, this little shop is surrounded with so many Hello Kitty knickknacks that it’s easy to overlook the main book section in the center.

Recently published in Hong Kong, “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60″ is a beautiful paperback collection of 60 dim sum photos, food created by Hong Kong’s most revered dim sum chefs. Of [… read more …]

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena.

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena.

The Chinatown Duck Burger at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen has long been one of my favorite burger variations in the Bay Area (by variation, I mean a non-beef burger). And what’s not to like? Freshly ground duck, grilled and smothered with an umami-rich shiitake mushroom ketchup, and garnished with just a touch of arugula for color. The duck burger is accompanied by a side of Chinese-style mustard sauce for good measure, and of course, french fries. An up-valley classic, for sure.

Photo Gallery: Celebrating the Mooncake Festival

To the Moon:

To the Moon: Various boxes of mooncakes on display at 99 Ranch Market, Richmond.

Sunday, September 30th marks the date of China’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar (for the record, that day will be September 19th next year). Part of the Mid-Autumn Festival’s tradition includes the consumption of mooncakes, which were in plentiful supply last week at Richmond’s 99 Ranch Market. Over the years, mooncakes have become so fundamental to the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival that this Chinese national holiday is also commonly known as the Mooncake Festival.

Mooncakes are typically little round pastries filled with a sweet interior, which may also include a salted egg yolk that symbolizes the moon. Boxes of mooncakes are exchanged as gifts during this festival, and the mooncake selection at 99 Ranch proved impressive. The following photo gallery features [… read more …]

Afternoon Sichuan Session @ Spices Restaurant, Foster City

Ma Po Tofu

“Kiss of Fire” Orange Beef.

I drove 70 miles on Wednesday for Ramen Dojo’s Garlic Pork Ramen, a dish that I first reviewed here almost a year and a half ago. Although I don’t begrudge the distance, in some ways, my trip to San Mateo was a failed mission; ostensibly, I was hoping to snap a better picture than I did last time, although ultimately, that just wasn’t going to happen (despite my best efforts, I achieved the exact same results, more or less). Not to make excuses, but with its heavily-tinted front windows and sparse track lighting, Ramen Dojo offers very little in the way of illumination. I guess I had sort of forgotten. Anyhow, the restaurant’s signature Garlic Pork Ramen remains outstanding, which is the important thing. So, rather than repeat the past with another ramen run-down (and yet another lousy picture), I decided to eat [… read more …]

Review: “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” by Jennifer 8. Lee

What most Americans would recognize as “Chinese food” is far more likely to be Chinese-American, than anything truly Chinese. That said, it may seem surprising that there’s no chop suey or General Tso’s chicken in China, at least not as we know them. The staunch food-snob might label these Americanized dishes as a bastardization of the original form, although I feel that “bastardization” is much too strong of a term. Okay, if the food is served from a steam-table, then it probably is a bastardization. But whether it’s a buffet set-up or not, mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants outnumber McDonald’s franchises by two to one in this country, and for me, Chinese-American cookery falls under the jurisdiction of “comfort food,” rendering the notion of “authenticity” a totally moot point (the craving for “authenticity” is cerebral, while the craving for “comfort” is much more primal — the primal craving will always win [… read more …]