Sticky Rice, Pork Belly, Lotus

zong zi

My favorite food as a kid wasn’t mac and cheese, or pizza, or the Happy Meal.

It had nothing to do with brownies or chocolate cake. It didn’t involve spaghetti. Instead, it was a dish that a quarter of the world is probably very familiar with, just not this corner of the world. That dish is zong zi, these happy little packages. And so prettily wrapped.

The closest thing I could say to describe it is that it’s like a Chinese tamale, but different. For one, the starch component is sticky marinated rice, not masa, and it’s wrapped in lotus leaves, not corn husks.

When my father sampled one from our latest batch, he let out a gutteral, unselfconscious moan I associate with only the best food. “Two thousand years of culture,” he said, “and you get this.” Continue reading

Eating in Shanghai

Bok Choy

It has been a crazy week.

Now that my tour of Shanghai, Nanjing, and Yangzhou is over, I can take a moment to reflect back on what I’ve seen, felt, and… eaten. Naturally.

My first afternoon in China was spent in Shanghai with my mother’s cousins. They took us to a fancy-schmancy Schezwan (read: not for the faint of heart) restaurant for lunch.

The food was weird, even for me, and I count chicken feet as regular brunch fare. It was a satisfying meal, but let me say I paid for it dearly later that night. I’ll leave it at that.   Continue reading

Hot Pondering

It’s time for the favorite food discussion. You know the one. If I had to eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be…

That one. My answer varies occasionally based on mood or time of day or the prevailing climatic conditions. But there are regulars that show up time and again. They are those foods of which I can say, “I really wouldn’t mind eating that and only that for the rest of my life.” There are maybe only two or three dishes I can think of in the world that might qualify. And one, only one, that really fits the bill.

And that food is hot pot. Huo guo. Shabu shabu. It’s known by many names, but here are the essentials: Vegetables, meat, seafood and noodles submerged in a pot of boiling hot liquid, and family and friends gathered around it, fondue-style. It’s a fend-for-yourself, don’t-be-squeamish, germ-sharing, and as my friend Alan observed, “democratic” way of eating.

It’s not my favorite because it is gourmet or particularly graceful. It may never get a Food & Wine cover. It’s my favorite because when I eat it, it reminds me of the way food should be eaten, and that is with great joy and with the people we love.

I have a Chinese mother and an American father. Sometimes this can be weird and treacherous and uncomfortable. Navigating a safe course between the two cultures has been one of the great efforts of my life. But in my experience, if anything can bring a family together around the table, it is this meal.

Let me be clear. Hot pot is wonderful and delicious. But for me it has always been about the people I enjoy it with.

I was very grateful to share a hot pot dinner with my friends while I was away in college this Chinese New Year. This is the third year in a row that I have spent this major holiday away from home. Finally I have been able to make a piece of home for myself, here. I hope you will try this very special meal and find that it makes you as happy as it makes me.

Xin nian quai le! A very happy New Year to you all.

– Angela M.

Chinese New Year Hot Pot

You can throw just about anything in hot pot. Here’s a list of common ingredients:

– Thinly sliced pork, mutton, beef, or chicken
– Fresh raw shrimp or prawns
– Mussels
– Clams
– White-fleshed fish
– Nappa cabbage
– Any variety of mushroom
– Tomatoes
– Spinach
– Tong hao
– Medium or Firm tofu
– Fried tofu
– Imitation krab
– Fish balls
– Handmade noodles

You can find these items at any Asian market. You’ll also need an electric pot. Fondue pots work just fine.