Monday, January 28, 2008

Dan Dan Mien

We had a pile of not-so-fresh egg noodles in the fridge, procured during last week's expedition to Ocean View Supermarket. What to make? Nate's vote for chow mein didn't sound particularly appealing, and then I had a brainstorm. Dan dan noodles! Embarrassingly, the dan dan noodles I had my most recent experience with are not particularly authentic - the Marco Polo noodles from Long Life at the Metreon. These are the ground pork and cucumber version, and in the Long Life incarnation they have a slightly sweet sauce. Aside from this they are unremarkable. The other place I have had them is PF Chang's, where they are actually called Dan Dan noodles, and are ground pork and cucumbers with a spicy/salty sauce. I am mildly embarrassed that this is my only experience with the dish, as both of these noodle purveyors are poo-pooed (to borrow a Nate phrase) on the illustrious Chowhound. But it is, and I find them comforting, regardless of the inauthenticity.

On to the food-making. I found a PF Chang's copycat recipe for Dan Dan Noodles and began heating the wok. The sauce consisted of sherry, soy sauce, chicken broth, oyster sauce and something I'm surely forgetting. An aside on the sherry - the sheer volume of cooking wine sold at Ocean View is enough to boggle the mind and confuse any customer that does not read Chinese. This goes into the wok where the pork and ground chile is frying. And on and on.

We tuck into the noodles in front of a rerun of Mythbusters and begin enjoying the combination of crisp cucumbers, salty pork and chewy noodles. Really salty pork. Too salty. How can this be? I walk into the kitchen and there lies the answer - a full can of chicken broth that I forgot to include in the sauce. Instead of a 1:4 ratio of soy sauce to chicken broth we were probably working at a 2:1. Blech. I still feel like I swallowed sea water and that was two days ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The quest for open-ended lumpia ends.

I have been looking for open ended lumpia for sometime. Occasionally they appear in food trays at the office, but they did not appear at a crucial moment a few months ago, when Nate's mother made lumpia at our house. Hers are very delicious, but they have closed ends.

To my delight, Ocean View Supermarket on Alemany has many different kinds of prepared lumpia in their freezer case. Including the kind with the open ends! The brand was Pampanga's Best. I asked Nate if that was a good brand. Yes, he said, Pampanga is known for delicious food. Lovely, I remarked - but is this brand good? Yes, he said, it's Pampanga's Best! What a confusing name.

And now I see that I have been fooling myself to think that these open ended lumpia were any different than their closed counterparts. They are just halved! Only one end is open. They were very good - but not, as Nate pointed out, as good as his mom's.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back by popular demand.

If by popular demand, I mean at the request of one person.

There was a showdown at San Tung last night. Original dry fried chicken: wings vs. diced. I was on the side of the wings and Kara was trumpeting the virtues of the diced. I'm not sure how the rest of our party aligned itself - or whether they were interested at all. As I expected, the wings triumphed. They are richer and their coating has a more pleasing crunch. An easy victory.

Unfortunately, not everything we ate was so exciting. The mu shu's extra pancake was hard. Like, crispy cracker crunchy hard. I, the martyr, ate it anyway, like a tostada. And the spinach with bean threads, which looked so appetizing on another table, was rather uninteresting. Apparently bean threads have very little flavor.

However, we were surprised by both the hot and sour soup and the tomato beef chow mein. These dishes sound so boring that you might be sleeping already, but they were not. The soup was peppery and had a nice helping of tree fungus (my favorite) and the chow mein was heavy on the garlic. Which can only be a good thing.

On an unrelated note, the January issue of Gourmet is engrossing. I parked myself on the couch for an hour on Saturday and read it cover to cover. "What is Southern?" According to Gourmet, a lot of fantastic recipes and beautiful photographs. I've made one recipe so far, the buttermilk cookies. Make them, now. You will want to eat all of them at once, so make sure there are a few other people around when you open the oven. And please, let the edges brown. The sugar turns into caramelized deliciousness.