Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ning Jing Hai Restaurant (Suzhou, China)

Located in Suzhou, China, this restaurant is one of a kind. The ingredients they use are grown and raised locally and dishes are made fresh to order. The outside has beautiful landscaping while the building looks like a cheap motel, but don't let looks fool you, this place is a food gem.

Sour Cabbage Hot Pot
They start with pickled cabbage that's sour in taste and boil it in a house broth. To this they add tofu, pork, seafood balls, green onion, and chili peppers. When this dish comes to a boil, the flavors meld together and go great with a bowl of rice. This is one of their most popular dishes.

Stir-fry Vinegar Large Intestine
What we don't eat in America, we eat a lot of in Asia. You can find pig large intestines in the US for very cheap at an Asian supermarket, but in Asia, these things cost a little more. It's chewy in texture and stir-fried with vinegar, garlic, lots of ginger, and chili peppers.

Stir-fried Fried Tofu
Different from the usual tofu dish you see that's stir-fried, they flash fry the tofu pieces first and then throw it in to stir fry with mushrooms, garlic, and green onions. The frying brings out the the flavor of the tofu even more and the sauce is the perfect combination of sweet and salty.

Baby Chinese Bok Choy
A variation of bok choy, this vegetable is picked when it's still young and cooked. The texture is very crisp and fresh and it makes even those that don't like vegetables like it.

On another non-food note, I went to the restroom before I left and found it to be quite unique. The sink, urinals, and toilets were all made of stone. Each seemed to be custom made cause they all looked different. It was the first time I saw anything like it, so if you go to this restaurant by any chance, be sure to use the restroom before you leave!

Verdict? This place was one of the best places I ate in Suzhou. The food is authentic and the ingredients are fresh. I would definitely recommend coming here if you're ever in Suzhou.

Ning Jing Hai Restaurant

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CoCo Curry House (China and Taiwan)

CoCo Curry, with locations in all over the world (even Hawaii), specializes on curry dishes. Aside from curry, they offer other rice and noodle choices. If you don't already know, curry is very good for your health and supposedly can prevent some diseases.

When you're ordering curry here, there's 3 steps. First, you order the type of curry you want (ie. chicken, fish, combo, etc). Then, you pick how much rice you want (money is added/subtracted depending if you add extra or want less than regular portion). Lastly, you pick how spicy you want it and this ranges from mild to super spicy.

Salad with Sesame Dressing
I made my meal a combo which adds this salad and a drink. The salad was refreshing and light even though the sesame dressing looks a little thick.

Grape Calpis Drink
Calpis, explained in a previous post, is a light uncarbonated soft drink that's milky in texture but tastes like yogurt. I ordered the grape flavored one because it was a featured new item and it ended up to be better than I expected.

Mushroom Curry
My mom ordered the mushroom curry. I'm assuming the mushroom was stewed with the curry while making it because you could definitely taste mushroom infused into the sauce. This would be a very excellent choice for any vegetarians out there.

Tonkatsu and Clam Curry
My dish however, was not so vegetarian-friendly. The tonkatsu (friend pork chop) was fried just right and not overdone. I wasn't expecting a lot of clams, but surprisingly there was plenty. I was pretty satisfied with my dish and I'd definitely order it again.

Verdict? If you're ever craving curry, this place won't not disappoint you. The food is quick, hot, and delicious. Although my first time here was in Suzhou, I'm definitely going to find it here in Taiwan and eat there again.

CoCo Curry House
refer to the following website for the locations closest to you
China Website
Hong Kong Website
Taiwan Website
Japan Website

789 Xin Gai Nian Hot Pot (Shanghai, China)

789 "New Concept " Hot Pot, with locations in Suzhou and Shanghai, is a great clean place to have individual hot pots. Sometimes called "shabu shabu", these hot pots are a very popular thing all over Asia, especially in the winter time.

Hot Pots consist of 3 main things, the soup base, dipping sauce, and raw ingredients. Soup base can be made of several things and can range from light and healthy to thick and spicy.

There's a "sauce bar" where they have all sorts of ingredients where you can customize your own dipping sauce to your taste. You use this sauce with the things you cook in your hot pot.

Lastly, you order raw ingredients that you throw into your boiling soup base to cook and eat.

Duck's Blood
I promise it doesn't taste as bad as it looks. For most it'll probably be a textural issue, but for those that can get over that it's a great thing to eat. Rich with iron and good f

Beef Tripe
A little whiter than it should be in this picture, tripe is part of the lining of the cow's stomach. When cooked, tripe had a very chewy texture that isn't as gamy or grassy as you would think.
Seafood and Meat Balls
Starting from the bottom right going clockwise: beef balls stuffed with cheese. When you cook them the cheese melts and it tastes pretty unique. Next are shrimp balls, then fish balls, then squid balls. Each of these start in the pate form and are rolled into balls by hand so they're made fresh and never frozen.

Lamb Slices
When you eat hotpot, the whatever meat you choose always comes thinly sliced. In this case we chose the chop cut in which they slice and roll them thinly.
Ribeye Beef Slices
Fresh and delicious. The beef comes out very tender assuming you don't cook it for too long.
Tofu Skin
Made with soy beans, these tofu skins are delicious when added to hot pots. They come out slightly stiff, but after you cook them they become soft.

Veggies are a must when eating hot pot. Eating meat and seafood along with other things can become very heavy, so throwing in the occasional vegetables can help the appetite to continue on.
Assorted Mushrooms
If you don't already know, I love mushrooms. Here, there are 4 popular mushroom types eaten not only in Asia, but also in the US. 

After ordering all the raw ingredients, you throw what you want into your pot with the soup base you chose and let it cook away. Once it starts boiling, you're good to go. 

Verdict? The ambiance and the food here is great. It's perfect for family gatherings or just eating with a friend or significant other. If I go back to Shanghai again during the winter time, I'll surely be hitting up this hot pot joint.

789 Xin Gai Nian Hot Pot

Monday, September 27, 2010

小杨生煎 - Yang's Fried Dumplings (Shanghai, China)

When you see a long line outside, you know something good is happening (outside of a restaurant at least). If there's one thing you HAVE to have in Shanghai before you leave is the shengjian bao at Yang's Fried Dumplling. At 5 pieces for less than $1, there's nothing better than this place, period!

As you're standing in line the kitchen is filled with workers that start building these little things from the ground up. From making the skins to the finished product, everybody in here plays a role in making shengjian bao. The reason for the blurriness is due to the grease splatter that coats the entire windows of the kitchen.

The shengjian bao are pretty much made in 3 stages. They start cooking from the furthest one down and move their way up to the front where they're finished and served at the window. Even though the line looked long, it moves quickly cause these things just keep popping out like it doesn't end.

Shengjian Bao
To kind of understand what shengjian bao is, think xiao long bao, cept pan fried instead of steamed. When you bite into these you don't want to take a big bite cause you'll most definitely scorch your tongue and whatever the hot soup inside touches. As with xiao long bao, you bite a small hole and drink the juice inside before you dig into the rest of the dumpling. It's filled with a pork mixture that's extra juicy and tender and you won't even need any other sauces except maybe vinegar to cut the greasiness or some chili sauce to spice it up.

Verdict? I could eat this again and again without getting tired of it. It's cheap, quick, and super delicious. Like I said before, this is one place you don't want to pass up if you're ever in Shanghai so if you only get to eat at one place in Shanghai, it should be here.

Yang's Fried Dumplings
Huangpu District,No. 720 Nanjing East Road, a store of food
黄浦区 南京东路720号食品一店内

List of Locations - The list of locations for all their stores is provided in the link to the left. Choose the one closest to you, but be prepared to wait at whichever one you go to.

Ning Bo Dumplings (Shanghai)

Ning Bo Dumplings, known for their tangyuan (literally translated to soup balls) among other small dim sum like dishes, is located in the Chenghuang Temple or Yu Gardens area. This area is a bustling area with tons of tourists and locals alike.

Sesame Tangyuan
Tangyuan, which are basically made from gelatinous rice flour, can be filled or not filled at all. They usually have a sweet filling that can be anything from peanuts and sesame to red bean and more. In this particular case, I got the traditional sesame tangyuan. After they're made, they're boiled and then served in the same water they're cooked in.

Dim Sum Dishes
In additional to the tangyuan they're known for, right when you walk in the door there's also many dim sum offerings on your right. I was too full to try these but they sure did look delicious. Seats are hard to get and people usually order without even having a place to sit.

Verdict? The tangyuan was delicious, but according to my friend that lives in Shanghai, the dim sum dishes here are sub par to dim sum that you can find at other places. So if you're ever wanting to try out tangyuan, this would definitely be the place to try.

Ning Bo Dumplings
Yu Gardens Zigzag Bridge, 112 Yuyuan Road (near Jiujiaochang Road)  

It's only the first floor of that building so don't walk up the other floors thinking it's extra sitting space.

Jade Garden (Shanghai)

Located on the 3rd floor of an office building that has a Porsche dealership on the first floor at the intersection of Nanjing West Road and Xinchang Road, Jade Garden is a great place for dim sum or just a regular meal. Set in an elegant ambiance, this place makes for a great family restaurant or a quick lunch meeting. On this particular day, we went for the dim sum items and one item off the menu.

Poached Chinese Broccoli
This item was labeled wrong as Poached Kale on the menu. If you take the most tender Chinese broccoli stems, slice them into pieces, poach them to perfection, and then drizzle a light soy sauce mixture over it, you end up with this dish. The veggies were crisp and not overcooked at all. It may seem like a really simple dish, but there's no dim sum place in the US that has this dish that can compare.

Noodles with Scallions and Small Shrimp
These noodles may not look like much, but it was packed with great flavor and was pretty refreshing. The noodles are eaten cooled after being mixed together in a house soy sauce along with fried scallions and dried shrimp.

White Fish Conjee
This was labeled as Sawness Sliced Seever Conjee (which makes completely no sense to me).For those that aren't familiar with conjee, it's basically a rice porridge. It has chunks of white fish in a lightly salted conjee and topped with rice crackers and cilantro.

Xiaolong Bao
I know I've posted about these steamed dumplings in my Jeng Ji post, but they're just so much better in the motherland. They're juicier and always made by hand. There are many restaurants that are known just for serving these in Shanghai so if I go to eat at one of these restaurants I'll definitely give you more insight into them.

Three Cup Crispy Shrimp
Based off the popular three cup chicken dish, this item was off the regular menu. Some believed these dishes were called "three cup" because the sauces used to create the flavors originally were a cup of soy sauce, a cup of rice wine, and a cup of sesame oil, but others say that the original three ingredients were soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. No need to worry though because nowadays all the ingredients are used proportionally as needed.  The protein simmers in this three cup mixture and toward the end of the cooking process, fresh ginger and basil are thrown in to give it an extra burst of flavor. The shrimp were crisp enough to just throw the whole thing in your mouth and paired well with rice.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls
The only thing that remotely resembles an egg roll in this dish is the look. The outside is actually tofu skins with sesame seeds instead of the usual wonton skins you find on egg rolls. Inside, there's a combination of carrots, 3 types of mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. When eaten together, the taste even puts a pork egg roll to shame.

Steamed Ribs in Black Bean Sauce
If you've ever ordered this in the US, it's basically the same thing but better. The black bean sauce used to steam these ribs are infused with star anise and chili peppers which give it a very unique and awesome taste. The meat comes right off the bone and is very tender.

BBQ Pork Stuffed Pastry
The traditional sweet barbequed Cantonese style pork is wrapped in these flaky pastry skins and baked till golden brown. The rich buttery flakiness combined with the savory sweet taste of the pork inside makes for a great meal finisher.

Verdict? I would definitely go back to this place again. With 3 people our meal ended up to be about 200RMB or about $30. You may say that's cheap for high quality dim sum at a nice restaurant, but anything that's close to US price in China is considered expensive. They have a lot more dim sum options to try and of course the regular menu you can order from so I'm sure there's something for everyone here.

Jade Garden

3F, No.288 West Nanjing Road, Shanghai
phone: 021-336 3777
hours: 11am-10pm
They may have other locations so refer to the website for the one closest to you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ajisen Noodles (Shanghai)

I arrived in Shanghai hungry and this restaurant conveniently located across the street from where I was staying. With 103 locations and more coming in Shanghai and 443 locations spread throughout the rest of China, Ajisen Ramen is a continuously growing Japanese fast food joint offering lots of Japanese noodle and dish choices. They have an extensive choice of noodles, rice, and appetizers that offer different tastings of Japan.

White Peach Calpis
Calpis, which is a Japanese un-carbonated soft drink, tastes just like a light milky yogurt. It's also sold in the US at pretty much any Asian supermarket so if you're curious you should try it. In this particular case, my Calpis was infused with a white peach flavor which made it a really refreshing drink.

Beef Wrapped Enoki Mushrooms
I started off the meal with this appetizer. Enoki mushrooms are long, thin, white mushrooms that are typically found growing in clusters on certain trees. They're chewy/crisp in texture and are often found in Asian cooking. In this particular case, the mushrooms are wrapped with thin slices of beef and then grilled to perfection. On top they drizzle a Japanese ponzu sauce which heightens the taste tremendously.

Prawn Noodles
Suggested to me by the server, this signature dish was what I ordered. The prawns (more like regular shrimp) and slices of pork were a bit overdone for my taste, but it was still pretty tasty. It could have been that I was starving when I arrived in Shanghai, but this bowl of noodles was satisfying. The broth was pretty thick so I didn't end up finishing it since it would be too much.

Okinawa Style Seafood Noodles
My mom ordered the seafood noodles that had squid, shrimp, seaweed and corn. This was similar to the dish I ordered except that the broth was lighter and more infused with a seafood flavor.

Verdict? For a quick bite of Japanese noodles and dishes, I would definitely hit this place up again. They have a huge variety of meals and dishes on their menu so it'll be a while before you run out of something new to try. Each dish was flavorful (not sure how authentically Japanese it was though) and the service was quick.

Ajisen Noodles
Locations are all over China with a majority of them in Shanghai. Refer to the website for the location closest to you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

鮮芋仙 - Meet Fresh (Taiwan)

Started by two siblings, the eldest sister and brother of the Fu family, Meet Fresh was established and opened to introduce old-time dessert flavors into the modern world. Similar to a modern shaved ice place in Taiwan, the desserts served here contain many similar ingredients you'll find at the shop such as grass jelly, pearls, QQ (chewy) goods in the flavors of taro and sweet potato, fresh taro, peanuts, red beans, etc. except that the ingredients they use are freshly made and without preservatives.

Soft Soy Pudding and Peanuts
This dessert contains soft soy pudding which has a texture very close to soft tofu. This is made in large pots in huge chunks. When ordered, they use a tool that resembles a fusion of a ladle and spatula to cut out pieces of the large chunk into smaller pieces. This is put in a bowl along with cooked peanuts and then topped immersed in a cold soup consisting of mainly water, ice, ginger juice, and sugar.

Hot Taro Dessert
My mom ordered the option that was hot instead of cold. They have a few hot dessert options that warms a body up during the cooler months in the winter. This dessert starts off with a sweet, hot taro soup base and then fresh taro, QQ taro and sweet potato chunks (the yellow and light purplish things), red beans, and tapioca pearls are added.

Black Sugar Ice with Grass Jelly
This is basically a traditional shaved ice dessert with a twist. Instead of just using a block of ice, they combine black sugar with water first to make a semi-sweet ice mixture and then use that to make shaved ice. There's a layer of this sweet icy mix on the bottom and then fresh grass jelly (gelatin-like texture with an Asian herb taste) on top. QQ taro and sweet potato chunks are added to it and you can top if off with optional cream.

Verdict? This shaved ice store along with any other shaved ice stall you find in Taiwan is sure to be a great solution to cooling yourself down on a hot day or warming yourself up on a cold day. For about $1.75 a bowl, you cant go wrong with anything you decide to try.

鮮芋仙 - Meet Fresh
They have locations all over Taiwan so check the website for location and phone information.