Showing posts with label asian food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asian food. Show all posts

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Vietnamese Food Any Day

New cookbook: Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen. Alice and I selected a number of recipes to try while we are visiting here in Faifax. We have made two of them. These recipes do seem fussy: a lot of work. But we have really enjoyed the flavors.

First, Alice and I made Roast Chicken Noodle Soup:

Ingredients include a Rotisserie chicken cut up with bones saved, fresh and dried mushrooms,
baby bok choi, carrots in vinegar, cilantro, scallions, ginger, and more.

We also tried the pastry filled with a mushroom pate.

We used fresh and dried shitake mushrooms.

Filling strips of pastry dough.

Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is recommended for this dish.
Here they are before baking. And below: ready to eat.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander. Photos by mae and alice.


Thursday, February 04, 2021

"The Satapur Moonstone"

India is an unknown territory: I have never been there, and have read only a few books about the country. Thus, I enjoyed the first of Sujata Massey's Perveen Mistry mystery series (blogged here). Conveniently the name Mistry is a common surname in the Parsee community of Bombay to which Perveen's family belongs!  

The Perveen Mistry novels are set in British-ruled India 100 years ago. Perveen, the central character, is a woman lawyer and detective. She's well-qualified to practice law, as she studied British law at Oxford before returning to Bombay to work in her father's legal practice.  Her professional opportunities were very limited, though, because women had very few rights. Unsurprisingly, she was a believer in women's rights, as well as an admirer of Gandhi, who was already an active Indian independence advocate at the time. Fascinatingly, while Perveen is of course a character invented for the mystery series, an actual pioneering woman lawyer was active in Bombay at the time: see "The veiled history of India's first woman lawyer."

I have just read and very much liked the second in the series: The Satapur Moonstone. It begins when Perveen, the only woman lawyer in the entire area, is hired as a representative of the Raj by the British authorities. Her assignment is to travel to a very remote (fictitious) principality called Satapur, in order to interview the female members of the royal family there. These women live in a separate area of the palace called the zenana. Traditionally, women stayed in these restricted quarters "from the day they enter as brides until they die." (p. 72).

Arriving at the palace after an arduous journey by train and uncomfortable palanquin, Perveen meets the elderly dowager queen mother and the younger widow of the most recent maharajah. They are isolated in the zenana and do not speak to men from outside their family. These two women disagree about how they will educate their ten-year-old son/grandson who has inherited the throne. His education is a matter of concern for the British rulers, who have quite a lot of power despite the nominal independence of Satapur, and thus Perveen's job is to survey the situation and propose a compromise. Not easy!

As expected in a mystery novel, Perveen discovers many family secrets and tragedies in her effort to negotiate with the two widowed maharanis. She shows great bravery in the face of physical danger and cleverness avoiding a poisoner; she shows tact and cultural sensitivity in dealing with the princely family, she understands their Hindu religious beliefs though she is Parsi, and she is very cautious in her dealings with the British officials. Eventually she solves the mystery of the identity of several of the characters, which is foreshadowed by the mysterious moonstone necklace that was entrusted to her near the beginning of the book. It's a well-plotted and interesting book to read, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series which is scheduled to publish in a few months.

In my reading life, besides nice escape fiction, I have been checking out some studies of foodways in India, and I found the author's descriptions of Perveen's meals very interesting in this context. Although I have eaten in American and British Indian restaurants, this does not mean I know anything about the important cultural meanings of food in India today or 100 years ago. The rigid caste system dictated many cooking and dining practices. Ruling families of the highest caste had separate food and dishes from their servants, and could not eat with lower caste people, nor could they have cooks who belonged to an inappropriate caste. 

Food prohibitions were numerous. Some individuals and castes were vegetarian and of course no Hindus could eat beef -- in fact, Perveen makes a major error just by carrying a leather brief case with her government documents. Furthermore, British officials dealt with life in India by a combination of adaptation and sticking to their own ways, such as an English breakfast served to Perveen at a club in Bombay -- "The eggs looked fluffy, the toast appropriately buttered, but Perveen did not like kippers." (p. 4). 

As Perveen travels, she must eat, and the author provides us with many descriptions of her meals, from dinners in the royal palace to poor food from a village food stall. For example, Rama, the cook at the home of Colin Sandringham, the British agent for Satapur, has a limited repertoire. As the dinner hour approaches, he says to Perveen: 

"'We can offer you chicken kabob. Chicken cutlets. Roast chicken. Curried or stewed chicken!' Mr. Sandringham affected the accent and manner of a Cockney hawker. 'Boiled chicken. Smothered chicken. Fried chicken. Chicken mince. Chicken biryani.'" (p. 22)

 Perveen opts for smothered chicken, which was quite tasty: "The chicken had been smothered with sliced onions, which had melted into soft sweetness that offset the savory, salty flavor of the bird." (p. 26).

Returning to Colin Sandringham's official residence much later, during her adventures, an exhausted Perveen is served again by Rama, who has been a major help and clever companion as well as a cook. Piles of small leaf-wrapped foods were served on a plate: 
"Guessing they were rice pancakes wrapped in banana leaves, she gave a sigh of pleasure. 'Panki! I thought this was only a Gujarati dish.' 'Gujarat is not so far. Recipes travel through the mountains like the birds,' Rama said with an elegant movement of his hand. 'I will prepare a full dinner after this. What kind of chicken tonight?'" (pp. 229-230). 

At the home of a rich but not high-caste woman named Vandana, Perveen ate kande pohe: "a mixture of pounded rice, tiny chilies, bits of tomato, curry leaves, and spices, which was delicious, especially with a fried egg served on the side, and a big saucer of the same purple berries that had been served at the circuit house but dusted all over with white sugar." (pp. 92-93).

Indian breakfasts contrast to the British eggs and kippers in the first scene of the novel -- here's the one Perveen is served at the Satapur palace, presented by the maharani's cook: "He pointed out vegetable cutlets cooked to golden perfection, a thick dal laden with sweet raisins, a rich curry of cauliflower and tomato, and pohe, the same beaten-rice dish Vandana had served. It must have been an area specialty. There were also puffy puris and crisp parathas, velvety scrambled eggs and plain hard-boiled ones, and a tall pitcher of fresh lime juice." (p. 163). 

In another scene at the palace, the child princess chooses her meal from the dishes served to the royals: 

"Princess Padmabai was allowed everything. She chose lamb curry, potato curry, paneer kofta, saffron pilaf as well as plain rice, dal, cucumber raita, and stir-fried fenugreek leaves. Sweets were served at the same time, in little bowls; she took a rice pudding and gulab jamun balls." (p. 136). 

While traveling, Perveen and her palanquin bearers stop at a poor village: 

"A sturdy man in rough peasant clothing was making millet rotis.... She drank her tea and took the roti that was given to her first, a mark of respect. The bearers were served next and ate hungrily." (p. 216). 

Food in The Satapur Moonstone definitely contributes to the believable atmosphere of the novel. In a later post, I'll write about my ongoing reading, including studies about the development of a national cuisine from India's many regional foods, and reviews of numerous cookbooks that never reach American kitchens. I found it especially interesting that exchange of foods and recipes among princely families in colonial India took place frequently because the male rulers often married women (or in fact girls) from distant principalities, and the wives and their accompanying servants introduced new foods and recipes into their new homes. 

So many interesting topics come up in these books, like the globalization of curry, which originated in South Asia and is now common in so many contexts like British curry houses, German currywurst stands, Caribbean and Japanese dishes, and so many others. Sadly, Indian restaurants in my midwestern town seem to fit the stereotype of having vats or red, grey, and brown sauce that they pour over whatever you order and call it by an exotic name.

I feel silly trying to cook foods that I have never tasted, especially since Indian recipes call for many ingredients that are virtually unobtainable here, but I have tried a few. 

Kheer: an Indian rice pudding. A new recipe for me.
I used coconut milk, rice, sugar, rosewater, cardamom, and other ingredients.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Edward Hopper “Chop Suey” (1929): Authentic American Chinese cuisine.

Yesterday I wrote a review of the book The Best American Food Writing 2020, a collection of short pieces from a variety of online and print magazines, predominantly The New Yorker, New York Times, Eater, and Serious Eats. I mentioned that a recurring theme in these writings was authenticity, which is introduced in the foreword to the collection:

"Stories about people, places, authenticity, and the rich diversity of America’s food scene seemed particularly relevant as the question of what it means to be American has been at the core of recent politics."

The idea of authentic tacos, authentic Chinese food, authentic Soul Food, and other authentic ethnic cuisine is debated, along with the idea of cultural appropriation -- which means white people making ethnic food (authentic or not) and using their economic advantages to finance their efforts, thus edging out the ethnic people who are poorer and don't have those advantages. Several buzz words or a "signifiers," make up a food writing vocabulary that speaks "to a contemporary antibourgeois bourgeois culture that selects for 'authenticity,' 'mindfulness,' and 'transparency'" (p. 207). 

Chinese food is especially subject to disputes over  what is "authentic." The essay by Dan Nosowitz, "What the Heck Is Crab Rangoon Anyway?" explores this topic in a most interesting way. His view:

"Crab rangoon is not inauthentic, and you should not be embarrassed to order it. American Chinese food is its own cuisine, with its own staples and a reasonably long and fascinating history. There’s a fundamental problem with the concept of authenticity in food, because cuisine is constantly mutating and adapting to new ingredients, new people, new techniques, and new ideas. Mexican food would be completely different without the influence of the Spanish and Arab immigrants and colonists; the tomato is not native to Italy; the chili pepper is not native to Thailand. There are old dishes and there are newer dishes, and that can be an interesting distinction. And there is tasty food and lousy food, but using some concept of authenticity alone as a criteria is a flawed approach." (p. 225). 

The essay by José R. Rala called "The Demand for 'Authenticity' Is Threatening Kansas City’s Homegrown Tacos" is a discussion of a particular type of tacos that emerged in Kansas City years ago, but is now viewed as inauthentic. However these tacos have a convincing history in the long-established Mexican immigrant community of the area. In 1958 the Spanish Gardens Taco House was opened by a member of this community. "On the restaurant’s menu were enchiladas, tamales, chili, and a regional specialty that developed as a result of the proximity of the area’s Italian and Mexican communities: fried tacos topped with a ketchup-like 'taco sauce' and Parmesan cheese." They were rolled, fastened with a toothpick, and fried. "The popularity of crunchy, toothpick-sealed Kansas City tacos only rose throughout the 1960s and ’70s." Now, thanks to Yelp, these taco places are much less popular, due in part to "the viral nature of media like Yelp reviews that claim the taco is not truly Mexican." (p. 76).

Indeed, Yelp reviewers turn out to be a major proponent of a particularly vile use of the concept of what is authentic, specifically, in propagating a particularly racist view of ethnic restaurants. In Sara Kay's research report, she makes this case very convincingly: "Yelp Reviewers’ Authenticity Fetish Is White Supremacy in Action." She writes:

"The term 'authenticity' is everywhere. Pundits claim that millennials crave it, restaurants boast authentic dining experiences, and Foursquare asks us to make judgments about it. These claims, often used as markers of quality, are employed by diners and restaurateurs alike— often used by owners to evoke a homespun or faraway romanticism. Nowhere does that come into play more than on user-based review sites like Yelp." (p. 230). 

"When reviewers picture authenticity in ethnic food, they mentally reference all the experiences they’ve had before with that cuisine and the people who make it— and most of the time, reviewers view those experiences, whether from personal interaction or from interacting with media, as not positive. Reviews tend to reflect the racism already existing in the world; people’s biases come into play. According to my data, the average Yelp reviewer connotes 'authentic' with characteristics such as dirt floors, plastic stools, and other patrons who are nonwhite, when reviewing non-European restaurants." (p. 231).

"And when reviewers use 'authentic,' they put unfair expectations on restaurateurs to maintain a low set of standards for their establishment— much lower than any restaurant serving Western cuisines. The language directly supports a hierarchy where white, Western cuisine is allowed more creative latitude to expand, explore, and generate profits than its non-Western counterparts. The use of 'authenticity' in the dining landscape is counterintuitive. Its usage to promote white supremacist norms furthers an atmosphere that’s antithetical to the spirit of authenticity. The language of authenticity holds up the supremely inauthentic— a single ideology that supports possibly the most powerful social group: white people." (pp. 233-236).  

Several other essays in Best American Food Writing 2020 also touch on the development of "authenticity" as a way to critique foods and restaurants. For some time, I've been very suspicious of the way this idea is used -- I've written a number of blog posts about other discussions of the topic, particularly on the subject of American Chinese food and Chop Suey Restaurants of the early 20th century (especially this one: What is authentic?) I've therefore found the theme of "authenticity" in this book particularly interesting.

Also interesting but outside the realm of "food writing" -- a number of food shows on Netflix seem obsessed with authenticity of various cuisines. Many episodes of Chef's Table created by David Gelb, Ugly Delicious with David Chang, the Taco Chronicles, and probably others emphasize the "authenticity" of whatever cuisine they are covering -- and they cover a lot! I especially remember one episode where three of the major explorers of "authentic" cuisine gathered at the same time: the late Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, and David Chang. 

Blog post © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Curried Cultures

Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food, and South Asia, published in 2012, is an anthology of scholarly articles about food in India and in the Indian communities in the US and England. It includes studies and observations about restaurants, restaurant owners and workers, food in various communities and social classes in India, interactions between food, religion, and caste in Indian society, immigrant communities and how they work, and more. 

"Teaching Modern India How to Eat: 'Authentic' foodways and regimes of exclusion in affluent Mumbai" by Susan Dewey (pp. 126-142) is a particularly interesting offering in Curried Cultures. The book is much too varied and has far too much material to summarize as a whole, so I'd like to summarize just this one article as an example. 

The author begins with two quotations. The first is from the famous Indian-British food writer Madhur Jaffrey, who points out that Americans crave authentic taste: "Anything fake is deplored, fake foods included." The second quote is from Rahul, a restaurateur in Mumbai, who says "So much of what we call 'fusion cuisine' is really just confusion... I want to teach people ... to really understand that authentic cuisine is all about the subtleties of differences." At the start, Dewey makes the observation "Foodways constitute a powerful means by which individuals demonstrate their membership in privileged groups," a process that's "intensified in Mumbai." This huge metropolis, with tens of thousands of eateries incorporates many interesting features: enhanced upward mobility, opportunities for women's careers, a substantial media industry, and many foreign influences, including residents who have spent time abroad.

"Connections between food and power have extremely deep roots in Hindu South Asia, and prohibitions on the exchange of foods between individuals of different castes, genders and ethnicities" are an important component of the way food establishments are run there, Dewey observes. For Brahmins, especially, "taboos on food exchange and consumption are still alive and well." In addition, for all Hindus, there are religious views on how to balance food consumption, such as the ideas of "hot" and "cold" nutrients. Restaurants serving Indian food reflect these and other concepts of authenticity in local foods. At the same time, the cosmopolitan nature of the city has enabled many international restaurants and festivals of foreign food and alcohol (once absent from Indian culture) to become popular: American fast food, fine French wine, Middle Eastern dishes, Thai cuisine, Chinese food, and more. 

The huge gap between wealthy jet-setters and the six million inhabitants "who have no housing at all" affects everyone, including restaurateurs and their customers. There's a large range of offerings in this context, from street food vendors at the low end to exclusive, members-only restaurants where the rich can pay enormous prices to avoid contact with those that they deem unsuitable (or maybe untouchable). An interesting example is restaurants that prepare the same dishes that are traditionally made by itinerant vendors, but serve the street cuisine with more class, and claim to be more hygienic than the street vendors.

Regulation in the name of hygiene and high standards is often used to intensify class differences and control the poorest and least attractive vendors. Between the lowest and highest establishments, there are many possibilities. Trendy restaurants in upscale shopping centers, for example, cater to ambitious socially mobile young people. Many aspire to become more modern not only by adopting Western culture and by traveling, but also in choosing lifestyles that imitate Western notions of fitness and health, for example, via membership in exclusive fitness centers or with personal trainers, as well as trends in dining. The author's detailed description of this trend is very interesting. I learned a lot from Dewey's article, and especially from her many specific vignettes of life in Mumbai.

On the whole, Curried Cultures is a very hard book to read because many of the authors write in painfully stilted jargon. For example, the first sentences of the Introduction by editors Krishnendu Ray and Tulasi Srinivas:

"South Asia is a new hub of intersecting global networks nourished by proliferating material and symbolic transactions propelling bodies, things, and conceptions across national boundaries. In this book, traversing national boundaries is the contingent operational definition of globalization. That implies at least two things: globalization becomes more visible after national boundaries crystallize; and we witness a new kind of self-consciousness about the connections between various locales and between the local and the superlocal in this phase of globalization." (p. 3)

I don’t object to jargon when it is needed to express complex thoughts, such as the language used in scientific papers. Most of these articles, however, could be written in perfectly good standard English without any loss of meaning, and with considerable added clarity and readability. 

I wish a competent journalist could be employed to revise this book, but that will never happen! However, many journalists do write about this topic; for example, in this week's online "Taste" magazine, you can read "The Curry Powder Has Left the Curry," a survey of curry in cuisines in Asia, the New World, and more. Or you can read the very well-written and researched book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham. I've reread this book often since its publication in 2006. It's often cited as a classic by the authors in Curried Cultures.

Review © 2020 mae sander.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

The Great British Baking Show Continues

"So why is GBBO asking bakers to steam an originally Chinese bun and fill it with Chinese or Indian ingredients during Japan Week?" (eater)

I have enjoyed many seasons of the Great British Baking Show. I've watched it through several changes of judges and comedy hosts, through the earlier mainly British choices of baked goods with later expansions into other cuisines, and through a variety of contestants, both fairly and (maybe) unfairly eliminated from competition. Of course there's the permanent problem that when you watch a cooking show you have only the judges' word for how the food tastes; you can only guess in your mind's taste buds how it would seem to you. This is more of a problem when the judges seem rather narrow in their view of flavors and flavor combinations -- a situation that seems more noticeable this year.

The two most recent themed weeks have seemed to me a bit over done, making the this season's episodes a little less engaging. Around a week ago was Japanese Week. I found it a bit ridiculous, as did a number of professional critics, whose often-snarky reviews I really enjoyed reading. The connection with Japanese cuisine was tenuous at best, and also a bit silly. The "Showstopper" pineapple cake in the picture, for example, was flavored with pineapple and citrus, and was made in sort of a pineapple shape. It was supposed to represent the theme of "Kawaii" or cuteness. It's hard to see how it had much to do with Japan or with anything Japanese at all. 

Just one more thing about "kawaii" -- it's really a thing in Japan, and maybe the cakes were Japanese-cute, but all over the internet people were observing that "kawaii" was repeatedly mispronounced as "kowaii," which means "scary" instead of cute. Just another one of those cultural things, I guess. (source)

Paul and Prue's reactions generally seem to be oriented to what they like and how they view flavors; this became even more apparent during Japanese week. All food on the show seems expected to follow British stereotypes of whatever cuisine is on the table. Sometimes one suspects that they like the version they've had in London restaurants and take-outs. Some of the steamed buns of Japanese Week were filled with things like curry, while two contestants created steamed buns with a filling of hamburgers with catsup and pickles, which Paul Hollywood hates and made them leave out in HIS portion. Other buns were decorated to look like animals, such as a panda, the emblematic Chinese animal. Somehow Japan got lost in all this.

Paul Hollywood offers his commitment during: "80's Week"

Another observation from New York Magazine's Vulture: "Paul Hollywood’s attitude... is smug and superior and never, under any circumstances, incorrect; why would the tent exist, Paul Hollywood wonders, if not to please Paul Hollywood?" (source) This was a problem for Japanese week, a big one. But it continued the next week when the theme was 80s week. Paul and Prue, who invent and then judge the challenges, definitely knew what foods were in and out in the 80s, and they had strong opinions on how it should look and taste.

Prue's response.

The first 80's baking assignment was quiche. Anyone who lived through 80s food -- which some contestants were too young to have experienced -- could never forget the quiche craze! It's a wonder that the judges and hosts didn't cite the totally 80's book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. This challenge was a good one, though the flavors suggested were to be more "modern" not just using ingredients like the bacon and cheese of quiche Lorraine, which Prue seemed to recall fondly. 

Long-term fans of this show could easily have warned the contestants that Paul and Prue hate fiery hot foods. They also turn out to hate baked beans -- so quiches including these ingredients elicited an automatic turned-up-nose on the part of the judges. Not to mention the full-English Breakfast quiches which sounded very weird. Black pudding?  Baked beans? Scrambled eggs in egg custard? I suspect that the judges were right about these choices! But still, despite their protestations, they were expressing their prejudices. 

A melty ice-cream cake on a hot day. Looks good. 

I wasn't so sure about the other two supposedly 1980's challenges, which were ice cream cakes and "finger donuts" -- that is, large donuts in a long shape not a donut shape. These must have been British not American fads, as I can't connect them particularly to the 80's, especially not the donuts which seem to me to have always been a fixture in donut shops. 

Was an ice cream cake typical of the 1980's, at dinner parties all the time, as Prue said? Not here in the US as I remember it, though I do remember that ice cream machines were popular. We had one that used ice and salt, though technology has evolved -- the contestants had incredible refrigerated ice cream makers.

The horrifying thing about the ice cream challenge was that it was filmed some time last summer during a record-breaking heat wave and the temperature in the non air-conditioned tent was something like 95º F. So it was almost impossible to keep the ice cream at a temperature that would keep a cake together. Thus the fun was watching the contestants try to rescue melting cakes to display them for judging.

The most amazingly decorated ice cream cake was this -- also judged tasty by Paul and Prue. 
Evidently, it didn't have any ingredients that they disliked. 
What would Mary Berry, the greatest expert on British baking, say? We must never ever ask this question.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander, screen shots from the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. 

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Two Birthdays and Another Reason to Celebrate

A dumpling filled with minced lamb and spices.

Another beautiful warm day with several things to celebrate. Just as we were leaving for an outdoor (distanced) birthday party, with Chinese and Indian take-out food, we learned that the election had been called: a wonderful birthday present for the two guests of honor at Jason and Katrina’s house.

On our plates: delicious Roti. Other guests ate at separated tables, of course.

One more bit of good news:  a new rescue puppy
named Lilikoi. At the moment, rescue dogs
are very hard to get in our area, so another celebration!

Happy Birthday to Adam and to Nat! Happy new President to all!
Blog post and all photos © 2020 mae sander.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Japanese Way to Celebrate Tea

A monk sips morning tea,
it's quiet,
the chrysanthemum's flowering.
-- Haiku by Matsuo Basho, 17th century.
Translated by Robert Hass.

The Japanese tea ceremony is a highly formal procedure in which tea is prepared with specialized utensils and vessels in a very ritualized way.  Historic tea vessels and utensils belong to many museums and other collections of Asian art, including the above tea bowls, which appear in the Tokyo National Museum. I visited there in 2011, and took these photos. The first bowl above is so famous that it has a name: "Hashihime" -- it is Mino ware, and dates from the 16th or 17th century. The second tea bowl is Takatori ware from the 17th century.

The tea masters from the earliest days until the present studied for years to perfect their actions and to make tea in just the right way. The earliest record of a tea ceremony, presented to the Emperor of Japan, dates to the year 815. Zen monks in Kamakura, Japan, in the twelfth century further developed the tea ceremony. Later the tea ceremony became linked with other Japanese traditions and arts:

"Both noh [the dramatic art] and tea blossomed during the 15th and 16th centuries, an era of bitter warfare, when warlords rivaled each other in displays of power and wealth. Yet many knew their days of glory would be brief, and thus were drawn to the self-reliant philosophy of Zen. From there, it was possible for them to appreciate the Zen spirit within Zeami Motokiyo’s noh plays, and Sen no Rikyu’s wabi, or modest, Way of Tea." --  Linda Inoki, Art and Life in a Bowl, The Japan Times. 

A 17th century Oribe square tea plate glazed in two different ways. 
(Tokyo Museum, photo by mae)

Tea ceremony water jar, 17th Century.
(Freer Gallery, Washington D.C.)

The tea ceremony is still a popular practice. While many present-day tea masters celebrate the ceremony in their houses, the most formal tea ceremonies are presented in special-purpose "tea huts" that are built in a traditional way in carefully designed gardens. A guest can walk through the garden while approaching the tea hut, and achieve the contemplative mood that is appropriate for participating in the tea ceremony. We visited one such tea hut in Japan in 1994, at the Katsura Detached Palace near Kyoto, called the Shokin-tei, dating from the seventeenth century. 

Last year, our Japanese visitor Mariko made traditional
tea for us with her special whisk and tea bowl.

The Tea Hut at the Katsura Detached Villa, a summer home of the Emperor of Japan. (Wikipedia)

The Japanese tea ceremony is extremely well known, and there are many books, articles, and museum exhibits dedicated to its various aspects. I've mentioned only a few of the many features of this fascinating ritual. I'm dedicating this to the weekly blog event, where each blogger features a drink, sponsored by Elizabeth at Altered Book Lover.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander. Photos are as attributed.

Monday, August 31, 2020

In My Pantry

My pantry is one of the best parts of my kitchen. This month, we have installed a new shelf that’s making a big difference in organizing. The new shelf mainly holds canisters of flour and other baking supplies for Len’s bread baking and other baking. Before it was installed, we piled the the lower shelf with canisters one on top of another to fit them in. Some were also in other parts of the pantry. This is much better and freed up more space for other foods. Len had to use some imagination and hard work to fit the shelf into the existing arrangement.

Above the new shelf are my three shelves of spice bottles and cans, and
further above that are my Mona Lisa mugs. It's been a while since a new
Mona Lisa mug arrived in my collection!
Another view of the new shelf.
You can see that my pantry houses many empty jars, as well as several piles of serving platters and bowls, and some small appliances. On the floor are the recycle bin and a stash of grocery bags.

In another part of the pantry, opposite the new shelf, I store a number of metal boxes from Christmas cookies in which I keep nuts, crackers, cookies, dried fruit, etc. In a bin below the shelves I store bags with onions and potatoes. You can also see my semi-organized canned goods, oils and vinegars, and other foods. Some of my reserve canned goods and paper goods are on shelves in the basement. Perhaps I should have more neatly rearranged the pantry for these photos, but I'm showing it to you in its native state.

Asian condiments
One section is reserved for Asian condiments: Thai fish sauce, Maggi seasoning, sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, ponzu sauce, and more. I like to try new ones, but I haven't had the opportunity to shop at specialty markets since the pandemic, so I am using what I already have.

One more view of my pantry. 
Just added: a new supply of goldfish.
Canisters of flour in use for bread-baking.
Yes, all the canisters have labels!

In My Kitchen in August, 2020

At the end of each month, I like to write up what's going on in my kitchen and share it with other bloggers who also post kitchen news at the blog Sherry's Pickings (link). I've been posting about vegetarian experiments, summer produce, and other cooking projects throughout the month (especially in this post last Friday: Food, Wine, Distance), so this month, I'm just telling about my pantry and the one big new change in my kitchen -- the shelf!

In my contribution to Sherry's "In My Kitchen," I also like to reflect a little bit on current events. First and foremost, the terrible ongoing pandemic affects everything, including kitchen life.  The food industry and society have in some ways have acted responsibly to help people in need. But in some cases the lives and health of workers and others have been jeopardized. As I've discussed before, I stopped buying meat from the industrial packing houses where so many workers have been infected by Covid, and I've adopted a more plant-centered diet. My sympathy for food workers also extends to the many restaurant workers and owners whose livelihoods have been disrupted or destroyed by the diminished business or permanent closing of restaurants, a situation that seems to be worsening.

Like many others, I suffer from the isolation and sadness of being locked down, but also feel guilty because I am unproductive. Above all, I am so little able to help those who are less fortunate than I am. I'm thinking of people losing access to adequate food, shelter, and basic human needs, whether from the economic downturn or from the natural and unnatural disasters that have hit several areas of the country. I hope for better times ahead.

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"The Night Tiger" by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger, published 2019.
Yangsze Choo's novel The Night Tiger is a highly enjoyable novel. The author combines historic fiction with magical realism and folklore in a very exotic setting -- a little-known province of Malaya; that is, present-day Malaysia. In the novel, multiple cultures interact: Chinese people from different areas of China, English colonials, and local natives. The excellence of the book comes from the vivid characters, profound dream sequences, complex relationships, a colonial setting rather long ago in 1931, and a fascinating plot.

Ji Lin is one of the five central characters in the novel. At the beginning we learn about her name:
"The Ji in my name wasn’t commonly used for girls. It was the character for zhi, or knowledge, one of the five Confucian Virtues. The others were benevolence, righteousness, order, and integrity. Chinese are particularly fond of matched sets and the Five Virtues were the sum of qualities that made up a perfect man. So it was a bit odd that a girl like me should be named for knowledge." (p. 15).
The other four central characters, it turns out, possess names that incorporate the other four Confucian Virtues. In the course of the novel, the reader is made to understand how these names determine the characters' fates. Doesn't this sound contrived? That's the absolutely amazing thing in the book: it's not contrived at all! However, it's very suspenseful so I will not give away any spoilers.

The chapters of the book alternate between a first-person account by Ji Lin and an omniscient narrator telling about the other characters, especially the life story of a very young kitchen boy named Ren and his two masters, both English doctors. Each household has a number of personalities including servants, and in addition there are many other characters who are connected to the hospital where one of the doctors works.

Ji Lin leads a kind of a dual life at home with her mother, step-father, and step-brother; at her work as an apprentice dressmaker; and at her better-paying secret job as a dance hall girl. Her occasional descriptions of making and wearing stylish clothing contributes to the exotic atmosphere of the story; for example, she wrote about going to a funeral: "The only suitable dress I had was a plain grey Mandarin-collared cheongsam that I’d made as part of my apprenticeship. A cheongsam is an unforgiving, formal Chinese dress to tailor." (p. 46).

In both narratives, I was delighted to read many descriptions of the local fruit and vegetables, the local cuisine, the more exotic Chinese cooking done in the kitchens of the story, and the odd combination of English and local foods eaten by the colonial doctors and their friends who are a main part of the story. For me, the food descriptions are a delightful reflection of the multiple cultures that intersect in the complex and wonderful plot. Besides food, the story is full of the supernatural. Especially there's much folklore about tigers and about people who are really tigers or tigers who are really people.

I want to share some of the food quotes from Ji Lin's narrative:
"I brought a treat to make up for the fact that I wasn’t homesick at all. Today it was rambutans, the hairy, red-skinned fruit that snapped open to reveal a sweet white interior. They’d been selling them by the bus stop, and I’d bought a bundle wrapped in old newspaper. As I sat on the bus I rather regretted it, as the rambutans were crawling with ants." (p. 27).
"Going to the wet market had always been one of my favorite errands. You could buy almost anything there: piles of red and green chilies, live chicks and quail, green lotus seed pods that resembled shower sprinklers. There were fresh sides of pork, salted duck eggs, and baskets of glossy river fish. You could eat breakfast, too, at little stalls serving steaming bowls of noodles and crispy fritters." (p. 46). 
"Dinner that night was a silent affair, despite the luxury of a whole steamed chicken rubbed with sesame oil. It sat, expertly chopped into bite-sized pieces, on a large platter. None of us had touched it." (p. 33).
"At the canteen, I wanted to try the exotic Western food— sardine sandwiches, chicken chops, and mulligatawny soup— listed on the blackboard." (p. 114). 
"Koh Beng sat down and started eating. Noodles again, with thin succulent slices of pork liver ladled on top of the steaming hot soup. I wished I’d ordered that as well. “Want some?” he asked." (pp. 153-154). 
"I sat on her bed. “Are you working tonight?” I’d hoped that she was free to have dinner at one of the roadside stalls that grilled stingray wrapped in banana leaves, but she was clearly getting ready for an evening out." (p. 172).
"... both locals and expatriates came to drink at the long bar and order Western dishes prepared by a Hainanese chef: sizzling steaks and chicken chops, washed down with icy beer." (p. 175).
"They’d brought an enormous bag of mangosteens and a tiffin carrier of steamed pork buns, as though we might starve before reaching Singapore. It would be a long journey south: four hours to Kuala Lumpur, then an overnight sleeper of eight hours to Singapore. A total of about 345 miles— farther than I’d ever been in my life." (p. 363). 

And I want to share some quotes from the omniscient narrator: 
"Since William is at the hospital, Ah Long has put together some simple noodles in broth. Shredded chicken and boiled greens are piled on top, with a gloss of fried shallot oil. Ren notices that Ah Long has given him a larger portion than usual, with extra meat." (pp. 43-44). 
"... the monthly party, a much anticipated social event where people dine on canned food sent from Europe— peas, lobster, tongue— drink too much, and congratulate each other on having a wonderful time out in the Colonies. It’s his turn to host, and he must remind Ah Long to lay in extra wine and spirits and discuss the menu. William would rather eat fresh local food than something that has died and been sealed in a can, like a metal coffin. He shudders at the thought and quickens his pace to catch up with Rawlings.  
"The hospital cafeteria is an open, airy space with a thatched roof and a poured concrete floor. The daily menu includes both Western and local food. Rawlings stands in line at the counter and demands a kopi-o, strong black coffee with sugar, and a slice of papaya in his deep bass. Queuing behind him, William asks for the same." (p. 90). 
"'TUAN, are you going to church?' asks Ren. While William ate breakfast, he polished his master’s shoes with brown Kiwi shoe polish, purchased yesterday in town, till they were bright. William inspects them and says they remind him of ripe chestnuts, though Ren has no idea what he’s referring to. Some kind of fruit, he thinks, though he can’t imagine a fruit that looks like shoes."  (p. 139).  
"Three plump chickens are in the wooden coop at the back. They’ll be made into chicken cutlets and Inchi Kabin, crispy twice-fried chicken served with sweet-and-spicy sauce. Local beef is tough and lean, and comes from water buffalo, so Ah Long will make beef rendang, slow-cooked dry curry with coconut, to round out the main dishes." (p. 164).
"Ah Long is already busy in the kitchen, stirring a large pot of beef rendang, slow cooked with coconut milk, and aromatic with kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and cardamom.  ... dessert comes out. Sago gula Malacca, pearls of tapioca drizzled with coconut milk and dark brown coconut-sugar syrup, and kuih bingka ubi, that fragrant golden cake made from grated tapioca root." (pp. 199- 205).
I'm grateful to Carol for recommending this book!

This review copyright © 2020 by mae sander. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Taste The Nation With Padma Lakshmi"

Beautiful chiles and tomatillos on a grill in Texas, from the first episode of a new food TV series!
New on Hulu streaming video: "Taste The Nation With Padma Lakshmi." We have watched three episodes, and like some better than others. Padma is of course a fantastically beautiful woman with an uncanny ability to take a seemingly large bite of some exotic food and then assume a dramatic expression of ecstasy!

Padma Lakshmi
Padma travels from one city to another, interviewing a variety of cooks, restaurant owners, food manufacturers, shop keepers and others to show how American food has evolved from many immigrant sources. Sometimes the interviews come across as a little like infomercials, for example about a sausage factory in Milwaukee or about a rather pretentious restaurant in San Antonio. But basically, I think it's an intriguing series, and I'll be watching at least a few more of the 10 episodes!

Our favorite episode so far explores Padma's family's Indian cuisine, including interesting interviews with her mother, with the very famous cookbook writer (and actor) Madhur Jaffrey, and with Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Padma cooking and tasting with Madhur Jaffrey whose cookbooks made Indian food popular in England.
Dosas in New York City with Preet Bharara. Sitting on a park bench, they discuss issues about American attitudes and
their own family experiences as immigrants.
A very large number of reviews of this series have already appeared in mainstream and online journals, though I have the impression that some of the writers haven't actually watched all of the episodes! I was especially interested in the review in the Washington Post because it has so much information about Padma's entire life and previous accomplishments: "With a new series of her own, Padma Lakshmi is at the top of her game" by Tim Carman. He writes:
"She visits immigrant and Native American communities and asks them to share their stories with a country that has frequently ignored or demonized them. Over the course of 10 episodes, Lakshmi cooks with immigrants from Mexico and Iran, learns to make beer with a German home-brewer, investigates how Native Americans are reclaiming their ancient foodways, and even spends time in the kitchen with her idol, Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian-born actress who would blaze the trail for subcontinental cooking in America."
If you are a Hulu subscriber, I think you will want to check this out. Or maybe get a trial subscription to Hulu and see if you like it. That's my opinion! From mae at maefood dot blog spot dot com, author of this review; © 2020 mae sander.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Dinner from Miss Kim

After all these months of cooking our own food:
We finally ordered takeout from Miss Kim,
a Korean and Asian fusion restaurant.
Our dinner included two kinds of rice, a smoked trout salad, grilled tofu with sweet soy sauce glaze, fried chicken
with lime and pepper, and a grated carrot salad. Plus our own bottle of wine. It was delicious! And very different.
We have always enjoyed eating at Miss Kim, which is in the Kerrytown area of
Ann Arbor downtown. This photo is from the restaurant’s website,

This blog post copyright © 2020 by mae sander.