Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eating in Minnesnowta, part I

We just returned from another chilly holiday with my family in Minnesota. Despite the fact that the weather seemed more bitterly cold than usual, it was so wonderful to get a rare opportunity to spend some quality time with everyone and to finally get a chance to see my brother and sister-in-law's beautiful new home and meet my new furry nephew, Daniel. As is her custom, my mom plied us with a steady stream of wonderful, home-cooked food, and this year, my brother and sister-in-law added to our feedbags. I am assiduously avoiding the scale.

I don't think I can possibly blog about everything we ate, but I thought it might be interesting to you all out there in blogland to read about some of the more traditional Asian food and snacks that we request every time we visit my parents' home. My mom is a fantastic cook, and these dishes (and many more in her repertoire) formed the base of my food tastes as an adult.

For starters, this rice porridge (also called xi fan, or congee) is pretty much the perfect winter breakfast (and I would not turn it down in the summer, either). It's just rice with LOTS of water and, in my mom's version, a meat (chicken, turkey, or beef), cooked long and slow until it's about the consistency of grits. You can doctor it to your taste by adding all manner of pickled, preserved, and dried things; my favorites are something referred to on the can as "preserved vegetable" (a close examination of the ingredients reveals something called "mustard root" - a photograph of the can is below), a bit of soy sauce, some fresh green onion, black pepper, and a handful of dry roasted peanuts. My parents also sometimes add rou song (dried, shredded meat that is also sometimes referred to as pork floss) or hundred-year-old eggs.

My perfect breakfast.

The mysterious mustard root. Yes, I know the can looks like it's about 90 years old.
It tastes good, though, I promise.

One of our favorite lunches is niu rou mien, which translates to "beef noodles." I'm actually not sure how traditional this preparation is, since it involves regular spaghetti noodles, but I grew up eating it this way and wouldn't change a thing. Except maybe I would take out the carrots. I don't really like cooked carrots.

Notice how I mysteriously ended up with only one cooked carrot in my bowl. What a coincidence!

Another favorite lunch time treat is my mom's homemade potstickers, or gwo tieh. My mom's version is stuffed with lean pork. My brother is a master at cooking these, and has a patented (but again, non-traditional) method of getting them to cook together in one clump, then flipping them so that both sides get a wonderful, crispy finish.

Browning the second side.


I sometimes wonder whether niu rou mien and potstickers are just excuses for us to eat massive quantities of kim chee.

Pungent, garlicky, delightful kim chee!

Gwo tieh + kim chee is a match made in heaven.

Another dish that my mom often makes when we're there is a cold dish featuring something called fu zhu. It's a soy-based product made by boiling soybeans, which forms a film, or "skin" that can be lifted off the top and dried. You buy it dried in bags, reconstitute it by soaking it in hot water, then stir fry it - my mom mixes it with black mushrooms and carrots. I love the texture of the fu zhu - much firmer than it's cousin, tofu - and it picks up the flavors of whatever it is cooked with very nicely.

Fu zhu, mushrooms, and carrots.

My mom hand-carved these carrots to garnish her fu zhu dish last year. I wish I had inherited more of her artistic talent.

A carrot garden!

All right; I have several more things I want to blog about from this trip, but this post is getting long and it's getting late, so I'll plan on a part II and leave you with this shot of my new "nephew," Daniel.

This is his, "You guys are eating THAT and all I get is this green toy?" look.


  1. The sheef and gwottles make me want to zoub over to your parents' right now...

  2. oooh my gosh, what an adorable puppy!!!! Awww. And I want that thing of potstickers. The whole clump right now. Yum!

  3. The fu zhu dish looked so delicious that I licked the screen, but then I remembered that my flat panel monitor doesn't transmit the great flavors as my old crt monitor. Oh for the good old days.

    A long time ago my mom made a dish using foo jook, which may be the same as fu zhu. She would soak them, spread a topping of a chopped mixture of pork, water chestnuts, and a binder of maybe egg white and corn starch. She would braise them in chicken broth and cut them in one inch pieces. (jen hau chr)

    uncle h

  4. L. Shanna and Uncle H., perhaps one of you can educate me on how to say, "You crack me UP!" in Chinese...?

    Uncle H., I'll have to ask Mom about that dish and see if she remembers it. We were talking over the holidays about what a great cook your mom was. That dish sounds wonderful.

  5. Is it bad to say that the puppy looks most delicious to me? What a sweetie!


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