Friday, April 2, 2010


I’m currently on vacation in Asia for the first time and will be using this blog to muse about my thoughts on the cities I visit and their food and food culture. Hopefully it will inspire Little Sister and Little Brother to travel more. There’s far too much outside of California to sit around there for a lifetime.

The first picture I have here is of a glass of water. Seems fairly insignificant by global standards, but where an American restaurant might give you ice water, note that there is no ice in this glass whatsoever. Originally I thought that this was just terrible customer service, but my second glass revealed their intent as the waitress actually heated the water. I later found that in Chinese culture, cold beverages are believed to be harmful to the digestion of hot food. Supposedly the ice water sends a shock to the stomach; items like ice-cold water or soft drinks are therefore traditionally not served at meal-time. Some of them even associate the drinking of cold water at meals to the prevalence of obesity in America. That’s a stretch, I’m sure since ice water has been around American culture since before the obesity epidemic, but interesting to ponder nonetheless. I looked into it a little more since I was sure that cold water might affect stomach/gastric mucosal functioning and there was a study done: Apparently cold drinks delay stomach emptying, what this really means in the big picture, who knows? I always thought that the addition of cold water meant that the body had to burn more calories to raise the core temperature by whatever change the cold water caused, thereby making cold water advantageous. I also believe that if cold water delays stomach emptying, you’ll be more likely to feel full earlier on, thereby making you less likely to eat more, but that’s not what the Chinese think. Comments?

Anyhow, we went to an international restaurant called Alido that was located in a Beijing shopping mall. People tend to think that prices for food are much cheaper in China, but instead they’re about comparable. The dish pictured here is about $6, which may be tantamount to the amount of food you’d get at a Panda Express in America but the quality is monumentally different. I had the drunken chicken that was dry-fried with Thai basil. Immensely flavorful, probably the best rendition of this I’ve ever had. You can get this popular dish in America but it’s greasier and simply doesn’t taste as refreshing. It’s hard to think of a savory dish as refreshing, but this certainly fit that description. They also provided us with four little side dishes of preserved vegetables, which really helped to balance out the meal. I think if anything, this is what we’re missing in America—attention to nutrition. In America it’s enough to have a protein and a starch, and the vegetable is most of the time decorative. Maybe as opposed to the temperature of the water affecting American metabolism, it’s the lack of regular vegetables.

Also, my breakfast diet is completely different here. For the last two days I’ve been having porridges/congees with sweet potatoes, mung beans, oatmeal, and barley. The congees are unsweetened, but oddly enough I don’t care. Anything like this served to me while in America would be absolutely unpalatable but I think that has to do with the fact that in America you’re surrounded by people eating McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, pancakes and maple syrup, and even oatmeal with maple syrup. We’re conditioned to expect sweetness and so it’s all we want. It’s really unfortunate then that we can’t appreciate simple foods with fewer of the sugars. Granted I’m still addicted to sugar, finding myself slipping some cider vinegar-soaked raisins (a new tasty phenomenon that I’ll be bringing back to the states with me!) in greater quantities than those around me, but I’m trying. With any luck, this breakfast will help me maintain some degree of health while I gorge myself on some other greasy goodies while here.

Thanks for reading and check out the Little Sister and Little Brother blogs too! =]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sesame Crème Brulee with Sesame Oil


I don’t know how some people manage to both live normal lives and keep up successful blogs. If anyone has tips, please let me know because this is a blog I’d love to keep going but not at the cost of my day job.

But I’m finally on vacation and can try to keep up with my little sister’s blog posts. This post is a response to her crème brulee challenge post. The recipe for crème brulee is pretty much everywhere so follow one of them if you want, but realize that because the recipe’s everywhere, everyone’s going to have had it and everyone’s going to be a little bit underwhelmed by what you’re serving. That’s basically me saying that what my little sister posted is going to be less than impressive. =p

Mix it up a little by adding something exotic to your crème brulee like I did---with sesame oil! You can substitute about a tablespoon of sesame oil for the heavy cream used in a recipe. What you end up with is a more complex dessert that can be paired with a sprinkling of ground sesame seeds and demerara sugar. I thought about what I liked about crème brulee and it was the contrasting textures in the same dish and thought to continue that by accompanying it with the sesame “soil.” You might like it too.

Another riff on the recipe is a suggestion for those of us who can’t afford blow torches or cook’s torches, thereby making them otherwise unable to achieve the crispy caramel top of crème brulee. What I suggested instead was the use of a light layer of liquid caramel. Just cook some sugar and water on a stovetop and pour a very thin layer over the top of the crème brulee. Careful not to put too much or you’ll end up with a thick candy layer that even a spoon won’t be able to crack! [words of experience] The nice thing about this is that you end up with a beautiful golden mirror/sheen over your crème brulee, that I think looks nicer than some charred sugar. Just something to vary it up b/c as of late it seems as if you see run-of-the-mill brulee everywhere.