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Nabe! Tamales! Dim sum!

Listening to the rain outside. Rain is good for making you pause and take stock. Fall in San Francisco is my favourite time of the year. Trees go fallow but other plants prosper. We start growing cold and the cats get cuddlier.

I tried and did not fail at making corn blight tamales. There were tamales casualties. I'd set the water to too high a roiling boil for the first batch, which broke open some of the weaker corn husk ties and scattered masa to the waves. The other lesson I'd learned from that is to trust my instincts if I think one of the corn ties looks a little weak or loose. Also learnt from later reheating the tamales through a traditionally rigged Chinese steamer (a.k.a. glass mixing bowl over a steamer stand in a big pot), I could just steam the tamales next time instead of boil them, as it turns out I do have the space for a relatively small batch. Alternatively, I could be slightly less environmentally friendly and use string ties, which is particularly good for boiled glutinous rice dumplings. Lotus leaves smell awesome, but corn husks are widely available and quite as sturdy. Huitlacoche, the corn blight in question, does indeed taste as mushroomy as the labelling suggests. Actually, it's about 60% of the way towards truffles in strength, with a slightly astringent, vaguely vanilla-esque aftertaste. It smells like canned mushrooms, in its canned form. Being that it is on the stronger side, I can see why it is ideally mixed in with tamales, cut with dumplings or used sparingly as a quesadilla filling under lashings of crema and guacamole. I used about a cup or so of leftover huatlicoche mix from the tamales in a soft scramble, and while the eggs did temper the flavour dramatically, this is definitely something best served with a cream sauce and folded into a dough-like foodstuff.

I tried and critically succeeded at making soy milk nabe. We had a San Mateo adventure, the spouse and I, during which we raided a Japanese supermarket for various tasty objects we wouldn't otherwise get. One of the things I got was fresh unsweetened soy milk and a very fluffy, cloud-like San Jose local tofu. Half the soy milk is reserved for steaming with the lovely chai spices I got from the Chai Cart, if it can last that long undrunk, but half of it went into a cup of simple dashi broth (real simple - I got pre-made bottled dashi). This was gently simmered with more treasures: a soy marinade-flavoured cut of smoked salmon from the Mission Community Market, cute konnyaku balls, fu -- the first time I'd ever seen or tried using this from of dried seitan, oyster mushrooms, carrots, spring onions bulb and all, topped with a tablespoon of white miso paste with a bit of sugar. And then Seth and I ate and ate and ate, and jealously guarded our bowls from Food Inspector Cat.

Back in San Mateo, I finally got to try my first bona fide Cantonese yum cha session since I showed up in the Bay area. Serious, authentic, handmade dim sum that warms the heart. Being that it's been that long since I had dim sum, we naturally had to order everything short of the kitchen sink. Champagne Seafood Restaurant apparently specialises in salt and pepper crab and duck feet wrapped in beancurd sheets. The large posters declaring this outside said 100% my mom would like this place. Their egg custard tarts are magic. If they somehow had a bakery, I would buy and eat 20 of them like tiny bites of crumbly pastry and magical custard glory. The har kau had tender and light wrappers with whole fresh prawns inside, the siew mai was good. They have like, 20 different flavours of chee cheong fun. We got the dried scallop and pea shoots flavour, which was awesome. Sweet shoots, not entirely sure about the dried scallops, but the soy sauce was really good. Not too salty, very nicely rich yet light, just a hint of sesame oil. They also had lots of different congee, which I didn't get because each order was meant for four people, and I love congee, but I am not four people. We had chive and beancurd skin packets. It turns out there was a layer of meat paste with the chives, and the beancurd skin was crisp and not too oily. A passing waiter was distributing yong tau foo, so we had to get that. I got all the deep fried eggplants, Seth insisted I also have at least one of the green bell pepper slices. The fish paste filling was so good. I mean, it had a bite, it wasn't fishy, it wasn't over salted, and neither was the salted bean paste-based sauce everything was slathered in. Did I ever tell you deep fried egg plant stuffed with fish paste is my favourite yong tau foo item? Luckily, the husband thinks eggplants are slightly bizarre and won't touch them.

One of the other specialties on offer was tempura pumpkin with salted egg yolk. I really liked this, but had to pack it home to have with plain steamed rice to truly appreciate its slightly salty, pumpkin sweet flavour. On its own, it's remarkably strong, albeit still very tasty. I'm not sure how one would eat these on their own at a dim sum, since all the other foods are often individual flavour concentrates as well. Maybe with that congee we never got to? There was also steamed beancurd skin stuffed with beef paste (one of my staples of yum cha), BBQ buns and durian pastries. Between about the ages of four to twenty one, I used to think durian was utterly appalling. Yes, it is the fruit of my people, the pinnacle of fruits in Malaysa, and seriously about as unavoidable as our traffic jams. It also smells kind of dreadful, and my fruit-obsessed family would eat this by the crate. My feelings about it changed when I realised durian makes a lovely, custard filling for pastries mixed with fresh cream, and salted fermented durian (tempoyak) adds an incredible amount of depth to the simplest vegetables and sauces. That is to say, like most of my feelings about fruit, I prefer it butchered and cooked. The durian pastries were, impressively enough, entire deseeded segments of durian in the same swirly pastry used for the egg tarts. They were delicious, but I'm not entirely sure I'd have them again, and only because after testing with the husband, we have decided this stuff is largely my domain to eat alone.

I think it was only the fact that both of us were too full to move that I did not attempt to order noodles afterwards. Or deep fried yam puffs (because sweet potato is not Seth's friend). Or other flavours of cheong fun. Or congee. Did I mention congee? They had roast duck too.

Next on how we eat all things: I convince the spouse we should have supermarket onigiri for dinner. I have a soft spot for supermarket onigiri, especially if they're purchased 40% off at the end of the day or something.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
"... and I love congee, but I am not four people" = for some reason, I love your phrasing here.

When I saw that you had posted, I stopped reading and made a cup of tea to sip while I ate vicariously with you.
Nov. 9th, 2012 02:30 am (UTC)
Well, that is the most appropriate thing to do!
Nov. 9th, 2012 08:37 am (UTC)
I stopped reading and made a cup of tea to sip while I ate vicariously with you

I do believe I now have a new fuud porn tradition. Thank you.
Nov. 10th, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)
Indeed, I am drinking a cup of tea just to read your comments.
Nov. 9th, 2012 03:52 am (UTC)
mmmm, dim sum. I want some now. XD
We don't have as many dim sum options here in Boston. I am very jealous.

tuna mayo onigiri is my favorite. when I am in Japan, I live off of it. :D
Nov. 9th, 2012 04:50 am (UTC)
Our dim sum options are technically better here in SF, but I've had some mediocre factory dim sum at places that should know better till we ate at Champagne. Most of the really good places have either too many people or are too far away from where we live, or both. So it was sheer luck we had dim sum on Saturday brunch hours!

I usually make tuna or salmon onigiri, because these are the fillings that we both like. I also like making egg or seaweed fillings. When I lived in KL, I used to love the end of day sales at either Isetan or Jusco's supermarkets. 40% off onigiri! :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )