Food Diary: Seafood Sunset Dinner on Jimbaran Beach, Bali

IMG_9073One of the classic Bali experiences is eating fresh barbecued seafood on Jimbaran Beach. We hired a driver for the day and took a day trip to Uluwatu to see the surf breaks. We ended the day at Jimbaran Beach for some amazing seafood and views.IMG_9087IMG_9059 IMG_9058There are a number of restaurants on the beach, and I’ve read different advice on where to eat. Some guide books say to eat near the resort hotels because former employees have opened up their restaurants in front. IMG_9079 IMG_9078We winged it and picked this place because it was named “Matahari”. Who doesn’t love a cool female spy? Actually, in Javanese (Indonesian), “Mata Hari” means “Eye of Dawn,” or early sunrise. Mata Hari is also one of the many names of Parvati, the Hindu goddess.IMG_9064 IMG_9103 We selected our seafood before sitting down – there’s a wide array of fish, shellfish, lobster, calamari and even live chickens to choose from. There were some lovely sambals and chili sauces to dip them in.IMG_9106IMG_9125The food was delicious, the sunset was spectacular.IMG_9093 IMG_9119I wandered up the beach where this guy was barbecuing corn with coconut oil. Not a bad place to work…IMG_9126And if you’re lucky, this cute little fellow might come begging for some food.
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Visiting Jimbaran Beach: Check out this Wiki link on Jimbaran Beach: http://wikitravel.org/en/Jimbaran

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Food Diary: My 40th Birthday at the Best Restaurant in China – Dragon Well Manor

Entrance to Dragon Well Manor - Hangzhou
Entrance to Dragon Well Manor – Hangzhou

When I realized we’d be in China for my 40th birthday, I knew it was the perfect chance to try a restaurant I’d been reading about for the last couple of years – Dragon Well Manor. Set amongst the rolling green tea fields of Hangzhou, Dragon Well Manor is one of the first farm-to-table, organic restaurants in China. Locally sourced – with the exception of occasional seafood dishes – the food served is traditional Hangzhou cuisine. So is it the best restaurant in China?IMG_5729.JPG

Many seem to think so. Fiona Dunlop (author of the amazing Sichuan cookbook “Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking“) wrote an article for the New Yorker about Dragon Well Manor that describes Hangzhou cuisine: “Our flavors are as varied as the Sichuanese, but they tend to be light and bright, without that heavy spiciness. We emphasize seasonal produce, and the essential tastes of our raw ingredients.” Hangzhou cuisine isn’t big on spices – which suits this fresh presentation. IMG_5746.JPG

A friend who speaks Mandarin made the reservations (which is a good thing because no one speaks English). The restaurant doesn’t advertise and is relatively unknown, except for locals in the know, and foodies who make pilgrimages here. The grounds surrounding the restaurant are beautifully manicured Chinese gardens. IMG_5732.JPGThe restaurant is made up of a series of individual pavilions which customers reserve for the day. This isn’t a candle lit “dinner with your honey” sort of joint – this is Chinese style – you need to bring several well-heeled friends to split the bill with. The restaurant encourages you to show up in the afternoon and enjoy the gardens over a pot of tea and the sunset.

The long list of teas available.
The long list of teas available.

We had business to attend to, so we were unable to linger for the afternoon, but one could imagine Mandarins of old composing poetry in this elegant, classical Chinese environment.IMG_5738Our first course was freshly pressed soy milk served with savory and sweet condiments. I really enjoyed the pickled vegetable toppings. The condiments were similar to what is served with breakfast congee.

IMG_5757This was followed by a series of cold dishes, including pickled cucumber. However it was the next dish that got our attention – duck soup flavored with cicada. You heard right – bugs! Now I’m not one to let a bug disturb me – this is China after all…IMG_5773Cicadas are used to bring out the flavor of the duck in a light but rich broth. The duck was tender and the broth was delicate and delicious. DuckThe presentation of the dishes was flawless. And on and on the dishes rolled out. IMG_5776The Dongpo pork was another favorite – and a traditional Hangzhou delicacy. Named after revered Song Dynasty poet, artist and calligrapher Su Dongpo, this dish is slowly cooked pork belly braised in wine. It is one of those melt-in-your-mouth dishes you dream about.IMG_5780Other dishes included fresh and delicately cooked vegetables, river shrimp and bamboo. Diners can request to see the restaurant’s famous contract book – you’re able to read where the owner procured your meal locally.Shrimp BambooThe dinner was served over the course of several hours and by the time we finished it was dark.IMG_5728.JPGSo the question remains – is it the best restaurant in China? I wish was food expert enough to say, but it was truly one of the most lovely dining experiences I’ve had in Asia. And it was the perfect way to turn 40.

Dragon Well Manor
399 Longjing Road, Hangzhou Ph#: 86 571 878 88777
Expect to pay about $100 a person, not including tea or alcohol.

Food Diary – Chinese Food Favorites

I’m getting ready to go on a buying trip, and one of the things I most look forward to is eating Chinese food. There are too many wonderful dishes to choose from, but I’ve narrowed it down to a few personal favorites.

Scallion Pancakes. Photo Credit: Ddsclub.com

Scallion Pancakes are a Shanghai tradition. We find them on the street behind our hotel in the French Concession. Served up piping hot in the morning, these savory pancakes pack a flavor punch. Made from flour, onions and oil, they are flaky and fall apart like croissants. Chinese legend has it that Marco Polo missed them so much, he had a chef recreate them in Italy. Improvising Napolese chefs took the recipe a step further and created pizza. At the very least, you get the idea Scallion Pancakes are something worth missing…

Din Tai Fung's Juicy Xiao Long Bao with Truffles. Photo Credit: Glamourpuss

Shanghai is also the home of Xiao Long Bao – steamed soup dumplings stuffed with pork, crab, and vegetables. There’s a lot of competition for “the best” Xiao Long Bao in Shanghai. Having stood in long sweaty lines pursuing such leads, only to end up with a rubbery, non-soupy dumplings, I cut the chase and go straight to Din Tai Fung for my dumpling fix.

Din Tai Fung Assembly Line

Din Tai Fung originated in Taipei where it was awarded one Michelin star. (Din Tai Fung can be also found Stateside in Bellevue, WA and Arcadia, CA.) Din Tai Fung in Shanghai has now upped the ante by serving pork dumplings with truffles. Oh man, I’m drooling just thinking about them.
http://www.dintaifung.com.cn

Hot Pot. Photo Credit: Cityweekend.com.cn

Nothing takes the chill out of a cold winter night faster than a bubbling Chinese Hot Pot. Hot pot originated over 1000 years ago, and spread all over China during the Qing Dynasty. The ingredients used, vary by region. Most hot pot restaurants in China offer both mild and spicy broths as well as thinly sliced meats, seafood, vegetables and tofu. There’s a place we found in Hangzhou that has tons of sauces to add to your pot, which was a lot of fun. I’m a big fan of chilis, sesame paste and garlic.

Sauce selection at Hot Pot Republic in Hangzhou

A great chain in Shanghai is Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. They have locations in the US and Canada too.
http://www.littlesheephotpot.com/

Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu is another one of those dishes that make my mouth water. It is a Sichuan dish made with tofu in a spicy chili and bean curd sauce with minced pork and garlic. It is topped with mouth tingling Sichuan chili peppercorns.

Ma stands for “mazi” (Pinyin: mázi Traditional Chinese 麻子) which means a person disfigured by pockmarks. Po (Chinese 婆) translates as “old woman”. Hence, Ma Po is an old woman whose face was pockmarked. It is sometimes translated as “Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu”. Legend says that the pock-marked old woman (má pó) was a widow who lived in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Due to her condition, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincidence, it was near a road where traders often passed and they stopped and ate Ma Po’s tofu. (Wikipedia)

Sichuan Citizen - Shanghai

Sichuan Citizen is an expat favorite in the French Concession that serves up an authentic version of this dish.
http://www.citizenshanghai.com/

Egg Custard Tart - Hong Kong

I thought I’d end this post with something sweet. You can’t visit Hong Kong without eating Egg Custard Tarts. Custard tarts were introduced in Hong Kong in the 1940s by tea houses. One theory suggests Hong Kong egg tarts are an adaptation of English custard tarts. Another theory suggests that egg tarts evolved from the very similar Portuguese egg tart pastries, known as pastel de nata, traveling to Hong Kong via the Portuguese colony of Macau (Wikipedia). Regardless, they’re present street side in Hong Kong, as well as a staple of Dim Sum dining. Yum!




Food Diary: Learning to Make Green Curry Paste in Koh Samui, Thailand

Thai Green Curry with Tofu & Eggplant

This isn’t a food blog, but I can’t resist the opportunity to share a great recipe for Thai Green Curry Paste. One of the best parts of travel is trying new foods. I finally got the opportunity to take a Thai cooking class at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts on Koh Samui.

Our lovely instructor displaying cilantro root.

The class was well organized, the teachers were super knowledgable, and I learned a lot about authentic Thai cooking (good to know stuff like which peppers are super HOT and which are not). Those of you who live on the West Coast have access to a lot of Thai food. In Portland, I think it’s probably one of the most popular ethnic restaurants. But traditional Thai food is a lot more savory than what you get at your average Thai noodle shop.

When I cook Thai food at home, I take the cheaters way out and use Mae Ploy’s Green Curry Paste. It’s good. In fact it’s REAL good. But nothing beats the bright flavors of a curry made from scratch.

Curry Paste Ingredients

Homemade Green Curry Paste (Kruang Gaeng Kiaw Waan)

6 small fresh green hot chillies
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp. shallot chopped finely
1 tsp. garlic chopped finely
1 tsp. lemongrass chopped finely
1 tsp. galangal chopped finely
1/4 tsp kaffir lime peel (good luck finding this) OR 2 fresh kaffir leaves (more easily found)
1 tsp. cilantro root (the root maintains it’s flavor when dropped into a hot pot unlike the leaves)
1 tsp. shrimp paste
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. anise seeds
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns

1.) Heat the wok/pan on low heat. Add the coriander seeds, anise, cumin seeds, and black pepper stirring until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Put them in a stone mortar with salt, and grind to a powder.
2.) Add the garlic, shallots, chilies and coriander leaves. Pound to a smooth paste.
3.) Add the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, and coriander root. Pound again until smooth.
4.) Add the shrimp paste and pound one last time until smooth.
NOTE: if freezing for later, don’t add the shrimp paste. Add shrimp right before using (or it will stink up your curry).

Moi, posing with my Green Curry & Tofu, Spicy Glass Noodle Salad and Sweet & Sour Stir Fried Vegetables & Tofu. Yum!

For a schedule of classes at Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts, go to www.sitca.net. Classes cost 1950 Baht or about $65. Not cheap, but you’ll have a lot of food to take with you. Bon appetit!