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Whampoa Club

1/2  Whampoa Club was the only restaurant I made reservations for before leaving NYC, and cornily enough, I started having reservations of my own once in China. I got nervous because outside of glossy travel and food magazines, opinions were completely mixed. I couldn’t find one kind word about the place on Chowhound. But then, Chowhound is always a little out of whack for high end restaurants and cities outside of New York.

Our meal was scheduled for our last night in the country so I hemmed and hawed over canceling all week-and-a-half. Did I really want to blow $250 on something lackluster?


I did want to try high end Shanghainese food since it’s not like I’m often faced with opportunity. The reason I’ve postponed this recollection until now is not so much because it was my last meal but because it’s difficult to characterize. The experience was almost more about feeling than taste, which sometimes works.

Whampoa Club is located in an upscale complex, Three on the Bund, which also houses Jean Georges, Laris, Armani’s China flagship and New Heights, a restaurant that is more remarkable for its amazing view. We had drinks on the heated terrace overlooking the Pudong skyline beforehand. And no matter how many photos I took, they all turned out like shit because I can’t seem to master night time lighting. We kept trying to capture shots of this slow moving Goodyear blimp (growing up, my dad worked for the company so I have weird nostalgia for all their logo’d paraphernalia) and it was a blurry disaster.


I honestly don’t know what is so awe inspiring about a view and why looking over a city from above is supposed to romantic. I sort of feel the same way about candles. I don’t fully buy into it, but there are worse ways to spend time on a vacation. The night before, we’d sipped pricy drinks at the Pudong Grand Hyatt for the privilege of gazing across the river the other way.

I’ve barely touched a cigarette since being back home but certain settings just cry out for smoking, health be damned. And those settings usually involve drinking. It’s so leisurely and decadent to smoke during an expensive meal. It certainly felt that way in Spain last summer, though I doubt that will last much longer—even France will be banning smoking in public spaces in three days. And the opulent, modern art deco style of Whampoa was made for cigarettes. In fact, they even had little built in ashtrays in every stall of the plushest bathroom I encountered in all of China (I took a photo but it didn’t do any justice—amusingly, I’m not the only one impressed by the restrooms, this person even took shots of the faucet and toiletries).

I was told we’d have a window seat when I booked, so clearly it’s a selling point. Halfway through our meal, fireworks started going off right behind my head. I couldn’t tell you why, maybe simply because it was Friday. Maybe they do it every night because that’s just how they roll in Shanghai. But two middle aged Chinese men in Member’s Only jackets jumped up and started crowding next to our table to take photos of the spectacle (they did say excuse me and really I don’t mind if someone wants to tourist it up and take photos out of the window of a nice restaurant in another country—it’s only in NYC where I’m sensitive to gaucheness).


By contrast, the table next to us was occupied by rich kid teens (for all know, they were 40—I very much envy the genetic fountain of youth thing that Asians seem to have. Even James who’s only fraction Asian, is two years older than I am and smokes regularly, doesn’t have a single line on his face which is ridiculous) a Chinese Christina Ricci with two pop star looking guys chain smoking and barely eating. I couldn’t say who typical clientele might be.

Thinking back, we probably should’ve ordered Shanghainese food a la carte but whenever presented with multiple menus in an unfamiliar yet notable restaurant, I often go for the tasting menu. We did skip the pricy hairy crab set meal, though. We decided to try a Beijing promotional menu. Why not? We’d already messed cities up by eating soup dumplings in Beijing.


I hate to admit that I can barely remember a thing about the food (it’s nearly been two months), which isn’t to say that it wasn’t memorable. The presentations and ingredients were a bit complicated and the verbal descriptions got a little lost in translation. English as a second (or third) language can be a killer for food explanations. The only reason I remember as much as I do is because I took a photo of the menu. None of the dishes were so compelling that I’d crave a repeat performance, but cocktails and a handful of updated Shanghai classics would be worth a second visit.

Wine served with starters: Watershed Margaret River Sauvignon Semillon 2005

Duo of cabbage and spinach rolls with shrimp and scallop, flavored with yellow mustard and wasabi jelly/Air-dried pork with sweet vinegar dressing

Chinese really seem to be into porky aspic preparations. We had a similar jellied pork knuckle at Made in China. I find the flavor almost too flat and pristine. Strangely, the pungent mustard with spinach was also similar to a vegetable at Made in China. Maybe these really are Beijing flavors.

Wine with mains: Casillero del Diablo Merlot 2005

Imperial-style golden seafood soup


By far the most decadent item. The saline, gelatinous soup was completely teeming with the foie gras and truffles of the Chinese world: abalone and shark’s fin. Oh, and lobster and scallops too. I think I’m supposed to feel bad for eating fins but of course I was curious how they’d taste. Like tendons and other transparent chewy things, I suspect texture is the main attraction. Red vinegar was served with this dish and the sharpness made total sense with almost-too-rich quality of the broth.

Imperial-style fried lamb with sweet bean paste


I wasn’t expecting the spun sugar dome. In fact, I was imagining something more rustic and spicy rather than sweet. This was “ta shi mi,” sweet as honey, the menu says. True. I love sweet meat and could’ve stood for a few more pieces. I liked the fluffy steamed pancake served alongside, so you could make fancy little handheld buns.

Beijing-style slow cooked cabbage in chicken consommé and sun dried scallops

Hmm, more cabbage. I wasn’t very excited about this because it was too subtle , i.e. healthy-seeming, for me.


Beijing-style fermented bean paste and pork with hand made noodles

“I just spent over $200 on ramen and frozen vegetable medley?” we joked about this one. I think I’m going crazy because I swear there were carrots and corn in this dish that looked like they were from a bag of Birdseye, but I’m seeing nothing of the sort in this photo. I liked the diy aesthetic of tossing in as much pork mélange as suited you.

Almond dessert trio.

The tart and candied nuts were nice; not too Western and decadent and not too Asian and unsugary. The sweet almond tea was seriously like loaves and fishes, an everlasting trick. No matter how much you poured in your tiny cup, there appeared to be more left. Or maybe I was really tipsy by this point in the evening.

Whampoa Club * 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Shanghai, China

What Would Honey Maid Do?


I’m guessing that on average I might bake a cheesecake every year and a half. And the reason I know this is because when I went to put my new ¾-still-full box of graham crackers into the cupboard after Thanksgiving, I was faced with two other ¾-still-full boxes of graham crackers. One had an expiration date of December 26, 2004, the other had no expiration date to speak of.

I’m phobic of ancient food, mold and the bugs that always seem to work their way into our dried goods (no matter how tightly I contain our jasmine rice, little moths still sprout inside the air-tight tub, which implies there are eggs in the original bag) so the oldies will have to go. But I hate wasting food, even if it only cost $1.59. No, I'm never swayed by brand names.


My first plan of attack was making s’mores using dark orange-flavored chocolate. Using the gas burners wasn’t so successful because it just charred without melting enough. I resorted to microwaving. You do have to be careful because marshmallows balloon up in that mutant Peeps way.

Now I still have half a box left and I’m at a loss. What can you do with graham crackers other than passing them off on little kids by telling them they’re cookies. Graham crackers are so not cookies.

Whenever stumped by a food product, I go straight to the source. What would Honey Maid do? Ah yes, Nabisco would have me crafting graham fruitcake and a holiday house. Which reminds me, my friend Jane just made a charming gingerbread crackhouse. I'm sure something similar could be done with graham crackers.

Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone

While it’s quite tempting to blow $150 on “delicious salmon” and presumably a garish view at the Times Square Applebee’s, I will be heading to Toronto (via Buffalo and a rental car) on Sunday and returning promptly Jan. 1. My only two goals for New Year’s Eve were no Williamsburg and no ‘80s music. I’ve escaped the first, unfortunately there is no guaranteeing the latter. For all I know I’ll be subjected to a Glass Tiger marathon up north.

Applebee's shout-out [New York Times via Eater]

Grand Sichuan

Thank goodness for Jewish friends and those sticking in the 11211 zip code over Christmas, no matter how much I rip on it. For practically a decade I was stuck entertaining myself, this year I had two options: classic movie and Chinese food and low key Brooklyn party. I thought I might handle both but I got sidetracked.

We started out watching Juno at Union Square, which barraged me with enough sass and quirk to last me through the entire new year (and could a character just get an abortion already in 2008?). But can I say that Michael Cera is completely hot and totally legal? Then, we needed walking-distance Chinese. I was trying super hard not to be an authenticity snob but given a choice between Grand Sichuan St. Marks and Sammy’s, there’s no floundering.

I figured G.S. would be safe for all three palates involved. Last Christmas I had a hard time with my spice-hating friend Heather putting soy sauce on her Vietnamese noodles, and as we were dining together again this December 25th I vowed to ease up on the intolerance. You can order things like bbq ribs, scallion pancakes and sesame chicken and it’s no biggie, so accordingly, we had all three.

Plus, Todd Barry was one of the seeming hundreds who thought they’d be the only one waiting for a table. It would’ve been a total indie comedy Christmas if the Flight of the Conchords guys showed up. And if Mo Rocca made an appearance I would’ve totally plotzed.

Even if I know I’ll be eating the bulk myself, I can’t resist tendons or tripe bathed in chile oil, buzzing with peppercorns. These had a subtle tingly creep that only kicked in after a few mouthfuls.


No one hates a rib.

Or a scallion pancake either. Peacemaking food.

Chicken with dried chiles were just that. The crispy bits were punchy but not painfully hot.

But then, I’m no judge of hot because Heather insisted her benign choice, sesame chicken, was spicy.


I figured red-braised pork would be safe since the amount of fat included is way scarier than the heat level. I’ve never encountered a pork belly dish I didn’t like, plus the richness of chestnuts pushes boundaries.


Pumpkin seemed like a wise seasonal vegetable. I was mildly concerned that the green strips in the photo would be bell pepper, which I’m fussy about. But luckily, it was a mild green chile.

I’ve resolved to leave town next Christmas (but I’ve been saying that for years to no avail). But if for some pathetic reason I’m still skulking around NYC on the 25th  in ’08, there would be worse places to while away time than at Grand Sichuan. (12/25/07)

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Eve of Destruction: Penang-Style Roast Chicken

Don't you love the television's blue glow?

I feel funny using recipe titles when they include someone’s name, mostly because it seems overly familiar when you don’t know the person being honored. So, this Penang-style roast chicken from James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor is technically called Kevin’s Spiced Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Penang Style. Thanks, Kevin.

I don’t know why Eurasian food seems fitting for the holidays, it’s not as if I raised cross-culturally. I think my lack of culinary traditions means that I can substitute whatever I’d like for Christmas dinner. As I mentioned in my previous post, I originally thought of devil curry, a Portuguese-Malay mishmash that often includes canned sausages, but then I realized that I had already made it in 2005. I guess it wasn’t that memorable. To be honest, it was kind of bland and not worth tinkering with in 2007.

Another Eurasian holiday dish curry feng sounds fascinating to an organ meat lover like myself. But lungs aren’t even legal to eat in the U.S. (the recipe I found from Rasa Malaysia calls for lungs, though most others I’ve found do not) and there’s something mildly gruesome about sitting alone chewing on stomach, hearts, intestines, liver and whatever else is in this curry. Kidneys are meant to be shared.

This year I’m unusually lazy even though I have free time galore. I wanted Southeast Asian food without much fuss. Sometimes it’s fun to scour the city for ingredients and spend time chopping and pounding. Sometimes you just can’t be bothered. The only component the average American might not have on hand for this recipe is the kecap manis. I could kick myself for tossing out a bottle a few months ago (instead of a plastic top it had a bottle cap and the crinkled up piece of foil I’d been using to stop it up started to gross me out).

But heading to Chinatown (which is only four subway stops from my apartment, so no complaints) would allow me to pick up some sides. I’m normally all for an everything from scratch approach, but when you’re cooking for one hardcore details can slide. You only have to please yourself. Why make pickles from scratch when sliced sweet and sour turnips and carrots are only $2.29? I like a crunchy, tangy condiment with roast meat, especially Asian-influenced preparations.

Pungent, sweet and spicy shrimp paste encrusted green beans interspersed with whole shrimp were a perfect side for an East-West entrée. Lady fingers (okra) or petai (stink beans) might’ve been uber Malaysian, and they were available from Skyway where I made my purchase, but green beans made more sense in this context. No need to be un-American.


We buy most of our meat from Western Beef because it’s cheap, they have every cut from every animal imaginable, and we’re not caught up enough with organics or free range ethics to have a problem with grocery store flesh. So, the $1.99/lb “fresh young chicken” at Hong Kong Supermarket actually seemed kind of pricey, but I only needed a little guy, 3.5 pounds. I noticed at the check out counter that the chicken was whole, head on, which I’ve never dealt with before.

I’m not squeamish about animals as food (though I certainly don’t want to hang out in slaughterhouses, I don’t understand grown ups who get freaked out by meat with bones. I’ve known many non-vegetarians who can’t cook chicken because skin, veins and bones creep them out) but I was a little perplexed by the head. I’ve never had to chop one off (I wasn’t even sure I was supposed to, but this recipe was unusually specific and said to remove head, feet and cavity fat) so I guess I’m sheltered. Even Kid Nation participants had to kill chickens. I felt bad because I don’t have a cleaver and had to saw the poor thing’s neck.


Then, I realized it still had legs and feet. I eat chicken feet, no problem but I don’t think the dim sum comes with tiny toenail claws. There were still quite a few feathers left on the bird, too. I learned more about chicken parts this Christmas Eve than I’d anticipated. The tag on the chicken’s wing indicated that it came from my old stomping grounds, Greenwood Heights (yes, I always called it Sunset Park but I’m trying to be un-anal and modern). There are a lot of live poultry markets over there, but I’ve never had the nerve to patronize one.


I love it when recipes I’ve taken from books are already published on the internet. It saves me tedious typing and the bad karma associated with violating copyright. I’m pleased to see that Salon published this recipe and a few others, too. This is a very good cookbook–one of 2006’s best–that I never ever cook from for absolutely no reason at all.

Kevin's Spiced Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Penang Style

1 whole free-range chicken, 3 1/2 pounds (1.4 kilograms)
1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces/75 milliliters) soy sauce
2 tablespoons double-black soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
2 pieces cinnamon stick, each 4 inches (10 centimeters) long
6 whole cloves
5 small red or yellow onions (about 1 pound/455 grams total), each no more than 2 1/2 inches (6 centimeters) long, halved
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) small potatoes such as Yukon Gold, Peruvian blue, or Maine, no more than 1 1/2 inches (4 centimeters) in diameter

1. Remove and discard the fat inside the chicken (reserve the head and feet to use in stock if they were attached). Rinse the chicken and thoroughly pat it dry inside and out with paper towels. Tuck the wingtips behind the shoulders.

2. Place the chicken in a bowl large enough to hold it comfortably. Pour both soy sauces and the Worcestershire sauce over it. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and onions. Using your hands or a large spoon, turn the chicken a few times, making sure that some of the liquid, spices, and a few onion halves are slipped inside the cavity. Rub the inside and outside of the chicken with the pepper. Let the chicken marinate, uncovered, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Turn the bird over every 15 minutes or so to distribute the marinade evenly. Its skin will darken a few shades from the soy sauces.

3. Toward the end of the marinating, preheat the oven to 450°F (220°C).

4. Place the chicken, breast side up, in a shallow roasting pan. Scatter the onions around the chicken, making sure that 1 or 2 halves remain inside the cavity. Rub the chicken inside and out with the softened butter. (I like to rub some underneath the breast skin as well, which helps make the breast meat juicier.) Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken, placing the cinnamon sticks and a few of the cloves inside the cavity. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.

5. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes, then turn it over. Tilt the pan toward you and, using a large spoon or baster, baste the chicken and its cavity with the pan juices. Cover the pan once more with the foil and continue roasting for another 20 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes but don't peel them. Fill a 3-quart saucepan three-fourths full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook at a rolling boil until they are just tender when pierced with a fork, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes well in a colander.

7. Add the cooked potatoes to the roasting pan. Combine them gently with the onions already in the pan and baste them well with the pan juices. Turn the chicken over again (it should be breast side up this time) and baste it once more. Continue roasting the chicken, uncovered now so that it can brown just a bit, until it's cooked. The total cooking time will range from 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. To test for doneness, using a fork, pierce the skin at the thigh joint and press down gently. The juices should have only the faintest tinge of pink. Or, you can insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. The chicken is ready when the thermometer registers 170°F (75°C).

8. Place the chicken on a serving platter. Pour half of the pan juices over it and allow the chicken to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving (this allows time for the juices to be absorbed by the flesh). Place the potatoes and onions around the chicken or in a serving bowl. Pour the remaining pan juices over the potatoes and onions. This chicken is best when served slightly warm. The flavors will be more pronounced and the flesh juicier.

Serves 4

The finished product turned out crispy and burnished from the molasses-based soy. The flavor was only slightly Asian, and not terribly Malaysian; the cloves and cinnamon almost felt Moroccan. I rounded out the chicken with potatoes, onions, my sweet and sour turnips and shrimp studded green beans.


Since I didn’t end up dining until 1am, technically Christmas day when I was going for an Eve supper, I wasn’t hungry enough to appreciate all the food. Um, and I’d just about polished off a bottle of Charles Shaw Shiraz by the time all was said and done so I’d lost a bit of my original focus. But I expect to fully enjoy my leftovers over the next few nights.

Skyway Malaysian

1/2  Assessing a restaurant based on two take out dishes is never wise. So I won’t. My foray to Skyway Malaysian was kind of peripheral anyway. I wanted to make something non-labor-intensive for Christmas Eve dinner, but still interesting and most likely S.E. Asian. This meant no complex spice and herb pastes because I don’t have the energy for pounding or foraging for obscurities.

I initially researched devil curry recipes before it dawned on me that I just made that Eurasian holiday meal two years ago. Duh. Even if no one else reads this site, it at least serves as a great memory-prodder for me. I don’t think Alzheimer’s runs in my family (though that’s hard to determine since no one makes it past 60) but keeping track of life’s minutiae might prove become practical in a decade or so.


As it turned out the only ingredient I needed for my roast chicken was kecap manis, oh, and the chicken, which still precipitated a four-subway-stop trip to Chinatown. I’m all about efficiency so decided to pick up a vegetable side dish at Skyway, just a block from Hong Kong Supermarket at the F station. Shrimp and green beans seemed right with chicken. I had to stop myself from ordering the curry fish head casserole because that would be overkill.


I couldn’t resist getting prawn mee to go, though. It could be a late lunch (I didn’t end up eating it until 7pm so now my dining schedule is screwed up). I hate dining in restaurants alone or else I would’ve just eaten the soup on the spot. Luckily, they do package the broth separately from the noodles, shrimp, kangkong and hard boiled egg, so sogginess is averted.

I was imaging a more coconut milk-based, Singapore laksa-like soup but this was a deep, spicy, very shrimpy broth. I could just eat a big bowl of the liquid but the chiles might make me cough if I slurped too fast. My only criticism is that it was a little too salty. But I’m very sensitive to salt, so it might be spot on for an average palate. I'm not sure why the broth looks frothy after I combined the two plastic tubs.


All I can say is thank god that I’m stuck here for the holidays. The sidewalk in front of Skyway happens to be one of those cheap Chinatown bus’s stops, and there was a massive luggage-toting crowd filling the entire stretch of Allen Street and blocking the door to the restaurant. It looked like a fun bunch of people: pushy non-lining-up Chinese and African Americans mocking the way the driver was saying Richmond. Ok, it did sound like he was yelling, “Reecheemon” but everyone knows you’re supposed to make fun of others quietly. Uh, or on your blog.

I was thinking the subway wouldn’t be crowded even though it was rush hour because the city had thinned out for Christmas, but no luck. I still had to stand with all my bags and the seated woman I was hovering near began covering her nose. “Oh shit, my shrimp paste.” I’d also bought a baggie of dried shrimp at the grocery store, which couldn’t be helping matters. I felt nervous for a second, then I was like, “Fuck you and this whole subway car. Oh, and seasons greetings.” I’m annoyed on a daily basis by my fellow riders, so grossing out strangers for fifteen minutes on Christmas Eve was the least of my concerns. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it.

Thank you, Skyway for empowering me to shed my usual self-consciousness. I should stink up subway cars more often—a lofty goal for 2008.

Skyway Malaysian * 11 Allen St., New York, NY

‘Tis the Season to be Crabby


Once again I find myself celebrating a solo Christmas (despite little love for religion, I find the generic happy holidays thing kind of ridiculous. No one really celebrates Kwanzaa [and please set me straight if you do] and Hanukkah is long over. I know it's hard to believe if you live in the N.E. or pockets of Florida, but only 2% of Americans are Jewish) which can only mean one thing.

No, not a Home Alone marathon (though I do tend to watch shittier fare on TV when no one's around. However, I can promise that I'll never be so bored that Jon & Kate plus 8 will be considered acceptable entertainment. With every aging woman using fertility drugs, are multiple births really a novelty anymore?). I'm talking about crab rangoon, my biggest guilty pleasure. I've come to associate the cream cheese filled wontons with solitary end-of-year snacking.

There's something irresistible about fried and starchy encasing tangy and creamy. I don't think there's actually any crab in the things, just scallions. And dipped into a duck sauce/sambal oelek blend? Perfection.

Previously in crab rangoon:
Crab Rangoon #1
Crab Rangoon (half-assed & trashy version)
Rangoon Run
Wanton Wontons


The first and last time I visited Artisanal was Valentine's Day 2001. There's no particular reason why it took me nearly six years to return; it's just that it never occurred to me until last week when fondue seemed in order.

The melted cheese with crudites and air-dried beef was perfectly acceptable but I wasn't bowled over either. I do enjoy letting the thin coating of cheese on the bottom of the dish char into a frico disk.

Duck rillettes (they spell it with one L but that looks weird), on the other hand, were very satisfying and generously portioned. You can't let the layer of fat scare you. The fondue felt a bit skimpy, but maybe I'm just a cheese pig.

My goal was really to binge on cheese. We stayed away from bistro entrees and ordered a cheese and charcuterie plate, which made me want to forget proper dinners forever and just eat cheese, fruit and nuts every night. This was the best decision ever because one of the four cheeses presented to us, Cato Corner Farm Hooligan, made me insane (in a good way).

The next day I was obsessing at work over whether I'd have time at lunch to get to Murray's and back. I'm still thinking about it. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone carries it in Brooklyn except at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, which does me no good since it's Sunday.

This Hooligan is seriously awesome and I don't use that word willy-nilly. The oozy cheese is one of those classically smelly washed rind beasts that divide people. At a recent holiday party the hostess had to put the cheese plate in the fridge because people (well, her ex-boyfriend that she still lives with) were complaining about the stench. I was like bring that shit back out.

Left to right, the cheeses are Constant Bliss, Berkswell, Hooligan and Valdeon. (12/23/07)

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The Other White Meat

1. why is pork chop an insulting word to puerto ricans?

Porkchop I’m completely stumped. Maybe because they prefer the more Español chuleta?
Maybe it’s like yelling Beetlejuice three times. If you scream “pork chop, pork chop, pork chop!” a coqui appears wearing a P.R. flag and blaring reggaeton. Not sure about insulting, but that would certainly scare the shit out of me.

Oh, thankfully I’m not the only one baffled by this and at least now I understand the context, which is even weirder. I see how Redskins could be offensive, but a pig mascot named PorkChop?

2. southeast portland super grubbin food

I was afraid that in my near decade-long absence that I’d grown out of touch with the NW consumer. Just because New Yorkers are fickle trend-seekers, doesn’t mean that the City of Roses has moved on from stoner fare. Just after I moved here, I had a wonderful idea for a Portland restaurant that would be called Totally Grubbin’. Despite being a ‘90s plan, I think it would still work. And apparently, so do hungry Googlers.

3. Is Patrick Swayze half-Filipino?

That’s a good question. I don’t think he’s stealthily low-percentage Pinoy like Rob Schneider (and my boyfriend). He does profess Apache blood, but all freaky types like to play Indian (I have half-brother who I haven’t seen since I was a toddler but last I heard he was a leather-fedora wearing bouncer with long red hair, had pet snakes and was claiming Native American heritage).

But Patrick Swayze does kind of appear where you least expect him. A million years ago there was a painting of a half-moon with a face on a Portland Safeway window on 28th and Hawthorne. I swear to god, it looked just like Patrick Swayze and I never missed an opportunity to comment on it. My mom didn’t agree; my sister didn’t either. But I know what I saw and the biggest tragedy is that digital cameras hadn’t been invented yet. So, half-Filipino? Not so sure. Half-moon? Most definitely.
4. is hank harris really retarded

For the love of god, nooo.

Han Cang

Han Cang was one of my favorite meals in Beijing so there’s no logical reason why it’s my next-to-last Chinese restaurant recap (oh yes, there’s still one more that I refuse to drag into the new year). The food is Hakka, which didn’t mean much to me and I still don’t have a full grasp of the cuisine. Hakka noodles are the only dish I know and these are something you’d eat at a Chinese-Indian restaurant. Not Hakka at all, I think, like how we call curry-powdered noodles Singapore noodles but no one eats them in Singapore. Or like English muffins, for that matter.

It’s not the easiest restaurant to Google or find because I’ve seen the name written Han Ceng, Kejia Cai, Ke Jia Cai and more ways than that. And there’s not really an address; it’s on the Southeastern edge of Houhai Lake across a busy street from Bei Hai Park. And if I’m correct, the only signage is in Chinese characters. I only knew we were at the right spot because I’d scoured the censored internet for photos beforehand (I never realized how much I used Wikipedia until it was gone). But it’s not like the cavernous, wood-and-stone styled place is hidden. Our only trauma in finding it was fighting our way through overzealous hawkers as the sunlight started fading.

I have surprisingly little tolerance for aggressive touts, despite growing up in a city that might have the highest per capita number of panhandlers, homeless, junkies and runaways (I always suspected Portland was also the whitest [major] city in the U.S. and this has proven true). I’m never rude, but you can only fend off so many rickshaw rides, massages, postcards and coffee table books while being beamed with laser lights and squeezed next to by slow-moving cars that seem inappropriate on a narrow path, before becoming exhausted.

The lake might’ve been pretty but it’s not like I could stop and take in the natural beauty before being accosted by peddlers. Plus, it turned bitter–wool coats, hats and mittens cold–on our last night in Beijing and I had only packed a light three-quarter sleeved, corduroy trapeze jacket (it was still hot in NYC when I packed and I hadn’t had enough opportunity to wear the thing yet). We were burned out and ready for Shanghai.

The Houhai district appears to be a magnet for bar goers, but I am confused by mentions of it being trendy because it didn’t feel that way to me at all. Maybe I just don’t understand Chinese culture because a New York idea of trendy is very different. I was imaging something foul like the Meatpacking District but it’s more like Prospect Park if there were lots of bars and restaurants around it (that’s a really bad analogy because we don’t have any massive man made or natural lakes here) I would say expat-friendly rather than trendy. I wouldn’t say yuppie, one, because I hate that word, but two, because I think of ‘00s yuppies as being into flash and status, kind of Hong Kong-style and this neighborhood in Beijing was more ramshackle boho chic.

Han Cang (and a few whiskies at No Name Bar up the lane, which we passed by like ten times trying to deduce if it was the right place or not. True, it had no name but it didn’t seem terribly hard to find, no more hidden than your typical well-publicized yet “clandestine” NYC speakeasy. I did get to pet the cat) brightened our evening. The vibe was rough-hewn and raucous, though more upscale than I’d expected (not truly upscale—I still had to pee in a hole in the ground). Maybe it was the big bottles of Yanjing that everyone, including us, was drinking that improved the mood.


I'd heard about salt-baked shrimp. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but each crustacean was individually skewered and served twelve to an order in a damp wooden bucket of salt. Kind of cooler than a KFC bucket. They involve a bit of finger and tooth work to eat; that is if you’re a shell-peeler. I usually just crunch on mine. But they are quite salty, which you really notice if you eat them whole.


Oh, the tripe again. Sometimes I show concern for fellow organ-averse diners and compromise on an appetizer. Other times I selfishly get the tripe anyway. It was our last night in Beijing so I cut loose with the spicy stomach shreds. I don’t know what the vegetable was, though it seemed wet and chewy like something more from the sea than the land.


Three-cup duck. Nothing fancy here, and that seems to be the Hakka M.O. Three cup refers to soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine. Or at least it does with san bei ji, Taiwanese three-cup chicken. I’m assuming the two dishes are related. This is the kind of thing that seems so simple and deeply flavored but that I can never reproduce at home. I’m not sure if it’s the proportion of ingredients, cooking vessel or what. I can’t really chop up a bird with the knives I own, so I don’t go down this path much anyway. Hey, a cleaver—that’s a great Christmas wish list idea.

Han Cang * S.E. bank of Qian Hai, Beijing, China