Monday, February 18, 2008

Hot Pot: The Art of War

In raiding and plundering be like fire, is immovability like a mountain.
Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt. [6:19]

Sun Tzu's pearls of wisdom from 6th century bc is still a point of reference for modern warfare. It is believed that he wrote The Art of War after laboriously and tediously analyzing the history of war in China. I, however, have a different theory. Being of Chinese nobility, Sun Tzu likely grew up in a very large family, with siblings as numerous as sheep. During the harsh winters, he and his siblings would eat hot pot to keep warm. As battles hard won and lost, it would be these strenuous meals that first taught young Sun Tzu the critical importance of positioning and strategy for ensuring one's survival.

Let us here, then, pay proper homage to the Art of Hot Pot (or, literally, Fire Pot), that most lovable and ubiquitous, trying yet supremely fulfilling, wintertime activity. As relentless food warriors, my friends and I fought the good fight twice in one week -- first to herald in the year of the rat, and then in celebration of our dear Meex's big two-five -- at glorious Grand Sichuan on Canal and Chrystie (no relation to Grand Sichuan in midtown).

At Grand Sichuan they prepare their hot pot in the Chongqing style, making the resultant experience even more closely resembling that of war. The Sichuan peppers and peppercorns flavor the boiling broth in which we cook the food to effect mouth(and mind)-numbingly spicy flavors, creating a full body experience that is at once stupid and euphoric. My body shakes, my skin sweats, and the color of my face emulates that of the Sichuan peppers. But I irrationally persevere.

The Battlefield (The Terrain and Laying Plans)

Here we have the stage of our battle. Grand Sichuan provides a split hot-pot, one side for the warriors, and the other for the not-so-warriors. Guess which side this is.

The Accoutrements
(Waging War and Attack by Stratagem)

This here is a sample of the thinly sliced beef that we dipped in our war stew. Other accoutrements included bamboo shoots, tofu, chinese vegetables, pork, scallops, rice cakes, fen si, fish balls, golden-tipped mushrooms, tripe, and much more. Although I have stated that there is no ownership in Chinese cuisine, the art (and fun) of this war is to manage to retrieve your selected accoutrements from the battlefield before other warriors cunningly "handle" them. Once retrieved, the warrior has the choice to bathe his spoils in several dipping sauces. As the daughter of Chinese parents raised in Taiwan, my sauce of choice is the "sa cha," mixed with a raw egg. Sesame, peanut, and pungent tofu were also favored by the other warriors.

The Opportunity
(Energy, Weak Points and Strong, and Maneuvering)

Unfortunately a warrior is not so free to stop and take commemorative snapshots in the midst of battle, and I could only sneak in a few photos towards the end while opposing warriors rested. Keep in mind that this was to the detriment of fully capitalizing on my own endurance, but I did it for you dear reader.

The Side Battles
(Variation in Tactics)

Besides hot pot, we also waged war and kicked the ass of some other great Sichuan dishes. This here is the pathetic remains of some oil-boiled-fish. I would also highly recommend the red oil wontons, dan dan noodles, double-boiled pork, mahpo tofu, gan bien string beans, sliced beef tenderloin, and so on and so on.

The Aftermath
(The Army on the March and Attack by Fire)

We are such bloodthirsty warriors that after the battle had been fought and won by all, we continued plundering. Here you see our greedy spoons sipping the blood (or broth) of the conquered.

In the end, with our our battle wounds on full display, faces freshly scarred by the mighty touch of hot oil fervently splashed by our thunderbolt moves, each warrior emerged victorious, and ready, as always, for many more battles to come.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Now that I am a quarter century old even according to the lunar calendar (actually I think I'm 26 says the moon), I am officially way too old to receive the little red envelopes stuffed with benjamins that I received from family members as a child. Gone are the blissful days of emptying my crisp new cash out in my bedroom and rolling around in it like Scrooge McPanda. As an adult, I have to look a little deeper and enjoy the new year in more profound ways, such as reflecting on the past year and thinking contemplatively of the next. For my friends and me, last year was all about "living life". And we did, maddeningly so. This year, just like like growing up, makes us think beyond: the year 4706 will be about MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE.

As part of this theme, I will be returning to the motherland. I will volunteer in microfinance in Cambodia through The food genius will thereby be reporting live from a variety of "exotic" Southeast Asian locations. I will also be joining the entire Pei clan in Taiwan when we descend upon this country smaller than New Jersey to surprise Grandmama Pei for her 90th birthday (SHHH, don't spill the beans)!! While there I hope to record an oral history of my grandparents, who each have treasure troves of unbelievable WWII and revolution stories buried inside of them.

One other thing that I will embark on in 4706 is a book on the Chinese diaspora as seen through food. Even here in New York, this phenomenon presents itself in interesting ways. One of my favorite ways is Peruvian-Chinese at a restaurant called Flor de Mayo. I worked at this UWS establishment (at both the 83rd and 101st St. locations) one summer when I lived in Clinton Hill and also had around 4 other jobs. I did this primarily to learn Spanish and to eat their food, but the insanity factor should also not be discounted. But I digress. The point is, the combination of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine here makes for such a perfect outcome that you start understanding why mixed-race children are seemingly always the most beautiful out of all of us...

Ensalada de aguacate

I'm not a big fan of chicken unless it's Hainan Chicken or this here roasted chicken, which tastes more or less like the way I imagine chickens want to be tasted.

Chinese Broccoli (there are always, always greens at a Chinese meal. it's all about balance.)

Don't let the blurriness fool you. I was too euphoric from the flavors of my personal favorite of squid fried rice that I couldn't focus straight. Notice how it's black. That's squid ink. mmm mmmm!

Algunos platanos, maduros, y yucas.

Oh my god, I don't even know how to describe how good these pork chops are. Trust me. They are so good that you want to drink its juices.

Ribs a la onion. Notice all the garlic. The key to my heart.

Spaghetti pesto with shrimp. I'm confused, wouldn't this qualify as Italian? Very fusiony.

One of the best cafe con leches this side of the border...

And then you wash it all down with some delightfully non-Asian but Asian nonetheless sangria! My boss Dennis taught me how they make theirs so good. Maybe if you're lucky I'll show you.

And there you have it - that's Peruvian-Chinese folks. Ta-da!! Let the year 4706, and all it's dream-fulfilling powers, begin!