Annie Bananie en Europe

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Category Archives: Food

Chinese noodles at their places of origin

Last week, the noodle restaurant beside my apartment building in Wuhan finally resumed business! When I saw the open door I knew I had to get myself some hot dry noodles (I had written about it briefly before). What are hot dry noodles? You ask. It is a literal translation of “re gan mian” in Chinese and it’s only the most popular street food in Wuhan. If there is one food item that represents Wuhan, this would be it.

But this post is not only about hot dry noodles. There are in fact hundreds of types of noodle dishes in China, each region with their own specialty. I thought about which types of noodle I’ve tried and compiled a list of ones that I’ve had the privilege of having in their places of origin (with one exception). This means that (1) I’ve certainly had other noodle dishes, just not in the region/city where they originated, and (2) only one dish was selected for each region (Xi’an, for example, has tons of noodle dishes but only one is showcased here).

Re gan mian (hot dry noodles), Wuhan, Hubei Province, April 13, 2020.

You know I have to start with hot dry noodles. What’s an introduction without photos?! The first is the unmixed version that you get from the shop. Usually the noodles are blanched quickly in boiling water and topped with a variety of sauces, among which sesame sauce is the main feature. You then get to add whatever toppings you want and I usually only go for green onions, pickled green beans, and sour radish. The second photo is what you get when you mix everything together – and c’mon, you HAVE to mix everything together to eat hot dry noodles properly. It may look like a mess, and sometimes it is, but oh man it is a bite of heaven in my mouth. After three months of absence, welcome back, hot dry noodles!!

Xiao mian (small noodles), Chongqing, December 31, 2019.

Next up we’ve got what we literally call “small noodles” (xiao mian) in Chinese, and it is a specialty of Chongqing. Small noodles have the same status in Chongqing as do hot dry noodles in Wuhan. They are really just ordinary noodles immersed in a hot soup – both in terms of temperature and spiciness! This one may not LOOK very spicy but pay attention to the red soup base and you’d understand how much hot oil went into it. Delicious but painful for those who can’t stand spicy food!

Dan dan mian (dan dan noodles), Chengdu, Sichuan Province, February 6, 2018.

Another spicy one here, dan dan noodles of Chengdu, Sichuan. The province of Sichuan, of which Chongqing used to be a part, is famous for its flavourful and spicy palate. “Dan dan” doesn’t really translate to anything and the noodles are consisted of minced meat and a lot of hot sauce/oil. This was a small portion as a snack and thankfully it was a small portion because heck it was spicy!

Zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles), Beijing, December 8, 2016.

We now go north to the capital of China, where zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles) are quite popular among locals and tourists alike. I never really figured out why they’re called “fried sauce” noodles because I definitely don’t think the sauce (bean paste) is fried. And it may not seem like a lot of sauce from the photo but it is very thick and heavy, so this was actually enough to coat all of the noodles evenly for a great flavour.

Biang biang mian (biang biang noodles) with lamb, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, February 1, 2019.

The word “biang” doesn’t really exist in China and is a made-up character that you can’t even type on a computer. But that doesn’t stop biang biang noodles from being loved in Xi’an, where noodles are the main staple. The unique thing about biang biang noodles is how long and wide they are. The first photo doesn’t quite do them justice and that’s why I’m posting the second one for comparison – the noodles are almost as wide as a person’s mouth!

Hui mian (braised noodles) with lamb, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, March 25, 2020.

J and I had a chance to stop by Zhengzhou for a connecting train on my way back to Wuhan, so we seized the opportunity to try to famous lamb hui mian (braised noodles). This was at a restaurant that ONLY served lamb hui mian and side dishes, so you can’t even get other types of meat if you wanted to. There’s normal-quality lamb, superior-quality lamb, top-quality lamb…you get the point. We only got the normal-quality lamb but oh man it was tasty! Perfect balance of lean and fatty meat that falls apart in your mouth without chewing. And the lamb soup based was top-notch!

Yun tun mian (wonton noodles), Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, December 21, 2016.

I had to save this for the end because Guangzhou (or Canton) is my hometown and I love Cantonese food. Out of all the noodles on this list, I would think that westerners would be most familiar with this one – wonton noodles. “Yun tun” is the Mandarin pronunciation of “wonton”, which is actually the Cantonese pronunciation (though more like “wun tun”). Whenever I go back to Guangzhou I always make sure I get myself a bowl of wonton noodles at least once. My dad told me that back in the day, the original wontons only contained pork and a little bit of shrimp and are not too huge. Nowadays, most wontons are gigantic and contain mostly shrimp, and my dad complained of the authenticity and texture of modern wontons. I’m often heavily influenced by my dad, this time in particular because he is the true Cantonese local who grew up in the city. So I went and looked for the “original” wonton noodles with the pork-based fillings and luckily they still exist (wonton noodles at Wu Cai Ji restaurant shown in photo). I understand what my dad meant but you know, I don’t mind the shrimp in any case 😛

Gan chao niu he (dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef), Toronto, Canada, August 8, 2011.

BONUS!!! I said there’d be an exception and this is it – dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef. “Dry” has to be specified because there is a wet version – with sauce. Anyway, this is the exception of the post for two reasons: (1) It is the second Cantonese specialty and (2) I had this in Toronto, not the place where it originated. Again my dad seemed to be an expert on this dish, telling me that Cantonese chefs are evaluated on their basic kitchen skills based on this dish because it tests so many essential techniques in Cantonese cooking. Indeed it may look simple but the amount of work that goes into making the perfect stir-fried noodles takes years and years of training. And we love it!

So, do I have a favourite or a ranking for these goodies? I admit that I am completely biased and I will say that wonton noodles are my favourite, followed by stir-fried noodles with beef. Unsurprisingly hot dry noodles come third so I guess the conclusion is…the taste of home is the best???

Which noodles would you like to try? 😉

Hot dogs around the world

There seems to be a phenomenon where hot dogs have become popular all over the world. Putting aside local delicacies and cuisines, who could resist a good ol’ hot dog as a form of comfort food? Indeed sometimes a hot dog is the best thing out of a bunch of choices, especially for the budget-conscious traveller. After going through my collection of photos, I found out that I too have had many a hot dog throughout my travels. Let’s take a look.

(Date eaten: January 27, 2014) Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik, Iceland apparently literally translates to “the town’s best hot dog”. The joint was in a corner, not so easily noticeable, but supposedly there is always a line up. I went for a hot dog one day because as you may have realized, Iceland is rather expensive and I didn’t want to be TOO broke. The hot dog looks humble and nothing too fancy, and I can’t remember what that sauce was, though I’d guess that it’s some sort of mustard. I do remember, though, that I loaded the bun with a thick bed of crunchy onions underneath the hot dog itself, and the onions did turn out to be the highlight. RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

(Date eaten: May 3, 2014) TORONTO STREET MEAT! This isn’t technically a travel hot dog because I live in Toronto but c’mon, we can’t miss out on Toronto hot dogs because they are so damn good, perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Not only do you have many types to choose from (Italian, Polish, German, all beef, etc.) but there are rows of toppings and condiments to go with the already delicious hot dog – your typical sauces like BBQ, ketchup, mayo, plus pickles, hot peppers, onions, jalapeno peppers, etc. etc. etc. I usually like a perfectly grilled spicy Polish dog with mustard, ketchup, pickles, fresh onions, and crunchy onions, enough toppings to compliment the hot dog but not so much that it oozes out when I bite into it. Oh my goodness my mouth is watering just thinking about it. So unhealthy, yes, but a guilty pleasure when I visit downtown Toronto and one of the more unconventional “must-haves” of Toronto – at least in my eyes. RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

(Date eaten: December 24, 2014) Hot dog #3 was from a Christmas market in Prague. I only got this because I was there on Christmas eve and many stands were almost closed when I arrived (it’s a tradition for locals to eat a big meal at home on Christmas eve). This was one of the few things that were available. This was evidently a very long hot dog, and I added the classic condiments, ketchup and mustard. Tasted quite good, plus points for size 😛 RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

(Date eaten: March 20, 2017) I’ve also had a hot dog at the University of Glasgow cafeteria when I worked there, which was not like me at all because I usually don’t get things like pizza or burgers or hot dogs at the cafeteria (and I rarely go there anyway). That day I saw hot dog on the menu and started to have a huge craving for it, so I took one and added an order of potato wedges to go with it. The hot dog was rather average but not horrible, and it was enough to quench my cravings so I was satisfied. RATING: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ (5/10)

(Date eaten: October 16, 2017) Away from the centre of Oslo stood a hot dog joint, Syverkiosken, like the one in Reykjavik. Again, as a budget-conscious choice (since Norway too was soooooooo expensive), I went for a hot dog – or two, because I was hungry. The interesting thing about the hot dogs here is that they put a piece of flat tortilla bread on each hot dog. And the hot dogs already came stuffed with toppings – one had potato salad and the other I think had shrimp salad, if I remember correctly. They were both really good but the one with potato salad caught me off guard – I didn’t know potato salad would be such a good compliment to a hot dog…INSIDE a hot dog! Plus points for uniqueness! RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

(Date eaten: November 19, 2017) Finally, JAPADOG. So this is supposed to be a thing that is unique to Vancouver and I had to try it. Japanese style ingredients + hot dog? WANT. During the three days I was in Vancouver, I ate twice at JAPADOG but only took this photo of the first meal with the classic “kurobata terimayo” (with teriyaki sauce, mayo, and seaweed) and a side of karaage, or Japanese fried chicken. Good? Yes you bet it was good. It was like biting into a hot dog and a takoyaki at the exact same time – imagine THAT! The hot dog was a bit on the small side but hey that’s typical of Japanese food items – small but delicate. RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

26 days in China, part 6.3 – Eating in Guangzhou

Warning – do not read this post if you:

1 – are hungry.
2 – cannot handle the sight of strange things that Chinese people eat (e.g. a cow’s internal organs).
3 – dislike good food.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (I trust that none of the three listed items applies to you), let’s get onto the Cantonese food edition of the Guangzhou mini-series!

I had written a post awhile back describing my food experience in Guangzhou during a particular visit, but one could never get enough of Cantonese food. There’s a Chinese saying whose literal translation is “Eating in Guangzhou”…it doesn’t exactly sound too impressive, I know, but it embodies the view (or I’d say FACT) that Guangzhou is the best place to EAT in China. Whether it’s because we, the Cantonese, eat the weirdest things you could imagine, have the widest variety of cooking methods and delicious dishes, or are obsessed with delicacies, many would agree (though some do debate) that Guangzhou is well worthy of the title of the best city for food in China. You could go on with historical and cultural explanations of how it came to be, but I’ll show you with photos and in the process of doing so, make myself drool…

I’m going to start with dim sum – again, even though it’s already appeared in the previous post – because it ain’t a post about Cantonese food without some dim sum. With my friend LS, I went to Tao Tao Ju, one of the most locally well known dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou with a history of over 100 years. Here we have the classic shrimp dumplings (ha gow, middle), spare ribs (bottom right), chicken buns (top right), pork dumplings (siu mai, top middle), and spring rolls (top left)…

…followed by beef rice noodle rolls (top left), crispy pork puff (haam shui gok, bottom left), and “boat congee” (right), a variety of congee that originated from old Guangzhou. The great thing about dim sum is that each dish is small so that you could order a whole bunch and try a huge variety of it. Don’t forget my tea!

Next up we’ve got a lovely bowl of beef brisket noodles. Perhaps they are not as popular as the wonton noodles, but the beef brisket noodles would be a close second, I would say, in terms of popular noodle dishes. A good bowl of noodles consists of tender beef brisket, al dente noodles, and very importantly, a flavourful soup base. You could be that this bowl was entirely empty with not even a drop of soup left when I was done with it.

Now we come to something that some people might consider strange – steamed pig intestines. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my favourite things to eat though I admit, it doesn’t sound too appetizing and not everyone could stomach it. Once you get over that fact that they’re intestines and have gotten used to the chewy texture, though, you just can’t get enough of it!

At the same restaurant, we ordered stir-fried thin beef slices with choi sum, which translates to…cabbage stem? Anyway, this is one of those green Chinese vegetables that I always miss when I’m in Europe because it’s not commonly found other than in large Asian supermarkets. The beef slices are new to me in that I’ve only ever eaten them hot-pot-style before and didn’t know you could stir fry them – and it turned out very good! I’d like to try that at home one day too.

My mom and aunt, as the true locals, specifically searched for a good restaurant that served only “lai” noodles, which are very thick rice flour noodles. They are usually made in a thick, mushy soup/congee-like base. I wasn’t a fan of the traditional thick consistency, so I ordered a variation that came in a clear soup based with the “four treasures” of Xiguan (old Guangzhou), which were fried fish skin, fish balls, and fish skin dumplings (I don’t remember the fourth…)

For a simple, delicious, and filling breakfast, I liked to get the congee and rice noodle roll combo. Here with my mom, I got the noodles stuffed with beef while she got the one with pork. I liked this place in particular because the taste kind of reminded me of the type of noodles that I would get on the street carts as a child, which no longer exist. Some nostalgia is always welcome!

I decided that I was not leaving Guangzhou without having at least one portion of cow offal – internal organs – and because there was so much other good food to eat, I ended up having ONLY one portion. This would be similar to the pig intestines – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I said to my Scottish colleague that she shouldn’t find this TOO repulsive considering that they have haggis (chopped up sheep’s liver, heart, and kidneys encased in sheep stomach), and she kindly remarked that at least they have the good manners to mince it up. Hmph, I’m not convinced that it makes a difference, especially since in my opinion, cow offal served in bulk taste so much better than haggis!

This final one isn’t as much of a “Cantonese” item as it is a dose of nostalgia, like the rice noodle rolls. As children, we often drank beverage, whether it was pop or soy milk, in tall glass bottles. This isn’t as popular now as it used to be, but some food joints still serve drinks in these glass bottles. For remembrance’s sake, my mom and I got some glass-bottled soy milk and toasted to the olden days in Guangzhou, when it was only her and me by each other’s side in this small neighbourhood. Cheers to the fond memories!

Eating in Southeast Asia, part 3: Street food in Hanoi

Street food is an essential experience in many Asian countries, Vietnam included. As someone who is fervently passionate about food, when my travel planner offered the option of a guided street food tour in Hanoi, it was an instant YES! In addition to the many Vietnamese noodle-based dishes that my friend and I have eaten throughout these travels, we were on our way to unravel the hidden secrets of the capital of Vietnam with the help of our cute local Vietnamese guide, Chili (sneak peek in the Southeast Asia highlights post). I noted down the Vietnamese names of everything (courtesy of Chili), although I’d have a lot of trouble pronouncing them correctly 😛 Let’s get started!

Bánh mì – First up was the legendary bánh mì, perhaps the most famous Vietnamese sandwich. I gotta admit that I was never a huge fan of bánh mì when I had it in Toronto…until I had it in Hanoi, many many years after I ate the last one! I almost missed it too. If it weren’t for a travel companion for pointing out Bánh Mì 25 (probably the most popular bánh mì joint in Hanoi), I would have left Hanoi without trying it. On the night of my street food tour, which was my final day in Vietnam, I mentioned it to my guide and she gladly took me to the joint as our first stop. And oh my, the real authentic thing was so delicious! I think what put me off before was the pâté in the sandwich, but this one had the perfect proportion of fillings and even the pâté tasted so good. I shared one with my friend (as we had an array of food lined up so a full one would be too much) and I wanted more! No wonder Bánh Mì 25 is so popular – it deserves the fame!

Other than bánh mì, I felt like our initial stops were for dessert, but no bother! Xôi chè bà thìn is the joint where we went for the next three items, and it certainly seemed like a very popular street-side spot as locals and tourists alike were lining up to get their goodies. As we ordered the desserts, we were able to see exactly how they were made.

Trôi tàu (top left) – Trôi tàu is a Vietnamese dessert consisting of warm dumplings with black sesame and peanuts. It was quite sweet and kind of reminiscent of the Chinese tang yuan, and rather gingery too – perfect for a cold evening! Xôi chè (bottom left) – This one is a little difficult to explain because I don’t remember much about it (it’s been almost a year!) but to the best of my memory, it was a bowl of thick, syrup-like sauce/soup/jam topped with some sort of sticky rice. I think I wasn’t a huge fan of this mainly because it was too sweet, but clearly the Vietnamese locals loved it because almost everyone was holding a bowl of it in their hands! Chè hạt sen (right) – Finally, we end our visit at Xôi chè bà thìn with a refreshing sweet tea (or soup?) consisting of lotus seeds.

Bánh tráng trộn – This is a funky one. According to my Vietnamese friend in Canada, the bánh tráng trộn (consisting of quail eggs, rice paper strips, dried meat, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t name) is the newest fad in Vietnam. Teenagers are crazy about it while adults might not even know about it, ha! It seemed like Chili certainly knew what she was doing. I wonder if this random mix would do well in North America…

Phở gà trộn – The largest portion of food for the night was the soupless version of the classic phở, with chicken instead of beef. SO GOOD. The “booth” selling this amazing dish was located in a back alley in Hanoi, literally. We sat (or more like squatted) on small plastic stools around a small wooden table. Without a specialized food tour guide, my friend and I would definitely not have found this place…I mean who would venture into a shady-looking alley, right? Yet this was a great find – perhaps my favourite of the night!

The next location was one of the most “hole-in-the-wall” places that could possibly be found (if you could even find it) in Hanoi, and it actually felt like we were eating someone’s home – it couldn’t be more local. If I were just passing by I wouldn’t even have thought that we could order any food here. It just looked like someone’s household meal was happening right then and there!

Bánh cuốn – So here was where we got the bánh cuốn, or Vietnamese rice noodle rolls. If I remember correctly, the fillings consisted of wood ear mushrooms and the rolls were topped with dried minced garlic with a side of Vietnamese sausages and a savoury dip. Mmmmm the authentic taste of the streets – I like it! Not sure if I’d know how to find this place if I ever go back to Hanoi though…!

Toward the end of the tour, Chili brought us into a shop that was so inconspicuous that the narrow corridor leading to it seemed like a secret entrance to a sketchy spot. However, apparently Cafe Giang is somewhat of a legend in Hanoi and specializes in what we were about to get next, which was…

Cafe trứng …AKA egg coffee! As the name implies, the coffee is made with, you guessed it, a whipped egg yolk! I was a bit skeptical about getting coffee so late in the evening since it always makes me unable to fall asleep, but it was my final night in Vietnam, and I wasn’t about to regret missing anything. It was a good cup of coffee and not like your typical Starbucks – at least that was what I, who is not a coffee aficionado, thought.

Iced mixed fruits – We come to the final item of the night, which is a bowl of fresh mixed fruits on a bed of ice. My friend was unfortunately unable to have this because she was allergic to jackfruit, so I had this all by myself. This was a perfect way to wash down all of the goodies that I had eaten all night and quite a memorable conclusion to my Southeast Asia trip.

And that was the end of what turned out to be a fun, adventure-filled food tour, thanks to Chili on the far left! Keep in mind that my friend and I each had one of each of these mentioned food items, except for the bánh mì, which we shared, and the fruits, which my friend skipped. So in a nutshell…that was A LOT OF FOOD and I was so (happily) full by the end of the night. At least it was a walking tour, and we did a fair bit of walking to offset the food intake! Favourites of the night: bánh mì, phở gà trộn, and bánh cuốn! Then I left Vietnam the next morning missing all that food and wondering what else remains hidden in those narrow alleys of Hanoi. One could only imagine…or go back to Hanoi for another visit!

Eating in Southeast Asia, part 2: Vietnam

Part 2 of the “Eating in Southeast Asia” series is dedicated to Vietnam. Vietnamese cuisine is very diverse and every region has its own specialties. Some cities and towns even have special dishes that are found nowhere else. The food that I’ve had the chance to try in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based with variations from place to place. Here are some of the typical things you’d expect to find in the main tourist destinations in Vietnam – stay tuned for the next post on STREET FOOD in Hanoi!

Cao lầu – First up we’ve got cao lầu (pronounced “cow lao”), the noodle dish that’s only found in Hoi An. What’s special about these noodles is the texture, which was firm and chewy. The noodles were topped with green veggies and various types of pork, including what I believed was crispy pork skin.

Bánh bao vac – Another specialty of Hoi An, the bánh bao vac is also known as “white roses”. These little shrimp dumplings got their name from their appearance, which really do look like white roses!

Mì Quảng – On the way from Hoi An to Huế, my friend and I stopped for a quick lunch break in Da Nang. Though we didn’t have time to explore the city itself, we got to try the local noodle dish, mì Quảng! It is served with various types of meat (shrimp and pork in this case) and toasted sesame rice crackers in soup. Definitely not your typical soup noodles!

Bún thịt nướng – One of the best meals I had in Vietnam (out of the excellent ones, which are all of them) was bún thịt nướng, or rice vermicelli with grilled meat. In addition to grilled pork, the vermicelli was topped with peanuts, coriander, and a special peanut sauce, which was oh-so-tasty. I miss this!

Bún bò Huế – In Huế, the most well-known noodle dish is no doubt the bún bò Huế. In hindsight I’m not sure if I was ripped off at the restaurant that I went to, because the photos of bún bò Huế that I’ve seen suggested that the noodles should be in a reddish brown broth, whereas the broth that we had was quite clear. Nothing too special to rave about here.

Bánh bèo – We also joined a fun cooking class in Huế and learned to make four Vietnamese dishes (bún bò Huế being one of them). Of the other three, bánh bèo was probably the most interesting. These were gelatinous rice cakes topped with minced dried shrimp, green onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Our instructor Miss Thuy noted that out of all the people who learned to make this dish, only 20% of them expressed that they liked it. Many disliked it because of the gelatinous texture. Well, apparently I became part of the 20% that liked this unique dish and certainly ate more than just two or three that evening 😉

Bánh khoái Huế – The second dish was the bánh khoái Huế. These are basically chicken tacos that are deep-pan-fried (not quite deep-fried, but with a lot more oil than normal pan-frying) and while delicious, might have been a bit too greasy! I think one was good enough for me!

Gỏi cuốn – The last item on the list of dishes that we learned to make was the fresh spring vegetarian rolls and these were my favourite of them all! They were so fun and easy to make and super delicious! I couldn’t resist reaching for more and at one point I felt a bit guilty for eating so many of them. But having learned how to properly handle rice paper, I could make them at home anytime now!

Phở bò – And finally, who could forget the good ol’ beef phở? You mustn’t think that I skipped the ubiquitous soup noodles! There was phở at our hotels for breakfast and more phở in random sketchy shops on the streets of Hanoi, but all were so amazing! Glasgow is seriously missing some good Vietnamese restaurants and I was so glad to have just the simplest bowl of beef phở after having been deprived for so long!

So to wrap up, the food I had in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based, with my favourites being bún thịt nướng (rice vermicelli), gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), and phở bò (beef soup noodles). In addition to these, I went on a personalized street food tour with a guide in Hanoi and got to try some lesser known favourites of the local people that were hard to find on our own – this will be a story for the next post!

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