Shanghai Dumpling Shop - Millbrae
Back in April 2011, I wrote about "little dragon buns", xiao long bao and where to find them in San Francisco. Well, now I'm recommending you drive south near the San Francisco Airport to Millbrae to try the xiao long bao at the Shanghai Dumpling Shop at 455 Broadway in downtown Millbrae.
Definitely worth the drive, they are the best I've had in recent memory.
What is in the Chinese Box?
Chinese Tin Box
I found this metal box in the garage among things from my parents home. There was nothing . At least 60 years old, brightly enameled and decorative, it was obviously a container for something purchased. I wondered if it was special.
White Phoenix Pills
My Chinese reading ability is pretty bad, but I was trying to guess what was inside based on the writing outside. I recognized some characters above as being, "white phoenix balls" and I though oooh, maybe it was a jewelry box. I'll ask Mom. Last night I finally got around to showing it to her, and she said, "oh, these are pills for ladies only". I forgot that the character for balls is also used to mean pills -- and apparently white phoenix pills is a well-known Chinese herbal prescription used to treat menstrual issues.
I was a little disapointed, but the box was sure nice.
Winter Melon Soup
Winter Melon Soup
I remember as a kid, coming home to the welcoming smell of the long slow cooked soups that Mom made. Now, Alex has moved into his own apartment and he surprised me by saying, he misses the Chinese soups we make at home . . . . and the other night, Katie asked me to teach her how to make Winter Melon Soup. See my recipe here.
4 Star Theater - San Francisco
SF Chinatown's Great Star Theater
Back in the day, San Francisco Chinatown boasted at least 5 movie theaters. My favorite was the Great Star Theater on Jackson between Kearney and Grant Avenue and across the street from the old Sai Yuen Restaurant where my grandfather was an owner. It was at the Great Star Theater that I saw all the great Shaw Brothers Martial Arts films during the 1970's.
Sadly they are all gone. The 4 Star Theater on outer Clement is about the only place to see the latest martial art films from Asia. The theater itself is pretty plain and doesn't have the grandeur of the Castro. It doesn't matter. Kudos to the owner for keeping this tradition alive.
San Wang Pea Sprouts
I don't usually expect much in the way of leafy green vegetables from San Wang Restaurant in San Francisco. I usually order their spicy egg plant or dry-fried green beans - both highly seasoned dishes. This restaurant is owned by Chinese owners who have lived in Korea and the wait staff speaks fluent Korean. Their approach to vegetables seems very different form Cantonese restaurants.
I was surprised to find their chowed pea sprouts cooked to perfection, the bright green of the vegetables still vivid and appealing. Seasoned simply, it was a great accompaniment to the braised fish and hand pulled noodles.
Some of my earliest childhood memories come from the House of Chung restaurant in Reedley, CA where I watched the chefs shaking the heavy woks and tossing the ingredients, cooking them quickly. The oils in the wok would sometimes vaporize and with the tossing, the oils would ignite in a dazzling display. Wok cooking is hard work. Any chef that has spent years behind a Chinese stove probably has burn scars on their arms to show for it.
That said, I grew up listening to elders wax longingly about the nature of wok hay an how this nuance to the dish is only possible with intense heat cooking in a wok and with an experienced cook who knows how to time the addition of ingredients and the length of cooking. There is little margin for error and when done right, it is incredible. The most humble of ingredients can be wonderful.
San Francisco native, Grace Young has written extensively on this subject and published several cookbooks.
For two thousand years, Chinese writing has been defined by the brush with it's fluid nuances. It doesn't translate too well to typesetting. Most Chinese fonts you see need to be appreciated on its own terms.
This poster I saw rendered the Chinese character for dancing (wu) rather nicely - giving it a sensual quality that recalls a brush. The softly rounded voids formed by the intersection of the vertical and horizontal strokes -- heightened by the lime green outline -- give the "wu" character a soft focus look and a sense of movement -- appropriate for the word "dance".
Hong Kong Neon Signs
Just as I've been lamenting the demise of the Balboa Theater and the loss of another neon sign, I snapped a photo at a Chinese restaurant of a neon sign. Somehow it would seem that Chinese characters would be difficult to render in neon, but somehow it renders well. The fluidity of the brush doesn't seem to be lost. Perhaps the master craftsman shaping the fluid quality of the hot neon glass has a kindred spirit with the calligrapher.
Although neon signs may be getting scare in this country, they still seem to be thriving in Hong Kong and another Asian cities where commercial streets are still filled with neon signs - each one a veritable Broadway of lights.
Porridge King - Daly City
Porridge King in Daly City is located in the same mall as 99 Ranch Market, a mecca for Asian food on the peninsula. I go there when I don't want to fight the crowds and parking in San Francisco. I find the BBQ items in 99 Ranch a bit sub par so I usually go over to the Porridge King for something better. Seeing a whole roast pig hanging on a hook can be a bit off-putting, but it can also be a thing of beauty depending on your perspective.
Photo of Jook - wikipedia
Porridge refers to a thick rice soup called "jook" in Cantonese. Chinese eat it for breakfast, a light lunch or snack. Koreans also call this soup "juk", but usually serve it to small children or someone ill. It's easy to eat and easy to digest. You would think that naming your restaurant the Porridge King, would mean the jook was really good -- not necessarily so here. The jook here is somewhat bland saved only by what condiments you add to it. The roast pork at porridge King on the other hand is really good. Sweet succulent meat with crispy skin reminiscent of chicharones. A whole roast pork is a signature dish at many important Chinese events, skillfully carved into serving pieces and re-assembled to maintain it's whole appearance. Look for it at your favorite Chinese deli.
There is nothing more important in my circle of family and friends than a reliable Chinese restaurant with good food and reasonable ("cheap") prices. At Golden Horse (Hyde and California Streets), we ordered off the the "wo choy" (fixed price) menu that included soup, five entrees, and dessert. In the old days, the wo choy menu was printed only in Chinese. You either had to be able to read Chinese or have a waiter who was willing to translate it for you -- good luck!
We had mustard greens with salted egg soup, beef stew tofu clay pot, crispy flounder, salt and pepper pork spareribs, seafood and greens, Chinese broccoli with Oyster sauce, and tapioca coconut dessert. The standout dish is the whole crispy flounder -- deep fried with succulent meat. Amazing they can produce all this food for $33.88! The owners and staff are friendly and welcome you as old friends when you come in. Golden Horse is well-known among the San Francisco cheap good Chinese restaurant cognoscenti.
If you go, take a good look at the Cala market across the street with it's distinctive swooping concrete shell roof-lines. It's scheduled to be demolished soon. As a kid I used to drive by and stare at the interesting architecture of the building.
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