Archive for the ‘Foreign’ Category

When Chef Calls …

We’ve been talking with a chef friend about a project. He called the other day and wanted to check out Panya Bistro (1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, Hawaii). While waiting for The Cat, had a cup of jasmine tea.

Jasmine Tea Bag

I think the manufacturer saves by leaving out the “e”. I remember an urban legend of why Mickey Mouse only has three fingers and a thumb on each hand (or paw as it were). But I digress.

Jasmine Tea

Chef asked what I wanted to eat. My philosophy is when I’m eating with a chef, I’m the passenger, sit back and enjoy. He wanted to try three items.

Thai Style Fried Thick Noodles with Tofu

White noodle with bean sprouts, basil, chive, shoyu, and egg.

Spicy Indonesian Fried Rice with Chicken

Panya House Noodles - LAKSA

From the menu: Malaysian-Style w/Shrimp, Fish Cake, Aburage, Bean Sprouts, Corn, Aromatic Herbs. Served w/ 2 Types of Noodles. I didn’t get a picture of the noodles (chef’s hands were moving too fast), it looked like a ramen-type noodle and a super thin noodle (maybe egg noodles?).

Chef wanted to expose us to foods from different Asian areas. For him to prepare them it would take too many ingredients. Easier to try outside.

I thought the Thai style fried thick noodles were a little lacking in flavor. I prefer beef chow fun, dry style (my opinion). The Cat didn’t mind it because it wasn’t spicy. Chef said the noodles were too dark, too much shoyu.

The spicy Indonesian fried rice wasn’t bad (I thought), Chef agreed (although he still could do better). The slices of tomato and cucumber were correct. It was too spicy for The Cat’s tastes.

It was the laksa that Chef wanted to try. I thought it was okay (I’m not that much into coconut milk). The dish was a little too spicy for The Cat. Chef thought the bowl was interesting (although he wanted another notch for the soup spoon (the two on the bowl were for the chopsticks).

We shared a dessert.

Fresh Fruit Roll Cake

For some reason, the dessert reminded me of the mascot for Genki Sushi … but anyway, I thought this was pretty good way in taming the spiciness of lunch (a little too much cream for me though, sorry TMI).

BTW, he gave us some “new year” pastries his wife made.

Chinese Pastries

The ones on the left are filled with a peanut and sesame seed mixture, the ones on the right, a bean paste. Homemade and tasty.


The Mouse

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Now that I’ve got your attention, this post is not really about gummi worms, but probably just as interesting. 


Our friends X and D, mentioned in a prior post, really try to take care of us when we visit.  X likes to eat and will try to give us a different experience each time we visit.  On a past trip, X ordered rattlesnake which included a shot of liquor with one of the snake’s organs and a salad made with the snake-skin.  At the end of the meal, the restaurant offered the rattle which they boxed.  On another trip, escargot was the trend in Shanghai.  X made sure to order it when he and D took us out (X really likes escargot). 

Sea Cucumbers 

This time, sea cucumbers seem to be the big thing.  The first time they took us to dinner, X ordered a single cucumber. 

Braised Sea Cucumber on Shanghai Cabbage

In person, the sea cucumber kind of looks like a giant gummi worm.  Here’s the detailed picture. 

Braised Sea Cucumber, Detail

The texture is like eating stiff Jello.  The sea cucumber itself doesn’t have a lot of taste, the gravy was a variation of the Shanghai “brown sauce”.  D said that there is an art in preparing the sea cucumber.  She’s tried it at home with results that are less than when ordered at a restaurant.  This sea cucumber was kind of smooth as far as sea cucumbers go (not much character). 

About a week later, X and D took us out for dinner again.  This time it was D’s birthday.  In the middle of the dinner, the waitress added a fork and knife to each place setting.  I had not seen a fork and knife since we got to China (duh).  So this was curious.  X ordered a sea cucumber for each of the guests. 

Braised Sea Cucumber

This time, the gravy had more of a “western” taste like maybe beef or pork stock instead of the Shanghai “brown sauce”.  X liked the gravy so much that he ordered rice to soak up the gravy.  Compared with the first time, my sea cucumber had a little more “character” (more bumps and surface texture).  If it were a different color, it would really look like a gummi worm.  Here’s the picture of the sea cucumber sliced. 

Braised Sea Cucumber, Sliced

X and D have never failed to provide us with new and different eating experiences. 

The Mouse battled a sea monster and won, yum. 🙂 


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In Shanghai, there several branches of this “tea house’.  Here is a picture of their tissue package with phone number. 

Tea House Information

The branch we frequent is located in the Jing-an area next to the Yan-An Hotel.  The pricing system works like this: you buy tea or coffee (on this trip the prices ran between $8 to $12 depending on the type of tea); you get free hot water (all you can drink, coffee is only one refill); you get access to all the food you can eat); and you have a 6 hour limit.  Tea selections include green teas, oolong teas, black teas, and herbal (no caffeine) teas.  The range of food runs from nuts to noodles to dessert.  

We first found the tea house in the early 2000’s.  Back then, when we peeked in, business seemed kind of slow.  We first tried the tea house in 2006 and we could easily get a table anytime.  In 2008, business seemed to pick up and there were times when the tea house was full.  This time, we had two occasions to visit, both times we had to make reservations.  And both times, all the tables were full. 

Here’s some pictures of the interior of the tea house: 

Tea House, Hallway

Tea house, Room Divider, Main Dining Area and "Private" Rooms

Tea House, Decor

This is just a sampling of the food available when we were there. 

Soy Beans

Pickled Chicken Feet

Spiced Seaweed with Garlic

Stewed Tofu

Stewed Quail Eggs

Spicy Cucumber

Smoked Duck Neck Bones

Pork Soup with Pumpkin and Turnips

Long Rice "Soup"

Steamed Won Ton


And last but not least: 

Custard Tarts

The Cat said that the custard tarts were the best she had, ever!  There’s a buffet table with fruit, pickled vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  The hot foods come from the kitchen either in batches or when ordered.  

The Mouse is reading his tea leaves, looking for his fortune, shhh (just kidding).

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Another vegetable that The Cat missed is fava beans.  My only experience with fava beans (or broad beans) was the frozen, bagged variety bought at the local Japanese markets.  There is an outer pod and an inner membrane encasing the bean.  Removing the outer pod looks labor intensive.

Fava Beans in the Pod

According to Wikipedia, the beans begin to be harvested in mid-Spring.  Here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicia_faba.  The map, also from Wiki, indicates that fava beans are fairly well-known in China.

Global Fava Bean Yields (From Wiki)

The Cat remembers fava beans were just boiled in salted water (similar to soy beans).  So for several years, that’s how I prepared the frozen ones here.  The frozen ones included the inner membrane which I usually removed after parboiling the beans in salted water.  It seems that currently in Shanghai, the beans are stir-fried with a slight corn starch and salt glaze.  I think sometimes the glaze included green onions or chives.  As the pictures show, we had the beans prepared this way more than three times (I got tired of taking similar pictures).  For some reason, more restaurants seemed to have fava beans on their menu than bamboo shoots.

Fava Beans, Part I

Fava Beans, Part II

Fava Beans, Part III

However, there were two times that the preparation stood out.  On the first night (dinner with The Cat’s nephew), the fava beans were cooked with salted belly pork (kind of tasted like a mild ham).  All the other times, the fava beans were prepared with the inner membrane left on.  The people either discarded the membrane after extracting the bean or ate the whole thing.

Fava Beans with Salted Belly Pork

On another occasion, in Ningbo (more on that in a later post), the beans were roasted (with membrane) with salt and bay leaves.  I’m not sure if there was any preliminary preparation (it was at a semi-official dinner, and I didn’t want to interrupt) prior to the roasting.  The texture was a little drier than the rest but it had a intense flavor that I didn’t taste when the beans were stir-fried.

Roasted Fava Beans with Bay Leaves

My favorite was with the salted pork belly.  When does anything cooked with belly pork taste bad?  Also, the inner membrane was taken off.  The roasted fava beans comes in at a close second.

For now, I’m all fava beaned out.  Although during the trip I did start to crave a nice Chianti wine and some … (sorry, first there was Po, now Hannibal Lechter). 🙂

The Mouse almost started to look like a bean.

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We’re Here!

We’re here!  But our internet connection is spotty.  I will try to post when I can. 

The Cat and The Mouse are eating good!

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