Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dim Sum Primer, Pt 3

Continuing on with Part Three of the Dim Sum Primer. If you want to know where to get this stuff locally, check out the "Where to get Dim Sum in Lansing" post.

Fried Sweet Rice Dumpling. This thing has a lot of names, and the names often sound like other kinds of dumplings. At Little Panda, they're now calling it something like "Meat Filled Dumpling". But it's so much more: The wrapper is a thick, chewy sticky dough made of sweet rice (or sticky rice) flour -- which is used in a lot of desserts. However, in this dish, it's wrapped around some seasoned ground pork, and then deep-fried. I had a variation in L.A. filled with chicken and cilantro. In either case, something about the sweet and the crispy chewy fried crust makes the flavor of the meat inside POP. You really should have this with the hot sauce, though.

Hot Sauce. At Golden Wok, they put the sauce on the table when you arrive. At Little Panda, you have to ask for it. It's made up of chili flakes soaked in oil, and may be seasoned with ginger or garlic as well. The oil here is not as hot as the flakes, and it carries all the flavor, so if you don't want it too hot, you can just dab your dumplings in the oil, or you can drizzle it on the food.

TurnipCake. This is another item that goes well with the hot sauce. "Turnip" Cake is generally made with a large sweet Daikon radish, rather an an actual turnip. The batter is made with rice flour and water, mixed with various flavorful ingredients, usually including Chinese sausage, mushrooms and dried shrimp, along with the grated turnip. This is then steamed -- more like an English pudding than a cake -- and then sliced and fried. Little Panda tends to have more flavorful fillings. Golden Wok sometimes has a variant of this with a Taro Cake - which looks almost the same, but is slightly purple. Taro is sweeter and pastier.

Chive Dumpling. This translucent dumpling is shaped kind of like one of those round rubber coin purses that you squeeze to open up. (Flat, round, with a coiled top.) They are almost always filled with seafood and chives. At Golden Wok, they have shrimp. We've seen them with clams, and I've heard of them offered with greens or cilantro inside too. (Little Panda doesn't offer them.) The wrapper is a slightly tougher version of the clear Har Gow wrapper, and the dumpling is pan-fried after steaming.

Steamed Ribs. These are not BBQ ribs, but rather little chunks of bone, meat and gristle which have been steamed with garlic and black bean sauce. (Black beans are fermented, salted beans used as a seasoning -- and they are really great with pork or beef in particular.) The thing is, even though you have to suck the tiny bit of meat off small bones, these are really good, especially at Golden Wok.

BBQ Pork Pastry. These are almost too rich.... Okay, forget the "almost". They are too rich. Tender, flakey pastry wrapped around sweet hunks of Chinese BBQ pork. Melt in your mouth, heart-attack-on-a-plate. Yum. (Only available at Golden Wok.)

Shrimp Balls. Sorry I don't have a picture of these. They are basically just a meatball of pure shrimp, coated in crumbled rice noodles and deep fried. When I want shrimp, I prefer a little more texture and variety of flavor, so I don't often order these -- but they are great for somebody who just wants shrimp. Add a little sweet and sour sauce or hot sauce, and they are a treat.

Next time I'd like to get to some of plated dishes, congees and desserts. (I don't have as many pictures of those yet, though.) But before that, I have a few restaurant reviews to get to, and a Peking Duck banquet.

Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing
Dim Sum Primer, Part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Dim Sum Primer, Part 4

Friday, October 26, 2007

Los Tres Amigos Taqueria

Okay, this is really good. A wide range of very authentic flavors. The menu is very different than their main place out by Lansing Mall, which has more familiar dishes. (The East Side is now officaly swimming in great Mexican food.)

The core of the menu here are the tacos, burritos and tortas (sandwiches) with a variety of fillings. But they also have various authentic soups, and antojitos (literally "little cravings" -- taquitos, enchiladas tostadas, etc.) and Mariscos, which are seafood dinners -- mainly choices of tilapia and shrimp.

We had Tacos for our first visit. And our second. My favorite is the al Pastor, which has spicey barbequed pork with onions and cilantro, athough I sure liked the Carnitas, which is another variety of pulled pork with pico de gallo. (Both pictured above.) And then there is the fish taco (Tacos de Pescado) which is a fried whitefish filet, broken up and served with cabbage, pico and a drizzle of a creamy dressing that's like a Mexican tartar sauce. (Fish taco pictured below.)

The tacos themselves are small -- tiny corn tortillas served double for each taco or a regular sized flour tortilla -- but they are stuffed full and worth the $2 price. They have fine chips, and a good mild salsa (hot sauce both on the table and at a little dressings bar by the cash register), and good guacamole.

(Note: since this time, we've tried a few more flavors. The chicken tacos come in two varieties, grilled or shredded. The grilled is served with pico de gallo, and is very flavorful, and will probably become my regular request, along with the Pastor, but the shredded -- which were served with lettuce and cheese, gringo style, had a surprising hit of black pepper, and a great salty Mexican cheese. My friend reports that the shrimp tacos were really good and will probably become her regular order.)

They also serve juices from big glass barrels of ice and sugar. The pineapple is a little too sweet, but the Tamarindo is just about perfect.

They are located just north of Frandor, on North Clippert, in the same shopping strip as Baskin Robbins and Medawar Jewelers.

Los Tres Amigos Taqueria, 730 North Clippert St, Lansing, 48912. 324-9600.
Recommended links:
The Great Taco Hunt is one man's journey to find the best taco stand in Los Angeles.

Recommended Reading:
Gringo's Guide to Authentic Mexican Cooking (Cookbooks and Restaurant Guides)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dim Sum Primer, part 2

Here's a continuation of my guide to dim sum dishes. You can learn about where to get dim sum in Lansing here, and read the first part of the Primer here.

Spring Rolls. More delicate than eggrolls, these crunchy treats are meant to resemble gold bricks and bring you good fortune. Little Panda in particular has wonderful Spring Rolls on dim sum weekend. (I don't know if their weekday spring rolls are the same -- for some reason I don't think so.) Cabbage and a little chicken or pork, lightly seasoned with five spice that just opens the flavors wide.

RiceRoll. This is a tender, slippery rice flour sheet, steamed and wrapped around beef, shrimp, or sometimes bbq pork (only at Golden Wok in town). I like the beef best, at least at Little Panda, where it has been seasoned with a little tangerine peel. All variations have a sweet taste and a slippery texture. I advise sliding it onto your plate and cutting it up before attempting to use chopsticks on these.

Pork In Bean Roll. Bean Curd Skin may not sound that appetizing, but it's a wonderful chewy wrapper for a number of Chinese dishes, and often used to simulate chicken skin in Buddhist vegetarian dishes. It's wrapped around something, then fried, and then steamed in a luscious garlicky gravy. It is actually most wonderful when filled with vegetables, but you can't always get that. And I find that Golden Wok often forgets the steaming and the garlicky gravy for this dish -- especially when serving it off the menu. And it's really just not good when it's only been fried. (Although if you take it home and pour on a little chicken broth and garlic it's just fine -- so sometimes I'll get this as takeout.) Little Panda always gets it right, but they only serve the pork version. Which is fine with me. Pork is good.

Stuffed Eggplant. There are actually several items you can get prepared this way -- tofu, mushrooms and green peppers are all popular -- but a friend of mine turned me on to the eggplant, and even though I'm not normally an eggplant fan, this is too good to pass up. We always get it. Generally it's a little sandwich of eggplant, stuffed with shrimp and deep fried. Then, like the bean rolls, it is steamed with the garlic gravy. (Side note: this dish comes out of the kitchen sizzling HOT, so be careful or you may burn your mouth. Other side note: Lamai has taken to making this dish and sometimes has it on her Friday fish and shrimp buffet.)

Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing
Dim Sum Primer, part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Dim Sum Primer, Part 4

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sindhu Indian Cuisine

I love Indian tandoor ovens. They are beehive-shaped, searingly hot, and roast some of the most wonderful breads, meats and even veggies. We've been lucky that the major Indian restaurants in this area have all had tandoors, but maybe that's what makes them so great. (Unfortunately, this town doesn't seem to be able to support more than one or two Indian restaurants at a time. Right now we've got Sindhu and India Palace. I encourage all to support them both.)

Sindhu Indian Cuisine, in the Hannah Plaza off Hagadorn south of Grand River, has been around the longest, and seems to have weathered the ups and downs of business in a college town best. Lunchtime (as it is with India Palace) is buffet time -- and that is a great way to eat Indian food. The dishes are varied and flavorful, and you really should eat a sampling of many dishes rather than just one or two. Besides, it's a great way for the uninitiated to figure out what they like best.

The buffet always has a few vegetarian dishes, several curries of various flavors and various heat levels. They always have Naan, the glorious flat bread cooked on the walls of the tandoor, and Tandoori Chicken -- the bright red, marinated and dry-roasted chicken. Tandoori Chicken is not hot, but rather is lemony and seasoned with more aromatic spices. Served, fajita style, with roasted onions and peppers. Usually some Dal (which is like a thick, spiced lentil soup) and Idli (little pillows of bread made of rice and lentil flour). Sometimes they have Masala Dosas, crispy crepes which you can fill with spiced potatoes and onions. (At Taj they used to set these on the table when you sat down, like bread sticks.)

At dinnertime you order off the menu. We usually try to get enough people to go along so we can share dishes, but if you want a lot of variety on your own, you can fall back on their thali, full dinners with appetizers and breads and a curry and vegetable dish. We usually can't resist their specials, such as the Chicken Reshami Kabob (pictured above). The chicken, marinated in cream, yogurt, chickpea flour, herbs and spices, is roasted in the tandoor, and served on a sizzling bed of onions, peppers, carrots and lime slices. It gives an amazing burst of citrus and spices.

To go with that, you can get creamy dishes, like the kormas or hyderabadis, or sharper curries and masalas. There is a wide variety of vegetable dishes, as well as meat dishes. "Medium" is nicely zippy, although some dishes, like Vindaloo, really need to be had "hot". If you get something spicy hot, I recommend accompanying it with one of the creamier dishes served mild for contrast. (What's a Vindaloo? It's a meat and potato curry with extra mustard and tamarind flavors. Great with lamb, but the shrimp vindaloo here is very nice too.)

And, of course, don't forget the Mango Lassi for a refreshing drink to clear the palate between the other intense flavors.

Sindhu Indian Cuisine is at 4790 S Hagadorn Rd, East Lansing, MI 48823. (517) 351-3080.
Recommended Links:
Malabar Spices (This blog hasn't updated in a month, but go looking in the archives. Wonderful Kerala home cooking.)
Salt and Pepper (A wide variety of foods -- from all over.)
Vindhu (A large index of recipes and links)

Recommended Reading:
Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking is my favorite Indian cookbook. It is a classic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Drive-Bys, October 16 2007

*El Oasis is open again, relocated a few doors down, right next to Lam's Sweeper Service. This is on Michigan Avenue between Kipling and Frances Streets, west of Frandor and the highway.

*Los Tres Amigos is opening up new locations on the Eastside, and in East Lansing. One location near Frandor is already open. A friend says they have a unique menu (different than their other location, last she saw). Fish Tacos, and various grilled meets. It's located in the old Linsing place at 730 N. Clippert St., near the Baskin Robbins. (Between Saginaw and GrandRiver/Oakland.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dim Sum Primer, part 1

For the uninitiated, "Dim Sum" is a Chinese tradition for brunch -- tea and little plates of delectable and beautiful snacks. The words translate literally as "touch the heart." Or "touch of heart" depending on who you ask.

If you ask me, dim sum is a form of worship. It is as close as a food geek can get to God. (It's SO important, that I think I may start a separate blog just devoted to Dim Sum. But for now I will confine myself to a couple of postings about the wonderful practice of tea lunch.) There are two houses of, two places to get dim sum in town, as mentioned in my previous post.

A traditional dim sum house is usually a large banquet hall. You sit down, you get tea, and the host slaps down a blank bill on your table. Ladies with carts full of food rove around the room, and you point out what you want. They mark on the bill the number of dishes you take.

Of course, smaller places don't have room for the carts, nor the kind of kitchen that can produce hundreds of separate delicacies. So a lot of places have fallen back on a modified version of the bill that acts as a menu. (Kind of like what you see in a lot of sushi places these days.) You mark on the menu what you want, and then they bring you the food later.

In either case -- carts or menu -- it helps to know what you're ordering. Here are a few basic dumplings that are most popular. (I'll follow this up with a more expanded list of common dishes next week.)

Har Gow Dim Sum
Har Gow (Ha Kow, Shrimp Dumplings). These are delicate, tender, richly flavored dumplings that often symbolize dim sum. The translucent wrapper is made of wheat starch with a little tapioca starch to give it body. They are tender and sweet, with richness absorbed from the shrimp inside. Inside you might have pure shrimp, or you might have shrimp with shreds of bamboo shoot, to give it a little extra texture. Unless you hate shrimp, these are a must have.

Char Siu Bao Dim Sum
Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns). Chinese barbequed pork, in a sweet rich sauce, inside a sweet white steamed bun. There are a lot of variations of Bao out there, but when you see these white, ruptured forms, you have that basic bun that pretty much everybody likes. There is also a baked version, which looks like the smooth, brown roll.

Green Onion Pancake Dim Sum
Green Onion Pancake. This is layered dough (usually the chewy boiling-water dough used for homemade potstickers and stretched noodles) rolled with green onions, then pan fried. A lot of places get this frozen, and fry it up in the restaurant. This usually results in an okay, thin crispy pancake. But Little Panda makes their own hearty dough, which makes for good thick crust of bread. This is really good for sopping up the sauces and juice on your plate.

Siu Mai dim sum
Siu Mai (or Shao Mai) are an open topped dumpling with a meatball inside. They're meant to look like overflowing money bags. At a lot of Japanese and Korean places in town you will see an appetizer called Ebi Siu Mai - which is a shrimp version. The common Siu Mai is filled with pork, with a tiny shrimp on the top. At Golden Wok, the cart ladies push these hard on beginners, and with good reason. They are very tasty, and generally friendly to picky eaters. At Little Panda, you have a choice of two varieties, pork or beef. The beef version used to have a sweet orange peel tang. (There was a period when they got pretty plain, but I think they've returned to form. It's worth trying anyway.)

pot sticker dim sum
Pan-fried Dumpling, (Pot-sticker, or "Peking" dumpling, or Kuo Tieh). These are so popular they are usually on the regular menu. A steamed dumpling that has been panfried on the bottom. At Little Panda, they are huge, fat pork filled dumplings, and an order from the regular menu is a meal in itself. They also serve it with this wonderful sweet soy dipping sauce that is almost addictive. Golden Wok doesn't have a dipping sauce, but theirs is filled with a flavorful mixture of pork and shrimp and so just a little plain soy will do.
(NOTE: I didn't have a picture of any in-town pot-stickers right now. I took this picture at a wonderful place called Luscious Dumpling in Alhambra California.)

(I'm sorry this post took so long. I'm using Blogger's "easy" interface, which doesn't make it so easy to figure out how to put multiple pictures in a post.)

Next week, I'll get into the greater variety of dim sum.

Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing
Dim Sum Primer, Part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Dim Sum Primer, Part 4

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Where to get Dim Sum

For those of you who don't know what Dim Sum is, I'll post more information on the next rock this weekend. For those who do know:

We are so lucky that this rusted out burg has no less than TWO dim sum places that could hold their own in any big city on the coasts. (Not world class, mind you, but respectably delectable nevertheless.)

Litte Panda has better food and prices, but they only serve dim sum on the weekends at lunch. They don't have carts, and you may have to ask for the dim sum menu if you don't look Asian. They're on the west side of Lansing, at 5439 W Saginaw Hwy, across from Lansing Mall in the Target shopping area. (517) 323-2450. (They do have a few dim sum items on their regular menu for those evenings when you just HAVE to have the best and heartiest potsticker or green onion pancake in town.)

Golden Wok, on the other hand, serves dim sum for lunch every day. And on the weekends and on holidays, they have the carts (and each week they seem to have newer and better varieties). The ladies who push the carts are much better tempered than those in your classic Chinatown dim sum house, but they are still free with their opinions of your choices. Golden Wok is in East Lansing, at 2755 E Grand River Ave. (517) 333-8322. (At the corner of Northwind Drive, across from Oriental Mart, and near the E.L. Food co-op.)

(NOTE: Golden Wok has changed significantly. I think they are under new management. They no longer have carts on Sunday, and the new chef does not seem to be able to handle the translucent starch dough used for Har Gow or Fun Kor. Their pastries seem to be still good, and they are the only place to have "Bread Stick in Rice Roll" which is really good.)

Everyday Restaurant in East Lansing has a good, authentic, dim sum buffet on Sundays and I think Saturdays as well. (You may want to call first if you go on a Saturday.) Their new chef is a great Cantonese chef, and there are a lot of excellent other dishes on the buffet both on dim sum weekends an the regular weekday buffet. Some dishes don't take to the buffet style as well as others. The Fried Taro Ball is the best in town. Everyday Restaurant, is at 1375 East Grand River Ave, East Lansing. (517) 337-1882.

Dim Sum Primer, Part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Dim Sum Primer, Part 4