Monday, December 10, 2007

How do I love thee, let me count the dumplings

What is it about dumplings? It seems that every culture has their own form of filling (meat, veggie, tofu, heck, even dough) wrapped in dough. From the Italian ravioli to the Indian samosa, dumplings are a common thread in our human taste bud genes. I am surprised we don’t have specialized teeth to handle dumplings like our incisors are set up for meat.

To celebrate all that is valuable in dumplings, we hosted the first annual pot luck dumpling festival this weekend. Just 10 close friends who got together for an event to be forever known as “Dump-Fest”.

Now the origins of dump-fest came from an accusation made by a Korean-American colleague of ours that that Korean dumplings - mandoo - were "waaaay better" than Chinese jiaozi. That statement did not sit well with the Chinese-American contingent, and dump fest was born (for which all of the non-involved but hungry were thankful). Unfortunately, our Korean interlocutor was unable to prepare dumplings for the event (although she did manage to show up with beer), so our mandoo report will be postponed.

There were no restrictions on locale for the dumplings, so only a few qualified as Asian. The outliers are dealt with briefly below (also excellent, just outside the blog parameters).

The Asian fare included two kinds of Chinese jiaozi – boiled little meat packets of joy - and aushak, an Afghan leek dmpling.

Jiaozi

To put it mildly, we like pork. Our correspondents all have a preference for pork-based products, but to broaden our horizons – senior roving reporter Lily C made two kinds
the first were beef and celery jiaozi and the second were more standard pork with dried shrimp.

Both were very good. There was a strong preference for the pork overall (but not by everyone), but both were very flavorful.
BEEF DUMPLINGS

The beef lacked the same pork fat richness, but had a nice beefy flavor. In fact, I admit to sampling a few of the beef jiaozi later in the evening after they had been put away (yes, I know – there were dumplings left over!!!) and reheated. They were better the second time around, with the flavor improving. I wonder if they needed the extra time to mellow or maybe a second cooking is what was needed. Perhaps next time the beef should be boiled and then pan-fried?

PORK DUMPLINGS


These pork jiaozi were really good. Very tender, rich tasting with a nice saltiness from the dried shrimp. These were really nicely done, and served with a simple soy and vinegar dipping sauce.

Aushak - Arama

The surprise entry and my personal favorite from the afternoon were the Afghan Meat Pockets, or aushak.



I have never had aushak before, but man were these goooood. Filled with a leek-based vegetable mixture, they were served with a dry meat topping that was brimming with flavors – chili powder, mace, salt, and more. They had a wonderful flavor. The dumplings were almost translucent when served, and very delicate. The meat topping on top made for a wonderful set of flavors and the yogurt sauce they were served with had a perfect tang to cut the richness of the overall dish.

All in all, an excellent first Dump-Fest. The wonderful thing about dumplings is that they can be made ahead and frozen, so we now have a bag of frozen pork jiaozi in the freezer (thanks Lily). We are anxious for more suggestions for next year's fest, so please send 'em in if you have em (the recipes, not the dumplings that is).

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The non-Asian fare included empanadas (two kinds) from South and Central America, pierogi (with mashed potato, cheese and bacon filling) and Brazilian cheese balls, or pao de queijo. All were excellent, if I must say (I made the pierogi) and rounded out the variety very well. The pierogi were all the better for being boiled first and then panfried in butter, onions and sour cream (how can anything with that combo be bad). The empanadas were very nice, but too small and because of the size dried out a little. The fillings were very flavorful and the Brazilian cheese balls disappeared before anything else.

Brazilian Cheese Balls


Pierogi

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese in Buenos Aires . . . Oh My!

By Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.


Sudestada
Guatemala 5602 (btw Fitz Roy and Bonpland)
Palermo Hollywood
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel: 54 11 4776-3777
Open for Lunch and Dinner (Closed Sunday)
2 out 5 grains of rice

I know you are asking why in the world would you go to asian food in Buenos Aires? Well the answer is that after a week of eating large slabs of oh so delicious meat, we hit the wall. While the various cuts of famed Argentinian grass-fed beef were delectable (ojo de befe yum!), we became tired of the grilled meats. Plus, as the traveling asian invasion (myself, brother and friend), we were craving not only different flavors, but a little taste of our own food. So we took the plunge into the limited world of asian restaurants in BA. We avoided Japanese as my traveling companions experiences with sushi in Brazil the previous week were mediocre at best and settled on Sudestada (mostly because it was only 5 blocks from our hotel and the review on an Argentinian website cracked us up "intenso olor de la cocina, que despues de un rato deja de ser agradable" which roughly translates to "an intense smell of the kitchen, that after a while it ceases to be enjoyable").

Sudestada is an Asian fusion place in the chic neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood named after a South American weather phenomenon involving southeast winds. Apparently, the chef is Vietnamese but the menu is a mix of asian flavors, including Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese. We arrived for an early lunch on a Friday. The place was fairly crowded but by 2pm it was packed. Apparently, eating there for dinner is impossible without a reservation. Now, in the States one factor in assessing the authenticity of a good asian restaurant is the asian to non-asian ratio of the customers. The higher the asian population, the better. However, this formula does not work in BA because unlike other South American cities there are not that many asian residents. In fact, we were the only asians in the joint. I think the waitress (who was not asian) was excited to see us because she made a point of asking us to tell her our honest opinions of the food.

This is what we said (note: the waitress spoke very good english but my brother is fluent in spanish so I think our critique was communicated accurately):

Appetizers:
chinese jiao zi -- these were little pockets of heaven. the homemade wrappers were perfect. chewy but not too thick with tasty ground pork filling. easily the best thing we had.

shrimp grapefruit salad -- a thai inspired salad with some fairly decent heat that was nicely balanced with lime

Mains:
crispy pork + chinese broccoli -- what we hoped for: large glistening pieces of crunchy gai lan with little bits of stir fried pork. what we got: large chunks of fatty pork belly coated in sugar, deep fried and served in a bowl of oil with some anorexic gai lan thrown on top. WRONG WRONG WRONG! too oily, too sweet. the huge amount of sugary oil completely overwhelmed the slivers of gai lan. we had to soak off the oil on our rice to even eat the veggies. the waitress later admitted that this was her least favorite dish (if only she forewarned us) but said the customers like it. PorteƱos like sweet but usually not on meat so this dish was very unexpected.

tom yum goong -- huh? why is the broth red with a stew-like consistency? ai-yah! not soup, not sour, not spicy. there was only one sad stalk of lemongrass. where are the kaffir lime leaves? the only redeeming element were the giant prawns.

mung bean noodles with chicken and veggies -- by my usual standards this dish would be just ok, but compared to the other mains it was near the top. its pretty hard to mess up stir-fried noodles. our main complaint was that there were far too little noodles.

stir-fried bok choy -- yah! clean, light. just what we needed. we could have eaten another order of these veggies.

Dessert:
chocolate obsession -- anything with this name cannot be bad and this was no exception. chocolate ice cream on top of layers of a light chocolate cake, cream, and some type of delicious peanut buttery concoction. the best thing about asian food in BA is that you can get very good western style desserts and coffee.

All in all Sudestada was ok. There was some really great appetizers and it was soooooooooo nice to have asian flavors. Most people were ordering the lunch special (appetizer, entree, drink and dessert for $25 pesos or $8 dollars). We considered that but wanted to try so many different things we decided to order a la carte. However, upon reflection we should have gone with the lunch menu because the lunch special chow fun looked better than anything we got and it would have been far cheaper. Our bill was about $30 each for 3 people. Pretty expensive by BA standards when you can get a 20 oz ribeye at the best steakhouse in town for $15 dollars. Also, note that the grilled a la carte items are not available for lunch (and these looked pretty good).