Burmese Tea Leaf Salad With William Lue

Hello folks! Long time no post.  By my count it’s been about six months since my last entry and this time I really don’t have a good excuse for the long gap.  Ok, we did have a second kid back in April.  Does that count as a huge time suck? I’d say it does.   Allow me to make this a parenting blog for a minute. One kid: totally manageable – actually really fun especially as she gets older, more independent and comes into her own eccentric and goofy personality and allows each of the parents some much needed “me” time or even “us” time (date night, ya’ll!).  Two kids: forget it.  And an infant? Forget it even more – which you will with all the sleep you’re not getting. Gone are the days of two on one, tag-team parenting.  Now it’s one-on-one all the time and it’s not even fair. The three year old now has mad trantrum skills and the baby, well she’s a freakin’ baby whose cries can shatter the strongest of wills.  They. Are. Kicking. Our. Ass.  So long story short, I blame the kids for the lapse in deliciousting posts.  Well, it’s not all bad. After all, the new one can be pretty sweet:

We call her Momo because she’s such a little dumpling. Ok, ending parent blog now.

Back in August, our good friends from NYC, Donna and Anthony came to visit us in Oakland with their two kids.  A little back story on D & A:  they’re the ones I hold responsible – I mean to whom I’m forever grateful – for introducing me to Shef, my wife in life and food.  I’ll try to be brief. I met Donna a long time ago through a mutual friend in California.  Later, at the wedding of that mutual friend, I met Anthony, Donna’s date. This was a ten years ago. I was just about to move to NYC so I was glad to befriend Donna and Ant who proved to be welcoming and warm when I did land in NYC a month or two later.  Fast forward eight or nine months.  Summer in NYC.  I found myself happily single.  D & A (who at the time lived in Manhattan) invited me to this Hawaiian picnic in Central Park.  A friend of theirs had invited them  Now, Donna is somebody who always has a plan. And this occasion was no exception. She had also invited her good friend, Shefali, also single and ready to enjoy the summer, if you catch my drift.  And all credit to Donna and her machinations, this is where it all started.  Okay, if I was going to be 100% honest this was the second time we’d met. The first time we crossed paths was about six months prior, and let’s just say I wasn’t in the right head space to notice her charms – her charms at that point consisted of a lot of snot because she had head cold if I recall.  So for the sake of a good story, let’s count that Hawaiian picnic in Central Park as the starting point.  I was waiting for D & A at the entrance near Columbus circle when I spied this really cute -nay,  hot young woman walk by and enter the park.  Donna and Ant arrived a short time later and I walked into the park with them. As we approached the picnic, the woman whom I’d noticed earlier approached them and gave them each a hug. Stoked! “Do you remember Shefali?” asked Donna.  “Um, yeah…”  Though honestly, I had not recognized her from six months before, (like I said I was a little oblivious at the time and she was really snotty, so that first impression was obviously not so meaningful).  On this occasion, I was checked in and checking her out. Needless to say, I was bowled over by her beauty and sparkling personality.  But equally if not more importantly, I was impressed with her ability to eat. She was all about attacking the mountain of food that people had brought, going back for second helpings, thirds, fourths, etc.  I was like “who is this girl?” So, I got her number, followed up and the end, as they say, is history.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a photo of that fateful meeting:

Meeting and eating. This is where I met my future wife. I knew girl who liked spam musubi was the one for me.

Meeting and eating. Me holding up the spam musubi. Anthony in the middle and Shef looking funny.

Alright back to the original reason for this post.  Donna and Ant were visiting us here in Oakland (already been two years since we moved from BK!) with their two kids. Yup, we’re all grown up now – kind of. We needed to eat dinner. I’d been hearing great things about this Burmese grocery store (?) near our house that also served really authentic Burmese food.  What?! I did a little internet research, because I’m resourceful like that.  I found out the place was actually a fully functional Burmese restaurant called Grocery Cafe because it occupied an old corner grocery store on a residential street in Oakland’s working class Highland neighborhood.  That’s the cool thing about Oakland. Smack dab in in the middle of these unassuming and unpolished residential neighborhoods you can find these gems like Champa Gardens or Vientien Cafe. It had been well reviewed by locals and the local weekly. Good enough for us.  We called and ordered about five dishes which comprised most of the small menu. Ant and I headed over to pick up the food. Sure enough, it was an old corner store with a make-shift kitchen separated from the front of the house by one of those refrigerated display cases that might have contained old macaroni salad and deli meats back in the day. Now it housed stacks of containers of homemade spicy Burmese pickles. The front of the house was a mish mash of second hand tables (like dining room tables you’d find at Goodwill)  and most of the seats were old church pews.  This was my kind of place. As we waited for the food we struck up a conversation with Mr. William Lue, the owner proprietor and some time chef of the Grocery Cafe. It turns out he’s been in the Burmese restaurant game for a good 30 plus years and has had a hand in running or cooking for many of the more well known and well heeled Burmese spots in the SF Bay Area.  Currently, he’s running a few Burmese spots in the East and North Bay, but the Grocery Cafe is his baby. Soft spoken, but with a deep resonant voice, Mr. Lue was not shy about describing his ambitions for the restaurant.   But it was when he started talking about the different dishes he wanted to  serve, that his language became evocative and poetic.   After over thirty years in the restaurant business, his passion for and excitement about the possibilities of Burmese food – the different ingredients, the regional specialties, the traditional preparations – and introducing it to the masses are palpable. I thought it would be great to video him making one of those dishes.   A couple weeks later, I managed to carve out some time in his busy schedule to film him for about an hour before he opened for business.  In the interest of time, I had him prepare the ever popular Burmese tea leaf salad.  I don’t know if it’s something the lay person could necessarily throw together, unless said lay person has their own vat of seasoned and fermented green tea leaves. But it’s a great example of how simple ingredients can combine to produce really complex flavors and textures.  As prepared by Mr. Lue, it’s delicious – as was all the other food we ate with D&A.  Please enjoy.

 

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Dumpling Works Episode 2: Popping Up!

Howdy folks! This has probably been the longest gap in posts in the history of blogs – well, at least this blog. It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted anything and for all you loyal readers (I know there are still a few – and I mean literally, three, “Hi Mom, Sis and Wife!” #strongwomen) I apologize. Life seems to have taken over in the last year. Shef and I bought a house!  I got back in the TV game and produced a couple episodes of this “crazy science” show. Also, Shef has again been eating for two.  So, it’s been a busy past year. But all along, Matt – who’s also had a really busy year – and I have been working on our dumplings recipes and are getting closer to making our dumpling dreams into dumpling reality. Since Episode 1 (you can watch below), we got our pork and chive dumplings down to a science, including the the grind.  We also created two other fillings: chicken/lemon grass and kale/caramelized onions (because we care about vegetarians too!). We tested out our three types of dumplings when we catered a party of 120 people for a friend.  The dumplings were a hit. But we were not satisfied to rest on our laurels. You see, we used mostly store bought skins which are pretty easy to work with and obviously very consistent.  But in our experiences, the best dumplings we’d ever had were ones with homemade skin – just flour and water. That’s what we wanted our dumplings to be: the best that people had ever eaten. We needed to make our own skins. So, for our first pop up held a few weeks ago at school where Matt teaches, we gave ourselves the “small” task of making our own dumpling skins.  We thought we simplified the process by employing pasta machines and biscuit cutters, but even still, making skins added a whole level of complexity and time to the dumpling equation which almost killed us.  Thankfully, we had great family and friends who generously volunteered their positive attidudes and fingers to help us fold and we got it done. It was a lot of work but we learned a whole hell of a lot too.  Check out the video below.


Here’s my favorite bit of feedback from our inaugural pop up.

First #popup in the books. This was one of my favorite comment cards. #dumplingworks #moneyisoverrated #soldout

A photo posted by Clarence Ting (@delicioustings) on

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Thanksgiving, 2013!

The family's all here and ready to eat.

The family’s all here and ready to eat.

A couple weeks ago, Shefali, Kaya and I had the good fortune to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my sister and her family and Shefali’s mother and sister.   This was our first Thanksgiving since we moved back the West Coast, so it was a real treat to be able to spend it with both sides of our families.  In addition, our good friends, Simon and Jen and their kids, and PK (and his two crutches) also joined us for what proved to be a delicious and nutritious (calories are nutritious right?) feast.

As usual, we spent several hours preparing and cooking the requisite T-Day food – stuffing (sausage stuffing from me, oyster stuffing from my mom), turkey (grilled in record time on the Weber by my dad), mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts (prepared by Cameron and Cheryl) and three different desserts (apple galette and cheesecake from Jen, pumpkin pie from Shef).  Also as usual, the eating/ inhaling food part took all of about 15 minutes and left us all slouched uncomfortably in a haze of culinary  excess. Another year and another successful Thanksgiving.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Watch the two part documentary masterpiece which so compellingly captures our Thanksgiving, 2013!

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Pupusas at Los Cocos

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusa.  Just say it. “Pupusa”.   I don’t know if onomatopoeia would quite qualify in this instance, but doesn’t the word “pupusa” just sound like something bursting with savory goodness?  Indeed these Salvadorean treats rank up there with some of my favorite foods for a number of reasons.  Basically they’re fat tortillas (corn usually) stuffed with any number of ingredients (beans, cheese, pork or chicken, a even flowers –loroco) and fried on a griddle so the outside becomes nicely browned and crisp while the inside corn meal and fillings remain soft and moist, like a tamale.  The best part is when a bit of the cheesy insides ooze out onto the hot the griddle and add another layer of delicious crispy crust to the pupusa. They’re then served with a tomato-y hot sauce and a nice vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw, the acid of the sauce and salad perfectly complementing the rich savoriness of the pupusas.  They are supremely satisfying both to the palate and the stomach.  They will fill you up.

My first taste of pupusas was not in El Salvador but in Guatemala, when I was a young lad many many years ago doing the young lad backpacker thing down in Central America.  I was studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango  and one day I was searching for a late afternoon snack in the parque central .  I sampled a pupusa (not even that fresh of the griddle) from one of the food venders who’d set up shop. Mind blown.  And then when I crossed over into El Salvador and encountered more and different varieties of pupusas, what was left of my mind was blown further.  Living in SF – still as a young lad – I was ecstatic to find that I could find fresh and delicious pupusas at such favorites as Panchitas and El Zocolo.

But eight years living in NYC, meant a long hiatus from great pupusas.  Sure, I could occasionally get some good ones at the Red Hook Ball fields (at least before they became over run by hipster foodies), but there were few Salvadorean restaurants that I was aware of where I could indulge to my heart’s content.  Then a few months ago, we moved back to the Bay Area and I’ve been reunited with delectible pupusas once again.   We live in Oakland, just a stone’s throw away (or a nice bike ride) from Los Cocos, one of the sole Salvadorean restaurant in the Fruitvale district, a neighborhood where Mexican taquerias predominate (not a bad thing, just stating a fact).  I first ate at Los Cocos years ago with my friend Matt and when we feasted on pupusas and incredibly flavorful caldo de pollo (chicken soup). So, it was a real joy to bring Shef and K to this spot a couple months ago when we were newly arrived to Oakland. It was just as I had remembered it – decorated with Salvadorean tchotchkes, the air inside hazy with cooking grease.  In other words, perfect. K got her first taste of pupusas and it’s fair to say, she loved them.

Eating at Los Cocos (with Matt again) a few weeks later, I asked Rosa the cook and owner of the restaurant if I could make a short vid of her cooking pupusas process.  She said, “sure!” So, this is the result.  Please enjoy and go find pupusas near to you because this vid will make you hungry.

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