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Getting My Bearings, Hong Kong, China, tasted on December 2, 2005  Taking almost three weeks to tour around Asia and expand my culinary palate (not to mention my worldview) seemed like a precious opportunity and I didn't want to waste a single minute. And as often happens when you're nervous, you've gotta shake the nervous energy out of your system so that you can focus and do your best. And in this case my best was supposed to be experiencing as much authentic food in Asia as possible. Frankly, my first several hours in Hong Kong were not my best. By no means do I feel I really did some valuable surveying. I'd call my first several hours more of a random survey. That said, maybe you can learn from my mistakes and random successes.

I was planning several stops through multiple countries in Asia. In the past I've been guilty of overplanning (choosing every single meal months in advance) as well as following the wrong recommendations (often from mainstream media or non-quality focused food directories). I guess I'm a slow learner. But I was determined on my first day to do two things in Hong Kong - experience some serendipity enjoying the street food in the area, and using Peyman's Law: choose places to eat based on the length of the line out the door; the longer the line, the better the food. These seemed like good themes until my dinner (for which I did have a reservation).

It turns out that a) when you're in a city without a bunch of street food, b) you don't speak the language, c) you're not really sure what to order at restaurants serving the local food, you've essentially increased the level of difficulty of eating something good. First up I went into a cafe cause I was starving for some breakfast. I checked out the menu and only saw western-ish fare. I figured, maybe a ham breakfast sandwich in Hong Kong might be new and interesting. I also ordered a chocolate milk. Not super exciting, but I ordered just a little so that I would have room to sample things as I walked the city. My ham sandwich showed up and it reminded me of all the finger sandwiches I'd eaten in Japan - no crusts. I guess it was good, but interesting? Not really. The chocolate milk was interesting, but not particularly enjoyable. Basically they took hot chocolate and poured it over ice. Weird.

I did salvage breakfast by walking by a tray of baked goods and pastries outside Restaurant Du Lac Bleu. I can't resist a pastry filled with sausage, and I immediately learned that Hong Kong was excited about these little bundles of deliciousness as bakeries across Japan. This one was up to snuff - buttery, soft, and smooth bread surrounding essentially a mini-hot dog. Yummy.

I saw some interesting food markets as I wandered around. I'd have to say the most interesting thing I saw was the cage filled with live frogs. Mmmmm.... frog soup. I don't know why I assumed they were going to be made into soup. I've never had frog soup much less ever heard of its existence, but for some reason these looked like soup frogs to me.

I wasn't too proud of my breakfast efforts but I thought I had a good strategy for lunch. I wandered through a bunch of side streets in the Central district until I found a place serving lunch that had a line around the corner. Unfortunately I fumbled the ball on the one yard line. I really had no idea what to order. I could have done some research in advance and written down some common dishes I wanted to try. Instead I was reduced to spying the dishes of the diners around me and pointing to one of them to indicate what I wanted. Unfortunately they all appeared to be eating scrambled eggs with shrimp which can be a good dish, but not  necessarily super interesting. I kind of felt pressured as the language was a real barrier at this particular place and I was taking so long to order that I just pointed to the nearest pile of scrambled eggs so they could get my order going. Well, the dish was kind of greasy and not too flavorful, but at least this old guy across the path (the restaurant appeared to occupy two corners of an alleyway) would step out of the back of one of them roughly every 3.5 minutes to scream something at the people on my side. You'd think after the seventh time I would have steeled myself against it. Not so. Every time it made me jump in my seat. Chalk lunch up to opening jitters. I was determined to up my game for dinner and the rest of the trip.



BTW... special thanks to our friends over at Accidental Hedonist for the nomination for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. We were nominated in the Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews category. We're in good company with four excellent blogs, but of course since this is a poll-based contest, we hope you vote for us. Please vote for us here. Thanks!










Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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