I have photos to go with this post, but I’m having a lot of trouble with uploading images to WordPress on my connection, so I’m just going to have to add them later.
“How’s the food?”
That’s usually the first question out of the mouth of friends when I’m traveling and we haven’t caught up in a while. (I think this means I have done well in choosing friends, personally).
My answer when I’m here in Guangzhou is, “AMAZING.” Like major cities everywhere, it’s easy to find delicious food from a huge variety of cuisines. And, like most other major cities, the best food is primarily local specialties and the fruits of a rich immigrant culture. However, unlike major cities in many Western countries, Guangzhou’s culinary diversity draws largely from within its own national borders.
In the U.S., most of us are familiar with the “big three” Hunan, Sichuan, and Cantonese/Dim Sum. Reasonably so: they’re delicious. But here in China, the array of other Chinese cuisines is way more interesting than that. One of the great discoveries I’ve made while living here has been Dongbei cuisine.
Relatively unheard of in the U.S, Dongbei food is my go-to option when I just want a reliable, delicious meal here. The New York Times featured a growing community of Dongbei restaurants in Flushing a few years ago, but surprisingly, the buzz hasn’t grown accordingly.
Too bad. In my opinion, the dishes are some of the country’s best. They seem to blend bright and salty Southeast Asian flavors, like cilantro, hot chiles, star anise, cumin, peanuts, and soy sauce, with the best of hearty, satisfying Eastern European dishes — potatoes, sausages, vinegar, onions, and pickled cabbage. Pungent lamb is a standout flavor, as well. Two of my favorite vegetables are heavily represented as well: eggplants, green beans. (I also tend to shy away from fish, and it’s not emphasized in Dongbei food, which is an added bonus for me.)
I’m looking forward to trying my hand at making one of my favorite dishes when I’m back home. It’s a fresh, well-dressed salad of cilantro (leaves and stems); a large amount of thinly sliced scallions, scapes, or something related (possibly the green part of rakkyo?); a scattering of dry hot chiles; and roasted peanuts. It’s dressed in an acidic vinegar and sesame oil mix, likely with some soy thrown in for additional savory depth. The salad dishes are all fairly simple and remarkable. There are similar preparation that swap onions for roughly broken apart sweet cucumbers or the pretty, radish-esque pink kohlrabi.
We got a dish tonight that may become one of my new favorites, even though I was scared to taste it at first. When it came to the table, it looked completely unappetizing. And, unlike most of the fresh, whole-food dishes on the table: a monotonously grey-beige color throughout, and the dominant ingredient—vermicelli noodles—looked questionably mushy. I was completely wrong. Each of the ingredients—thin pieces of chicken, perfectly done vermicelli noodles, and lightly-pickled cabbage—added a totally different texture and flavor, and the whole mixture was bathed in a salty, flavorful sauce.
San Franciscans, has anyone been to Dong Bei Mama or happen to know of any other Dongbei spots I may have missed in the city?