Photo from Joe’s Shanghai’s Web site
My boyfriend left for Taiwan this Tuesday. Before we left, he hauled me off to Flushing to show me where to purchase calling cards. There I learned a very important lesson that I’m sure I’ll refer back to very often when I finally move to Taipei to join Ron. No matter how fluently Ron speaks Mandarin, people will always refer back to me because I’m the Asian half of the couple. Here’s an example from when we were ordering lunch at Joe’s Shanghai:
Waiter: [to me, in Mandarin] What do you want?
Me: [gestures toward Ron]
Ron: [in Mandarin] We’ll have the crab and pork soup dumplings, shrimp fried rice and an order of your raw crab appetizer special.
[gathers up menus]
Waiter: [to me, in Mandarin] Just to make sure, the raw crab is served raw.
Catherine: [snapped out of hunger-induced revery] Mmm… raw… [drools]
Waiter: [shakes head, walks off]
Anyway, the soup dumplings at Joe’s were great. They look like regular steamed buns, but contain a delicious, meaty broth inside along with the meat stuffing. Eating them takes a special technique: basically, you nip a hole in the bottom and drain the juice into a soup spoon so it can cool while you eat the rest of the dumpling. Unfortunately, I did not know this because Ron failed to inform me (the cad). Instead, I greedily tore away at the skin with my teeth, only to have the broth explode over my hair, half my face, and my sweater before puddling onto my jeans. I was less sad about having to walk around reeking of crab and pork juice for the rest of the day than I was at wasting the dumpling’s yumminess. I did manage, however, to stuff most of the raw crab appetizer into my face. It consisted of an entire chopped raw blue crab that had been marinated in rice wine and served with a ginger and vinegar sauce. It was really delicious, with the delicacy of the flesh mingled with the intense brininess of the roe – imagine the flavor of a cooked crab multiplied by a zillion.
To make up for it (and to alleviate my loneliness), I went to Joe’s Ginger at 25 Pell Street in Chinatown (in addition to three Joe’s Shanghais in Chinatown and Flushing, there are also two Joe’s Gingers in Chinatown) on Thursday. The soup dumplings were just as great, but unfortunately their raw crab couldn’t compare to the one I had in Flushing. It was a lot less meaty, and just didn’t taste as fresh, which never bodes well for uncooked shellfish. But since I’d paid $7 for the thing, I felt compelled to eat the entire thing.
Afterwards, I walked over to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and had some black sesame ice cream. When I was younger, my family used to have desserts made out of black sesame for special occasions – there was thick black sesame broth, which turned our teeth gray, and sweet, gelatinous buns stuffed with black sesame paste, which also turned our teeth gray. Unfortunately, the ice cream didn’t have this effect, but it still tasted really good nonetheless. It tasted like peanuts if peanuts suddenly got really rich and were able to afford Pilates lessons, regular yoga sessions, massages and regular colonics – still nutty, but special.
One of the things I’m looking forward to about visiting Ron in Taiwan is the food they have there. I think it’s no secret that the Chinese and Taiwanese are very adventurous in terms of foodstuffs. I thought New Yorkers were adventurous the first time I saw a street vendor fish a hot dog from a metal tub filled with cloudy water, but there’s nothing here that compares to what you can find in Taiwan (nothing affordable, that is). But perhaps it’s a misnomer to say that the Taiwanese are “adventurous” eaters, because that implies that they eat gross things. Gross is relative. One of the things that I’m looking the most forward to is pig’s blood cake, which is sold at snack stands the way nuts and shish kebabs are sold here in New York City. It’s has a delicate, savory flavor and I’ve never been able to find it in the United States.