The Great Noodle Tour: Din Tai Fung’s Fabulous Food

I finally made it to the much-lauded dumpling parlor Din Tai Fung

20150427_065114 This Taiwanese chain was started by a Shanghai immigrant who brought his exceptional dumpling skills to Taiwan and created and international sensation known for its cleanliness, predictability, and totally delicious dumplings.

20150427_065104We were quickly seated by a friendly, English speaking server and then the food came out in quick succession. 
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Even the ginger arrives artfully.20150427_070337 Shrimp and pork wontons in spicy sauce

 The sleeper hit of the night. Meaty, porky, umami, and pleasantly salty with just a touch of salinity from the ground shrimp. The sauce is spicy, slick with chile oil,a nd peppered with chives. A truly delicious way to start the meal. 20150427_070341 Spring rolls

Crispy, piping hot, savory. Good, not memorable. 20150427_070344 Noodles with minced pork sauce

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MMM, MMM, GOOD! Bouncy, fresh noodles soaking up all of the meaty, tomatoey, porky goodness. A savory way to break up the dumpling monotony. 
20150427_070819 Spicy sautéed green beans…with pork

Notice a theme here? Yep, it’s all about the pork and the veggies are no exception. These beans are cooked over high, high heat until they blister and pop open, allowing the chiles and pork to seep into their every pore.

Good stuff. 20150427_071115 BBQ pork buns. Also good stuff.

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The soup dumplings. I’m so sorry that I don’t have a better photo of these PERFECT little soup dumplings. Oh, they are so divine. Thin skinned like gossamer little pockets of pork and broth. The broth is light and tastes clean, not at all greasy or heavy. The pork fairly dissolves in your mouth. This is a damned fine dumpling that enhanced, not made or broken, by the ginger infused vinegar.
20150427_072652 Sticky rice with pork20150427_072722Glutinous. Fatty to the nth degree. Salty and savory. Basically awesome.

If I lived here, I would be a Din Tai Fung fanatic. The service is excellent, they have diet coke (a MAJOR rarity in Asia), and the food is some of the best that we had in China.

The Great Noodle Tour: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

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The restaurant that I was told to visit in Shanghai, the city famed for its soup dumplings, was Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. It’s a mini chain and there is a location isnide the touristy but lovely and well located YuYuan Garden. Think Disney-esque China, complete with street performers, hordes of families with kids, and a million kitschy souvenirs.

20150427_013001 When you follow the signs and eventually find Nanxiang Steamed Buns, you will go upstairs (Skip that huge line outside for the counter service) and be confronted by 2 lines. They are, though not identical, nearly so. Go in whichever line is shorter – there is one dining room that has, like, a $5 minimum spending which you will reach, no problem. 20150427_013007It’s very, VERY difficult to get any sort of service here. Breathe into it. And tip the first person who comes by. Then the service comes real fast. 
20150427_013500 Soup dumplings.

Pork and Crab. Lovely! Thin, soft wrappers surrounding soft meat and plenty of juice. The pork taste is predominant, which I prefer. 20150427_014233

You can see how juicy it is. The pork is a little underseasoned, but the tangy/tart vinegar spikes it up really well. 20150427_013539Big ass crab dumpling
20150427_013836 It’s honestly huge. And delicious. Like the most buttery, silky, sweet crab flavored chowder ever. It’s clean and umami, not at all minerally or funky. You sip up the broth through the straw and then discard the wrapper. Or eat it, as I did. Doughy wrapper = excellent vinegar delivery system. 
20150427_015509 Nanxiang is certainly where the locals go and the food is inexpensive and delicious. However, was this the greatest soup dumpling of my trip? Why, no. That’s yet to come. 

Happy Lunar New Year! Let’s Eat Shrimp Toast!

Happy Lunar New Year!

In honor of this important day in some of my most favorite food cultures, I’m posting one of my all time favorite recipes.

Well, I’m RE-posting it.

Because who the hell was reading here in 2011, after all?

Shrimp Toast Recipe


INGREDIENTS:
1/2 lbs. shrimp, cleaned and de-veined
1/2 loaf white bread (stale or lightly toasted)
1/2 onion, chopped into large chunks
1 clove garlic
1 small piece ginger, peeled
4 cups vegetable or peanut oil
1 egg white (don’t forget how to separate the eggs)
1 cup cilantro, cleaned
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. lime zest

 1. Cut off crusts of bread.

2. Cut bread slices into triangles. Set aside.

 3. Throw the onions, garlic, ginger…

cilantro, and shrimp into the food processor.
4. Pulse until it is a pretty smooth paste
5. Add soy sauce, lime zest, and
egg white.

 6. Spread mixture on bread in about 1/8 inch thickness.

 7. Place bread on spatula, shrimp side down.

 8. Slide bread into boiling oil CAREFULLY (it will splatter if you drop it from too high).

 9. Cook 2 minutes per side, or until lightly golden, then drain on paper towel.

10. Eat this golden piece of toast. Topped with a springy, firm layer of sweet and salty shrimp, laced with the heat of ginger, the fragrance of cilantro and the zing of garlic, this is might be my new favorite way to eat shrimp. I like mine with a dipping sauce made of 1/2 soy, 1/2 rice wine vinegar and a few diced Serrano chiles, but you might like yours plain. Or you might like yours with a spritz of lime and a few water chestnuts.  And if you don’t like yours…
send them to me.
And I’m sorry you have no taste buds. 

Chinese Chicken Salad

Chinese chicken salad is SO under-represented on the east coast.

I don’t know why that is. Is it because Wolfgang Puck, creator of the world’s finest Chinese chicken salad, focused on the west coast in is heyday? Is it because NYC focuses more on dim sum and miso cod and less on the light food that you need on the incredibly hot, often arid weather on the west coast?

I don’t know and I don’t care.

Bottom line: I need Chinese chicken salad in my life. And here is what that salad needs:

-soft, moist, poached or roasted but certainly not grilled chicken

-cabbage, not lettuce

-something crunchy

-a dressing that is a little spicy, a little sweet, and incredibly tart and refreshing.

So what’s a gal to do?

Make it herself, of course.

Chinese Chicken Salad

chinese chicken saladIngredients:

1 package shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix

1 shallot, half in large slices and half in small dices

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Enough wine or beer to barely cover the chicken in a shallow saute pan

1 cup cilantro, cleaned and chopped

1 tsp. chopped ginger

1 clove garlic, diced

pita chips or fried wontons

sesame oil

peanut oil

wasabi and mustard OR hot English/Chinese mustard

sesame seeds

hoisin sauce

rice wine vinegar

soy sauce

20141208_171918 1. Put the wine, ginger, garlic, and the sliced part of the shallot in a large, shallow saucepan. Put he chicken breasts in there, too. Set it to medium high until it simmers, then set it to medium low. Cover and check back every 3 minutes until the chicken is poached – you want to take the chicken out when it is still BARELY pink in the very center of the breast. As it cools it will continue to cook. 20141208_174018 2. While the chicken cooks, put the scallions, snow peas, and cabbage into a large bowl. 20141208_1741423. Make the dressing. This is a ratio thing, so get ready for it:

2 parts oil: 1 part rice wine vinegar: .5 part hoisin sauce: .25 part hot mustard/mustard and wasabi combo

Everything else is negotiable. You are looking for a dressing that is light, sweet, tart, an only BARELY spicy. Don’t forget to put the diced shallot in there, too.
20141208_175706 4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull it with 2 forks. Alternatively, you can make the chicken ahead of time and then pull it and make the salad the following day. 20141208_175903 5. Add the chicken, pita or wontons, and dressing to the salad. Make sure that the salad is well dressed – it’s the secret to what makes this so embarrassingly addictive. 20141208_1802586. Serve – if you want, like I did, with super crispy, soy sautéed potstickers

This is what I crave…THIS is the stuff. Light, crispy, juicy, and hearty. A tiny punch of heat and whole lot of sweet and tangy. The slight bitterness of the cabbage plays off of the juicy, ginger infused chicken and the sweet snow peas. Wontons are traditional but all I had were some rather stale pita chips and – lo and behold – it totally worked! The chips soaked up the dressing and managed to stay a little crispy. And oh, that dressing…you could serve this a rubber band and people would clamor over that rubber band. The secret is the hoisin sauce – its sweet, viscous, and umami.

I’m picking up where Wolfgang puck left off – because the East coast deserves its own Chinese chicken salad.

Go to Dim Sum Go Go

Enjoying dim sum is one of my favorite dining activities. Usually because I love those little carts.

But this time…at a small, modern, clean, cartless place that is perfect for gringos who need pictorial menus to choose what they want…I came for the food.

And it is worth it.

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Dim Sum Go Go isn’t too crowded on a weekday for lunch, but I hear that it gets hopping on the weekends, so you might want to get there early. They serve dim sum every day of the week from 10 AM and though you do miss the carts (I certainly did), what they lack in atmosphere they make up in quality of food.

IMG_20131018_122500_314Har gow

I’m not even a fan of shrimp dumplings.  I often find them muddy and iodine-y with weird-looking, ill cleaned shrimp. These blew my mind. So fresh and thin skinned filled with sweet, vaguely briny whole shrimp that pop in the mouth with  a pleasing “snap.” I took a peek (never a good thing to do in a dim sum restaurant) and the innards are pristinely clean. Dipped in some of the tableside xo sauce and leek-horseradish relish, it is savory, salty, and delicious. If you like har gow, you are going to love these – I surely did!IMG_20131018_122057_922 Bbq pork puffs

Like char siu bao wrapped in croissants. That’s right – sweet and sticky bbq pork inside flaky, buttery croissants. If you don’t like that, why are we even friends?IMG_20131018_123317_379Eggplant casserole

Not on the dim sum menu, but totally worth ordering. Tiny chinese eggplants are peeled then steamed inside an earthen dish that is basically as hot as the surface of the sun. It emerges velvety and soft, slicked with an insanely garlicky, somewhat spicy sauce. It doesn’t taste too garlicky at the time, but trust me…its stays with you. and you don’t even care. Because it’s so tasty.  And – bonus! – vegetarian!
IMG_20131018_122048_218Vegetable rice rolls

Always my favorite dim sum dish. Thick, chewy rice noodles wrapped around savory beef or – in this case – soft, ginger scented, peppery vegetables. It’s like an eggroll inside a warm, comforting, noodle-y blanket. Enjoy it with the sharp black vinegar that cuts through heavy, fatty tastes.
IMG_20131018_122504_389Duck dumplings

Juicy, sweet duck scented with cinnamon and cumin inside gossamer thin wrappers. Not just sweet but savory, too. Tiny pockets of ducky goodness – the duck flavor is very pronounced, so don’t order this expecting a standard chicken dumpling. Order it expecting something much better.

This isn’t even all the food we ordered, and we couldn’t spend more than $20 a person. Really, it was so much food for so little money. ANd it was GREAT! More than that, it was easy to order. Even a dim sum newbie can look at the pictures and see what looks good. It’s clean, it’s easy to order, and it’s so tasty.

It’s called Dim Sum Go Go because you really must go go there.

Dim Sum Go Go on Urbanspoon

Cantonese Tomato Beef

It’s not sophisticated. It’s not nouveau.  It’s way more Fritos than foie gras.  But here goes:

  I LOVE American-Cantonese style Chinese food.

Sticky, sweet, and comforting. These are the flavors that many of us non-Chinese people probably grew up with, in shabby, dark restaurants with stale wontons served aside a plate of viscous, sweet sauce on the table.  Or in fluorescent lit shops, where we ordered beef with broccoli and extra egg rolls from a pimply teenager working behind the counter.  Whatever the venue, chances are, we have all eaten and still enjoy Cantonese food. And so I bring you my totally inauthentic yet truly delicious version of one of my favorite Cantonese dishes:

Cantonese Tomato Beef 

2010-09-29 tomato beefIngredients:

1 lb. London broil

3 onions, quartered

1 bunch celery, roughy chopped

10 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges

1 box chicken stock

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp. sugar

cornstarch to coat (about 1 tbsp.)

dash of hot sesame oil

tomato beef 020

1. Cut your meat into very thin slices by cutting against the grain. If it helps to put it in the freezer for 10 minutes before you slice it, go for it. I find that a sharp knife is really the best trick here.

tomato beef 025

2. Put the meat into a plastic bag with the ketchup, soy, sugar, and sesame oil. Knock it around so the marinade really gets everywhere, then pop it in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the dish.

tomato beef 0193. Set the tomatoes, celery, and onions in a large stock pot with a bit of veggie oil. Sautee over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, or until they start to turn translucent.

tomato beef 022

4. Now, add the chicken stock and let the whole mixture boil on high for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are all quite soft.  

tomato beef 029 tomato beef 0313. Add the cornstarch to the bag with the meat, toss it around, then throw the meat in the pot. In about 3 minutes, the meat should be cooked, and the dish will be done. 

tomato beef 0354. Taste for seasonings and serve over hot rice. 

tomato beef 038

A fried egg would not be amiss here, either.  And, of course, I always add a healthy dose of sriracha.

 

This is just so delicious.  Sweet, salty, and beefy, with sweet onions and tender celery.   It is not overly spicy or filled with exotic vegetables.  It is just comforting, Asian-American goodness.  It makes me smile and fills me up on a fall night.  It is so distinctly from the Chinese food memories of my youth.  

And THAT is pretty damn sweet indeed.

Spicy Soba Lo Mein

Instead of venturing out for Chinese food this Christmas, I decided to make it. I love Chinese food – the spice, the salt, the complex flavors – but I occasionally get CFB:

Chinese Food Bloat

Quite frankly, it makes me hold my jeans together with a rubber band. One cup of hot and sour soup and my ankles are the size of an Olsen twin’s thigh.

Anyway, this Chinese inspired lo mein is tasty without being insanely heavy and salty. It’s really less Chinese than faux-Asian, but hey…it’s NYC. Home to the pastrami egg roll.

We embrace the inauthentic.

Spicy Soba Lo Mein

Ingredients:

1 package soba noodles, cooked

1 package cleaned mushroom slices

1 head napa cabbage

1 onion, sliced into rings

1 clove garlic, diced

1 tbsp. veggie oil

1/3 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. snow peas

1 tbsp. sambal olek

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

1/2 cup bulgogi or teriyaki sauce

dash of sesame oil

2 tbsp. Chinese 5 spice

scallions, to garnish

1. Sautee the onions, 5 spice, and garlic in a large sautee pan until the veggies are translucent.

2. Add the sambal olek, mushrooms, and the pork. Cook until the pork is totally cooked through. Some charring is okay.

3. Now, add the pea pods and the cabbage. The cabbage is going to fill the pan very high, but don’t worry. It all wilts down to almost nothing. Also don’t’ worry if this doesn’t look/smell too Asian yet. That comes in the dressing.

4. In about 10 minutes, the mushrooms should be soft and juicy and the cabbage should have wilted own far. Now, add the noodles…

and marinade (made of the teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce)…

5. And serve, topped with scallions if desired.

This is not the same as restaurant lo mein, but it’s a damn good substitute. Soba noodles are springy with a good bite, and absorb the nutty, sweet flavors of the marinade well. The juicy pork, crunchy snap peas, and hit of aromatic Chinese 5 spice make this complex and hearty enough for a main course, especially if paired with a cucumber salad and/or some flank steak.

Or some take out hot and sour soup.

Just get out your fat pants – the bloat won’t escape you if you go the delivery route.

Reuben Egg Rolls

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

At least, that’s how I hope the folks at Red Farm take it.

Though I haven’t yet eaten at the highly acclaimed Chinese restaurant, I have heard much about their acclaimed pastrami egg rolls. That’s right, egg rolls filled with luscious Katz’s pastrami, fresh vegetables, and sauerkraut.

This is the perfect Hanukkah food, right?  Fried AND pastrami!

Well, it is almost perfect. It needs some cheese and a little Russian dressing to really make it the ultimate Chewish Hanukkah food.  Be aware that this recipe take forever to make – it’s a lot of prepping, rolling, and frying. It takes a few hours from start to finish, but it isn’t complicated, just time-consuming. That’s why you see my sister’s fingers in all the pictures – this is a recipe that should really be made in tandem.

Reuben Egg Rolls (inspired by An Immovable Feast)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. wiss cheese, shredded

1/2 lb. sauerkraut, squeezed in a towel to drain it of all moisture

1/2 lb. pastrami, thin cut and finely shredded

2 -3 cups oil in which to fry

bowl of water for sealing egg rolls.

Russian dressing to serve alongside

1. Make sure that when you are wrapping, you cover the wonton wrappers with a damp paper towel, or they will dry out and rip when you start to roll them. Trust me, this is an all important step.

2. Now, it’s time to roll. Take your time and while keeping the rolling tight, try not to make any tears or holes. If you do, it’s ok – just keep frying them. Put a teaspoon sized combo of meat, cheese, and kraut, in the corner of your wrapper facing you. Then…

start to roll, until you roll up to the next 2 corners.

Like this!

3. Then, squeeze your filling into the middle, and fold in each corner of the wrapper to make a little packet.

4. Now, continue to roll, until you almost reach the end of the wrapper, and then…

ta da! Simply moisten along the “envelope flap” with water until the edges are sealed and you are good to go! Now, this is gonna take you a good, long time. Just grab your child, your younger sister (some young person who can’t run away) to do these with you, then you can even store them overnight in plastic containers. That’s what we did, with wet paper towels in between each layer, and they turned out perfectly crisp.

5. Now, in a large and heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil to at least 350F (you know it is good to go when you drop a piece of bread in and it instantly fries). Then fry the egg rolls for about 5 minutes, until they are deeply golden brown on both sides.  Don’t put more than 5 egg rolls or so in the pot at a time, to ensure that they don’t lower the temperature of the oil.

Make sure that you keep the pile of egg rolls under a damp paper towel while you fry. If there are a few little tears that develop, don’t worry about it. Just keep frying and it will all work out.

Pastrami tends to soothe all wounds.

When you have a pile of gorgeous, crispy crunchy egg rolls, you are done!

6. Dip in russian dressing and serve.

THIS is how you make a pastrami egg roll. You fill it with fatty, peppery pastrami and load it with tangy sauerkraut. you throw in some tangy swiss cheese that melts and oozes with each bite through warm, crispy wrapper. You dip it in savory Russian dressing and you feel oddly that you are both at dim sum and the deli.

And you also kick the ass of everyone else’s same old, same old latkes and donuts Hanukkah party.

I might have started out imitating Red Farm, but the truth is…the chefs there might want to take a page from my book.

I won’t be mad. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Grand Sichuan UWS Delivers on Flavor, Fails on Spice

Another day, another reason to barrage my tastebuds with foods so spicy that I grand start to see double. 
Grand Sichuan is one of the most famous Sichuan restaurant chains in the city, the other being Szechuan Gorumet. Being a HUGE fan of Szechuan Gourmet, I figured I would hit up the competition and see what they had to offer. 
We headed to the Upper West side location of the restaurant. Be forewarned: You don’t need to wear a tie here. You might not even need to wear shoes here. Not dingy or dirty at all, just totally casual and appropriate for families.

Cucumber with Garlic

We wanted to order the Cold Cucumber with Scallion Sauce that I had read so much about. But, it was nowhere to be seen. Even when I described it to our incredibly helpful and efficient server, he didn’t seem to have ever heard of it. So we went with this, and it was excellent. Crisp cucumber was liberally sprinkled with deep, nutty sesame oil and the garlic was a faint bite in the background instead of an overpowering flavor. It was refreshing and whet the appetite, although I was quite disappointed not to try the original cucumber dish.

 Shrimp and Pork Crab Dumplings

Oh yes. These were not perfect, but they were excellent. The skin on the dumpling was rather thick, but the filling was outstanding – sweet, salty, meaty, fresh, and perfectly moist and soft within. They arrive at the table piping hot and you bite off the top of the dumpling dough, then fill the cavity with some of the vinegar-ginger sauce. Then, you pop the whole thing in your mouth, letting the pork and crab broth and meat fill your mouth and invade your nostrils. There can be no better way to commit two Kosher dietary sins at once.

 MaPo Tofu

One of my favorite dishes at any Szechuan restaurant is the MaPo Tofu. Spicy, garlicky, salty sauce with Szechuan peppercorns, chili oil, ground pork and cubes of silky tofu. Usually MaPo tofu is hot enough to make my nose run but this time…it was barely spicy enough to remind me I was alive. Really. This did allow me to focus on the slightly sour taste of the fermented black beans, the pungent taste of the garlic and the buzzy, lip biting taste of the chili oil. But…sorry…I want some pain when I order my MaPo Tofu!

Gui Zhou Spicy Chicken

Highly recommended by our server, I had high hopes that this would compete with the Wok Tossed Chicken with chiles from Szechuan Gourmet. It was delicious in its own right, but it lacked that lip tingling, tongue numbing, ear buzzing spice that I crave out of that dish. The chicken was tender, in fried nuggets interspersed with slivers of caramelized garlic and crunchy dried red chiles that certainly brought the heat but…I don’t know. It lacked the nuances I crave in Szechuan food. 
That was the overlying theme of Grand Sichuan. It was good. It was flavorful. It was certainly a great value for the money, but it was not nuanced or layered the way that I expect Szechuan food to be prepared. I would go back for the soup dumplings, and if I were in the neighborhood I would absolutely eat there, but I wouldn’t dine here over other Szechuan restaurants in NYC.
After all, I like to feel a little pain.
Grand Sichuan 74 on Urbanspoon

Pork and Chicken Shumai

Because woman does not live on shrimp toast alone, we figured we might as well try our hand at shumai, as well! Using Yan Can Cook, and the blog Tasty Eating as rough guides, we hit the ground running and set in for a long, long time of folding and stuffing.

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb. ground chicken
1 lb. ground pork
1 package wonton wrappers
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, made into a paste
1/2 Tbsp. minced or grated ginger
2 cups cleaned cilantro leaves
1 bunch scallions, white parts only, sliced into thin rounds
2 tsp. Chinese 5 spice
2 Tbsp. each of sesame oil and soy sauce
Enough lettuce or cabbage to cover the bottom of your steamer
PLUS vegetable oil for sauteing and steaming  -about 1/2 cup total

1)Place onions and garlic on the stove to sautee until they turn lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

2)In the meantime, grate your peeled ginger on a microplane,

chop the white part of the scallions

and add them and the 5 spice to the pan.

3)Add soy

and sesame oil.

4)Add a small piece of pork or chicken and fry it with the veggies to taste for seasoning. Thank you, Tasty Eating! This would NEVER have occurred to me, and may well be the most important step of the cooking process. Brilliant.

5)Add the meat and cilantro and mix well

6)Add the sauteed vegetables

7)Mix well

8)Assemble your steamer (Or one of those collapsible veggie steamers), fill the bottom with water

and line it with lettuce.

9)Now take a wonton wrapper and place it over your hand, where you have made a very loose fist, with air in the middle.

10)Poke the airspace, forming a wonton cup

11)Fill the wrapper with about a teaspoon of filling – it can be mounded up over the top, but you don’t want it to be bursting at the seams.

12)Form creases around the outside of the meat so all the edges are touching the meat.

TA DA!!! Your shumai!

13)Repeat steps 9 – 12 until all meat and wrappers are used up. It will take a long time. This is a GREAT time to start using children or the elderly as forced labor.

By now, the lettuce will look translucent and wilted from the steam.

14)Add the dumplings to the steamer. They can touch on the sides, but they can’t overlap

15)Now put the lid on the steamer

and in about 20 minutes (Or when you cut into a dumpling and the pork is no longer pink)

16)Serve. These dumplings may be the best you have ever tasted. None of that greasy, bland saltiness that comes from so many sub-par dumpling places in the city. Fresh, fragrant cilantro mixing with pungent garlic, sweet sauteed onions, and the strange but wonderful Chinese 5 spice that makes ANYTHING taste Chinese. The pork adds fat and texture and the chicken absorbs all of the seasonings flavors.

Dipped in some Sriracha and soy, I couldn’t imagine a better meal. Unless you threw some shrimp toast in there. Cause in this case, more is more.