Chinese Food Tour with Auckland Food Tours
I was invited to join Auckland Food Tours for another adventure - and given that I enjoyed my previous foodie sojourn to the North Shore, recently, it really wasn't a question of if, but when or rather 'how soon'....
This adventure was quite creative - and was going to answer a lot of questions for me - some that I didn't know I needed to ask (I am not a hot-shot in cooking Asian cuisine - but LOVE eating it) so...
The purpose of this tour is to showcase that, while we have a lot of Chinese Restaurants - they have been (ever so slightly) "westernised" and it was explained to me, that while they will have a full menu - they actually have a couple of dishes that relate to their locale of origin, that they do REALLY well - and that is what you eat when you go to that particular restaurant.
Perfect premise for me embarking on a foodie outing "lets go to 5 restaurants for lunch and only eat their best food...." !!!!! Enough said.
With the walking part - I actually thought that I would be expending some calories before the next meal - not the case - these places were literally within 300m of each other in entirety - far more eating than walking.
Shanghai Chinese Restaurant - the locale is self explanatory, and the speciality is Nian gao - a stir fried rice cake, a dish that holds significance for the new year - for things to get better and better throughout the year. It is made from rice flour rather than whole rice and cooked with chinese cabbage....
Second speciality was a pork meat ball - the literal translation is - braised lion head in sweet soy sauce - a very large pork meatball, you can only get the context when you compare the meatball to the serving spoon (which is not a teaspoon)the flavour and texture of this meatball would rival an Italian's, any day.
This restaurant would have gone completely un-noticed by me - just a doorway with a sign above it - leading up some stairs, you really have to know!!
Next up was The Happy House Restaurant - this time the Hebei area (close to Beijing) their speciality is a 'Beijing meat pancake' and a 'stir fry pork slice'. Both variations of using a pancake technique - but both very different.
The 'Beijing meat pancake' uses a lot of oil to cook, however the pastry is soft and the meat filling, tender. There is a particular way to make this 'pancake' (I think reading it as 'pan-cake' helps) it needs to be folded several times to create the layers within it, not unlike a lasagne in the concept.
'Stir fry pork slice - stir fried with the sweet soy bean sauce (we are familiar with it being used in peking duck recipes) and is very typical Beijing eating.
Served with incredibly 'fine' baby pancakes to create a little wrap. It was simply gorgeous.
This next stop was not a restaurant - Ajichiban - a chinese snack store - where we had everything shiny packet explained and answered (along with a little 'take-home' snack of dried squid with black sesame and a dried sweet chilli butterfish). The shop is overflowing with curiosities for a food-lover.
Salty and sweet are combined in a lot of the snacks so 'sweet chilli dried fish' and 'dried squid with sesame'. Health benefits are also considered - Hawthorn has been used in a snack for hundreds of years - toffee hawthorn - believed to have health benefits - aiding digestion and lowering blood pressure....(not sure I could say the same for 'twisties or 'jelly-beans in our culture) although the 'Supreme Lover Plums' may have just been lost in translation?
Jiale Bun Shop - for steamed dumplings and Xialongbao - one of the busiest places we visited - so we opted for a picnic table outside to continue our conversations - there are several types of buns in China, and dependant on the area visited - different types of fillings, and these were irresistibly soft steamed buns filled with a gorgeous mix of asian mushrooms and greens.
Xiaolongbao - a much smaller pastry made with flour and hot water, a filling of pork (not unlike a really tasty pork meatball) and a little soup , usually eaten with a little vinegar (to offset the oily taste of the pork filling).
Did I mention that we are served tea at every stop restaurant? probably so accustomed to this that I forgot - but always a table waiting with a fresh pot of tea placed the moment we arrived - not unusual to any chinese restaurant..... but it really helped - given the amount we were eating!!
Xi'an Food Bar - a "Chinese Burger" and "Gluten in Chilli" This is street food - not unusual at a night market.
Now this Chinese burger would leave any 'pulled pork slider' in the dust - suffice to say that conversation stopped to eat these - and when it started again it consisted on how each of us could make our way back, for another in the near future. Bread (made with flour) but baked in a particular clay over - toasted before a hot filling is added. Usually lamb, beef or pork - slow cooked in 5 spice and soy sauce (plus a few secret ingredients) and chopped to order.
'gluten in chilli' served cold, as a salad, with fresh cucumber, was not something I have ever ordered before - not through any prejudice - just simply that when I do get to a good chinese restaurant - I have so many favourites and cravings to satisfy that there simply would be no way I would be able to eat everything...
Monks use this as part of their food - so that it has the taste and texture of meat - but still completely vegan. Made from the gluten 'loaded' water remaining after washing noodles.
Spicy Moment - situated in Southwest China (not literally) - where the weather is humid and wet, so to take the humidity out of their bodies they eat hot noodles to make you sweat.
We had the mild - and it was still quite hot - so actual 'hot' will, more than probably, 'make you sweat' !!!! So Chongquing Noodles (pictured above) and "Burning Noodles" (pictured below).
Classic Bake House - Breads and cakes were brought to Asia as a western food - like dessert, so most of the bread in Asian Bakeries have a sweet element to them - even the savoury ones. Often Pandan (a tropical green leaved plant) is used to add the sweet vanilla flavour to cakes and breads. That's not sugar folks - not lost on me!!!
Lastly - 'run-of-the-mill' Asian vege store - I shop at these places all the time - fresh, interesting, diverse and not expensive. Big difference is being here with Saskia (our tour guide) talking about the vegetables - how to cook them - or not cook them - can we use them in a dish like this or that - the dishes she ate them in, growing up - take the seeds out or not - what does it taste like raw vs cooked - perfect!! I could have spent an hour just in this store.
I could do this entire tour again ...