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Posts Tagged ‘Snacks

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Since the first morning I spent wandering around the streets of Shanghai three years ago, I’ve had a mild obsession with street food. It was my first time outside of the U.S., and really my first time ever seeing food prepared on the street — if you don’t count the pretzel and roasted nuts trucks in some areas of Los Angeles.

Despite all the warnings I had from teachers at the local university to my Lonely Planet guide about staying away from street food, it was hard to ignore the sizzling sounds of a batter being spread over flat griddles to make an eggy crepe (dan bing 蛋餅), or the sight of fresh soybeans being pressed to yield hot soybean milk, all coming from these tiny stalls densely lining the bustling streets of one of the most chaotic metropolitan areas in the world.

The Bund/Wai Tan, Shanghai, China

Being cognizant of American snobbery surrounding eating food in foreign lands, I tried my best to eat the same way locals ate, whether that meant eating food out of street stalls or going into tiny and dingy mom-and-pop type shops that were recommended to me by native Chinese friends I had made. It was exhilarating to see all the energy along the streets with people shouting their orders and street vendors quickly stir-frying these noodles or mixing up those sauces. In less than five minutes, a plate of yum could be ready for you to carry and take off wherever you’d like.

Although my experience in China was only in Shanghai and surrounding areas, being there helped me learn more about Chinese culture in general, as well as the prominence of street food in China. Many of the comfort foods that Chinese people who leave China crave and miss are ones that are prepared on the street. These treats, also known in Mandarin Chinese as xiao chi (小吃) or “little eats,” are generally made by vendors who each create a specialized snack, from spicy cold noodles to steamed dumplings to pudding-like bean curd (dou hua 豆花). In the past, street vendors would travel all over the cities or towns where they lived in China to get as much business as possible; it’s been said that in the early twentieth century, street vendors lived or died by the quantity of their food sold, so they consumed themselves with creating unique dishes that would keep people coming back.

Fresh mung bean sprouts

Fuchsia Dunlop, an East Asia Specialist at the BBC World Service, was the first non-Chinese educated at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. After her culinary education in Sichuan, in 2001 she published a cookbook called Land of Plenty, the first-ever Chinese cookbook written by a Western author in English specifically on Sichuanese cuisine. Land of Plenty devotes an entire section to little eats, consisting of many noodle dishes, dumplings, sweets, and other dishes that can be seen being prepared on streets in Chengdu today.

Sauce ingredients

One of the street foods in the book that has most recently been prepared in my kitchen is the spicy cold noodles with chicken slivers. It’s a xiao chi that is distinctively Sichuanese. Thick, cold noodles are served with blanched bean sprouts, cooked chicken slices, and a complex, mouth-tingling sauce that is all at once sweet, salty, sour, hot, and numbing.

Spicy numbing sauce for noodles

The “numbing” sensation comes from the Sichuan pepper, or in Chinese, hua jiao 花椒,  which literally translated means “flower pepper.” It’s probably the most important and dominant condiment/spice in Sichuanese cooking. Before being roasted and ground, the Sichuan peppercorns look like this:

Whole Sichuan peppercorns - hua jiao

Once roasted whole, they are then ground finely and added to hot dishes, cold dishes, sauces, and dressings. Sichuan pepper’s strong scent is unmistakable — flowery and spicy at the same time. It adds a distinct taste to Sichuanese dishes and never fails to make your lips tingle after eating it. This is what the pepper looks like after being grounded:

Ground Sichuan pepper

In Chinese supermarkets, Sichuan peppercorns are often not labeled in English, so be sure to look out for these Chinese characters: 花椒.  One problem I’ve had with the peppercorns is that the twigs and leaves of the plant are often still attached to the peppercorns in the packages, so when taking them out to roast and grind, carefully sort through the peppercorns and remove the excess beforehand.

Putting lunch together

This dish makes a satisfying lunch for 2-3, or if you have a full pound of noodles, you could easily double the sauce ingredients and add more chicken if you’d like for a bigger crowd. In case you like heat but not too much of it, try to add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chili oil to the sauce to start, and increase it if you’d like more of a kick. The list of ingredients for the sauce seems long, but all of the ingredients are extremely versatile and can be used in any type of Asian cooking. So don’t be afraid to buy them, as you will use them over and over again.

Cold noodles mixed with sauce and chicken

Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers
ji si liang mian 雞絲涼麵

Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty
Serves 2-3 as a main lunch dish

Noodles

  • About 1/2 pound fresh Shanghai-style wheat noodles (slightly thicker than spaghetti)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
  • 5 ounces bean sprouts
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, 2 chicken thighs, or some leftover chicken meat
  • 4 scallions thinly sliced, green parts only

Sauce/Seasonings

  • 2 tablespoons sesame paste, thinned with about 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground roasted Sichuan pepper 花椒
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili oil with chili flakes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

Cook the noodles in a medium sized pot of boiling water until they are just al dente; take care not to overcook them. Rinse them with hot water from the kettle, then shake them in a colander and quickly spread them out to dry. Sprinkle over the oil and mix it in with chopsticks to prevent the noodles from sticking together.

Blanch the bean sprouts for a few seconds in boiling water, then refresh in cold water. Drain well. Squash the chicken breast or leftover chicken pieces slightly to loosen fibers, and tear or cut into slivers about 1/4-inch thick.

When the noodles and bean sprouts are completely cold, lay the bean sprouts in the bottom of your serving bowl or bowls. Add the noodles.

To serve, either combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and pour the mixture over the noodles, or just scatter them over one by one. Top the dish with a small pile of chicken slivers and a scattering of scallions. Allow your guests to toss everything together at the table.

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Hoddeuk Homemade

I think my fascination with Korean food began after I moved from the Bay Area to the East Coast for college. At the time my school, a private college in the New England area, ranked number 1 in student diversity in the region. Among that diversity was a very visible Korean student body, from South Korea as well as throughout the States. On the Foodies e-conference that we could access online, many students talked about the Korean markets and restaurants in the area. All this Korean food talk made me think, “I want!”

Hotteok dough rising
So I began my research on Korean cuisine — popular plates to order, everyday preparations, special occasion dishes, snacks, street eats, even down to proper Korean table manners (when I get into something, I really get into it). I had a fair share of Korean barbeque nights, got excited every time I went to a different Korean restaurant and had a new variety of ban chan (like appetizers at the beginning of a Korean meal), and even got as far as rolling and making my own kimbap (a Korean version of sushi usually eaten for lunch or prepared for picnics).

Hotteok dough balls to be filled

But among all of the dishes and snacks that really peaked my interest was a sweet Korean pancake called hotteok (pronounced “ho-duck”). I’d heard from college classmates and through food talk in the blogosphere that hotteok is a popular South Korean street snack, especially on cold winter nights. The pancakes are made of a mixture of all-purpose flour and glutinous rice flour with a rising agent, and then they’re filled with a brown sugar nut mixture. Once heated on a pan, they are golden brown, firm and chewy on the outside, dripping with molten brown sugar goo on the inside.

Hotteok being filled with cinnamon sugar nut mixture

I tried finding them at a nearby Korean bakery when I’d heard of them, but the one I bought definitely wasn’t hot or fresh; hotteok is meant to be eaten HOT (the “ho” part of the name comes from the “ho!” sound that people make when their mouths are being scalded by the goo oozing out after taking their initial bite). So I figured the only way to get one was to make it myself. I had one before, though it wasn’t fresh, so I had an approximate idea of what it should taste like.

All the recipes I found in cookbooks and online were flawed in that they used all all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour would never be able to replicate the distinct chewiness that I knew hotteok had to have. Chewing a hotteok can be likened to chewing half a pancake (soft and light) and half a piece of Japanese mochi (chewy and slightly sticky from the pounded rice).

Hotteok being pan fried

So I played with the proportions of the all-purpose flour and the glutinous rice flour, and decided that three parts all-purpose to two parts glutinous rice flour yielded the perfect balance of softness to chewiness. If you use too much all-purpose flour, the pancake won’t be chewy enough; if you use too much glutinous rice flour, eating the hotteok will be more like eating sticky rice than a pancake. In this pancake, balance is key.

Peanuts or walnuts are used as the nut filling for hotteok on the street in South Korea, but I have a personal preference for walnuts. They should be eaten as soon as they are taken off the griddle or frying pan, as this is when they taste the best and how they are usually eaten.

Hoddeuk frying on pan

Hotteok 호떡 – Sweet Korean Pancakes
Yields 6 pancakes

Pancake:

  • 3 teaspoons lukewarm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry-active yeast
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup glutinous rice flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter or canola oil

Filling:

  • Scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Prepare the rising mixture by combining the water, sugar, and yeast in a medium sized mixing bowl. Allow it to sit and get bubbly for 10 minutes. Then add in the milk, all-purpose and glutinous rice flour, and salt. Mix well, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and  allow the dough to rise for about 3 hours.

Once the dough has about doubled in size, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts in a separate bowl. Butter a large frying pan and set it to medium heat.

After greasing your hands, take out the dough and knead it for one minute. Then separate the dough into six equal sized balls (they should be just slightly smaller than the size of your palm). Take one ball and flatten it with your hands, then place a generous spoonful of the cinnamon-sugar-nut mixture in the middle; pull the dough together to seal it and make a ball. Repeat with remaining five dough balls.

Place as many as can comfortably fit into the frying pan. Press them down with a greased spatula. After about 3-4 minutes, check the underside to see how done they are. When both sides are a golden brown shade and the cinnamon-sugar filling is almost leaking out, you will know they are done.

Serve hot as a snack or dessert with green or barley tea.


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  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)

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