It was a warm, humid morning when we arrived at Chinatown for lunch. Everyone ate at a traditional, authentic small Taiwanese Restaurant, called the Taiwan Porkchop House. I had sticky rice, stuffed lotus root, salt/pepper fried chicken, and bubble tea. The chicken was my favorite of all the foods. It was deep fried and heavily seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices, then served over sticky rice in a bowl. The plate was garnished with some fresh stir-fried sour Chinese napa cabbage (the lower stem portion). This added some crunch to the soft, mushy rice texture, and gave it a sour flavor, which the bland rice took on well. The bubble tea was chilled black tea made creamy with the addition of milk, and then sweetened to taste with sugar or honey. The tea was garnished with large black tapioca pearls, giving it a chewy, slimy texture on the bottom of the glass, as well as some visual attraction. In order to “drink” the tea with the tapioca in it, a large, wide straw with a sharp point at the end was necessary.
Bubble tea was a unique beverage to an average American like me, but I have drank bubble tea many times before. Perhaps the strangest thing I ate was the lotus root. It was totally new to me, and I never knew lotus root even existed. It can be served sweet or savory. If pan-fried, or fried, the lotus root is used as a mild flavored, crunchy, starchy vegetable that pairs with most flavors to add texture and starch to a dish. When boiled for long periods of time, it loses its crunchiness, and becomes mushy and easy to mash, having texture and consistency almost like a slightly hard, undercooked potato. The lotus root is bland and takes on flavors very well. It was served boiled in a sweet reduction sauce of sugar water. The naturally occurring holes in the root were stuffed with sticky rice, so that when cooked the rice expanded, filling these cavities. After boiling until soft, the root was then skinned, sliced into thin rounds, and served with a drizzle of the sweet reduction.
After enjoying this authentic meal, we took a walk around Chinatown. We encountered things unusual to regular markets such as huge bins of dried fish, sea cucumbers,
massive 50 gallon tanks brimming with live fish, buckets of live turtles and frogs, and interesting looking vegetables which are uncommon in this region, and unknown to the Western world, such as dragon fruit, daikon radish, rambutan, and giant grapefruits called pomelos.
I bought some dragon fruit, which was like prickly pear, but with small edible seeds. There were huge fruits hanging in the windows of a few of the fancier markets that must have weighed 20-45 pounds!!!! They were green and spiky on the outside and mushy, sweet, and yellow fleshed on the inside. These were called jackfruits. They boasted a seriously sweet aroma, and tasted like a starchy mango.
We ate dinner at a small hole-in-the wall Indian-American style place called Panna Garden II. It was extremely tiny with only two 12 seat tables and barely enough room to stand or walk to the very small bathroom, but the atmosphere was out of this world, and made up for there being little room to move. The whole ceiling was strung with lights and images of flags of countries around the world, and the restaurant’s recognitions on plaques from well-known foodies and chefs, cooking shows, and movies that came down to about four feet off the floor. To walk around, you had to duck your head down. The lights blinked and flashed colors and were programmed to put on a light show, while speakers played Indian house music. The food was authentic Indian food and was very good tasting, but had some American influences. It was Indian-American fusion. The grilled naan with cheese was not authentic Indian food. It had American cheese in the middle, and was very similar to a grilled cheese. I ordered pineapple poori, but it was deep fried, and not baked in a tandoori oven, and looked more like an empanada rather than a round poori. The pineapple, American cheese, shape, and frying preparation made it very Americanized, but it was the most unique poori I’ve ever had, compared to those that I have sampled at regular traditional Indian Restaurants. I also had saag paneer with spinach, and with peas. Both were good and authentic. For dessert we had mango lassi, but with an American touch that was totally awesome to me – mango lassi ice cream. Tasted like mango lassi, but much sweeter (almost overpoweringly sweet) and less “yogurty” and made into ice cream.
All in all, it was an exciting trip, with the best of two cultural experiences, Indian, and Asian.