So we are kicking off our restaurant blog two years late – no longer a small mother/daughter restaurant, but a multi-restaurant group, called Eighty Ate Hospitality with two, soon-to-be three, restaurants and an amazing team. Two winters ago, while trying to keep busy during snowstorms, we had the idea to share with the world different aspects of our industry. We were just kicking off our Tour of Asia and had to cancel two Sunday suppers because of a projected six to twelve inches of snow. And so here we are again, only this time we are going to make our blog stick!
This winter at Tao Yuan, after just returning from a three week tour of China with my Bao Bao kitchen manager Josh Amergian, we decided to run a Sunday dinner series exploring the regional cuisines of China. After having lived in both Shanghai and Beijing for four years before moving back to Maine, the one thing I missed more than anything else was regional Chinese cuisine. Trips to Chinatown would satiate some of the more mainstream loves I have for mapo doufu, dry fried green beans, and kung pao chicken, but I never came across some of the more obscure and delicious dishes that I would find every day in China. Some of that might be because I couldn’t communicate everything to the kitchen (my Chinese has steadily gone downhill since moving back and it was not that good to begin with), but most of it lies in the fact that mainstream America is not totally on board with the way the Chinese approach food: eating everything, chewing around bones, cracking through crab shells, learning to share, etc. This is slowly changing and our regional dinners are a way to be a part of this change and to help expose the delights of regional Chinese cuisine.
Our journey generally progresses from north to south, as the foods farther north tend to be heartier and heavier for the winter. We are starting with Shanxi, a landlocked part of northern China that is famous for the terra-cotta warriors, black vinegar, and many styles of noodles. We’ll be making biang biang noodles, which have three unknown fables of its name’s origin and one of the most complicated written characters in the Chinese language. They are a version of pulled noodles that are flatter and fatter than the thin ones most commonly found in La Mian shops, both in China and the US. We are also making dao xiao mian, or hand shaved noodles, though we are not as skilled as the gentleman in the video, and a pasta dish of cat’s ears noodles with caramelized pork belly and eggplant soup garnished with Shanxi vinegar and chili oil. The rest of the menu is composed of simple regional dishes that highlight the produce and cultural aspects of the arid landscape: loads of garlic, vinegar, cabbage and pork. (The Han Chinese are the primary ethnic group in the Shanxi region and pork is their staple meat.)
From Shanxi we will go east to Shandong, famous for its love of garlic and technical cookery. Being at the mouth of the Yellow River, there is an abundance of seafood in their cuisine.
My mom and I have fond memories of being together in Beijing where we would wake up and go to the market for breakfast. In the far corner of the wet market were a husband and wife team from Shandong that would make some incredible, extra large, extra dry versions of a jian bing with corn meal in the batter and lettuce in the wrap. They were our favorite. This year when Josh and I were in Beijing, we tried to find them, but alas, they were closed for the lunar New Year and had already migrated home for the holiday.
From Shandong, we will be heading to Xinjiang, Beijing Kao Ya, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunan, Macau, Hainan, Tibet, and will finish with my ancestry, Shanghainese. We will still be leaving out so much, but there’s always next year! I fell in love with food when I was in China. When I moved back to the US, the three things I couldn’t stop craving were jian bings (savory Chinese crepes), zha jiang mian (hand pulled noodles with shredded fresh vegetables and a salty pork brown bean sauce), and gan bian si ji dou (dry cooked green beans). Below is a recipe for jian bings; it is complicated and requires a bit of finesse, but is delicious and can be eaten any time of day. My second favorite version of this dish is with a a chicken or pork cutlet, pounded it out like schnitzel, breaded and fried, and wrapped in the bing! It makes an excellent hangover prevention if consumed before passing out.
Jian Bing Batter
80g buckwheat flour
80g millet flour
80g AP flour
80g chickpea flour
8pc whole eggs
Whisk dry ingredients together in one bowl. In another bowl mix the water and eggs, whisk together both dry and wet ingredients and salt to taste. Let rest for at least 30 minutes, it can also sit over night and hold for several days in the fridge.
Jian Bing Sauce
50g brown bean paste
15g Chinese shrimp paste
Mix all three and quickly cook on the stove, if you desire a thinner sauce feel free to add water to consistency.
6pt canola oil
1pt dry Arbol chilies
Pulse dry chilies in a robo coupe(cuisinart), mortar and pestle pestle, or blender until almost a powder. Heat oil to 275*F and pour over powdered chilies. Let cool.
Fried chicken cutlet
Turn the burner onto to medium to medium high heat. Use a lightly greased 12in crepe pan or 12” nonstick sauté pan Pour 1/3c of batter into the warm pan and quickly distribute the batter to form a very thin crepe, do not worry about wholes. Crack in one whole egg , break the yolk and distribute the egg over the crepe filling in any whole you had on your first go. Sprinkle with sesame seeds while the egg is still runny if you like. One the egg is mostly set on the pancake, flip over and brush with a tablespoon of brown sauce and chili oil. Sprinkle with scallion, cilantro, and a fried wonton for crunch. The toppings are endless, fill with a fried chicken cutlet, grilled mushrooms, lettuce, pickles, hotdogs, whatever you please! Fold up and enjoy!
–Cara Stadler, Feb 17, 2017