Archive for January, 2008

Around 5:30, when I entered Chinatown, the streets were already dark but shops beckoned me in with their lights shining on outdoor displays of silvery, scaly fish and boxes of dried, gnarled mushrooms. I was going to make dumplings, and I thought a Chinatown grocery expedition would be an appropriately fun adventure. I had discovered a dumpling recipe on NPR, which meant that my dumpling consumption was no longer limited to hunting out a vegetarian dim sum restaurant. The recipe broke down a novel treat into such easy steps that I couldn’t believe I had never thought to make homemade dumplings. So after work, I headed to Chinatown, in search of dried shitake mushrooms, round wonton wrappers, two heads of bok choy, and a bottle of sesame oil.


I visited four different stores, each time asking for help in distinguishing the dried shitake mushrooms from the other varieties of mushrooms. Most people told me “No English” forcing me to continue exploring until I finally came across a man who not only spoke English but told me where I could find everything I needed (his store is on the corner of Grand and Bowery). I bought my five shitake mushrooms and sesame oil from him, but when I asked for the wonton wrappers, cellophane noodles, and bok choy, he told me to go to the grocery store around the corner.

I like Chinatown’s sense of place, the immediacy of its streets, so I don’t really mind wandering around searching for items I might not find. On certain blocks, the metallic, salty smell of drying fish hovers in the air. I don’t like the smell, but I like SMELLS, street smells, smells that assault or entice. Perpetually packed sidewalks with people outfitted in puffy jackets and vendors selling oranges and knots of ginger force me to dodge children, to weave in and out of the crowds. I like this street activity, the families shopping for dinner or a hat. I like the sense of community, of activity larger than my lonesome shopping expedition. Life is moving in these streets. Like reading a good book, when I walk through Chinatown, I feel as though I’ve entered a new world.

The Chinese grocery store the man recommended was large, well lit, and bustling with customers. All the signs were in Chinese, and instead of carrying sweet potatoes and heads of cauliflower, it sold piles of green beans, many different types of wonton wrappers and noodles, and bok choy ranging in color from lily-pad green to ivory-white. Walking through the aisles was like being in a warped wonderland: I couldn’t read any of the handwritten Chinese signs identifying various foods, but it was exhilarating to be surrounded by hundreds of new products. The possibilities! Again, a man who spoke English helped me identify which variety of bok choy, wonton wrappers, and noodles to buy.

I spent a total of $8 on the mushrooms, sesame oil, two heads of bok choy, and wonton wrappers. I didn’t buy the tofu from the store because the recipe called for extra-firm, and I could only find firm and regular.


At home, we soaked the mushrooms in hot water, squeezed the water out of the chopped bok choy, boiled the glassy cellophane noodles for under two minutes, chopped up our tofu into fine blocks, and mixed everything together with the sesame oil and grated ginger. The intoxicating aroma of Asian sesame oil, by the way, comes from toasted sesame seeds…


We assembled a line of dumpling-makers in our kitchen. While one of us spooned the dumpling mixture into the middle of a round wonton wrapper, another one wet the edges of the wrapper with a finger dipped in water and pressed the ends together until they stuck and formed perfect, half-moon purses. I experimented and pressed the ends together at one point until the dumplings looked like miniature mountain peaks. Then we dropped them, 5-6 at a time, into boiling water. They boiled for about 3-4 minutes; when they floated to the top of the water, we removed them. Anthony made a dipping sauce by combining soy sauce with sriracha, sesame oil, and sugar. Our darling dumplings were delicious.


Excerpt: ‘From Lokshen to Lo Mein’
The Jewish Love Affair with Chinese Food
by Donald Siegel

Enough filling for ~40 dumplings


1/2 pound bok choy, chopped medium fine
5 Dried shitake mushrooms
1 ounce dried cellophane noodles
1/4 pound of extra firm tofu or dried tofu
1 Tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
1 Package of round wonton or pot sticker skins

1. Sprinkle a bit of salt on the chopped bok choy and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then take your hands and squeeze out the rendered water.

2. Add mushrooms to boiling water in a small bowl, turn off the heat, and cover until they soften (~ 30 minutes), drain, remove stems, finely dice, and then squeeze out the water with your hands.

3. In another pot, put noodles in hot boiled water, turn off heat, and let sit a few minutes to soften. Drain, chop, and add to the mushrooms and greens.

4. Finely dice the tofu and add with sesame oil, salt and ginger to vegetable mixture as filling.

5. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wonton skin. Moisten the edges of the skin with water and then fold over. You can crimp the dumpling in pleats if you like to get a more authentic look.

6. Bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil and drop in dumplings. Cook for 5 minutes and then remove with slotted spoon. Serve with soy sauce or a favorite dipping sauce.

Chef’s Hint: Use dried shitaki mushrooms, not fresh. They are the secret “meaty” ingredients that make these dumplings so delicious. Squeezing out the water prevents the dumplings from getting soggy inside.


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This story has nothing to do with food, but I thought it was hilarious. My friend Elana just sent it to me. It’s a record of a phone conversation she had.

I just got off a phone call that went like this:

Me: OPRS, this is Elana Snow
Little old lady: ummm yess…i’m calling to talk to my doctor, Dr. Snow. I ordered three bras and last time I came in, only one bra was ready. So I need to come back in and get the other two and i was wondering if they were available.
Me: Um..(stifling laughs)..okay Ma’am. Well…um….are you sure you have the right number? Because I’m not actually a doctor, so I think you might have misdialed.
Little old lady:Well I’m trying to reach Doctor Snow at Dana Farber.
Me: Huh. Well my last name is Snow and I work at Dana Farber, but I’m not a doctor. So let me see if I can look up this doctor for you. Do you know his first name?
Little old lady: hmm…It’s Dr. Snow. I think it might be mark or mike or something.
Me: Okay. Hold on one second please Ma’am. I’m gonna look that up for you.
Little old lady: okay

(intermission as Elana looks up any Dr. Snow that could work at Dana-Farber)

Me: Okay ma’am. I’m not seeing any Dr. Snows that are named Mike or Mark. In fact, I’m not seeing any Dr. Snows at Dana-Farber. Just at MGH or BI.
Little old lady: Yes, well I don’t call him by his first name so I don’t remember. But I’ve had him for a long time. I used to go to another doctor. A lady doctor. Hmm…let me see if I can remember her name. No. no. i don’t remember. But I’ve gone to Dr. Snow at Dana-Farber for a while now.
Me: Okay. Well I’m not seeing it. So I think your best bet is to try calling the main line and asking if they can try to connect you. Do you have that number?
Little old lady: No. I don’t have it. You see I bought the bras through the boutique but they didn’t have them all last time so I need to go back and get more.
Me: Yes. I see. Okay…wait one more second and I’ll find the main line for you

(intermission two as elana asks Kim what the number for the main line is while simultaneously wondering how the little old lady got her phone number if she hadn’t called the main line the first time)

Me: Okay ma’am. Here is the number: 617-632-1000.
Little old lady: Okay. Thank you. Good bye!

Katie (office friend): I’m pretty sure the main line is 617-632-3000
Kim: oops.
Me: OH NO! Poor little old lady! Now she’ll NEVER get her bras!

The End


elana.jpgElana Snow works at Dana Farber. She is not a doctor.

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Thanks to this discussion on Sepia Mutiny, I learned of Sigiri, a Sri Lankan restaurant in New York. I’ve eaten Sri Lankan food at one cousin’s home in Sri Lanka, as well as at another cousin’s house in Massachusetts.


Although meat dominates the menu at Sigiri and is a large part of Sri Lankan cuisine, my extended family is vegetarian, and thus, my experiences eating Sri Lankan food with them always bring to mind coconut and comfort in vegetables and curries. Sigiri had all of the coconut and comfort I was craving that cold Saturday night but less of the vegetables that my extended family incorporates into their Sri Lankan cooking: no pumpkins, green beans, or potatoes showed up at Sigiri.


Sigiri is in a small space but the service is accommodating. As a group of six, we were told to wait ten minutes; the tiny, second-floor restaurant was packed. While I lingered outside the door to ensure against newcomers grabbing our soon-to-be-vacant table, friends went around the corner to pick up wine, for Sigiri is BYOB. In that time, our smiling Nepali waiter had arranged a table for us- an awkwardly large group, given the dimensions of the restaurant.

We started with the appetizer sampler ($8.50), which included two of each of the following: dhal vade, fish cutlets, Sri Lankan vegetable spring rolls, and fish spring rolls. The dhal vade were crunchy and buttery from the roasted lentils and surprisingly good. The vegetable spring rolls were strange- essentially samosa filling stuffed inside spring roll packaging- but tasty nonetheless.

Much of the menu was filled with dishes built around chicken, beef, or fish, but I ordered a vegetarian version of the String Hopper Kotthu ($11). The mound of chopped, coconuty noodles came with a side of creamy coconut-milk sauce. The noodles were great plain, brightened with pieces of sharp red onion. The sauce (or soup) was a pleasant palette moistener but didn’t contribute much to the dish overall, since its flavor was too similar to the noodles. While sitting on my couch the next day, I spooned my leftover noodles into my mouth, savoring the tastes of coconut and onion. My omnivorous friends all thoroughly enjoyed their meals, making me slightly envious that they had so many options. Regardless, I would like to go back to Sigiri to try the Kotthu Roti (stir-fried roti) more hoppers (not string, but the actual, crepe-like concoctions) and their desserts.

Sigiri is at 91 First Avenue, between 5th and 6th streets.

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My dad’s uncle, Jaisinh mama, has a house in Mahabaleshwar where he lives for most of the year. Mahabaleshwar is a hill station six hours southeast of Bombay, and he prefers its green trees and moderate temperatures to Bombay’s pollution and humidity. At about 4,500 feet above sea level, it gets 300 inches of rainfall annually. Stuff grows here.






While Mahabaleshwar’s cool weather provides relief from Bombay’s heat, it feels a little too cold to me. I like visiting India because I’m always waiting to be enveloped in sticky, stifling, warm humidity after suffering through winter here. Sweating is a lot less painful than shivering.

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On Maggie’s birthday we headed to her house to cook dinner. For starters, she had already prepared Alsatian Cheese Tarts. So much deliciousness was packed between the layers of creamy cheese, crispy caramelized onion, and flaky puff pastry that we ended up feasting on these and forgoing the rest of dinner.


Like the cheesy tarts we are, we donned Birthday crowns during dinner. Other items we consumed after stuffing ourselves on the Alsatian tarts: pomegranate margaritas, eggnog, coffee (for me, jetlag) and Maggie’s mom’s baked Alaska pie.


Maggie says that making the Alsatian Tarts is super easy… and one batch produces 36 bite-size appetizers, which sounds great for a party. Find the recipe here, on Sharing the Food Love, which is a blog Rice, Maggie and I started 2 years ago and update infrequently. Although we ate our tarts plain (and thoroughly enjoyed them), you could top yours with a number of items, including pieces of mushroom or roasted red pepper.

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Yesterday my friend Allison emailed me about a foodie event at Symphony Space called Mastering the Art of Writing About Cooking, with Judith Jones and Alex Prud’homme. Judith Jones, the editor at Knopf who edited Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, will be talking with Julia’s grandnephew, Alex. Judith Jones recently published her memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food and Alex co-wrote My Life in France with Julia Child. It sounds like an interesting discussion and one that I hope to attend.


Also, in partnership with the World Music Institute, Symphony Space also occasionally hosts South-Asian classical music concerts. I wanted to go to the Subhra Guha concert but it’s sold out!


Tickets for Mastering the Art of Writing About Food are $21 and Symphony Space is at on the Upper West Side, at Broadway and 95th street. You can get more information here or check out Symphony Space’s other events here.

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