Friday, April 07, 2006

What I had for lunch today

If you’ve been here before you’re surely aware that this is not a “what I had for lunch today” kind of blog. But the combination of things I did have for lunch today and the questions they made me ask have led me to write this.

At about ten minutes to noon, my boss, an orthodox Jew, came by my desk and dropped off a disk-like object wrapped in aluminum foil, announcing, “A Friday latke.” He had brought latkes back for the whole group from his favorite midtown kosher place. For some reason he was in a latke-giving mood.

The latke was pretty good, albeit quite greasy. It was biggish, but not big enough to constitute an entire lunch by my standards. So a little later I decided to call John’s Shanghai, on West 46th, to order some takeout crabmeat and pork soup dumplings (xiaolongbao or shao lon bao). I headed over to the restaurant and they were ready shortly after I arrived. When I got back to the office and opened the container I was disturbed to see my dumplings sitting in a little pool of soup. Apparently the soup had leaked out of the dumplings in transit. To make matters worse, the skins had become mushy from sitting in the liquid, even if only for a short while. I had never done xiaolonbao as takeout before, and it appears that they just don’t travel well.

But dumpling quality aside, the crux of the matter is: why did I order them at all? I started to think about this. I had never eaten latkes and xiaolongbao for the same meal before today. Was there a significance to what I had ordered at this particular time? Had I, a Jewish atheist, perhaps ordered an item that contained both pork and shellfish, two kinds of treyf, as a hostile reaction to my boss’s latke offering? Was it a slap in the face of religious orthodoxy? Was it an “up yours” to management? Or maybe even both?

These, I’m afraid, are questions that cannot be answered.


Blogger Sam said...

Hi Peter _ i was interested in this post because of the soup dumplings, which i only heard about for the first time this year. Ever since i have been intrigued to try them but I dont think we have them in San Francisco. So, then someone toold me they had some in New york. Please can I ask you - are they a BIG think in New york? Is there a 'the place to try them'? And can you get them seafood-free? (the BF is a fusspot!)
thanks for any info.

I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a little while.


9:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Sam, to answer your questions:

Yes, they're pretty popular in NY, and Shanghai restaurants do seem to be much more common here than in the Bay Area. However, you can indeed get them in S.F. I had them last year at a place on Geary or Clement around 15th Ave., but I'm forgetting the name. Also, some dim sum places, like Ton Kiang, serve them sometimes. I'm sure a Chowhound query will yield you results.

As far as "the" place to try them in NY, Joe's Shanghai popularized them, and many still swear by them, but there are a bunch of contenders. And yes, you can get them without crab--almost all places that serve them make a pork-only version, usually $1 less per order.

Thanks for checking in.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Here's a recent San Francisco Chowhound thread on xiaolongbao:

6:23 AM  
Anonymous lee feldman said...

these questions can be answered and the answer to all of them is "yes."

9:15 AM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Lee Feldman, by the way, is the brilliant singer-songwriter who was one of my musical collaborators in the 80s. Go to the "Cherches Sings" link for some of our work together.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

thank you peter, for the link and eveything

one more question

do any of these Shanghai places serve 'crispy aromatic duck'?

(not peking duck)

it is a very crispy skinned duck that is shredded at the table and served with pancaked, green onion, cucumber and hoisin sauce.

this dish is de riguer in british chinese restaurants, and i found out from Chowhound a while back it was more of a SHanghai thing not available in the Bay area, so I was wondering if you had seen it in New york.



12:15 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

I was not familiar with the dish, so I Googled it and found the answer on Wikipedia:

Crispy aromatic duck

Crispy aromatic duck is a variant of Peking duck that originated in the Chinese community in the United Kingdom. In this version, the duck is rubbed with aromatic spices such as five-spice powder and then deep fried instead of roasted. This enables the meat to be flaked off the bone and shredded easily, a process which is usually performed in front of the patrons of the restaurant. This deep-fried shredded meat is then served with pancakes and the usual condiments.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think Wikipedia is correct.

3:02 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...


Wow, I am so glad to run into you and to see that you are blogging. This medium was made for your work.

I'll be back. Hope you'll drop by.
Eve Q J

11:20 PM  
Blogger ingrid leung said...

hello came across your blog recently, very excited to find out that it is about chinese food (esp regional varieties other than cantonese)! you are indeed an expert! and i really enjoyed reading your pieces a lot - even without any photos, your writing can actually "move" our stomach!

i am chinese but never heard this before - what is a "chinese tortilla" that you mentioned in an earlier post? was searching on the web for a photo but couldnt find any. very curious. many thanks!

1:50 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...


Thanks for the kind words. The blog is about Chinese food only as much as I am about Chinese food, which does happen to be a lot.

I used the term "Chinese tortilla" in reference to the fact that several Mexican fast food chains are run by Chinese Americans and make a particular variant of Mexican food. So if you're not in the Northeast of the U.S. it's natural that you wouldn't be familiar with them.

Here's a Chowhound exchange I found on the Fresco Tortilla chain:

2:26 PM  
Blogger ingrid leung said...

hi peter many thanks for this. maybe will ask my brother see if he's tried it (he lives in upstate NY). i love mexican food too! cheers!

4:31 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

thanks for all your help, peter!

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Caitlin said...

mmm, this post made me hungry for Chinese food and I don't even really like Chinese food.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as an agnostic jew and fanatical (authentic - my jewish mamma works in china) chinese food lover, i feel obliged to point you to new green bo restaurant on 66 Bayard St for awesome soup dumplings. also try their spiced pressed gluten.

7:46 PM  

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