culinaria eugenius in seattle: salmon candy

Smoked fish at Whole Foods in Seattle — mindboggling! Top to bottom: chipotle smoked salmon; smoked lemon-pepper salmon nuggets and smoked Chilean sea bass; foursome of sockeye lox trim, smoked Yukon salmon candy, kippered salmon and smoked salmon collar; detail of smoked salmon collar.  And that’s just the packaged stuff!

Don’t forget, you can “alleviate poverty worldwide” by stuffing all of these into a bag made of plastic bottles from East Timor.  Ah, Whole Foods.

culinaria eugenius in new york: tell me what street compares with mott street

“Kitchen Allegory,” Jessica Jackson Hutchins (2010) and Sideboard, Jan Martense Scheck house (mid 18th c., New York), both at the Brooklyn Museum.

Some great panels at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference last week in New York.  I was really inspired by the folks browsing their way through hundreds of community cookbooks and entire runs of popular cooking magazines.  Having done archival research on newspapers myself, I know how grueling that kind of reading is.  I can’t imagine it would be easier with recipes involved.

Also saw what could happen if a researcher doesn’t put the time and effort into a holistic approach.  Downright dismayed by the lack of understanding of and interest in food culture west of the Hudson.  That’s long been a complaint of mine in New York culinary publishing, and you’ve probably heard me froth at the mouth about Cook’s Illustrated and the New York Times, in particular, treating California as if it’s a foreign land of exotic fruits in all senses of the word.  To say nothing of Oregon.  But at the conference, I saw this blindness in action at all levels of the industry, and it was sobering.  To ignore California is to ignore the way our country produces and distributes food.  And we all know what that means.

Possibly the most fascinating aspect of the conference was one we wouldn’t dream of managing at a literature conference (lest we litter the proceedings with litterateurs).  The mingling of historians and food writers in two streams directed at research and industry!  An intrepid voyager could take in the entire history of Jewish cookbooks in the West, for example, then learn how to profit from the latest cookbook app.  Or hear more about the dishes featured in Willa Cather’s fiction, then receive advice on writing culinary fiction appealing to New York’s elite publishing houses. Need an agent?  Fancy more information about 18th century French cooking?  Having trouble with timing your recipes?  Pondering the Chinese immigrant experience?  They had us covered.

I was a little cowed, I’ll admit, by the blogging presence and emerging industry represented at the conference. I know for sure I don’t want this blog to become a moneymaking enterprise.  Way too commercial for me.  I need a place to freely write, not a venue for generating ever more traffic because of my concept and brand.  My platform.  That’s the term they used.  But it was interesting to hear some of the possibilities for the field.

One of my favorite panels was on cookbooks as propaganda, led by Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein.  The participants were constitutional legal scholar, John Finn (left, above), a literature professor, Megan Elias (middle), and a chef/sociologist, Krishnendu Ray (right).  I managed to snap a shot of Ray’s analysis of the visual rhetoric of cookbook covers.  He’s gesturing toward The French Laundry Cookbook in its chef’s whites, and discussing subtle ways in which the culinary elite represents itself in design, comparing it to representations of “ethnic” cooking as in the Indian cookbook in front of him.  Looking forward to reading more of his work on ethnography in the American restaurant.

And speaking of which, I was doing my own ethnography in the American restaurant when I wasn’t attending panels.   Yes, more Chinese food, more dumplings, more Sichuan.  If you’d like to take a look at a photo set of my trip to Chinatown or another of the food-related artwork I saw at the Brooklyn Museum, the albums are available to all on my Facebook page.

Hm, maybe dumplings could be my platform.  Mmmm, doughy, soup-filled platform.

culinaria eugenius in new york: day 3 of the cookbook conference

The conference has been illuminating, and I’m fascinated by the range of attendees — I’ve chatted with various curators and librarians and editors and authors, a 18th century meal re-enactor, urban restaurant researchers, a Southern tomato cookbook writer, a specialist in Abraham Lincoln’s cooking world,  a medieval historian, several recipe indexers, white paper writers, and a collector of old copper cookware.  Some panels are being live-broadcasted here. I hope they’re planning to archive these panels, as I’ve chosen mine based on an assumption I’ll be able to watch more later.

ETA:  Check out more details and a link to my photos of Chinatown and the Brooklyn Museum on this post.

Not interested in the conference? Come walk around outside with me and look in store windows.

American values.

Love for sale.

Old love, new love, every love but true love.

And a pastrami eggroll.  More on this soon.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: preserving traditions

Part V of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part IV on paparazzi in the night market here, Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

As a certified Master Food Preserver, I was quite interested in master food preserving in Taiwan.  I already posted about our trip to the Agrioz Candied Fruit Factory.  But all manner of foods were preserved.  I was most surprised to see the varied traditional uses of preserved meat, including indigenous salted pork products.  Sausages are often made with unusual ingredients like fermented black bean soy sauce, tuna, glutinous rice, and rice wine.

At traditional and wonderful Nanmen Market, the Jinhua ham, smoked over sugarcane, hung at several market stalls behind sausages hanging overhead.  Below ground, there was an entire area for pickled vegetables, about the size and shape of a cheese cooler-counter in a good deli.

It almost pains me now to look at the gorgeous, fresh whole heads of cabbage and greens pickled in various stages of funk. It would take me a year to eat through the varieties at this single stall alone.

We mustn’t forget (to kill that gnawing appetite of mine) the tubs of duck and pork blood cubes the size of tofu loaves next to the pickled vegetables.  I won’t post the picture, as a courtesy to my more delicate readers.

But even odder preserved meats were offered at newer places, including canned roast beef in a supermarket and finely shredded “floss” beef jerky-coated bread loaves at a fancy bakery in Taipei 101.

To each his own tastes, no?

We visited, as I’ve explained before, a splendid teppanyaki restaurant Shen Yen Teppanyaki restaurant in the township of Loudong in Yi-lan Province.  You can see that the restaurant looks rather humble from afar, crouching under the green roof on a river that floods the rice paddies and plains around it.

But as we approached the front door, we were greeted by the jars of fermenting apples in juice, which apparently are turning into vinegar.  I captured a few more shots of the fermentation process for apples and, I believe, dates.  Perhaps these liquids were used to make the drinking vinegar we sipped at the start of the meal, or even the wonderful homemade liqueur at the end.


Also just outside the restaurant, crocks of thick, rich soy sauce made with little fish burbled away.  The chef allowed us to try several kinds of his own soy, without question the best soy sauce I’ve ever tasted.  I tried to find premium soy sauce to take home, without success.  Next time.

In Loudong, we also visited a farmers’ cooperative.  The city slickers in our group were less patient with the tour, but I love these kinds of places, as they provide small producers a way to provide their goods en masse and house the beating heart of an agrarian community.  Could have done without the requisite introductory DVD presentation, but I still regret not buying the green onion paste, a specialty of the region, offered at the cooperative.

Oddly, we didn’t taste green onions or almost any fresh produce, with the exception of a pomelo that I spied in the office area stacked along with the wall with dozens of its brothers. Instead, we made our own tofu and drank a range of bottled soy milk products.

We also visited a small production facility that was making 1,000-year or lime eggs, a preserved duck egg that ferments in its shell in a tub of solution for over a month.  When it emerges, two studious workers tap each shell for quality control and the eggs are sorted by size (below).

What emerges when open is a multi-hued, beautiful, and strange creature, a jellied egg in a range of greens and reds.  The interior holds a slightly sticky black yolk.  The crystalline formation on one end of the egg indicates it is of the best quality.  The 1,000-year eggs are eaten with the morning congee rice porridge.

Other delicious preserved products included the fresh passionfruit jam we ate at breakfast each morning and the variety of Japanese and Chinese breakfast pickles that attended rice and congee.

Ah, yes, and we drank fermented beverages.  The Taiwanese aren’t big alcohol drinkers, but they’ve managed to make quite decent beer and whisky.  Aged in Kentucky oak barrels but named after an indigenous tribe and bottled in small glass versions of Taipei 101, delicious Kavalan whisky, redolent of tropical fruit and vanilla, was sipped.  The stuff is sadly unavailable in the U.S., another purchase I regret not making.

I can buy, luckily, oolong tea, which is grown in the mountains south of Taipei.  We visited a demonstration tea garden ringed by camellias and kumquats, and tasted the famous Iron Goddess of Mercy (tie-guan-in) oolong grown in the region (below).

I only wish we had had more time to explore Taiwanese tea culture.  We didn’t have a chance to visit any traditional tea houses or try tea cuisine.  Luckily, we’ve got J-Tea in Eugene (and a new, expanded website with online ordering, ooh!).  I consulted with Josh, the owner, who lived and studied tea in Taiwan for many years, about the trip.  I’m glad I can stop by the shop for a little bit of Taiwanese culture when the urge hits.

And last but not least, we ate (or some of us ate) the Taiwanese national snack, stinky tofu.

Fetishized in the media as the enemy of foreigners, stinky tofu has the texture of a well-wrung sponge and the flavor of a slightly mildewy sponge.  Does that make it bad?  Well, no. I actually liked the fried stinky tofu surrounding the soup.  It was served with a quick-pickled cabbage and salty umami sauce.  The soup, strongly scented with stinky tofu from the big pieces swimming in it, however, was not my favorite.  I heard from a friend that there are more deeply stinky, creamier versions that mimic good, strong cheese.  I wish we could have tried that!

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: paparazzi

Part IV of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

We got off the bus at the Ningxia Night Market and I saw the cameras.  Oh, someone famous must be here, thought I, as we headed toward them, we’ll be able to get a closer look.

And a closer look we got, indeed.

Yes, so close that we were surrounded in this little market in an old area of Taipei.  We were  followed down the narrow alley through the most remarkable, clean little food stalls I had ever seen.  The camera spotlights were kind of handy for taking my own shots, but I got in trouble for trying to stop and ask questions, or, even worse, wandering off to explore a particular stall.  This is why food writers do not make good TV stars.

For some reason, the Taiwanese specialty called stinky tofu, a slightly fermented tofu cake either fried or served in large pieces in a soup at the market, was just about the only thing the very young, very green reporters were interested in.

Yum — and here I am eating stinky tofu and showing the world I use my left hand as a scoop for food that falls out of my mouth when I’m stuffing my face.  In fact, this might be the least flattering photo of me ever:

Or is this?

The reason for the paparazzi?  No, not me.  Our trip was made possible by the Taiwanese Government Information Office, at the request of rather dashing Minister Philip Yang, above.  Yang holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UVA, and he has devoted his career to public relations and raising awareness of the deep well of Taiwanese culture.  Not too shabby!  He invited us to Taiwan to promote the government’s new international website for Taiwanese foodCheck it out in a Chinese video of the press conference.

And here we are, eating bottarga, or mullet roe, with host and food critic Mr. Wu and Minister Yang (photo courtesy of the latter’s Facebook page).

In a realm where such sites are usually horrible, the Taiwanese food site really quite good and nothing else matches it for breadth or depth in English.  I wasn’t joking when I said it was a real service to the world at the press conference.

But the problem with being the guest of a public relations mastermind is that the man sure does like media.

Wondering what I’m taking a picture of at the night market?  Well, as dashing as Minister Yang was, I couldn’t help but be more interested in a GIANT FRIED BALL OF EVERYTHING.

Yes, that giant fried ball of everything.  In the earlier photo, Minister Yang was pointing out all the ingredients in the ball, which seems to be made of vegetable fried rice, six oysters/shrimp depending on your choice, a raw egg, and god knows what else, all wrapped up in dough and deep fried. (Photos of me courtesy of what appears to be a news photo outlet on the Internet.)

I was a bit more vivacious and less thunderstruck at the next stall, a Taiwanese spring roll vendor whose stall has been at the market since 1951.  The sweet old lady making the spring rolls was positively unflappable.

I had to squeeze between the lady and the cameras, as such:

Time to make the spring rolls!  Photo of me (and a great one, thanks!) is courtesy of Saúl Cepeda, my TV star partner in crime.

A  bit more like a burrito than a spring roll as we know them, but still tasty.

For much of the week, we were documented during meals.  Saúl and I started messing around with the cameras to break the tediousness of being constantly filmed. In fact, some of my favorite shots are with the paparazzi.

Here I am being carefully considered by a young man who took his art seriously, if invasively, outside the highly recommended Shin Yeh seafood restaurant.  I was entranced by the tanks of dozens of different fish and shellfish.  He was entranced by me.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

The experience, I have to admit, really does make one understand why famous people turn into divas and smash cameras and such. Here are a few of my favorite shots of others.  Saúl poses for Culinaria Eugenius as the poster boy of steamed shrimp, Jean Louis comments on everything he has eaten, and Egami-san makes tofu for Taiwanese media at a farmers’ co-operative in Yi-lan province.

And I even managed a half-smile out of John at Din Tai Fung in Taipei 101.  I like to think my success was due to my charmingly constant shutter-clicking during lunch, which made him feel quite at home.

Jean-Louis, who took the bullet on the photo opp behind John, will appear somewhere holding Din Tai Fung dumplings.  Sadly, it will not be at my doorstep.  I can’t even look at my photos of the truffle-pork xiao long bao dumplings without wanting to hijack a plane to Taipei.

See?  Ack.  Drool. Now that’s much more interesting than a picture of me taking a picture or eating stinky tofu.  Worth every click and bright light and interview.

OK.  What next?  I have so much more to say about Taiwan.  A preservation post is in the works.  And somewhere out there in the ethernet is an amusing interview of me, Saúl, and Minister Yang talking about food while we voluptuously (“more please, Jennifer, show how delicious it is!”) eat some amazing prawns.  But I think after that I’m going to hold off until the future allows me to say more.  After all, I do have other matters to discuss that are closer to home.  Until then, dear readers!  May you eat well and look pretty on camera as you eat.