Categories
Chinese Index Sauces Vegan Video

17:00

[one_half][W]hen I first heard mention of “National Men Make Dinner Day,” I thought it was some kind of joke. What’s next? “National Women Change Light Bulb Day?” I’ve since made two key realizations:

  1. It takes place in Canada (which is perhaps all I needed to know).
  2. According to the website, I am apparently exempt from this activity:

Are you a man who makes dinner on a regular or semi-regular basis?
If the answer is ‘YES”, do not go any further!
National Men Make Dinner Day is NOT for you!

Still, the premise of a “National Men Make Dinner Day” fascinates, though I’d like clarification on a few things. For example, is the phenomenon distinct from Valentine’s Day? How does it work for gay and lesbian households? If I lived in Canada, would Matt Berninger be making me dinner? Presumably, these questions are addressed in the FAQ …

While it seems mildly condescending and more than a little sad to imply that Canadian men are so far gone that they might consider cooking one day out of 365, I do laud the intent, which is to encourage people (perhaps as many as 15 million of them) to cook their own food. I exist in a peer group where people, male or female, generally don’t cook. And I’ll admit that I myself occasionally indulge in a bit of non-cooking by way of South Asian-inspired paste that I’ve squeezed from a foil envelope. But it never hurts to remember that, in less than 17 minutes (the duration of one televised intermission in ice hockey) I can make a meal with fresh ingredients that tastes good, makes me feel good, and costs less than $2 per person.

I’ve previously posted about my love for David Chang’s ginger scallion noodles. This recipe, in addition to meeting above criteria, is one that makes you feel like a rockstar. Why bring it up again? Because I’m guessing that someone who needs coaxing to enter the kitchen may not have read my 1500+ words about ginger scallion sauce, riveting as they may be.

So let’s lower the barrier, shall we? Canadian National Man: In the time it takes for you to drink a beer, I can promise that you’ll learn how to pick and peel ginger, how to use a knife, and how to make a killer sauce that will get you dinner on the table before 17:00 have expired. You can thank me during the second intermission.

Music: One Never Says ‘Verbal’ When One Means ‘Oral’ by Good Old Neon is licensed under a Sampling Plus License.

Update: Thank you, Chef John, for featuring us on Food Wishes! [/one_half]

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Categories
Chinese Index Offal Poultry

Embracing the strange

[one_half][A]round the holidays, our lab conducts an annual outing for dim sum.  It’s an event I always look forward to, and one of the rare cases when we can reliably tear everyone away from the bench for a few hours. There are about 20 of us, however, so we usually can’t fit at one table. Upon arrival, the group chaotically organizes into two subgroups based on a number of criteria: Who wants to sit next to the boss? Who doesn’t want to be anywhere near the boss? Who can’t be separated from their BFF?, etc. Weeks before our first outing, my rotation advisor attempted to generate table assignments based the more rational criterion of what people wanted to order and eat. Dim sum is served family style, and best enjoyed with a like-minded group of eaters. I have to give Brian credit for devising a one-question diagnostic that fairly and accurately assesses the likelihood that a diner will be on board with the ordering habits of her responding cohort: Do you eat chicken feet?

For those who have not yet had the pleasure of indulging in dim sum, let me explain the ordering procedure.

(Customs vary, but most large dim sum houses in the city run this way.) A waiter comes by and takes, typically, a single order from the table. A representative from the table fills out the paper form, which is then checked off or stamped as the staff delivers each dish. It is very important to get that order right, since a busy restaurant can’t efficiently fulfill follow-up orders on the fly. In the meantime, servers are bringing around carts of dishes that the table may add to the order. You normally don’t want those for two reasons: First, you’ve presumably optimized your paper order. Second, the restaurant knows that turnover from the carts is unpredictable. Therefore, they only send out dishes that can tolerate sitting around a while, i.e. none of the prime dishes or perennial favorites like har gau (shrimp dumpings) or the sublime tang bao (soup-filled dumplings).

So the recipe for success at dim sum is:

  1. Have at least one person at the table (preferably one who speaks Cantonese) who knows how to order.
  2. Populate the table with people who eat what you eat, and know not to accept most orders from the cart.

I’ve had my fair share of bad dim sum experiences. On a number of occasions, I’ve been at a table so perplexed by the myriad dishes on the menu that we ultimately found ourselves with a motley collection of redundant, filling, mediocre items. So I knew very well the importance of above strategy to the overall dim sum experience. This time, I was determined to get seated at the correct table. That would be the chicken feet table.

I had never had chicken feet in my life. They are not comely. In fact, they look a bit like goblin hands. But this was one of the best dim sum restaurants in the Bay Area, and I didn’t want my non-chicken-feet-eating ways to stand in the way of the best possible dim sum experience the restaurant had to offer. So I said, Yeah, I eat chicken feet.

The verdict? Immediately one of my all-time favorites, and one that I’ve wanted to reproduce at home for some time. Savory, with a mild kiss of heat, chicken feet prepared in this way have a profound richness derived from a high content of slow-cooked cartilage and tendon—elements that contribute the vast majority of texture, flavor and body to a stock or consommé. The closest comparison I can make is to the middle joint of a chicken wing. Tender, gelatinous, with lots of skin. But in the case of chicken feet, not as much of the meat itself.

If you’re the type of person who gets a little skeeved out by the middle joint of a chicken wing, perhaps the feet are not where you want to start. On the other hand, if you have never had chicken feet and are open to trying them, I suggest you get yourself to a chicken feetery post haste. Or, make them yourself. The recipe is straightforward and satisfying. Note: this is the first Chinese dish I have ever cooked, and it is a bang-on version of the dim sum classic.

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Phoenix talons (chicken feet in black bean sauce)
very slightly adapted from My Several Worlds

1 lb chicken feet
1-2 qts neutral cooking oil
2 qts water
1 oz fresh ginger
2 pieces star anise
2 oz cilantro root*
2 ounces maltose sugar*

the marinade
2 T oyster sauce
1 T sugar
2 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine or cooking sake
1 jalapeno, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp white pepper*
1 T fermented black bean sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil

*Cilantro can be found on the root in Thai markets. More easily, stems may be substituted.
*Maltose sugar comes in either syrup or powder form, and can be found in some Asian markets. Eden foods makes a barley malt syrup, which is 76% maltose. Alternatively, 1/4 C of white sugar may be substituted.
*White pepper is traditional in Chinese cuisine. However, many find its aroma to be objectionable. Black pepper may be substituted here with little consequence.

Wash chicken feet thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Cut off nails with kitchen shears and discard. Coat feet with sugar and deep-fry at 350F until golden brown (5 – 7 mins).

Boil water and add ginger, star anise and cilantro root. Add chicken feet and simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours until tender. Drain.

Combine ingredients for the marinade and gently toss with chicken feet. When the mixture has cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Before serving, steam feet and marinade in a small bowl for 15 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallions or toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Serve hot, with a side of white rice.

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And now, some blatant pandering to my beloved Foodbuzz editors (see right) …

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Chicken feet: They’re not just for dim sum anymore…

“Top 9” me?

What did you think I would make—a cupcake?

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Categories
Beer Can Chicken Chinese Fusion Index Korean Poultry Vietnamese

Beer can chicken, 6 ways

[one_half][M]y goodness, has it really been that long since July 4?  That would have been the date of our 3rd quasi-annual Battle Beer Can Chicken Competition, held at the frozen tundra (otherwise known as “The Inner Sunset”) where Chez Babychili can be found. And for the record, pictured above is the second-best chicken I tasted this year (sorry, @riceandwheat! 🙂 ).

Battle Beer Can Chicken (BBC) was, in many ways, the inevitable outcome of gathering a bunch of socially awkward, Type A science geeks at a backyard BBQ. As the organizer, I quickly realized the following things about my labmates:

  1. We tend to take after our socially awkward, hyper-competitive, lead geek (otherwise known as our “thesis advisor”) .
  2. We have an unusually high percentage of people who could be described (for better or for worse) as “foodies.”
  3. We likely had no other plans for July 4. (Lab, anyone?)

I had always been interested in attempting a beer can chicken, so I began campaigning early for a collective, one-day work stoppage to hold this food contest. Due to above realizations, this was not a tough sell. It just made so much sense. I mean, we all love food, right? Why not try to channel that love toward an activity of mutual annihilation? The rules were fairly simple: Bring, dress, and carve your own chicken. It must be cooked on the grill with a beer can in its cavity. Popular vote decides the winner. To up the stakes, I assembled a mantle-worthy traveling trophy out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, a rubber chicken, metallic gold spray paint, and glue. The prize was dubbed “The Golden Gob,” in honor of Will Arnett’s character on the greatest show ever to be cancelled by Fox.

The inaugural BBC was a smashing success, with 8 competitors representing 3 countries. One particularly enthusiastic German (whom I will only refer to as “Mr. F”) entered not one, but two birds for consideration. My wife, just to make us look bad, made a Zuni chicken in the oven. The recipes also spanned the globe, including a Tandoori-style chicken and a black tea dry rub. I personally entered a take on pollo a la brasa, inspired by the signature dish of New York City’s Flor de Mayo. The only mildly awkward thing about the whole affair was that I, uh … won my own contest and trophy. I felt a bit like Stephen Colbert accepting applause on behalf of his interview guests. But I graciously accepted the award with an appropriate degree of humility.

A couple years passed between the first and second installments of BBC. In 2007, Esme was born. And in 2008—well, dealing with a 1-year-old’s nap schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But by 2009, I had run out of excuses. The Golden Gob was to go up for grabs once again. And alas, it fell to foreign hands, as the diabolical Dr. H became the first Austrian national to take home the vaunted prize with a chicken he describes as simply, “The Bruno.”

Confused, disappointed, and frankly a little embarrassed, I immediately began plotting my revenge. The anticipation reached a fever pitch with this year’s BBC III, as official entries rolled in from defending champ Dr. H and foodblogging juggernaut Rice and Wheat, who had previously ghost-written recipes for her husband (“Wheat?”) that were good enough for 3rd and 2nd place in the first two competitions. Game on.

Both Dr. H and r+w employed what we refer to as the “giant chicken” strategy, which is simply: Use the largest bird you can find. According to this school of thought,  larger birds will be juicier when done. Also, if grill space is shared with a less attentive competitor, a smaller bird may dry out if not removed early. Indeed, r+w’s entry (described by one onlooker as “Gigantor”) weighed in at a whopping 6.5 lbs, requiring a beer can reminiscent of a pony keg to hold it up. And this time, the two heavyweights went on the grill together.

The remaining entries were all in the neighborhood of 4 – 4.5 lbs. Asian flavors dominated this year, with 4 out of the 6 entries sporting flavors from our planet’s largest continent.

Equipment I cannot say enough good things about the Classic Old Smokey Barbecue Grill (#18), which we used to cook all 6 chickens. What makes this particular make and model ideal for this competition is its 10.5″ of clearance above the grill, which accommodates vertical placement of virtually any chicken we are likely to use. Because the lid is cylindrical (rather than domed), you get this amount of clearance regardless of the lateral position on the grill.

I mocked my friend Reid for bringing a wire beer can chicken holder. Normally, a chicken should be able to stand up with its legs and can in classic, tripod formation. However, I quickly ate my words when I realized that my marination strategy had left my chicken too floppy to be free-standing. Reid was kind enough to let me use the holder, which I now grudgingly recommend.

Grilling instructions None of us is an expert at barbecue, so we worked together to share grill master duties. Though a proper beer can chicken calls for indirect heat, we knew we had to get 6 birds out by lunch, so we put 3 each on 2 grills, which covers much of the usable surface. That’s worked well for us in the past. The target temperature for the grill was 350F. At this temperature, a 4.5 lb bird takes about an hour and a half to cook (with the larger ones taking about 2 hours). You can go as low as 250F, but it takes longer. Fresh coals were added at the one hour mark. Doneness was determined by each individual, but the consensus temperature was about 170 – 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

* * * * *

THE RECIPES

As you might imagine, I can provide the most detailed information about my own entry, which was called “I wish I were short ribs.” It is essentially my sister’s homemade kalbi marinade, which I once used on my weekly oven roast chicken because I had a lot of the marinade around.

“I wish I were short ribs,” a kalbi-style beer can chicken

A 4 – 4.5 lb, high-quality chicken
1/2 onion
1/4 C Chinese or Korean rice wine
2 T brown sugar
1/4 C usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 T dark sesame oil
dash of fish sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
togarashi (Japanese red chili flakes) to taste
1/4 whole, ripe kiwi
kosher salt
1 lemon
1 can beer (it matters not what kind)

Let me know if I’m crazy, but I dry brined and then followed with the marination. Could I have simply added salt to my marinade? Possibly. But I wasn’t sure how much to add, and I knew that my way would work. So I patted the chicken down with paper towels and rubbed about 1.5 T of salt inside and out. I let it sit in the fridge, loosely covered, for 2 days.

To make the marinade, puree onion and mix with rice wine. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar with soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Stir into onion-wine mixture. Add fresh crushed garlic and togarashi to your liking. Mix well.

Then take 1/4 of a whole, ripe kiwi. Mash with a fork, and stir vigorously with 1/2 cup of the marinade. Using your hands, massage this kiwi-marinade mixture all over the chicken, being sure to put plenty underneath the skin. Put the well-rubbed chicken into a giant zippered plastic bag, and pour the rest of the marinade on top. Refrigerate 24 hours, turning once.

The kiwi will make the chicken extremely floppy and tender, so it does help to have a wire beer can chicken holder. Drink about 3/4 of the beer. Using a “church key” style can opener, punch a number of additional holes on the top of the can and liberally add marinade and juice from 1/2 of a lemon. Use the other half of the lemon (trimmed if necessary) to fashion a plug at the neck hole to trap steam.

Grill @ 350F over indirect heat for about 1.5 hours, or until the temperature reads 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

Some notes from the rest of the field:

“Bruno 2.0: Bigger, juicier, tastier …” [pictured above]

Ok, here it comes:
dry rubbed the night before (not brined) with the following spices:
sweet paprika
some salt
some celery salt
garlic powder
onion powder
white pepper
ginger powder
black pepper
caraway
cayenne pepper

full recipe ( in German :-)) with a not so tasty picture here

“Chicken 888”

We wet brined / marinated for ~5 hours the day before in water, sugar,
salt, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, and chinese five spice.
We then air dried it overnight on a rack in the fridge. In addition to
beer our can was packed ~1/3 full of garlic.

“Imitation Seoul” [pictured at the top of this post]

i’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats…

dry-brined for 36 hours with salt and korean chili powder
morning of BBC, brushed chicken with gochujang
made bbq sauce consisting of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochujang, rice vingear
towards the end of grilling, basted chicken with some bbq sauce to get some caramelization on the skin

we also adopted the strategy  (a la dr. h) of finding the largest chicken we could – our dream was realized at trader joe’s with a 6.5 lb chicken.

“Pho-king Good Chicken”

My chicken was just a super simple marinade with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil. Inspired by grilled chicken you get at Vietnamese restaurants (ga nuong). I think the recipe I followed was from Andrea Nguyen. Other than that, I didn’t really do much to the chicken.. and I didn’t cheat by getting a giant bird 🙂

“DNF” [Disqualified in advance for pre-cooking in an electric smoker.]

Are you speaking of my famous “Unjustifiably Disqualified Chicken”?

Brined overnight in liquid
Dry rubbed with a blend of every spice I could find (emphasis on Adobo, and some dried peppers I collected in Oaxaca in 1999)
Smoked 1 hour at low heat (200ish)
Beer can BBQ’ed 1 hour
Finished with a secret bitterness sauce!

* * * * *

THE OUTCOME

Since this is a popular vote, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is virtually zero chance of my winning this again next year. But what can I say? Revenge is a dish best served with a beer can up its butt. I think everyone agreed that all of the chickens were absolutely delicious. Not a dud in the bunch. The voting reflected that, as r+w and I required a tiebreaker (most #1 votes) to determine a winner by the smallest of margins. The auspicious “Chicken 888” rounded out the medalists.
I’m already looking forward to BBC IV, and hope to see everyone here again next year!

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Oh, and we also ate vegetables.[/one_half]
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chicken dance
sweet, sweet victory

vegetables on stovetop grill
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Categories
Chinese Index Noodles Sauces Vegan

Ginger scallion noodles

[one_half][O]ccasionally, a shockingly simple combination of ingredients will transcend the sum of its parts. Marcella Hazan’s Chicken with two lemons is a notable example. David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce is another. Both now make regular appearances in my weekly diet.

If you follow this blog, or say, talk to me for about five minutes, you’re likely to get the impression that (1) I am a hardcore carnivore, and (2) I have recently become more than a little obsessed with David Chang. (But you know, not in like a threatening way … More like, You are my culinary soulmate. Let’s hang out together; maybe check out some antiques! Text me?) It’s true. I am a big fan of the meats (and David). So honestly, when I first read this recipe excerpted on Amazon.com, I was a bit dubious that a vegan dish could elicit such a passionate response from a devout porkatarian like Chang. I just didn’t get it. It’s basically a bunch of raw onions and ginger. How good could it be? I’m not even a huge ginger guy. But there wasn’t much to lose, so I gave it a shot.

As my sister described in her über-popular guest post, it ain’t easy to impress my mother in the kitchen. The one dish I remember making for her that she liked was a rice salad that I saw on Lidia’s Italian Table. She liked it so much, she told me how she planned to make it herself:

I’m not going to use cheese. I’m going to make my own way. Some chamgireum, a little bit of gochujang, some gim …
So you’re basically going to make bibim bap.
Yeah.

Mom was visiting from LA, and I was pretty certain she’d never had this before, so I made her the ginger scallion sauce. She was, as always, deeply suspicious of my measuring the ingredients. She’s constantly giving me a hard time about this.

Why did you measure that?
I just wanted to make sure I was close. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the ratio should be close.
[disapproving silence]

She was actually most excited about trying the fresh ramen noodles, which she had never had before. We ate lots of the instant stuff growing up. Sapporo Ichiban, Original Flavor, soup base diluted two-fold. I joke with my Asian friends all the time about this. How much soup base does your mom use? To a man: half. My mom actually felt the need to remind me of this fact. You know, you should only add half of the powder. Yes, Mom. I remember. And I don’t eat instant ramen.

Bottom line: Not only were the noodles a hit, my mom ate the noodles, continued to spoon more of the sauce onto her rice, and started listing things that she would use that sauce on. Bibim bap. Brown rice noodles (good call). Mook (another excellent call). Dad’s really going to like it. Jason might not like it, because he doesn’t like ginger. She ate the rest of the sauce the next day while I was at work, and asked me to buy more green onions on the way home. And then went out and bought green onions herself. She made the sauce herself that night, and—I am not shitting you—measured  the ingredients. I could not believe what I was seeing. Mom, are you actually MEASURING that??? She short of shushed and waved me off. I didn’t push it, and instead took it as the greatest possible compliment. She was so intent on reproducing the recipe that she sucked it up and used measuring spoons. I’m 38 and I’ve never seen that happen. Mom also emailed me several times after she went home to ask me where I thought she might be able to find usukuchi and exactly what kind of sherry vinegar to buy.

So what is it about this dish that makes it so magical? It’s the transformation that occurs when you combine ingredients that, if taken alone, would be unpalatable to most people. The intensity of the onions and ginger is cut by the oil. The oiliness is mitigated by the acid. The sauce does not taste overwhelmingly of onions or ginger, but instead adopts an emergent third flavor that is robust and clean. It gives you the sensation (which I rarely get from vegan food) that you’re eating something substantial. And it’s fucking delicious.

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Ginger scallion sauce
from Momofuku
(dresses roughly 6 – 8 four oz servings of noodles)

2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 C finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 C grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 tsp usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix.

That’s the whole recipe. The additional tips Chang offers are: correct the seasoning (if necessary) and allow the mixture to sit for 15 – 20 minutes. That’s it. Of course, being who I am, I couldn’t possibly let you off the hook without offering a few tips of my own.

Ingredients Since scallions and ginger play such a prominent role in this recipe, it stands to reason that you want those particular ingredients to be as fresh as possible. It’s usually pretty easy to find fresh scallions. My go-to neighborhood grocery does not generally have good fresh ginger. How can you tell? It should be firm, fragrant, and have smooth skin. Break off the size you want from a larger piece. If it is dry and fibrous on the inside, dump it! And make a mental note to scold your grocer. It is worth being anal about this. I get mine from a Chinese market, because I know that it’s high turnover.

Re: usukuchi. This is a type of soy sauce that is lighter, sweeter and saltier. Kikkoman and Yamasa are common brands. If you can’t find it, you could substitute 1 tsp of regular (not low sodium) soy sauce. You may need to add a bit more salt to taste.

Prep My only comments here are about the ginger. Since the skin is very thin, you can remove the peel easily and quickly by scraping it with a spoon. A vegetable peeler also works. Can you use a microplane here, instead of mincing? You could. I like knife work, so if a recipe calls for mincing, I generally do it with a chef knife. The reason I don’t use a grater or a microplane to mince is that I find that doing so releases a lot more juice. You also end up with very fine strings instead of small pieces, so the texture is different.

Yield I usually don’t discuss yield, because people tend to have their own ideas about what constitutes a “serving.” But in this case, the book claims that the recipe makes about 3 cups. Not the case. The sliced scallions take up space because they’re little rings. When you add liquids, they occupy a lot of the empty space, and on top of that, the scallions eventually wilt. So you get about 1.5 cups, which isn’t too bad. Correspondingly, I add about half of what’s recommended of the sauce to noodles, and that works out about right.

Use The sauce can be deployed as a general, magical condiment. As presented above, it works great with noodles. What kind of noodles? In Chang’s world, ramen is king. But he acknowledges that fresh ramen is not always so easy to come by. When I don’t feel like hoofing it all the way to J-town, I have been known to use fresh chow mein noodles (known in NY as lo mein), which can be found at virtually any Chinese supermarket, and even some American ones. I’ve also had good luck with what Chinese markets call “vegetarian” noodles, which are eggless and contain alkaline salts (sodium and potassium carbonate). Thus, they are basically the same as ramen noodles. And as my mom brilliantly notes, this sauce would be fantastic on brown rice noodles. I don’t recommend using soba noodles. Why? Because craft, hand-cut soba noodles are quite delicate and I think would be overpowered by this sauce. I find the dried soba noodles you can get at the supermarket to be more or less inedible.

Putting the dish together If using fresh noodles, cook about 4 oz of noodles per person in boiling water that has been adequately salted. I cannot stress this enough. It’s striking how much flavor these noodles have if properly seasoned. If not, they taste like nothing. I like my noodles hot, so rather than shocking them, I cook until almost done. With fresh noodles, you need to start checking at about 2 minutes. When they are softened, but still quite toothy, remove from heat and drain. Add about 3 T of the sauce, and mix. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions, togarashi, and any number of other condiments: meat, pickles, a fried egg, pan-roasted cauliflower, etc. Serve immediately.

What’s up with the picture? If you check out the accompanying picture in the book, you’ll see Chang stuffing his face with some ramen noodles that have brown stuff on them. That’s not the ginger scallion sauce (which is presumably what’s in the tiny bowl in the center). My guess is that it’s hoisin sauce, or some liquid from the sliced pork belly nearby, which likely contains hoisin. [/one_half]

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sliced scallions and minced ginger

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