One of the fabulous things about London is that it has has a lot of ethnic foods available that aren’t easy available in the US (on the negative side of things, there are also ethnic foods that still haven’t really arrived there: most Latin American food isn’t really available aside from Mexican, which is still somewhat a developing scene). One of these is Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is a really good example of how China isn’t a monotlithic country; as one of the northwest provinces, much of the population is historically more Turkic than Chinese, much of the population is Muslim Uyghurs, and the resulting culinary tradition is a blend of Turkic and Chinese traditions. Lamb soup and kebabs are standard fare, and there’s even a variation of naan. And, in the London district of Camberwell, there’s actually a well-regarded source for Uyghur cuisine: Silk Road.
With the assistance of the most-wonderful Contours Walking Tours, our hike from Painswick to Bath took us through some of the more charming towns of rural Gloucestershire, with us staying nights in Kings Stanley, Wotton-Under-Edge, and Tormarton before getting into Bath proper. So after a fairly long day of hiking, around dinner time we pulled into Kings Stanley. A former mill town, Kings Stanley is one of those little towns that, in the modern age of the automobile, is close enough to Stroud that it’s a bit hard for the town to maintain its own businesses. Indeed, there are basically two business establishments in Kings Stanley. The first is the Kings Head Pub. Unfortunately, The Kings Head is one of those spots that introduced us to something we had heard about a lot in the media, the declining state of the Pub as an English institution. Our hiking guide, based upon the fairly famous UK Ordnance Survey Maps, identified all sorts of pubs along our hike, but the truth of the matter is that most of these pubs are no longer in business, and many that are still around aren’t exactly in their heyday. The Kings Head is one of these… it used to be a pretty popular establishment. It’s now open only a few nights of the week, and, despite what various guidebooks had told us, was no longer serving dinner. But the reluctant publican would go back into the kitchen and round up some plates and utensils if requested so that you could eat take-away with your pint. So that left us in a bit of a conundrum. The owner of the B&B offered very kindly to arrange transport back to Stroud to check out the Fleece Inn, but after 14.5 miles of hiking, we decided to check out the other offering of Kings Stanley, Ben’s Take-away.
Like Montreal’s Dragon Beard Candy Stand another place we’ve walked by many times is this little sign in Chinatown that says (well, the English portion at least) simply “Soup Dumplings”. The restaurant itself is called Qing Hua. We’ve been meaning to go there (or their original location over in Ville-Marie) for years, but kept getting stymied by one little factor: They aren’t open on weekends, which is when the majority of our visits happen. But when we were in town for the Death March, several of us were getting hungry, and decided to have a mid-afternoon snack of dumplings. And thus, we were finally able to visit Qing Hua.
During our food tour of Chinatown, we had about half an hour to explore Chinatown, including the Maunakea Market and the surrounding area. We decided to check out a place we had passed earlier: Char Hung Sut. Char Hung Sut is another one of those old school places in Chinatown, and they’ve been producing manapua and other dim sum for a rather long time. Indeed, I’m not even sure how long, since aside from finding mention of it in a 1960 Hawaii tourism guide, I can’t find any reference to how long they’ve been around. But in any case, they make most short lists I’ve found online for where to go to get good manapua.
After Liliha Bakery, our hosts with Hawaii Food Tours took us to central Chinatown for a nice sampling of the various food establishments there. Probably the high point of the visit was them taking us to a fairly subtle store front on the Kekaulike Market: the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, for a look at making fresh rice noodles. Walking inside, it’s less like walking into a store than, well, a factory, and you pretty much walk right into the noodle production line. They are making fresh funn, the wide sheets of glutinous rice flour noodles that are one of my favorite noodles from Chinese cooking. When fresh, these are always wonderfully toothsome, stretchy, and tender all at the same time, and they do a great job soaking up sauces. Here at the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, you can see them being made.
Like most of my trips to Montreal, the general story ends up being one of modest excess: quite a few visits to multiple brewpubs, and often filling up on various Asian and Quebecois dinners that are flavorful, but not always the healthiest (such as the ever-present poutine). So on our third day in Montreal, we decided to tone down our dining a bit, and go check out a place near the hotel in the Latine Quarter: Yuan Vegetarien.
For me, one of the great enjoyments I have with Asian cooking is when I can find a place with hand-pulled noodles. Unfortunately, these aren’t terribly common, especially in the hinterlands of Northern New England (indeed, I’m not sure we have any places that do this, although I’d be delighted to be proven wrong). A good bowl of hand-pulled noodles, especially in a rich, flavorful soup, is a wonderful combination of tastes and textures. Luckily, Montreal has more than a few noodle shops, and one of the newer ones in Chinatown, Nu-do, is another branch of the already well-regarded Nu-do of Eaton Center, and the related Yuki Ramen in Faubourg Ste-Catherine (is there anything decent but Yuki still left in the Faubourg, now that Faubourg Bagels has departed?). So when we were looking for an interesting dinner, we grabbed Rick, Sarah, and Nancy, and walked down to Chinatown. Nu-do is the exact sort of place. It’s been around a while, but they still haven’t invested in permanent signage; the restaurant is labeled with a simple reinforced nylon banner labeling the place as “Restaurant Nudo”, with the “Nudo” obscured by the unsecured corner of the banner. But don’t let the dubious signage discourage you: after heading down a short staircase, you find yourself in a fairly spacious dining room, with a glass wall looking into the noodle cooking station, with the noodle-puller hard at work pulling ribbons of noodle for each order as they come in.
For a modestly-sized city in one of the nation’s smallest statea, Burlington, Vermont has a surprisingly good selection of restaurants, enough that we always have a bit of trouble figuring out which place to go. One of the perennial contenders for a dinner in Burlington is a smallish place on Bank Street a bit away from the hustle of the Church Street Marketplace: A Single Pebble. A Single Pebble is one of those places that inhabits a semi-funky space, in what used to be a strip of houses in a block now surrounded by the Burlington Center Mall, Church Street, and a parking garage. If you didn’t know the place was here, you might never stumble upon it, but it’s a reasonably sized restaurant that occupies what used to be two houses and the yard between then (since built over), and most of the seating areas still vaguely resemble their old purpose (indeed, this visit’s seating was in what was obviously the original dining room of one of the houses).
Last year my coworker introduced me to Sofra in Cambridge, and we’ve been back to that part of Cambridge several times, and also started exploring the rest of that neighborhood (West Cambridge/Belmont). Looking around, there are actually some pretty neat places around there, such as Eastern Lamejun Bakers (which came highly recommended by an Armenian friend of mine), a few good wine stores, and some rather nice vintage stores. We also found ourselves walking by Shangri-La Chinese Cuisine, and became intrigued due to the large number of Chinese people waiting around outside for a table. So we put on our list to check out, and after this weekend’s hiking trip in Boston, it seemed like a good place to grab dinner.
Our US-based route from New Hampshire to Detroit also had us passing through Cleveland at lunchtime. While we were coming back to Cleveland for three days later in the trip, I figured this would be a good opportunity to check out someplace towards the East side of town, perhaps towards China Town. In fact, we had both been craving dim sum for a while, and Cleveland has more than a few dim sum joints, so I figured I’d give one a try. However, from past experience, I know that they vary greatly in quantity, price, and authenticity, so I decided to check out my friend Nancy’s blog, Fun Playing With Food, and see if she had any recommendations. And upon reading her recent review of Emperor’s Palace, it sounded like it was worth checking out.