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TOPICS INCLUDE: Eating eel; Tibetan tea; Bird's nest

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(2) page(s): 6

Do you know if any recent cookbooks with a recipe for eel? Some months ago I had some in a Shanghai restaurant and fell in love with them. Are there any restaurants that feature this dish?
Dear HELEN: My husband loves eel and whenever he goes to the bustling metropolis that is Shanghai, he gets his fill. However, be forewarned, eels made famous in that city are fresh-water eels. They are not the salt-water eels so common in the United States. Your question, tickles me because just yesterday I read of a new book called The Food and Cooking of China written by Francine Halvorsen. I have not seen it yet, but can advise that it is published by John Wiley and Sons. The advertisement mentioned three recipes, Shanghai Eel and Garlic, Shredded Chicken and Snake Soup, and Abalone with Oyster Sauce. I have contacted the publisher and if a copy arrives before press time of the next issue, I promise to both review the book and try those recipes.
As to restaurants, I am not familiar with any in New Jersey; can a reader advise? Both Manhattan and Flushing have restaurants called: Joe's Shanghai. The eels I have eaten there are good, but the three times I had them, the dishes came with the salt-water variety.

Can you settle an argument? Does the Tibetan tea you spoke about have both sugar and salt in it? And please tell me how to prepare it.
HARRY: You forgot to tell me on which side of the bet you win or lose. Now, on to the answer: Though I have seen sugar in a bowl and on the table when Tibetan families I visited served tea, they never used it and never did I taste it in their tea. Betty Jung, in The Kopan Cookbook (Chronicle, 1989), provides a recipe to make Tibetan Butter Tea. For four cups, she uses three cups of water, one tablespoon of black tea leaves, one-quarter cup of butter, one cup of milk, and one and a half teaspoons of salt. Her preparation technique includes boiling the water, adding the leaves and then removing the mixture from the heat. She lets it steep for five minutes. Concurrently, she melts the butter in preheated milk then adds it and the salt to the tea. I was surprised to read that she then puts all in the blender and makes it frothy.

Can you help me locate the item on birds nests written up in: The New York Times? However, I do not know on what day. What I heard was that the article mentioned the bird that makes them. Do you know about that article?
MARJORIE: You are in luck! One of the Flavor and Fortune editorial advisors, Susan Asanovic, sent me the item in question; only it was not an article, rather a query and a response that appeared in the paper on November 14, 1995. The bird that makes these small nests is a swiftlet common in Southeast Asia; its Latin name is Collacali fuciphaga. The nests, made almost entirely of hardened saliva, have lots of tiny twigs, stones, feathers, and other debris attached to them. They must be picked clean before they are ready for the pot. The task of doing so is difficult, and the nests overharvested, thus their expensive price tag.

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