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TOPICS: Best of 'City Search'; Chinese-Korean food; Snails; Population explosions

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Fall Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(3) page(s): 31 and 32

GRAND SICHUAN is the 2003 winner for Chinese Food in the Best of Citysearch. On their counter sits a lovely blue circle and silver award near the cash register. One of several in the Grand Sichuan restaurant group, this one certainly has its Chinese devotees. One day this week, a Monday which is not an auspicious restaurant day, my ninety-five year old uncle and I were the only non-Chinese dining at GRAND SICHUAN INTERNATIONAL–CHELSEA; corner of 24th Street and Ninth Avenue in New York City, at lunchtime. He had his usual pepper steak which he devoured telling me he was hardly hungry. Wonder what he would eat if he were. I thought myself less hungry but nonetheless finished every morsel of my all green vegetable dish, made piquant as requested. We had lots of rice, always in generous servings here, and had only one complaint, would that the tea were of better quality. Must advise, Uncle Jack and I ate all our lunch after we had after a favorite of ours, their pork and crabmeat dumplings; two portions of them.

Nearby was a table of three gentlemen who were downing their seven, yes you read correctly, seven dinner-size dishes. And when we thought they were through, a whole fish arrived, and nothing but bones was left five minutes later. At a table of nine, mostly men, I wanted to insert myself as the tenth man; they had ordered five appetizers and ten main courses.

When non-Chinese are in attendance for lunch, they almost always order from the lunch menu. Never have I see a Chinese person do that. They know that great food is on the dinner menu. At GRAND SICHUAN EASTERN at 1049 Second Avenue near 56th street, we have always wanted to try all the dishes called 'New Sichuan.' In the next issue of this magazine, Harley Spiller and I are going to begin that challenge. Stay tuned!

CHINESE-KOREAN FOOD, less than a year old, has joined the many Korean restaurants in what is called 'Manhattan’s Little Korea.' Some dozen Korean restuarnats were, this year, joined by a Chinese-Korean eatery called KUM RYONG; 30 West 32nd Street; New York NY; phone: (212) 629-6450. Do go to that block, take a took at all their menus, one can not food shop there, but now one can enjoy some fine Korean-Chinese food.

Before going in to this no-low carb eatery, watch the Korean-style noodle pulling chef and take a look at a lovely lady making uniform dumplings, no machine in sight. She makes small ones for boiling. Do order them, a portion comes with twenty succulent super ones. She also makes them bigger for frying, four times the size. We devoured an order of each, seven wonderful biggies with a Russian-dressing-type sauce on shredded cabbage. We asked for soy sauce and sprinkled some ground hot peppers on them, too. Do so gingerly, or take a fast trip through the roof, if you are too generous. The four complimentary dishes of kimchi were mild in comparison.

Kum Ryong makes noodles more than a dozen ways, many with soup. Those without, more often than not, are in the same black sauce you find chock-full of onions, a few small diced pieces of zucchini, and whatever else your order was named. Our Noodles with Seafood Brown Sauce had shrimp plus all the same things as we found in the Noodles with Special Brown Sauce. The brown sauce is almost black, thick, and truly something special.

At other tables they ordered Noodles with Special Brown Sauce in Large Dish. That humongous portion at twice the price had three or more times the amount of food. Had we known, we would have opted for it, as the regulars did. They knew this real tasty Korean food was at a truly special All-American price.

The Chinese food served also comes in gargantuan portions. They ran the gamut of items found in typical northern Chinese restaurants, a few were more southern, and all looked less like the hot food that we expected would be served. There were dishes with shark's fin, sea cucumber, and abalone; all weighted down by their usual hefty prices. And there were sweets such as Candied Sweet Potatoes; they were at more reasonable costs. A few tables tried one, two, or more Chinese dishes to accompany their noodle dishes. Before you try any, do peer in the window and watch the noodle maker push oily water into the dough. That effort seems harder than the few pulls and twists they exercise in noodle making.

This Chinese-Korean restaurant adds to the ever growing number of mixed ethnic Chinese places. We have found this marriage of foods and the Chinese Indian ones. Next we hope to locate the Chinese-Norwegian eatery, and no doubt many others. Keep us posted, if you know it is and the others may be. We can all enjoy these wonderful culinary marriages not in our minds, but on our plates.

SNAILS, land or sea, are from the phylum Mollusca and are Gastropods. Most common in Chinese restaurants are the varieties known as Helix apspera, H. lucorum, even H. pomatia. The Chinese call them woniu and some refer to them as luo. You may have seen lots of small black ones on dim sum wagons, or had Snails in Black Bean Sauce in any number of Cantonese restaurants. Should you go early in the day, you may have heard grinding noises. Not those of the snails, but of equipment used by the staff to grind off the pointed ends of snails. That is so, with a toothpick, people can get them out of their shells and into our mouths.

Long before the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), Chinese kings and commoners consumed snails. The king or emperor had a fish keeper. This is discussed in the Zhou Li or Rites of Zhou. He was aided by eight assistants and sixteen other workers who together kept these mollusks ready for their royal tables. Commoners used ducks to rid their rice fields of these pests and their children to help them carry baskets into the paddies and grab bigger snails for their own tables.

Early use of snails meant finding them fermented. Snails were one of seven fermented animal foods used to flavor grains and vegetable dishes. The others were meat (presumably pig), oysters, frogs, fish, rabbits, and geese. Some were fermented as is, others made into boneless pastes no longer popular, except for those made from fish. Snails were also used, up until the Eighteenth Century, mixed with wine residues. Doing so they were for long keeping as well as for flavoring of foods more immediately.

Another item of China's snail-eating past are the door to door and street vendors. They sold fried snails as morsels to pop into the mouth, ala popcorn use today. Ban Po Village near Xian has huge garbage heaps of snail shells. Some postulated they were from items sold by those vendors or leftovers from homes who braised them by the bushel-full.

People purchased fried snails in large numbers from these street vendors, and they ate them by the bushelful. They also ate lots of them in Pheasant Snail Soup, and in a variety of vegetable dishes, no doubt because of their easy availability, good taste, and because they were a preferred texture. Another reason could have been because poets spoke of them offering good wishes to all who consumed many of them.

What types/kinds of snails are rarely discussed, but it is assumed most were fresh water varieties. There were mentions of sea snails being popular during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1280 CE); not much mention thereafter. Throughout Chinese history, rare is the time there were not enough snails for those who relished them, so the assumption has to be they were available, just not written about.

Testing snail recipes has been difficult because finding fresh ones has not been easy. There seems to be no problem in locating small black ones; not so for the larger sea snails. Hopefully, by the next issue we will have some recipes to share. In the meantime, meander into the nearest Cantonese restaurant; they seem to have no trouble in finding a source of both kinds of snails, and enjoy themn there!

POPULATION EXPLOSIONS seem to be a world-wide phenomena. In the year two thousand, there were two hundred eighty-five million people in the United States. That number is expected to almost double and be more that four million in the year 2050. Chinese and all other immigrants in the USA will be four per thousand inhabitants by then. Asian immigrants are the fastest growing, increasing to ten percent, overall. Now the Chinese are nearing five percent of this total and their increase of forty percent will mean the Chinese population will top seven percent or perhaps be even bigger. A recent issue of the AARP Magazine spoke about mixed ethnic populations, as have other sources. The 2000 census indicated more than five million children age five and under of mixed racial heritage. As Chinese and other populations expand and intermarry, what will Chinese food will look like in the year 2050 and beyond? Any ideas?

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