I spent this past week in Washington, DC visiting my sister, and as usual, we cooked and ate a lot of great food. Here’s part one of this adventure.
Of course, I had to fuel myself with hearty carbs for the trip, so I stopped by a local bagel shop and got a perfect Long Island bagel. This is one of the foods that I get really snobby about because the first time I ate a “bagel” off of Long Island, I was appalled by the audacity to dub that rubbery piece of flavorless bread a bagel when I knew in my heart that true bagels, with their softer and chewier texture, were so much better. Every region has at least one of these foods that natives can get snobby about, and the bagel happens to be one that I take very seriously.
My favorite is the classic egg bagel with vegetable cream cheese. Outside of Long Island, the “regular” bagel is the plain bagel, but where I grew up, the egg bagel is probably the most popular “regular” bagel. It’s more golden in color than a plain bagel, and it has more flavor. The egg everything bagel is also a nice improvement on the regular plain everything bagel. The next time you’re in New York City or on Long Island, try a bagel, and be your own judge of its superiority.
My sister and I decided to go for a Sunday hike out in West Virginia, so we threw together some sandwiches with whatever ingredients we found in the fridge. These were the perfect mid-hike meal to rejuvenate ourselves, but be warned that large quantities of mashed avocado get messy! It nearly soaked through the wax paper in which we wrapped the sandwiches (but it was so worth it). Incorporating a spread like mashed avocado contributes variety in texture, and packing in spices and flavors like the sliced chilies makes a huge difference when making a power sandwich.
Another snack we brought with us were tea eggs, which are hard-boiled eggs cooked in a savory tea mixture. Tastier than plain hard-boiled eggs, these are great for snacking whether you’re at home or trekking through the woods.
After the long hike, we had to replenish with some Taiwanese food. We stopped by a place called Taipei Cafe in Rockville, MD.
Overall the food was all right, although the sauces for the meat, especially the pork with bamboo and pig ears, were a little on the sweet side. They reminded me of Americanized Chinese food, which makes its sauces super sweet compared to real Chinese/Taiwanese food. Moreover, the pork was too starchy and gooey-soft, another sign of Americanized Chinese cooking. The bubble tea, which should be served as an ice cold drink, was room temperature with some ice cubes thrown in. It was a hot day, so it would’ve been a lot better if the actual liquid were cooler. The water spinach didn’t have much flavor beyond the salt and garlic cloves it was cooked with, but it was less oily than vegetable dishes at other Chinese restaurants, which I appreciated. Had it not been for my craving for bubble tea, I would’ve chosen to go to Bob’s Shanghai 66, another Chinese restaurant in Rockville, and a good place to check out for its soup dumplings.
Your eyes do not deceive you; we ate pig ears and intestines. The pig ears are a common appetizer at authentic Chinese/Taiwanese restaurants, but intestines are a little more hardcore. The texture of pig ears is somewhat gelatinous, but much denser and harder, and they have the cartilage running through the slices for that nice stiff crunch.
There’s no perfect English translation for the intestine dish, but it’s generally known as “wu geng chang wang” (五更腸旺), and it has pork intestines, pig’s blood (in solidified form), some vegetables, and sometimes it also sports some silky tofu and straw mushrooms. If you’re feeling adventurous, want to try out some new textures, and aren’t afraid of spicy dishes, this is one to check out and later tell your grandkids about. Just make sure you’re armed with plenty of rice!
Speaking of rice, I brought some zongzi from Yee Mei Fong Bakery in Flushing, Queens in celebration of duan wu jie, or the Dragon Boat Festival. Just like all other Chinese holidays, this holiday follows the lunar calendar, which means it changes dates every year by our calendar. This year, it was on June 20th, the first day of my trip. The legend behind eating zongzi involves either a poet or an advisor who committed suicide in a river. In order to stop the fish from eating his body, the local villagers threw heavy zongzi balls to sink down and feed the fish. Despite this somewhat depressing backstory, the Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday of celebration, with exciting boat races and delicious zongzi.
Zongzi is made out of sticky/glutinous rice, which makes them very dense (and very easy to eat with chopsticks for those who struggle with the idea of picking up rice with chopsticks). My mother always warned me to chew them very thoroughly due to some unknown consequence (which I may actually have just forgotten). I’m not sure if this is based on some fact that has now been debunked but I always figured that my parents grew up eating zongzi, so better safe than sorry! The kind I always get have pork, mushrooms, and peanuts in them, but there are many variations, from salty to sweet. They’re wrapped in bamboo leaves, so when cooked, they are infused with a delicious aromatic flavor.
On the third night of my visit, we made empanadas and tacos for dinner. We seasoned the ground beef with chili powder, cumin, paprika, and garlic salt; mixed it with diced onions, jalapeño peppers, and minced garlic; sauteed this inner mix; and wrapped it in puff pastry. A quick egg wash and baking at 375° F until golden brown (about 20-25 minutes for our cumbersome empanadas) finished the product.
The puff pastry created a flaky and buttery shell for the spicy ground beef. I would consider this to be an experimental success taste-wise but something of a fail aesthetically.
For the taco toppings, we made a quick pico de gallo with diced tomatoes, lime juice, jalapeño peppers, and red onions; lopped some tzatziki sauce on because we had no sour cream; and covered it all with shredded cheese.
With such a good start to the week, we’ll definitely continue to spice things up for the rest of our meals. Stay tuned for Part Two!