February 6, 2011
Some Good Stuff From December: Fried Squid and Scones
I have a few big posts planned for this rarely updated blog. But this is not one of those posts. I'm aiming to get those other ones done sometime between now and death. As you can see, I don't set the bar too high for myself.
Remember December? That period of 31 days that happened two months ago? I ate some good stuff during that period, but you wouldn't be able to tell from reading this blog since I didn't write about any of it. Aside from the crappy rage-inducing sandwich. December deserves better representation than that.
So here are the two best things I ate that month. ...Yup, just two. It was a light eating month due to being 50 percent occupied by vacations: one in Orlando, and one at my mom's place in New Jersey. The latter vacation is not really blogworthy (I'll sum it up for you: I slept a lot), but the former is. And you shall read about it sometime before I die. Unless you die first.
Alright then—two foods!
- SQUID. MOUNTAIN OF.
Although Congee's main draw is...congee, it's their salt baked shredded squid with cashews ($9.95) that would draw me back. A mountainous pile of lightly battered, crispy, tender squid chunks seasoned with salt and pepper and more salt, mixed with strips of bell pepper and onion, cashews, and, methinks, fried garlic. My main thought while eating it was something like, "I WANT TO EAT THIS FOREVER. CAN I PLEASE EAT THIS FOREVER?" And then the crushing realization set in that eating fried squid* forever was sort of unreasonable. And impossible. But dragging myself back to Chinatown the next day to refuel my fried squid-depleted body? Totally within the realm of reason and possibility.
Unfortunately, I never did make it back to Congee. :( And thus the cephalopod craving rages on. I must do something about this soon.
* Can someone tell me why this dish is called "salt baked squid" even though it's fried? I've Googled it, but I'm sure one of you can explain it better than whatever random pages I've looked though.
As for Congee's congee, I liked it...but that opinion means little from someone as unlearned in the ways of congee as I am. The few times I tried it during my childhood, I didn't understand why anyone would prefer to eat a bowl of watery rice over regular un-watery-rice. And there was the problem: The congee I was exposed to as a kid resembled warm water with rice bits in it—nothing like the blended versions I've had in Chinatown since living in New York City. It was bland suspended in bland. You unblandified it by eating it with the accompanying toppings—pork floss, pickles, peanuts, scallions, meat stuffs that I can't remember—but in the end I felt like those toppings would do better on a bowl of regular rice. Or by themselves. The worst blended congee in New York City would probably taste infinitely better than whatever I reluctantly poked my spoon into as a kid.
It's possible that the congee of my hazy childhood memories was atypically awful. My mom never make it, so at least I know it's not her fault.
The other awesome thing I ate in December: freshly baked scones at Cha-An. I fell in love as soon as the warm scent of sugar and butter from the baked-to-order scones wafted in my face, about half a second after the waitress put the plate on the table. The Earl Grey and chocolate chip scones tasted as good as they smelled: light, tender and moist on the inside, slightly crunchy on the outside, perfumed with that sugar and butter that first caught my...nose. They came with sweet whipped cream and some sort of very good blueberry jam, neither of which was necessary to make the scones taste better, but they certainly didn't hurt. Like the fried squid from Congee, I'd file these scones on my list of "STUFF I WANT TO EAT FOREVER." (Many thanks to Laryssa for recommending the scones to me last November!)
98 Bowery, New York, NY 10013 (map)
230 E 9th St, New York 10003 (b/n Bowery and 2nd Ave; map)
Posted by roboppy at 2:15 AM
Funny - bland upon bland - that's how I always felt about it! The calamari and scones...I'm right there with you!
I'm first-time poster, long-time lurker on your blog (so many delicious things...why do they have to be halfway around the world from meee?). Congee is one of my favourite foods, so I wanted to chime in about your question. There's a lot of different styles of congee out there. The thick, MSG-laden (er, or maybe brothy-goodness-laden) kind you are having in NYC is probably Cantonese-style congee, although they also have the plain watery kind. I used to also think it was kind of boring, but when it's made with good rice and paired with the right sides, it can be pretty satisfying!
Anyway, since I'm Vietnamese, not Cantonese, I'll let someone else verify what I just said. I will just leave this awesomeness here in closing: http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/2007/12/duck-rice-porri.html.
Perhaps the 'baked' is meant for the squid being 'cooked' in a satuation of salt?
I wish to have a sweet tooth to taste Cha-an's decadent goodness, but I favor savory over sweet dishes for lunch and dinner.
Happy Lunar New Year! Did you have any traditional eats? Got my share of nian gao. :)
I think the congee you ate as a kid was the Teochew style (I also grew up with it) whereas the stuff that Congee sells is Cantonese in style. I don't mind the Teochew style once in a while now!
Amy: Thanks for the info (and for delurking)! That Vietnamese dish looks gooood. Congee has yet to hold a special place in my food-loving heart, but I'd like to try more versions of it.
Kim: Next time I go to Cha-An I'll get the scone to go with my lunch. :) The scones above were eaten after my friend and I had already had lunch; we just wanted a snack.
Happy new year to you too! I didn't eat much traditional stuff, but I did celebrate at a friend's house with lots of food!
Su-Lin: Thanks for the info! I didn't know about that style before.
I LOVE BLAND RICE WATER WITH PORK FLOSS.
My mom did make it... so it was 100% her fault.
Okay, that's it. Your blog has inspired me to start a google document of NYC-area restaurants I want to visit the next time I finally make it back there (restaurants as seen on your blog). I've been trying to be selective (previous to this I only listed 2 restaurants), but both of these restaurants made the cut! (And I guess you can tell what one of the other ones was by where I accidentally posted this comment originally!)
dang, that squid was gooood, and certainly fried, not baked.
haha I jsut went to Congee too. Didn't get the congee though.. I think their version is just like everyone else's in Chinatown. Nothing special. That squid looks awesome though... shoulda gotten that!
That looks spectacular and has just been added to my list of places to eat at.
I was just on the Bowery and missed this fabulous place. Oh well! Next time (did see the George Condo exhibit at the New Museum, however, which is a mindblower).
My mother also made bland rice water (well, thick bland rice water). I always preferred it with sugar added. I don't think I'd care for it as much now, though, especially since I've had the Cantonese-style kind.
Nick: I LOVE PORK FLOSS without the bland rice water.
Carrie: Ah yeah, I did see your other comment. :) Glad I can help you with your NYC restaurant list!
Veronica: WE NEED TO GET MOOAR.
Danny: I think we only got the squid dish because it was mentioned in a NYT article posted in the window. Omg want more.
Bonnie: Hope you like it..next time!
Jitterro: I don't think I can go back to the blando. But I would like to try it with added sugar...mmmm sugar.
Wow, that plate of squid looks like what I would like for supper at least 4x per week (drools). I LURVE squid. I have never prepared it but some friends who were chefs used to have us over and use their washing machine to tenderize the salt & pepper squid-it was incredible!
Yay! I am coming out of the "Congee Closet" also then. I too always don't get why I wouldn't just have a regular bowl of rice which is just awesome. No hate to the congee lovers, I just really dig plain rice the most!
Sorry I spelt your name wrong. Ooops ;)
i think i want those scones, now! yowzers... oh how i love thee. worth a 2 mile run! ha.
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