In the spirit of end-of-the-year reviews, I've hopped on the bandwagon and created my own. This past year, travel and moving sucked up most of my expenses, so dining out took a backseat compared with previous years. However, I've had many wonderful meals at home and at the houses of friends and relatives. I've become well acquainted with grocery stores in Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Denver, LA, and San Francisco, where the simplest provisions can make hearty and delicious picnic fare. And nothing cheers up the appetite and the wallet simultaneously better than street food, of which I had plenty this year.
So below is my little year-end ode to joyous eating. Happy New Year!
Best Meal in China
Din Tai Fung, Beijing: The chefs here have certainly mastered xiaolongbao's soup-to-filling ratio. We had basket upon basket of steaming hot pork xiaolongbao, crab and pork xiaolongbao, mini pork xiaolongbao, veggie dumplings, and sides like their signature chicken soup. A must-visit if you're ever in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan, or any other city where there's a location. (See Food Resolutions for 2008 below)
Best Meal, Outside China
(Tie) A, New York, NY: Jacob and I went to this tiny BYOB French-Caribbean restaurant on the Upper West Side the week before we left New York. We had sumptuous spicy prawns, meltingly delicious duck confit, and a very memorable chocolate crème brulée, in the very type of low-key neighborhood restaurant that embodes the spirit of New York.
"Cowboy supper", King City, California: Ever since I had known Jacob he has longingly reminisced about the barbecued tri tips in the Salinas Valley, where he grew up. All over the Valley, public parks have huge 6- to 10- foot long pits over which locals (mostly ranchers and Mexicans) grill beef and chicken. I finally got a chance to taste these tri-tips on a visit to King City this summer. The meat was all fresh from nearby ranches, and the slow cooking process rendered the juiciest, most buttery steak I had ever tasted. Along with crisp and fragrant garlic bread, salad from nearby farms, and a bunch of local wines, I would take another "cowboy supper" over a fancy steakhouse dinner any day.
Best Street Food Discovery in China:
Roujiamo, Beijing: After I had my first, I wrote a post in which I raved on and on about these delicious pork pockets available all around Beijing, Shanghai, and other northernish Chinese cities. Even in the dead of Beijing's winter, when eating street food means standing outside in subzero temps and braving the Mongolian winds, I still chow down on roujiamo at least once or twice a week.
Best Street Food Discoveries, Outside China
Reindeer Kebabs, Stockholm, Sweden: A delicious mound of reindeer meat (texture and taste of lamb) inside a warm pita, topped with yogurt and lingonberry sauce. (Before you chuckle, remember that venison is also deer, without the Rudolph connotation.)
California taco truck tacos, Los Angeles, CA: I know, it's a shame that I hadn't had a taco truck taco from California until this year. The seasoning and juiciness of the beef and carnitas tacos I had made me never want to eat a taco anywhere else, including restaurants and Jackson Heights taco trucks.
Food Resolutions for 2008:
1. Eat my heart out in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu
2. Try the Taiwan or Shanghai branches of Din Tai Fung. Bonus points for going to Shanghai during hairy crab season
3. Have soup dumplings at Shanghai's JiaJia Tangbao, purportedly almost as good as Din Tai Fung, at 1/8th the price
4. Visit Longjing tea fields near Hangzhou