Found in Translation

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

JL (who knows all about such things) had alerted us to this food event taking place at NYU’s Cantor Film Center tonight: Found In Translation: An Exploration Of How Asian Cuisines Become Part Of The American Culinary Landscape. The evening was billed as an examination of three Asian cuisines (Chinese, Indian, Filipino) and how they each have been “translated” into mainstream American culture. The sell-out event was co-sponsored by the university’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and the James Beard Foundation, with support from the Food & Wine program at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the Black Culinarian Alliance and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.

After a brief introduction by author and A/P/A Institute founding director John Kuo Wei Tchen, each of the three panelists gave a 15-20 minute presentation on her respective cuisine of expertise, ordered more or less from the most assimilated (Chinese) to the least (Filipino). Grace Young, author of The Breath of a Wok and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, gave a brief history of Chinese food in America, a subject no doubt of considerable interest to fellow HCHS alum Jennifer 8. Lee, who sat tapping away on her keyboard behind us, and whose book on a related subject is due out in March, 2008.

Next up: Maya Kaimal [Macmillan], author of Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India. Kaimal focused her presentation on how the majority of Indian restaurant offerings do not reflect Indian home cooking, and how despite a trend towards increasing sophistication, most menus continue to be rather limited in their regional representations. My impressions of Kaimal’s talk were marred somewhat by the blatant shilling of her eponymous line of jarred chutneys, pastes, glazes and sauces — available at Williams-Sonoma stores near you!

Rounding out the group: Amy Besa, owner of Cendrillon, a Filipino restaurant on Mercer Street, and co-author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens. Throughout the evening it was suggested that the cuisine of the 7100-island archipelago is poised to become the next Asian food to be “discovered.” Most of this self-selecting crowd, though, seemed already quite familiar with the unique joys of Sinigang, Adobo and Kare-Kare. (I was definitely among the novices, having only just made it out to Ihawan for the first time a few weeks ago.)

A/P/A panel

Afterwards, there was a brief panel discussion and a Q&A, moderated by food writer and personality Kathy Gunst. We slipped out after one particularly insufferable question from the audience. You know the type: a “question” that doesn’t seek actual information, but is rather a prelude to some overlong commentary whose sole purpose is to show off how very much the “asker” knows. Ugh. We exchanged a few eye rolls amongst ourselves, and telepathically communicated our mutual willingness to skip the post-event nibbles in favor of some heartier fare.

Moon House

After such a build-up, where else would we go but Chinatown? JL had suggested dinner at Moon House on Bayard, a restaurant I’d yet to hit despite near weekly visits to the neighborhood. Once again, we were happy to hand over the ordering reins to his capable hands. Despite the notable lack of green on the table — prompting an amused comment from our waitress — JL did a stellar job hooking us up with a rich representation of Shanghai specialties.

Fried Tiny Buns (Sheng Jian Bao) — similar to the soup-filled Pork Steamed Buns (Xiao Long Bao), a tray of which we also ordered, but with a doughy, pan-fried outer skin:

Moon House bao

… a wonderfully flavorful Salty Pork with Bamboo Shoot soup, somewhat misleadingly listed on the menu as a “casserole.” (Those are tofu skin knots breaking the surface.):

Moon House soup

… a Lion’s Head — so named for the plated appearance of these oversized pork meatballs ringed with a “mane” of braised bok choy:

Moon House lion’s head

… and a plate of Fresh Bacon with Preserved Vegetable — meltingly tender (read: fatty) and sweet:

Moon House pork belly

Is it any wonder that despite a tempting post-meal visit to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory next door — accept no substitutes! – I could not eat another bite?

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There are 4 Comments ... Found in Translation

December 7, 2007


December 7, 2007

holy crap, I think that is a little strand of pork fat coming out of the top of those buns. grub.

December 10, 2007

But where’s the graph?

December 13, 2007

Go for it ...