I have been helping out with the Asian Feastival this past month after being recruited for my ties to the area. Among other things, I’ve realized the importance of the Ambassador Program, as our Indian ambassador, Joseph Aranha, has been instrumental in convincing the best south Asian restaurants in Jackson Heights and Flushing to participate. There is definitely something to this whole food thing which connects our cultures.
In the run-up to Asian Feastival, I will be doing a series of interviews with presenters. The event is not only about being a gorgefest, there will be programs throughout the day to learn about Asian cooking and food.
Now, other festivals are filled with sponsor restaurants and other business-oriented bullshit flavors, but as I see it, this one is very much different . Here, they actually have recruited some of the best Asian restaurants in the Queens (click for a current list). The organizers are highly connected with the Asian cooking community in New York City, but more importantly are taking this as a show of their integrity and pride for Queens and the Asian continent.
Here’s Kian Lam Kho of the Chinese home cooking website Red Cook. He will be a presenter along with Cathy Erway for the Asian Farmer’s Market where they will hold “a tutorial to help demystify the Asian produce aisle.”
JO: Where do you live and why do you live there?
Kian Lam Kho: I live in Harlem with my partner Warren. Harlem is now one of most exciting neighborhoods to live in. It has become very diverse, and with many tree-lined and historical residences it is an attractive and affordable place to live. Additionally there is also a new and exciting food scene in Harlem with many food and wine shops, and restaurants opening up.
JO: What are some gateway grocery items for an American family to Asian cuisine? What is a good element to experiment with to introduce someone to Chinese cooking?
KLK: I have a list of basic ingredients on Red Cook (http://www.redcook.net/2008/02/04/starter-kit/) that can help an American home cook start cooking Chinese. There are four must have items including light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce. With these ingredients and a few supplements from your own pantry you should be able to cook many Chinese dishes.
Stir-frying is the best way to start cooking Chinese. However it is important to understand the various stir-frying techniques. Take a look at my stir-fry cooking technique series (http://www.redcook.net/series/stir-fry-techniques/) on Red Cook. The series of posts discuss stir-fry techniques such as dry wok, moist, high heat and plain stir-fries. There is also a discussion on how to select ingredients.
JO: What are some of your favorite restaurants to eat in NYC?
KLK: In Manhattan Chinatown I enjoy Golden Unicorn and Ping’s for dim sum; NY Noodle Town for quick reliable Cantonese meal; Dumpling Shop on Mosco Street to snack on pan fried dumplings; Buddha Bodai for vegetarian.
In Flushing I like Spicy and Tasty for Sichuan; Imperial Palace on 37th Avenue for good Cantonese; Main Street Imperial for Taiwanese; Nan Xiang for Shanghainese Soup Dumplings.
JO: What are some of the hardest to find ingredients in NYC to find, and where can I find them?
KLK: One can get just about any Chinese ingredient in the markets in Flushing and Manhattan’s Chinatowns. I often discover items from outlying parts of China that I never knew existed. If you’re looking for ingredients I’d start at the Hong Kong Supermarket on Main Street in Flushing or on Broadway in Elmhurst and then look in the stalls that line the street.
But what puzzles me, and is a pet peeve of mine, is that bamboo shoots and baby corn are ubiquitous in cans but simply not available fresh. In China there are numerous varieties of fresh bamboo shoots. In New York Chinatown the only one I can find is the winter variety or dongsun, and that’s only available a few months each year. Baby corm is just not available.
Many exotic fruits, such as jackfruit, mangosteen and wax apple for example, have begun to appear. However, because they are harvested in Asia unripe to maintain freshness during transit, they do not taste as good as tree ripened fruits in Asia.
JO: My mother finds cooking challenging. What’s a starter Asian cooking dish that she can prepare?
KLK: Start with a moist stir-fry dish such as Moo Goo Gai Pan (http://www.redcook.net/2010/05/26/moo-goo-gai-pan/). Moist stir-fry is very forgiving if one should make a mistake in cutting ingredients or overcooking. But be sure to always include chicken and mushroom as the ingredients because the name means sliced chicken with mushrooms.
JO: Are there any chefs in NYC whose cooking mystifies you?
KLK: I am always in awe of delicate dumpling making. Chef Joe Ng of Chinatown Brasserie is someone I always admire for producing intricately shaped dumplings of various kinds. His dumplings are shaped into little birds, rabbits, tiny pumpkins and many other shapes.
JO: What will be your role at the Asian Feastival? What do you hope to accomplish?
KLK: I will be conducting talks on identifying Chinese produce and how to use them. Many Americans are mystified by the strange looking vegetables available in many Chinese markets. I will be available during the day to help people decide which vegetables to try and how to cook them.
JO: What programs or foods are you looking forward to at the Asian Feastival?
KLK: I enjoy learning techniques so I will be looking forward to seeing demonstration of pulling noodles and making kimchi. These are cooking techniques I’m not familiar with but have always wanted to learn more.
Thank you, Kian, for your informative answers. I still don’t think my mother will be able to prepare these dishes, but you never know. Good luck at the event!
Here’s some of Chinatown Brasserie’s dumplings courtesy of me HUNGRY.