Apr 11, 2007

Food of the Emperors

I dined this weekend like an emperor, or just about. If it hadn't been for my allergy to fish, oysters and clams and some other kinds of seafood, and my sensitivity to tree nuts, I would have truly dined like an emperor. And if I had been able to speak fluent Cantonese, that would have clinched it.

As it was, I had a fine Sunday dinner with my relatives, enjoying steamed chicken in a ginger, garlic, and green onion sauce; a chicken and mango fusion dish; beef slices with broccoli; squid and shrimp (which I can eat) over dry noodles, deep fried seasoned pork slices, and corn soup with shrimp.

Being allergic, I had to bypass the fresh black cod steamed in garlic and ginger that the rest of my non-allergic family enjoyed. That was not too much to bear given the other dishes on the menu, however.

For lunch every day, I had the same type of little dishes that were originally made for emperors. Today of course, the masses can enjoy the varied culinary delights we now know as dim sum. And I wasn't even in China, but in Markham, Ontario, part of the sprawling cosmopolitan city of Toronto, Canada. (Lest you think Toronto must be all Chinese, because of the food, let me assure you there is a Greektown, a Little Italy, and numerous other ethnic enclaves there).

At dinner on another day, while my mother had a rice congee soup made with barbecue pork and oysters, I tried a chicken rice soup which was a little bitter because of the fruit, longan. The fragrant and sweet flesh of the longan surrounds a tree nut and has the same properties of the nut. In other words, I can't eat it. It also seemed to turn bitter when cooked.

Another type of congee at a different restaurant had me pulling up short too, in a culinary sense. The chicken congee had two unusual ingredients added, one a white spongy fungus that I could eat, the other a long yellow noodle-like food that the waitress said came from the bottom of the ocean. As neither our waitress nor any of the restaurant staff could tell us in English what the food was, whether it was animal, plant, or fish, I put down my spoon once again.

A final dim sum lunch the day before we left Toronto had me once again facing the seafood problem, of whether to eat or simply just taste the food.

We were sharing a large table with a young man and some elderly Chinese who were companionably eating and chatting away in Cantonese. When the dim sum cart passed by with delicious looking black shitake mushrooms on a bed of greens, I was tempted to take a dish until I spotted what looked like nice fat grubs mixed in with the mushrooms.

As I contemplated whether they were meat or fish, the younger gentleman at the table informed me that they were sea cucumbers and, as I hesitated to order them, he added, "Very good for lowering cholesterol." I was chicken however, and only watched as the elders at the table enjoyed the delicacy while I ate the everyday cholesterol-packed pork sui mai and my favorite, tripe in garlic.

I confess I would have tried the healthier sea cucumbers, which only looked like oversized peanut shells after all, but they came from the ocean, so....

While I didn't eat everything there was to eat, I did taste most of it. And that is good enough for me, for now anyway.


  1. That sounds like some interesting dining! I think I would have held back from some of the items on the menu, but not because of allergies..

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