When Pork Repeats Itself

A Cautionary Tale
I know I promised you a post about weaving and book arts, but this was something I just couldn’t over look. Just had to write this post relating back to my previous post about ba pao or pork buns.

Pork Buns Ready for Steaming

Seems that another WordPress blogger liked the post so much that she took it upon herself to copy certain elements from my writing, including the title, key phrases and even part of my recipe, most notably my signature filling of Memphis style barbeque pulled pork. And she had the nerve to call it her own.

Now the description of my pork bun with Memphis style barbeque pulled pork  is not a traditional filling for Chinese ba pao often served at dim sum. Generally the pork is cut into chunks and cooked in a hoisin sauce or a sweet Chinese soybean paste. The coloring is usually dark brown or red. This is the steamed bun that I have made with a Memphis style barbeque pulled pork filling:

MemphisWeaver's Steamed Pork Bun

Steamed pork bun with Memphis style BBQ pulled pork filling

On the outside, my pork bun or ba pao may look traditional, but the filling is anything but, as I have incorporated my own smoky pulled pork with my signature barbeque sauce into the filling.

So here’s where I get on the soapbox about plagiarism. As a handweaver, I frown upon anyone copying my designs and products thread by thread with the result being an exact replica of my original art. But also as an artist who blogs, I encourage and challenge weavers to try the designs and techniques I write about and even expand upon them. We all have our own sense of style, our own color and fiber preferences, our own way of handling our looms. My point being, there’s nothing wrong with liking somebody else’s ideas, designs or techniques. But don’t copy them and call them your own, instead be inspired by them. Use what you like about it as a foundation to build upon with your own creative energy so the final product will be yours and yours alone. The final product should bear your own characteristic signature whatever that might be as long as it’s unique and different from the artist/writer/chef who inspired you in the first place.

Footnote:  With gratitude to Heshie for the ingenious suggestion of the title.

Experiencing Pork Buns

Pork buns

Sometimes they’re baked and sometimes they’re steamed. They are best eaten at dim sum. Betty White isn’t a fan. The mere mention of pork buns inspires giggling and blushing. Pork buns are a doughy bun with a filling that really can have any kind of meat in it or it can simply be stuffed with a sweet black bean sauce. Being of Eurasian descent, I grew up with pork buns also called ba pao, and I’ve been known to make my own. I like them steamed and I give them a Memphis spin: I stuff them with barbecued pulled pork. I have a friend in Texas who stuffs them with barbecued beef brisket.

But to back up a bit, newcomers to pork buns may have first been introduced to them at dim sum. Dim sum is served at Chinese restaurants. Instead of options to choose from a menu, servers push food carts throughout the dining area and invite diners to pick from items on the cart. These may be considered appetizers or small plate dishes and range from the exotic such as chicken feet to the familiar such as egg rolls. And everything in between which would most likely include pork buns (baked or steamed), sho mei or steamed dumplings which can be filled with either vegetables, shrimp or pork; fried dumplings, sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, shrimp balls, meat balls, spare ribs, fried tofu, noodles, soup. Well you get the picture.

steamed dumplings with seafood

The pork buns pictured at the top of this post are from the Emperor’s Garden in Boston’s Chinatown. As “Chinatowns” go, it is small, just six or seven blocks with several restaurants, a few bakeries and small groceries. There are many, many hair salons and stylists as well as small shops selling DVDs of recently released movies and overdubbed in various Chinese dialects. Even if you’re not a fan of Chinese food, visiting Chinatown is indeed a culturally rich experience for anyone.

The Emperor’s Garden where I recently had dim sum, was once a theater that may have been in operation during the heyday of vaudeville and burlesque. Its location on Washington Street is sandwiched between a theater district and what once was known as “The Combat Zone” or red light district. However the red light district has been obliterated to allow for the expansion of Chinatown as well as a nearby medical center.

Inside the Emperor's Garden. Note the domed ceiling and where the stage may have been at the left edge of this photo.

The experience of dining in such a cavernous hall that produced vaudeville many years ago truly adds to the ambiance of the dim sum experience. And of course, a walk around the neighborhood to help digest all the carbohydrates from the meal will add even more to the “pork bun experience”.

Entrance to Chinatown at Beach St

Boston’s Chinatown is easy to reach on the “T”, Boston’s efficient subway system. Take the Red Line and get out at “Downtown Crossing” . The heart of Chinatown lies between Beach and Kneeland Streets although it roughly extends several blocks in either direction. And one of my favorite landmarks to show that you are definitely in Chinatown is this one:

Dunkin Donuts

Dear readers, my apologies for this diversion and thanks for your indulgence while I pursue my other passion – food! I promise that my next post will be more along the lines of what you expect from MemphisWeaver, and that includes textiles and book arts. In the meantime, experience and enjoy those pork buns!

Weavers Need to Eat Too!

I’m going to take a detour from my usual posts about weaving, fiber and book arts.  There’s a restaurant in the Memphis area that makes me feel like I’ve been transported into Chinatown of a city like New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia or Boston.  I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants in those cities, and New Asia in Exeter Village Center at Exeter and Poplar in Germantown  feels like it belongs in one of those cities.  But  it belongs here in the Memphis area and it certainly looks like it’s here to stay.  We’ve eaten there many times in the last few months.  The restaurant is one huge room with several large tables, bright lights and lots of noise.  The wait staff welcomes everyone with friendly smiles and quick and efficient service.

What you will need to know to make you feel like you’ve been transported into Chinatown is that there are two menus to choose from.  The red menu is the one to go with — this is the “authentic” Chinese cuisine menu.  The other menu, the green one is for Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine.  The green menu has many  lovely offerings, but is not very different from menus of other top notch Asian restuarants in Memphis, eg. Mosa and Asian Grill. The authentic menu includes more traditional Asian food offerings without any “Americanization”.  They are unusual, richly flavored, and have a characteristic feel of Asian “comfort food”.  It’s really hard to explain other than that the food is wonderfully delicious.

Seafood hot and sour soup

Seafood hot and sour soup

To begin with, the seafood hot and sour soup is an adventure for those who love to experience texture.  (Keep in mind this is a weaver talking!) Not too spicy and not to sweet, your taste buds will be surprised by the velvety texture of tofu and shrimp, then followed by the crunchiness of a bit of octopus or squid, all of which are generously ladled in the soup.  Another soup that has a more overall velvety texture is the crab meat with cream corn soup.  This is  more subtle than the hot and sour but still has a great deal of character.

There are few places in Memphis where you can find fresh and well prepared seafood.  New Asia is one of them.  The chef’s special –the whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce is excellent.

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

It is beautifully presented, the meat comes off of the bones cleanly and the tomato sauce adds a smooth and sweetly powerful flavor to an otherwise tasteless fish.  The fish itself is huge — plenty for two with enough to take home in your “doggie” bag.

Other highly recommended seafood dishes are the Hot Braised Filet of Sole (served in a sauce similar to the tomato sauce of the braised cod) and the Scallops with Black Bean Sauce. Ordinarily black bean sauce may leave a strange aftertaste, but this sauce is prepared in such a way that you’ll be smacking your lips for more!

Scallops with black bean sauce

Scallops with black bean sauce

Sizzling dishes are always fun to order at Asian restaurants, and New Asia aims to please in this department.  My favorite is the Sizzling Chicken with Black Pepper.  It has a strong pepper flavor complemented by such  tender chicken pieces that they melt in your mouth like “buttah”.  The Sizzling Beef with Satay Sauce surprised me, in that the “satay” sauce was not what I expected.   I was looking for the more traditional satay sauce of Indonesian and Thai origin.  The satay sauce at New Asia was more like a mild black bean sauce — still tasty nonetheless.

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

The sizzling dishes are beautifully presented on a hot skillet with a wooden board.

As far as vegetables, pea plant with garlic seems to be a staple of authentic cuisine.  It is steamed with whole cloves of garlic and is similar to escarole with a major kick.  The fragrant eggplant is another crowd pleaser.  Not at all bitter or tough, the strips of eggplant are prepared in a mild pepper sauce with slices of chile pepper.  For the less adventurous, the green menu for Cantonese and Szechuan Cuisine has a milder version of this dish.

The atmosphere of  New Asia is a definite down home type of experience.  Many of the large round tables are filled with families, and groups of people both young and old.  It seems that it is a favorite of  Asian families.  To have an experience like New Asia here in the Memphis area is truly special.  If you don’t have a chance to visit the restaurants of Chinatown in a major U.S. city, then take a short trip down Poplar, you’ll find the same experience there.