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Tasty leftovers with a life of their own By B.W. Liou (China Daily)

(2011-05-05 11:54:58)
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杂谈

Tasty <wbr>leftovers <wbr>with <wbr>a <wbr>life <wbr>of <wbr>their <wbr>own <wbr>By <wbr>B.W. <wbr>Liou <wbr>(China <wbr>Daily)

Tasty <wbr>leftovers <wbr>with <wbr>a <wbr>life <wbr>of <wbr>their <wbr>own <wbr>By <wbr>B.W. <wbr>Liou <wbr>(China <wbr>Daily)

Courtyard setting houses a haven of enticing tastes, and if you cannot finish your meal, take it home

From ambiance and decor, to taste, execution and experience, restaurants are all judged and deconstructed by very defined and similar measurements. But what if a restaurant also had the surprising ability to create dishes with flavors that got better and better - while in your refrigerator? After two days?

Yes, I'm talking about leftovers, and if you're cringing right now take note that Jacques Pepin, the author and television chef, said he looks at leftovers "as ingredients that are there to create a recipe".

Even if you don't turn your scraps into a potpie or a calzone, many leftovers evolve - chicken curry or beef stew, for instance. Flavors marry, or at least get to first base. Soup the next day magically becomes richer, maybe slightly thicker and much more savory.

I found such a soup at Little Yunnan, a cozy restaurant just beyond the Wangfujing shopping area. The Dali sour and spicy silver carp with papaya, at 48 yuan for a carp weighing 500 grams, is not only a steal, it's my answer to those cold, blustery winters in the capital.

But summer is near and this dish, served in a metal tub more than 5 cm deep and propped up over an array of burners, could also be the answer for diners who believe profuse sweating cools you down in sweltering heat. Listed on the menu with two chilies (the hottest being three), the fish sits in an orange broth with slim potato fingers, unripe papaya slices, dried roasted chilies, pickled vegetables, mint leaves, cabbage and firm tofu blocks.

The soup - not unlike tom yum soup in color but also in its bright tartness - actually begins changing the moment it is placed on your table. With the fires burning below, it cooks and cooks. The potatoes soften, the fish meat becomes sponge and the pickled vegetables melt.

One tip on eating this dish is waiting half an hour before turning the fish over with its spine upright. This creates a border between the spicy soup and a clearer briny broth from the fish. Try both separately and then together. The only drawback, I initially thought, was that the cabbages were too hard and should have been blanched before being added to the soup. That is, until I took the dish home.

There, sitting in the fridge, the evolution continued. After two days, when warmed the soup on the stove, you realized the cabbages had wilted. Everything blended into a satisfying goodness as the soup gathered more heat and richness.

Little Yunnan is not simply a place to snatch up leftovers, though. It's a rustic, quaint spot with a courtyard canopied by a towering tree - ideal for a romantic dinner in the heat of a summer night. Inside, there are two small balconies book-ending the main dining space and red lanterns lining the windowsill.

The restaurant's other dishes also did not disappoint. The braised chicken in a pot was a treasure chest atop a flame with green onions, cilantro, chilies and thick potato sticks underneath a spicy sauce. The chicken pieces, as is the case in many Chinese restaurants, were much too small and dominated by pillars of bone to truly allow the sauce to soak in. They act more like throwaways to the best part of the dish - the potato.

The scrambled eggs with preserved pea shoots had an interesting tart and bitterness I found very appealing. The serving is small, however, and the scrambled eggs are broken up into near specks that mirrored the diminutive pea shoots.

The sour soup carp fish has a similar orange, tart broth as the Dali sour carp soup but has fewer frills. Served in a big white bowl with a metal ladle, the soup is just fish steaks, chunks of fish head and soup. This dish induced a small skirmish over turns to the spoon.

Another winner is the Jingpo ghost chicken. Cold chicken shreds are tossed with red and green chilies, pickled vegetables and cilantro. It sits on a float of lime juice and is served on a sloping plate.

The place attracts foreigners and locals alike. On a recent Friday night, there were interracial couples, a group of grungy Chinese men, a cute family of four and a foursome of tourists. Sitting in the courtyard, the foursome were each trying, with varying degrees of success, to say xiexie. A tall scruffy man in the bunch was leading the lesson, calling on a friend to enunciate more. But one useful phrase when it comes to Little Yunnan's food would have been bie langfei ("do not waste") or da bao ("wrap up"). This is food to savor, even a day after dinner.

China Daily

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