Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Post 56: Islamic Chinese for Uncle Ma (OC: Anaheim)

When I mentioned that there was Muslim Chinese people and hence, Muslim Chinese food, many of my co-workers responded that they never knew such people or cuisine existed.  So I decided to do a little research by browsing online and asking various family members about this unique group of individuals that happen to make delicious noodles and flatbread.

The Muslim Chinese are descendants of Arab and Persian Silk Road travelers.  Athough they have intermarried into the local Han Chinese population through many generations, they retain their religious beliefs such as the consumption of Halal meat and the restriction of pork from their diet.  Chinese Muslims are considered Hui people, which are one of the 50+ officially recognized ethnic minorities in China.  There is also a sizable ethnic Hui population in Taiwan as well.  In China, a large portion of Hui or Muslim Chinese are surnamed Ma (馬), meaning horse.  However, the root of the last name Ma supposedly originated from the Muslim name Muhammad.  It's no wonder that so many of the Islamic Chinese restaurants in Southern California are named Ma.

I dropped by Mas' Islamic Chinese Restaurant to grab some Muslim Chinese food, specifically the beef noodles and the sesame flatbread as a way to remember my Uncle Joe.  My Uncle Joe happens to be surnamed Ma and also happens to have parents who are Hui Chinese.  In fact, they even have a Koran that has been translated into Chinese characters.  But that all might just be coincidental...

Thin sesame flatbread (芝麻大薄餅)
listed on the menu as thin sesame bread with green onion

The sesame flatbread is what I came here for.  And let me warn you... the flatbread is no joke.  It's a platter of sixteen slices of sesame sweetness that will make your eyes open wide and your jaw drop completely open.  It's larger than an XL pizza pie, and it's something that even a family of four will have trouble finishing due to its sheer size.  The flatbread has a texture that is a cross between the firmness of a leftover French baguette and a spongey Ethiopian injera.  The look of it is also a combination of sorts... it reminds me of the delicate nature of an Indian naan but with the girth of a rustic Australian damper (bush bread).  When a co-worker took his first bite of this bread, he exclaimed, "it tastes like sesame."  No kidding.  There seems to be more sesame on this plane of bread than there are grains of sand on the beach.  But it's the sesame and the chopped green onions inside that form the base for flavor.  And it's the bread itself that forms an awesome foundation for whatever sauce or soup it gets eaten with.  Hint: it tastes great with the next item we ordered.

Green onion, ginger, and garlic stir-fried lamb (蔥爆羊肉)
listed on the menu simply as lamb with green onions

The absence of pork from the Islamic diet leaves a gaping void for a Muslim Chinese restaurant to fill.  And although Mas' seems to have filled that void with fish and seafood, it's lamb that seems to be the underacknowledged champion protein.  Each of the lamb dishes on the menu has been prepared with strong and flavorful ingredients (pickled cabbage, Chinese style barbeque sauce, chili peppers, etc.) to minimize the gamey taste that lamb naturally has.  The dish that we ordered was no different.  Upon first whiff the gamey taste dominates all other smells.  But one bite into the lamb, and the pungent garlic, spicy ginger, and hearty green onion immediately knock out that gamey flavor.  It's almost like Taiwanese stinky tofu... the smell is horrible, but one bite and you would think someone took Febreeze to the air.  Well... okay, maybe not so much.

Beef stir-fried with hand-sheared chow mein (牛肉炒刀削麵)
listed on the menu as beef dough sliced chow mein

Noodles! Oh, noodles and pasta are my weakness... especially freshly prepared noodles.  This "dough sliced" chow mein refers to the way that the noodle is prepared.  Rather than making hand-pulled noodles (think ramen or spaghetti), the chef takes a blade to a big ball of fresh dough and shears the noodles off one ribbon at a time (think machete).  For a less violent image, think about that Tillamook commercial that shows the block of sharp cheddar getting sliced one perfect perpendicular plane at a time.  But think a lot faster... and less perpendicular... and also imagen a vat of boiling water at the other end of the figurative machete plank.  After a quick boil and an even quicker stir-fry with bountiful slices of beef, bean sprouts, green onion stalks and scrambled egg, the result is a chewier, more elastic version of the typical Cantonese beef chow fun.

Beware though, there was a significant layer of leftover oil on my plate.  If you are an avid gym-goer, then by all means, help yourself to another slice of flatbread to swivel around and soak up the fatty juices leftover by the lamb.  But if it's tough for you to hit the gym (if you have absolutely no discipline like me), then maybe taking a swig of that hot tea (to wash away the oil) is a better idea.

I have yet to learn more about the Muslim Chinese dishes or even about the people and their history, but sesame flatbread is a good start to further exploration.  I hope future culinary curiousity reveals more surprises about a people or world culture previously unknown to you.  To new discoveries and to my Uncle Joe... until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110725

Monday, July 18, 2011

Post 55: Dear Uncle Joe

Dear Uncle Joe,

I was very sad to hear that you passed on this week.  You were always a fighter, a tough guy with both your words, your spirit, and your eating habits... someone who I admired very much.  I did not get a chance to speak to you in your final days, but I just wanted to say thank you for all those times you picked me up from school when I got sick.  Thank you for instantly taking me and Emily to Knott's every time wanted to visit Snoopy.  The one thing I really want to thank you for is teaching me to live life with spontaneity and adventure... to live it up.

The best way that I can remember you is by dedicating this post to you and by sharing some of your favorite foods with everyone.  We all know that you loved spicy food, particularly mala spicy hot pot, so my mom and dad accompanied me to have some mala huoguo (麻辣火鍋) in your honor this past week.  I even upped the spiciness to mid-level spiciness (中辣) just to feel the exhilaration of chili-scented sweat dripping down my face.  We ordered thinly sliced beef and fatty pork, and we kept the vegetables to a minimum... just the way that you would have eaten it.

Today I also got a chance to walk through the world renowned company that produces a condiment that you seemed to have used more often than you drank water.  I'm not allowed to mention the specifics of where I visited, but I'm sure you know that there's only one spicy sauce in a squeeze bottle that absolutely cannot be substituted.  As we were driven on the golf cart past tens of thousands of drums of fire red vegetable, I just kept thinking that you would be amazed... and you'd probably start salivating.  The smell of chili and garlic in the air definitely penetrated the depths of my lungs.  It may even have popped a few avioli here and there.  It is absolutely incredible that I got to see what the founder literally built with his bare hands, from the piping to the walls of the warehouse.  Immediately afterward I passed by the supermarket complex that you designed and constructed, and I thought... you both built things from the ground up, and the two of you would have been good friends.

Oh, and last but not least, I'm going to stop by China Islamic Restaurant to have some Chinese Halal food.  I'm sure you remember 清真馬家館... we used to have family gatherings there all the time.  I could never figure out whether we frequented that restaurant because you liked the food there or because the restaurant and your family shared a common name (馬).  Regardless, I'm going to chomp down on their beef noodles and the giant sesame flatbread (芝麻大餅) for old time's sake.

Here's to you, Uncle Joe.  Thank you for everything that you've taught and instilled in me.  Thank you for spreading your love of spicy food to all of us.  Seeing someone overflowing chili sauce in their bowl of pho will definitely remind me of you.  And of course, I'll continue to live my life with spontaneity and adventure.

Your nephew,


ML - 20110702

Friday, July 15, 2011

F.A.T. News 8: The Glory Days of Airline Travel

I was browsing through the Travel section of the Times when I found this electronic flip book of sorts.

This would make a cool, non-Kindle kind of book:
Airline travel then and now
graphics reporting and interactivity by Tia Lai, LA Times

We don't quite live in the glitz and glamour of the Pan Am days, but traveling around is still pretty cool.  Since we can't exactly travel back in time, we can definitely tune in to Pan Am, the new TV series airing in the fall on ABC.

Makes me want to be a pilot:
Come fly with them: Upcoming 'Pan Am' TV show capitalizes on '60s airline style
article by Mary Forgione, LA Times

It has a bit of Catch Me If You Can essence... adventure, sex appeal, and young stupidity all combined together.  And of course, it takes place during the glorious travel days of the 1960s.  The commercials look pretty promising, so it may become a new must-watch for me.  Ah, which reminds me... I should blog about the '60s-themed wedding I went to recently.  Congratulations Girl & Boy!

ML - 20110712

Monday, July 11, 2011

Non-F.A.T. Post 2: Akufuncture's Samuel Wang

It looks like I've been away from the blogging keyboard for quite some time... but not without good reason! Last month I was offered an opportunity to blog for, an online magazine that serves to "close the gap between Taiwan and the world" by promoting the achievements of Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans.

I met the King of Fashion:
Akufuncture's Sam Wang on Persistence
article by Michael Lin,

I got a chance to interview Samuel Wang, a fellow UCSD Triton alum, who created the Sino-chic streetwear company Akufuncture.  The clothing line fuses urban style together with Chinese culture, which Sam believes is one way to make Chinese culture cool again.

You can read the article in its entirety here.  

The interview is my first published piece beyond high school and outside of this blog.. perhaps it will lead to a guest position at the Times or Rolling Stone someday.  We all start somewhere, right? Enjoy... and happy reading!

ML - 20110711/20110628