• Tuesday, September 04, 2007

    Ooooh Mommy or Umami

    I promised to be better at posting. Keeping the brilliant ideas simmering on the back burner seems to do little to bring decent regular reporting to fruition. So here's me striking out toward that laudable goal: consistent, good posting. It's 3 AM - better late than never...

    But first a little snack to fuel the writing.
    Toast with Marmite and butter. I suspect this is so tasty due to Umami, but I'll need to investigate that and get back to you. What, you ask is Marmite? What you ask is Umami?

    First things first: Marmite is a yeast spread that is a by-product of brewing beer. It's salty and savory and can be used to enhance many dishes. It tends to be one of those things that people love or hate and the producers of it actually based an entire ad campaign on the "love it" or "hate it" theme. More on Marmite later...now back to Umami.

    Quick: name the distinct tastes our tongues can discern. If you're like me, you grew up learning we had the following taste sensations:
    1. sweet
    2. salty
    3. sour
    4. bitter
    Umami is best described as savory. Like salt, it enhances or emphasizes other flavors.

    Even though my mother is Japanese and Umami is a Japanese word, I never heard of it until pretty recently. I do remember many interesting meal time debates when Mom would describe a flavor with a Japanese adjective. We'd refuse to believe her that there was not an English equivalent. The more well-traveled I became, the more I discovered other people describing food with adjectives in their native tongue, also insisting that there just wasn't the English equivalent.

    So, Mom, listen up: once again, you are correct. (This never gets easier to say, though you'd think I have adequate practice by now!)

    Armenian contributions

    I'm speaking, of course, of my hairdresser. No, not really. Though he is brilliant. I'm speaking of the Kasabians, the husband and wife authors of the book: The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami - is described in the book by that name. (Click on the title to see the book on Powell's.) This "new taste" is one that many cooks and food lovers have just begun to learn about, though many of us have a working knowledge of it acquired through years of cooking and eating.

    I've got the Fifth Taste and will report more on it shortly. Let me say it looks well-researched, well-written and comes with a great collection of recipes rich in umami contributed by a stellar array of chefs including: Daniel Boulud,
    Jody Adams, Gary Danko, Bradly Ogden, Ming Tsai, Ken "Code Violation" Oringer, and more.

    And now, umami-rich dinner tonight...

    New Golden Gate Restaurant in Chinatown.

    This is one of my new favorites in Chinatown. Right near the Gate, on 66 Beach Street. This used to be a tiny little hole-in-the-wall kind of place, which I love. Then it took over some adjacent space and spruced up. We saw one of our favorite managers (formerly of Hei La Moon and Peach Farm) at New Golden Gate so we knew it would be good. This was probably our sixth trip there. Now, a waitress from Hei La Moon has begun working there, too. Hmm...

    The first two dishes we had were Yow Soy Ha - "swimming shrimp." These are a delicate shrimp, live in the tank, then flash steamed. Served whole with dipping sauces, you have to get a little dirty but what's a meal without a head to suck or little shrimpy legs littering your frontside?

    The tsu yim yow yu - salt and pepper fried squid - were good as always, though not the star of tonight's meal.

    One of their house specialties is a rib-eye steak served on greens. We've had it over bok choy and over gai lan, as it was served tonight. The beef is in huge chunks but so tender. The sauce is a delicate gravy almost like a thickend au jus. This steak at any steak house in Boston would cost you half what our entire four course meal cost.

    A specialty available tonight was the razor clams with black bean sauce and dao miu. I think razor clams are primarily found on the West Coast/Alaska, but if they have them when you go, order them. They are sweet and ocean-y at the same time. The black bean sauce served with this dish was much lighter than the typical style you would get with clams. It had nice ginger bits and the pea tendrils were terrific complement to the clams.

    By the way, it's always a good sign when you see large families celebrating over a meal. Another good sign, Asian tourists snapping photos of each other holding the menu, and then of each other eating the food.

    We saw both tonight.

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