An Adventure on The Four Seas–Hannah Kovach

Posted on January 17, 2012

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There is no more primal eucatastrophe than the realization that you will be eating soon, after a long and wonderful tour detailing the wonders of the food in any particular place. However, such an ecstasy is one I can fully understand.

I went to Chinatown with my classmates for my Jan Term class, and we had a wonderful tour guide named Frank. He used to be a chef but is now a photographer, and he guided us along the path telling stories of childhood, of underground tunnels and sky-high apartments, of the significance of colors and the high variety of food. There was something so open about the tour and the experience of walking (there was a lot of walking) around such a bustling area that my own mind began to expand, to open itself up like an unbound journal. However, my stomach was also beginning to open itself up, and wanted food to fill it. Therefore, the moment we arrived at The Four Seas, I was glad. I was happily surprised to see that Frank had decided to join us at our meal; I was intrigued when he said he’d be advising us about our dishes and how to eat them to optimize the taste.

I had my first sip of tea that I didn’t think too bitter during the tour, so I let myself have another few cups of tea at the Four Seas. The tea was amber and flowed into my mouth like warmed chicken broth. It tasted of earth and water, and moments after the initial taste disappeared, there lingered on my tongue a primal sweet.

The first dish that arrived was spring rolls. Normally, I’m not a fan of them; they seemed to me like stuffing coleslaw spiked with onions into a fried roll to make it taste better (I’m not much of a fan of coleslaw either). However, a crunch later, these spring rolls made my mouth recoil; did I really just taste a spring roll I liked?! The carrots and lettuce draped out of the roll like a curtain about to fall, and the fried skin of the roll flaked everywhere; in my mouth, on the plate, on the table…. The sweet and sour sauce only added to the pleasure; the added tang of the sauce gave the skin more bite and seasoned the lettuce and carrots inside.

The next dish was shrimp and chives pot stickers. The unopened pot sticker looked like a half moon fried and laid to rest among the grass. I took my first bite to discover that this half moon had eaten some of the grass as well. I was met with green as far as my eye could see, though I could taste both the shrimp and the chives. I dipped it in the sweet and sour sauce, though this time, the sauce harmed the taste of the food, hiding the blend of shrimp and chives from my eager tongue.

After that came the wonton soup. The broth was savory and amber brown, and the myriad foodstuffs within the soup made it look like a fall festival in a bowl. The wonton was filled with barbecued pork and surprisingly easy to slurp down. Frank then advised us to add a drop of red vinegar halfway through eating our wonton soup to intensify the flavor. I added between two and three drops of red vinegar, and the broth became sour, prompting me to slurp it clean once I finished eating the solid food within the soup.

Arriving at the same time were the Har Gow (a shrimp dumpling covered with rice dough) and the Chicken Siu Mai (a blend of chicken and Shiitake mushrooms formed into a dumpling-like shape). Both of them were grouped into small wooden bowls for visual effect.

The Har Gow was a curiosity in white, and I took it in my hands and found it soft as a marshmallow. I took a bite, and found the texture in my mouth fascinating. The rice dough was sticky in my mouth, even more so than most mochi. The shrimp had just a hint of brine to it, enough that I could sense it was shrimp, but not enough to overpower the dumpling. The bitten dumpling looked like a white chocolate strawberry truffle, with the shrimp as the light pink strawberry cream. I tasted it with sweet and sour sauce to see what it would do, and it brought out the flavors of both the shrimp and the rice dough more strongly than I suspected.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Chicken Siu Mai, given that I don’t like mushrooms; the texture reminded me of my mother’s homemade meat loaf, and it had that strange earthen taste I couldn’t help but adore in the tea, and enjoyed in this. I found that the sweet and sour sauce didn’t affect the taste of the sui mai much at all, which interested me, because it had a strong effect on the taste of the previous dishes.

After that came the Beef Chow Fun, a rice noodle dish with beef, onions and snow peas. The texture of the noodles reminded me of pad see ew, because the thickness was similar, but hearing that these were rice noodles rather than egg noodles made me realize this dish was the hybrid of udon and pad see ew. The rice noodles clumped together in a way which concentrated the flavor, and I could taste the flavor of smoke and beef throughout the dish. I heard Frank call this taste wok hay and was glad to understand what he meant. The snow peas were crisp, green and sweet, and the onions added a kick.

Finally, I beheld the dessert; sesame seed balls, glorious little spheres in which sesame seeds covered a rice dough, which in turn surrounded a lotus bean paste. The smell of the dessert reminded me of a doughnut that had just been taken out of the fryer, and it was warm and rough in my hands. Finally, after taking a picture of the sesame seed ball, I took a bite. The best way to describe the taste of one of these would be to think of an enormous piece of red bean daifuku, and to imagine that, after it was made, it then wallowed in sesame seeds until it was coated with them and plopped itself into the oven for five minutes. In short, my mouth was made very happy by my decision to eat dessert.

After that, I could feel myself going into a food coma, that fuzzy lovechild of contentment and sleepiness one feels only after eating slightly too much of a wonderful meal. I looked at the table my classmates and I had ravished and smiled. What an adventure we had today.

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Posted in: Student Posts