Disgusting food I eat, enjoyably so

Saturday 28 January 2012, 1.27am HKT


9.33pm local time / 15°C (59°F) at 91% relative humidity

SOME OF YOU have a penchant for being nosey knowing what my meals are like.

As a glutton — err, I mean — foodie, I can relate to why you’d be interested.

Truth is, I eat and drink anything under the sun.

One of the more brain-damaged aspects about me is that I really enjoy that almost-mediaeval English partiality to boiled meats.

“Eeew! Boiled meats?! What the—?” you say with face a-grimacing and your actual body recoiling back in disgust and horror.

Obviously I’m not going to just eat disintegrating pieces of bland, tasteless body parts floating half-dead in tepid water. Eeew, that’s absolutely revolting…

No, my boiled meats are stewed in flavourful broth and dipped in savoury sauce before being gobbled.

As the pictures below will show.

Last night’s dinner. TV remotes not part of the gig.

I only managed to retrieve these photos from the memory card just now because my camera went on the fritz the day before.

Pork on the bone, carrots and ‘snow ear’ (雪耳 shuet yee), all cooked in pork broth.

The vino tinto de España isn’t visible because I woz drinkin’ it.

Mediaeval fare in a modern world.

Too bad I couldn’t retrieve the shuet yee picture for you.

(‘Shuet’ is pronounced in Cantonese like the German word ‘schüt’. The Mandarin name for snow ear is xuě ěr.)

Shuet yee is a kind of edible Chinese fungus often used in soups. It’s semi-transparent, slightly yellowish in colour, and resembles those really wide rubberbands that post offices use on parcels, but more wrinkly and more delicate. Its English common names are snow fungus, silver ear fungus or white jelly mushroom. The scientific name is Tremella fuciformis.

Shuet yee itself is tasteless and odorless, but it brings out the flavour of everything it touches. It looks a lot like that stuff called bird’s nest (which are in fact congealed bird saliva — but that’s another stomach-churning story).

The dip makes all the difference.

The dipping sauce was made from soy sauce, a teaspoon or two of sesame oil, and a liberal lacing of white pepper powder (the kind you use in salt and pepper shakers). Done!

Before you pump a couple of shotgun rounds into your local grocer for not stocking sesame oil, you can replace it with any other kind of vegetable oil (but not olive oil). Just cook your replacement vegetable oil for a few minutes on low heat, bring to hot (not boiling) — done!

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SOY SAUCE TRIVIA

The common (or generic) name for soy sauce is si yau (豉油) in Cantonese, jiàng yóu (醬油) in Mandarin, or shōyu in Japanese. There are two types — know the difference, or your meal’s a goner.

1. That light (or ‘fresh’) soy sauce is called saang chau (生抽) in Cantonese, or jiàng ch’ing (酱清) in Mandarin. This is the ‘brewed’ (i.e. original) soy sauce made directly from soybeans. Saang chau is used for seasoning because of its saltier taste and less noticeable colour (lighter brown).

2. That really dark-coloured soy sauce (sometimes seen in big bottles) is called lo chau (老抽 : ‘old sauce’) in Cantonese, or lǎo chōu in Mandarin. This is ‘blended’ soy sauce made from the first type, with caramel and molasses added so it’s slightly thicker, slightly sweeter and less salty in flavour. Lo chau is used for cooking to obtain ‘colour.’

If you’re not thoroughly confused by now, just skip the hassle of figuring out which is which and buy the Kikkoman brand from Japan. You’re always safe with Kikkoman because it’s chiefly for seasoning but good as well for cooking.

Caution: If you have coeliac disease or are gluten-intolerant, stick to Chinese soy sauce. Japanese soy sauce is 50% wheat-containing (the Chinese version contains much less).

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TASTE TRIVIA

Know the basic taste sensations?

Bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness, umami, piquance, astringency and fattiness (eight in all).

Come again?

Umami (旨味) is the scientific term (from Japanese) for that pleasant savoury taste usually associated with meat. Umami was identified in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda (discoverer of monosodium glutamate). Soy sauce is the prime example of umami taste.

Piquance (raciness or spiciness or hot spicy) is a traditional Asian basic taste — and it makes sense because the ‘traditional’ four-taste theory got stuck for a long time trying to explain piquance.

Astringency (tartness) is a traditional Indian basic taste specification. That’s the dry, puckering mouthfeel we get from young red wines, tea, vinegar and tannin-containing fruits such as sloe berries (a kind of plum), quince (cousin to the apple and pear), persimmon and banana skins.

The tongue taste map is a myth and complete bollocks. Different regions of the tongue DON’T specialise in different tastes. In fact all taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue. And you’d know this to be true if you ever did histology.

The whole myth (that is, a small number of ‘basic tastes’ giving rise to numerous complex tastes) ultimately came from some moron(s) treating taste like primary colours (that is, three or four light wavelengths combining to form a spectrum of colours). And people still believe in this taste-map nonsense, and it’s still being taught in school. It’s so completely bollocks. Srsly.

(Truth is, the tongue-taste map myth was political propaganda. Around the time of the First World War, governments propagated the myth in order to reserve meat and other foodstuffs while trying to avoid all-out civilian rationing. The spiel was that, since all other tastes came from just four tastes, there’s no need to have ‘rich’ foods and one could just mix and match basic flavours to achieve the desired taste. It’s the same story with the drinking hours in the United Kingdom.)

Fact is, 75 years’ worth of food and health research have shown there are more than four or five ‘basic’ taste sensations. There is some evidence for a sixth basic taste that senses fatty substances.

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Yes, yes, yes, I know you’re wondering about that since the first picture.

Relax, it’s a pig’s tail.

No, it’s not the outcome of a kitchen accident.

Hey, c’mon, peep’l, we have oxtail and stuff, so why not pig’s tail? I mean, there’s pig’s tail, horsemeat, catmeat and animal skin in our McBongo burgers, and we don’t complain.

I must admit it would make a darn good prank on the uninitiated.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. All photos by me. Kikkoman soy sauce via Wikipedia.

AC myths 10: Protips and hacks (cont.)

Thursday 15 September 2011, 5.08pm HKT


<< Part 9 << || >> Back to Part 1 >>

(Continued from Part 9)

We end the series with general tips on keeping cool and saving energy.

* * *

Keeping cool tips

Home clothes

21. Wear home clothes that allow perspiration to evaporate easily, especially if you live in a high-heat, high-humidity country. Avoid cotton T-shirts (even thin ones) because they’re not that good at allowing evaporation. Wear shirts instead. A cheapo silk shirt from a stocklot outlet is highly recommended. (Details in Part 7.)

Loafers

22. In hot weather or hot locations, wear loafers at work. Lace-ups warm your feet up quite a bit, as do sports shoes, sneakers, plimsolls and anything with rubber soles.

No fizzy drinks

23. Fizzy mineral water (even uncooled) cools you down better and faster than just plain cooled water. (I’ve forgotten the chemophysical principles behind this, but it works for most people anyway.)

No beer

24. When it’s really hot, stop drinking beer. You have to digest beer (and orange juice, soft drinks, soups, etc), and digestion produces heat. That’s why in hot weather, you end up having to drink more beer than otherwise with water.

General energy-saving tips

Curtains

25. Close all curtains when you leave home for the day. Always curtain off any incoming direct sunlight. Even indirect sunlight streaming in will heat up the premises. Use common sense: leave some windows uncurtained off to allow heat outflow. (Details in Part 8.)

Mirrorise

26. Mirrorise your windows with those one-way mirror films. Highly recommended if you live in any hot, sunny country.

Lights off

27. Turn off lights as you leave a room, especially in summer. Lights add a lot of heat to the room. Switch to using energy-saving lightbulbs, which produce less heat.

Venting

28. Vent the clothesdryer to outdoors, otherwise it pours heat and moisture into the house air. Use the automatic cycle if your dryer has this. Clean the dryer’s lint filter screen frequently (once a week or once a fortnight). Check the exterior vent opening once a month. Overdrying clothes wastes energy and wears out your clothes.

Clothesline

Drying rack

29. Use a clothesline. (Preferably indoors, given the high pollution levels in Hong Kong.) Not everything has to be dried by a clothesdryer, although drying jeans takes up the most energy. If and when your laundry load is high, take it to a laundry service because the costs will be far lower than doing it yourself.

Ceiling insulation

30. Bulk up your ceiling insulation. Not really relevant in a concrete, subtropical jungle like Hong Kong or Singapore, but important for some places. For instance, the highest recommended insulation level in Australia is R38, which is about 15 inches (38cm) deep of newer kinds of blown white fibreglass insulation. A good protective layer of ceiling insulation prevents heat from moving inwards in summer and holds heat in winter.

Fridge and freezer

31. Replace your refrigerator or freezer if it’s 10 years old or more. Normally these are low-efficiency units and burn a lot of energy. And put your fridge in the kitchen, not in the middle of the living room (as many people in Hong Kong often do) — it just heats up the living space.

Unplug

32. Unplug all unused electrical appliances (e.g. phone charger, fans, etc). They still generate heat while plugged in.

Dehumidifier

33. If your location only goes up to 28°C (82°F) or more for only a few days a year, consider getting a standalone dehumidifier. It is a better bet than using the AC for moisture control. (Details in Part 7.)

Whitewashing

Dakin Building, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker Building, in California

34. Whitewash the exterior of your premises. Consider using reflective exterior paint to better reflect heat and light off your premises. Never paint your exterior in dark pink, brown, green or black — those colours absorb heat and infrared radiation like hell. Think of the Luke Skywaker vs. Darth Vader buildings.

Bedware

35. You’re setting your AC too cold if you have to use a duvet in bed. In warm locales and with the AC on, you should only need a cotton throw (a kind of blanket).

* * *

Use your AC properly and it will give you years of trouble-free service.

(Unless you bought a lemon like I did.)

<< Part 9 << || >> Back to Part 1 >>

* * *

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: Bottled water by Eli Top Food Corporation via Alibaba ♦ Drying rack via Alibaba ♦ Dakin Building via Wikipedia.

AC myths 9: Protips and hacks

Thursday 15 September 2011, 4.50pm HKT


<< Part 8 << || >> Part 10 >>

(Continued from Part 8)

Almost at the end of the series. We roll with some low-cost and no-cost ways of running your AC properly for summertime.

* * *

First and foremost

Habits

1. Develop energy-saving habits. Savings come from little behaviour changes and habits. Strip down if you feel a bit warm, and put something on if a bit chilly. Stop running around the home in shirtsleeves in the middle of winter. Stop wearing dark suits and tie in the middle of summer unless at work.

Expensiveness

2. Realise that using an AC is a relatively expensive undertaking, and if you’re that worried about cost, maybe you shouldn’t have AC installed at all.

Costings

3. For all practical purposes, the modern AC is designed to run at its rated power consumption level, regardless of the thermostat setting. It also produces the same amount of pollution at whatever the temperature setting. (Details in Part 5.)

AC-related tips

Relative temperature

4. Rule of thumb is set the AC at 10 degrees below the outdoor temperature (using the Celsius scale). For instance, if outdoors is 30°C (86°F), set the AC to 20°C (68°F) indoors. Professionals in the HVAC (heating, ventilation and AC) business use this rule of thumb, and it’s no mistake why they use it. (Details in Part 2.)

Thermostat habits

5. Handle the AC thermostat properly. Cool to 20°C to 23° (68°F to 73°F) and switch off when you feel chilly (instead of messing with the AC thermostat). At 20°C to 23°C, the extra cost is only marginal, but your AC will work more efficiently than at higher thermostat settings. (This tip contradicts the convention advice often given elsewhere: details in Part 2).

Fans

6. Don’t run fans while the AC is on. This is not a hard-and-fast rule — sometimes you have to make an exception. Fans disrupt the AC airflow, causing the AC to work harder, and therefore shortening its lifespan. A running fan motor also generates heat, therefore counteracting the work of the AC. Try to cut down on the number of electrical appliances running while the AC is on. (Details in Part 3.)

‘Auto fan’

7. Always use the ‘Auto fan’ thermostat setting, never just ‘On.’ On Auto, humidity is kept lower, so AC costs are much lower and comfort is higher.

Registers

8. Keep open the AC air-supply registers at all times (relevant for some AC models). It doesn’t save money, but closing off the registers may lead to costly problems.

Steady as she goes

9. Don’t try to speed-cool at max-low thermostat settings when you return home. Instead, choose a normal evening setting (20°C to 23°C, or 68°F to 73°F). The AC cools just as fast at 20°C as it does at any lower temperature.

Sunlight

No canopy? Wait till you see the bills

10. Block sunlight streaming into the premises when the AC is on.  Shut curtains and blinds in the direction of incoming sunlight. Close windows. Shut room doors to bigger rooms. Seal airleaks around doors (use caulking and weatherstripping). Check for airduct leaks or disconnected ducts around the house. Duct leaks can double your cooling cost. Rig up a canopy around the AC unit itself so sunlight won’t shine on it.

Bath time

11. Shut the AC off when you take baths and have the bathroom ventilation fan switched on. What goes out, something must come in. Open a window to let air flow in to balance the air outflow — it’s not the job of the AC to do that.

Filters

12. Change or wash the AC air filter screen once a month. It feels like a hassle, but it really isn’t. If you leave things untouched, the filter cakes up even more badly — then it becomes a real hassle. Clogged air filters restrict airflow, ups running costs, and often lead to expensive-to-fix compressor damage. Cleaning the filter screen is highly important in a polluted, concrete jungle or dusty place (like Hong Kong, the Middle East or southern USA) — you may have to clean the air filter once a week.

Microwave ovens

13. Use a microwave instead of the range (gas) oven when the AC is on. A microwave doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Shut the kitchen door when you’re cooking. A microwave pollutes less than a gas oven.

Water mist

14. If the AC is starting to go on the fritz, spray a fine mist of water at the rear end of the AC unit to keep it on the cool. This is a only stopgap measure.

Not in use

15. Cover the roomside and exterior ends of the AC unit when not in regular use (as in winter) to protect it from sunshine, rain and general debris landing on it or clogging it up.

Factory presets

What’s correct humidity?

16. If you have a remote for the AC unit, removing and reinstalling the batteries should give you back the factory preset temperatures in each mode the product was manufactured for. For instance, the Mitsubishi preset is 21°C (71°F).

Measuring temperature

17. The correct way to measure AC air output temperature is to use a thermometer 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) from the cold-air outlet. Don’t stick it right into the blowhole, as some Laurel and Hardy repairmen are apt to do. (Story in Part 2.)

Humidity

18. Set the indoor humidity level at 30% to 60% if your AC unit has humidity control settings. This is only a conventional wisdom, as there is no hard evidence to back up this recommendation. (Details in Part 7.)

‘Middle’

19. Set the AC to blow cool air towards the middle of the roomspace. That allows for a more even distribution of cool air.

Hands in pockets

20. Stop messing around with the AC thermostat. You’ll make it break down quicker. Shut it off or put something on if you’re feeling chilly. Strip down if it’s a bit warm.

* * *

NEXT IN PART 10

General tips for keeping cool and saving energy.

<< Part 8 << || >> Part 10 >>

* * *

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: AC unit from author’s collection ♦ Thermostat setting by Tom Grundy via 123RF ♦ AC in the sunlight from author’s collection ♦ Sweaty Asian girls via c4c.

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