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Happy Chinese New Year! The Boston Globe’s food section this week has a number of fun features for our favorite noise-making, confetti-strewn, street-fair holiday. I was called on at the last minute for a Chinese cookbook review, which I was happy to attempt even though I have bemoaned the recent scarcity of Chinese cookbooks. We scrambled to find a book and found Ching’s Everyday Easy Chinese, which features British-based Cooking Channel star Ching-He Huang.
Although the book could be more forthcoming in its particulars, for the most part I was happily surprised. These are easy-to-like, simple-to-prepare dishes that seek to entertain more than educate. It’s not necessarily a must-have for your overflowing cookbook shelves, but overall I’d consider it a good value.
About a year ago, my good friends Jandro and Allison introduced me to Dua Belibis. (That’s Dua for short. We’re on a first-name basis. Never mind that “Dua Belibis” means “Two Ducks,” and as a nickname, “Two” is daft. But I digress.) Allison and Jandro had gotten theirs from Vishnu, who is married to a woman from Indonesia, which is where Dua Belibis comes from. I lost my heart to Dua instantly.
Thicker, fruitier, sweeter, hotter-per-gram, and way garlickier than the wildly popular sriracha, Dua Belibis is perhaps not for everyone. When it comes to getting the stuff out, Dua’s bottle is more crazy-making than a ketchup bottle. It comes out in either tiny, wimpy blobs or giant, incendiary blobs, and you inevitably get a gummy red collar of crusty sauce by the neck about midway through. Plus, it’s impossible to find, or so I thought till last week.
I had already combed the shelves of every Asian grocer in my area and shown the bottle to the regretful proprietors. I had done the Internet search. I was down to my last hard-to-dislodge 1/8-inch of Dua, which I was conserving by means of trying not to cook the things I like eating it with: fried rice, dumplings, chili, noodles. This self-imposed and untimely Lent was obviously unsustainable.
But this weekend, while tromping round the Bay with my son while in between readings of A Spoonful of Promises, I discovered the New Mei Wah supermarket on Clement St. A behemoth of a shop, I thought at first it was one of those Asian markets that looks like it’s going to have everything, but actually has nothing you want. But as it turns out, New Mei Wah is one of those Asian markets that looks like it’s going to have everything and actually does.
At least, it has Dua Belibis, right there in the Indonesian section. As to the rest, who cares?
Since Dua comes in bottles greater than 3 oz., there was no question of getting it onto an airplane. Prevailing upon the patience of my hosts, who drove me into Chinatown the next day, I went to the Stockton Street post office and mailed my Dua home. The postage was about $10, which is more than 4 times the price of a bottle of Dua.
Do you have any doubt that it was worth it?
The first week of every January, I have an enviable problem–a problem of abundance in every way. Holiday roundups are over, and after a week of bingeing on festive food I need to get back on my treadmill, which kept getting covered in books throughout December. It’s time for cookbook cleanup!
Only problem is, somewhere between 200 and 300 books came in over the fall, and I want to keep them ALL. But my bookshelves are already full. It’s time for some ruthless winnowing. Heartbreaking, but there you have it.
This morning I rolled up my sleeves and hit the “Single-Subject” section of my library. Do I really need 4 books on pasta? 8 books on meat cookery (and even more than that on seafood)? Agonizing over every one, I part with a book here, a book there. So long to the matched set of little gift cookbooks on Apples, Squash, and Tomatoes–so pretty, but not actually useful. So long to the fifth book just on soup. Adieu to the Very Ambitious Salad book and the hardbound edition of the seafood book I use in paperback. Farewell to the book on flavored butters–I think I can figure those out for myself. Goodbye, sort-of-disappointing stew book!
To tell the truth, the single-subject section is actually the easiest to winnow. Most of the books are not on my cookbook-indexing website, Eat Your Books, (an indexed book is harder to part with! ), and the quality is not as consistent or the depth of knowledge as great. The main virtue of a single-subject cookbook is that it makes it easy to look up, say, a blueberry recipe when blueberries are in season. But searchable databases make that so easy anyway…so a single-subject book has to have some other compelling virtue (say, thoroughness, or helpfulness) for me to keep it.
I’ll be moving on next to the Baking section, which–despite being the least used section of the library–accounts for the most calories I consume over the course of a year. But’s that’s OK. At least I can find my treadmill now.
My third radio commentary for New England Public Radio (that’s WFCR to us oldtimers): a story about my underhanded relationship with Christmas gingerbread, circa age 8. This one’s a personal favorite.
I tested this book quite a while ago, in the fall. But as is so often the case, the review got pushed down the queue because other cookbooks of more immediate interest kept arriving, and then there was the holiday roundup season, etc. etc.
There isn’t a seafood cookbook published today that doesn’t have the word “sustainable” right up front…I guess the message is that if you’re going to make a withdrawal from the world’s dwindling supply of fish, you ought to do it as responsibly–and deliciously–as you can.