Eat Drink Style Pizza Party for My Nephew & Pizza Snob Friends

Taylor's First Pizza

As a kid growing up, I looked forward to Sundays when the Times would be delivered to our doorstep. I'd get up and run to the door and grab the heap of freshly ink-pressed paper and toss it onto the living room floor. I would then grab scissors and hastily cut the bra and thong off the newspaper with two quick snips. And on my hands and knees, I would quickly shuffle through the stack like a college intern in a file cabinet on a busy day. There it was. Exactly what I was looking for.

No, it wasn't the comics.

Coupons. Pizza coupons.

During that time, the powerhouse pizza companies were Domino's, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar's and were constantly offering deals with soda, an extra pie for X amount of dollars or some weird culinary invention. But it was Little Caesar's who kept it real. For $15, you could get TWO pizzas with TWO toppings, while the other two offered ONE pizza for nearly the same price. Coming from a frugal, Chinese family, we'd be lucky to even get the $15 deal. Domino's and Pizza Hut was for the rich... and plus, they make such damn greasy food. I still refuse to eat that stuff to this day. But Little Caesar's? Yes please! Anyway, it was easier to push a cow off the road than it was to convince my parents to buy us pizza. They just didn't see the point of bread, cheese and sauce cut into triangles? Why? For $15, they could get a whole roasted duck at the Sam Woo bbq zoo. They could buy 7 of those face-sun visors if they made them back then. Thank god they didn't. Sometimes, we'd get those cardboard-like pizzas that came wrapped and stacked on top of each other. One look at it and you knew that it wasn't going to be very good.

My sister and I devised a plan to obtain more pizzas... simply by being on our best behavior. We showed homework, cleaned the house up every chance we could and blew MAJOR smoke up their asses. Most of the time, we failed. But for every 15 tries, we got our pizza. And it was heaven. For some reason, my story wasn't far off from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. We weren't very wealthy but we had hopes and dreams... of getting pizza. I still remember what it was like holding $15 buck in my pocket and happily crossing the street. The all-too-familiar sign with the cartoon Greek guy would widen my eyes. I could see the oompa-loompas walking back n' forth behind the counter processing goodness. A smile cracked on my face and wielding that fabulous coupon that would grant me access into delicious cheesiness. If you remember, Little Caesar's used to package their double goodness on a cardboard and large white 'envelope'... much like Charlie's winning ticket in the chocolate bar. A simple tear in the 'envelope', and wafts of goodness seaped into your nose. Those days are long gone. Now Little Caesars pack their pizzas in boxes and are selling two types of pizzas for $5 each. You've seen their human billboards... spinning and tossing their signs on the corner of the street. Definitely not the same.

I still love pizza to this day, but really, who doesn't? My favorites being Fat Slice in Norcal, Abbot's in Venice Beach and Greco's on the corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga. And for a frozen brand, I absolutely love the 5 for $5 Jeno's pizza – my official poor-college-guy staple, amongst Del Taco and Sriracha-sauce hot dogs. But the more you cook, the more you stray away from eating out and I definitely can't eat the pizza from Domino's and Pizza Hut. The sight of that greasy bread and orange puddle of oil laying on top... man. It's inevitable that you'll try making your own pizza.

Finally, after a long hiatus, I got called for a catering gig that requires making pizza in a woodfire oven. I freaked because (1) I cannot stand baking and (2) how the hell do I work a woodfire oven. Why do I hate baking? Because it basically requires a lot of patience, standing around and precise measurements. Once you've done exactly what the book tells you to do, you loiter in the kitchen area. I prefer cooking savory food because it triggers the human senses and requires full attention. I see it as a high maintenace girl that needs love, care, attention, gifts, massages and affection. If something's not right, she'll react and blow up. Such is the case with sauces that break... meat that is overcooked. Very temperamental but I love it.

J and I borrowed her mom's Kitchen Aid mixer and one look at that thing ensures that your food will be good. Tokyoastrogirl sent me a link to a recipe by Heidi of 101 Cookbook's, who now has her first published cookbook. (Congrats to her on a huge achievement – she deserves it). I decided to throw a pizzafest slash practice for the catering event, and to celebrate my nephew's first birthday. Since he has four beaver teeth coming out, he'd be able to eat his first pizza. I tried out the recipe Heidi used and man, this was some GOOD pizza dough. My mom, who never let us have pizza, loved the bread. J called me 30 mins after she tried it, and asked that I save some dough for her. I myself hate eating pizza crust, but couldn't resist. So far so good. The best way to find out if this pizza was really good was to call on my friends ME & EP. These two are pizza snobs slash whores. They eat pizza once a week. They've DRIVEN to the famous Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix TWICE, where people wait for 2 hours in line to get in to this spot. I've seen the photos of their pizza and wow, amazing. If you like the pizza at Batali & Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza, you'll like Pizzeria Bianco because the head chef, Chef Matt Molina, was trained in that same restaurant.

Australia-looking Pizza

These hairy arms are not mine. They belong to my friend ME. Here ME is rolling the dough out for our first pizza. A great dinner party to have is a pizza party, where you buy a bunch of pizza toppings and let everyone make his own pizza. I watched as he rolled the dough, and he looked very happy. Almost with that perverted, sexual offender look. Don't worry if your dough starts to look like Australia like it does in the photo, simply roll it back into a ball and start over. It's a good thing also to roll a few times because you want air to get in there to add some puffiness to the pizza.

Baby Cheese Pizza

Baby Cheese Pizza
For the birthday boy, my sister and I made him a 6" pizza with delicious marinara and mozzarella cheese on it. We then sliced the pizza into 1/2" x 1/2" cubes and laid them out on his baby chair (pictured above). He went to town on it and gobbled it up in about 7 minutes. This pizza reminded me of larger Bagel Bites and was very very fun to make.

Pepperoni Pizza

ME's Double Pepperoni Pizza
First ME laid out 5-6 pepperoni slices on the cheese. I looked at him with a puzzled look. C'mon man, I thought you were a pizza whore... double down on it! He pretty much covered the whole pizza up w/ pepperoni... not a chance for the bread to see the light of day. A classic, delicious pizza!

Marguerite Pizza

My Sister's Marguerite Pizza
She likes simple food and this pizza is a classic representation of food that doesn't need to be complicated. The Italians first devised this pizza as a way to promot patriotism. A marguerite consists of only red sauce, white cheese and green basil... the 3 colors in the Italian flag. I cut the slices of tomato rather thin because 10 minutes in the oven really doesn't cook the tomato fully. Everyone loved this.

Sausage & Zuccini Pizza

Spinach & Fontina Sausage with Zuccini and Red Onions
My favorite pizza has to be a veggie pizza, but the consensus insisted on adding sausage to this pizza. You can use any kind of sausage, it'll taste perfectly fine. I did a quick sauté with the zuccini and added garlic and smoked paprika. This combination was very good.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
I made this for the client and she absolutely loved it. I quickly sautéed the portobello mushrooms in garlic and thyme and added it to the pizza. After it came out, I lightly drizzled some fantastic White Truffle oil. If you plan to buy White Truffle oil, try to fork out the money for a pure bottle of truffle oil, not the truffle-infused olive oil crap you see at Trader Joe's. If you don't use it quickly enough, the oil goes bad and tastes nasty. For many this was the 2nd favorite.

Heirloom, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza

Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza
I think for this election, I'm not voting for Hillary, Obama nor Edwards, I'm voting for Burrata Cheese for President. This stuff is stellar. Tokyoastrogirl gave me the idea for this and I really have to say THANK YOU. The combination of sweet, juicy heirlooms, fragrant basil and soft & milky burrata is heavenly. After I baked the pizza, I dropped globs of the burrata cheese (it comes in a water-filled tub, in some sort of 'casing') all over. I watched as it melted slightly on the surface. Beauty. This was everyone's favorite and definitely mine.

A note to those that wanna try out the pizza recipe. With exception to the Baby Cheese and Pepperoni pizzas, I simply used olive oil on the dough as a 'sauce' base. I'm not much of a tomato sauce person, so I refrained from using it – and it turned out wonderful. Always salt and pepper the pizza after you've added your toppings. You can even add some more olive oil on top of the pizza before you bake it. Pizzas were baked for about 12 minutes, at 450 degrees without a baking stone. I've heard a baking stone does wonders, so I'll try that next.

Here's the link to Heidi's tasty recipe again. Happy belated to my little nephew, you rock. And thanks to everyone for reading.

Eat Drink Style San Francisco - All Work, No Play... But Definitely Good Eating

The comedown from such an eye opening experience in China resulted in periodic wakeups every 3 hours in the night, slight headaches from basically being hung upside down for a good week and a half and constant cursing from being completely exhausted. J and I did a lot in only 10 days, 2 lost from flying... Hong Kong, Macau, Zhuhai and Yangshuo. And when I thought I could finally slip back into my Los Angeles mode, I was abruptly shuttled to our San Francisco office for a week of work. There's something frustrating about emptying a suitcase, and then having to repack again.

Argh.

*Bing* But wait, a business trip entails business meals. Oh yes.

I take that 'argh' back.

The Clift Front

I was put up in another one of the Morgans Hotel Group properties, the Clift. Back in February, I got to stay at Ian Schrager's beautiful Hudson Hotel in Chelsea, New York. Both are truly sleek, conceptual boutique hotels. I could only dream of affording a night there.

The Clift Lobby


The Clift Bar

The Clift Hotel is well-known for its bar, which is built with the wood from a single redwood tree. May not sound astonishing, but this place is huge. I'd have to guess the ceilings are at least 40' high. There are picture frames with portraits of people all over, and when looking closely, you can see that it's not really a still image. It's a looping pre-recorded video. Kinda creepy when you catch one of the models gazing at you. J's brother and I came here after dinner and soon found out the hard truth with boutique hotel bars, you're gonna get ripped off. 8 shots of tequila and 4 beers, we were happy. But immediately sobered up upon receiving the $150 tab. Looks like we're eating cheap the rest of the week.

Bar Crudo

Before landing in SF, I did all my restaurant research on Chowhound and Yelp! Bar Crudo was one of the places many of the posters and reviewers had mentioned. 'Crudo' is spanish/italian for 'raw' and you might catch yourself getting some cold stares if you even refer to this place as a sushi bar. No rolls, no nigiri rice, none of that. Just plain old cuts of delicious, super fresh fish presented in a way that gives San Francisco bragging rights. Chef/owner Mike Selvera is extremely talented. Guest-eating with J's brother and I was another one of my foodie friends EW. If you had read about my awesome trip in Taiwan, she was the tour guide for all the nuggets of goodness available only at the night markets.

Bar Crudo Jellyfish

Selvera has a taste for art as much as he does for his culinary creations. We sat there for about 15 minutes trying to figure out how that jellyfish piece was constructed and when Ikea would steal the idea and put that out on the shelves. I'd buy one though, maybe even 15.

Bar Crudo Raw Bar

We grabbed a front row seat at the bar like teenagers with fake ID's at a nudie bar. Our eyes admiring, no STUDYING, the many types of shellfish available. Chef Selvera saw us and gave a smirk. He could tell that we were total food perverts. Patience, perverted ones.

Bar Crudo Kumamoto Oysters

Kumamoto Oysters
Unless you're an ogre or Paris Hilton, I don't understand how one can swallow the tongue-sized oysters that are usually listed on menus. The first time I tried an oyster, it had to be the size of a human tongue. I started tearing and had to spit it back out, and so did my friends haha. But then comes the wonderful midget of oysters... the Kumamoto. It originated in Kyushu, Japan but is now harvested in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia region. And with the best coming from Humboldt Bay. The oyster is only about 2" long in its shell, but when carved out, it's thin and easy to chew. But its the taste that's so amazing – sweet with very little brininess. Absolutely no soapiness to it. It's a good thing we asked Selvera if he had Kumamotos because he rarely gets them. J's brother, Jeremy, had never tried Kumamotos... and after 1... we each got 1/2 a dozen for ourselves. Chef Selvera serves them the traditional way with mignonette and cocktail sauce. Delicious.

Bar Crudo Scallops

Day Boat Scallops with Corn Puree, Lobster Mushrooms & Terragon Oil
Scallops, the tater-tots-of-the sea. No meal for me is complete without some sort of scallop, whether it's seared or in ceviche form. Scallops are delicate and texture and taste and the addition of the cubed lobster mushroom makes perfect Yinyang. I've never had sweet corn puree on anything but love how this is a great substitute for sugar.

Bar Crudo Tuna

Tombo Tuna with Lobster Oil, Pineapple Vanilla Vinaigrette & Himalayan Pepper
One look at this tuna and we knew it was superfresh, not to mention the beautiful pink hue. I loved this dish! Where can I find Himalayan pepper?!

Bar Crudo Hawaiian Ono

Hawaiian Ono with Lemongrass, Chili, Citrus, Mint & Yuzu Tobiko
This one was the winner for me. I've only had seared and broiled ono... and now prefer it completely raw. Selvera basically made a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette with chili, lemongrass, fish sauce and sugar. I'm sure the sauce used would even work well with spring rolls.

Bar Crudo Fluke

Rhode Island Fluke with Jamon Serrano & Soft Quail Egg
Of all the dishes tonight, the fluke was the most tender. It reminds me a lot of the sushi prepared by the wonderful Keizo of Sushi Zo in Palms. The quail egg was pretty much a bonus to me since I'm a sucker for them.

Bar Crudo Arctic Char

Arctic Char with Creamy Horseradish, Wasabi Tobiko & Dill
I was excited to try this dish because I had heard a lot about Arctic Char. It belongs to the salmon family and even possesses trout attributes. It is also the only freshwater fish found so far North in the Arctic region. This guy has no trouble frolicking in icy water. I loved this dish as well. You can totally tell Selvera used freshly-grated horseradish, because you might tear from its robustness.

Bar Crudo Lobster Salad

Maine Lobster Salad with Sweet Corn, Heirloom Tomatoes & Burrata Cheese
Peanut butter & jelly. Spam & eggs. Midgets & strippers. All pairings that I like, JK on the last one. And thanks to Mike, I'm adding this one to the books. Chunky pieces of butter-poached Maine lobster with whole peaches and watercress. Seriously, if you served a scoop of ice cream on top of this, I would nod my head and agree that this is... DEFINITELY dessert.

Bar Crudo Seafood Chowder

Seafood Chowder with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Potatoes
More like bacon soup with a garnish of squid, fish, lobster and clams. It's a good thing the three of us shared this because it was sooooooo rich. But my god, this had to be one of the tastiest nouveau chowders I've had. I say 'nouveau' because I know this may not be as good as New England's chowder. But damn it's good.

This is the first time I've ever used this word when speaking about food, but the food at Bar Crudo is simply SEXY. Bring a date and you'll have her/him/it in no time. And not to mention Selvera's interest for fish and art, he's got a good palate for microbrews and imports. I highly recommend Norcal's Racer 5 beer. Bar Crudo for president!!!

Incanto San Francisco

When it comes to offals, the 'unused' parts, one might think of Mario Batali and just about every single Chinese chef in the San Gabriel Valley with their bbq zoo on display. But thanks to the people on Yelp! and Chowhound, I learned about an Italian, Rhode Island-native named Chris Cosentino. Chef Cosentino has worked at Alice Water's Chez Panisse in Berkeley and SF's Rubicon and has appeared on Iron Chef America against Mario Batali in Battle Offals. At his restaurant Incanto, you might want to inquire about the group dinner special. It's definitely prix fixe but it's not a 9 course menu... it's one whole roasted pig or lamb at a whopping $1500... enough to feed 20 according to the staff. And every part of that animal is served. Being an offal eater, there was no hesitation in paying Noe Valley's Incanto a visit. And before I start to ramble on, I want people to know that Incanto serves half portions of their appetizers and wine, allowing you to get a tasty glimpse of Cosentino's secret weapon(s). How many restaurants out there will offer 1/2 orders of anything? I really like how Cosentino encourages people to try things they haven't tried before.

Incanto Pig Head

This is one of those things you might find at a garage sale or swapmeet, but for Incanto, it makes a lot of sense – it's their brand image.

Incanto House Olives

House-Marinated Olives
I started out with some house olives. Olives... I love them but how exciting can they be if there served as appetizers. It wasn't until I saw the pantry cook toss these in dark olive oil and probably some kind of herbal vinaigrette that I knew something was up. To top it off, he put them on a plate and threw in what looked like a toaster oven. Whoa, toasted olives. For many people, olives are too earthy and much to tannic. But the simple task of infusing heat into these seeded beings takes them to another level, like kimchi thrown on a korean bbq grill. These were excellent and perfect with the pre-dinner drink.

Incanto Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato & Melon with Vanilla Salt & Basil
Heirloom tomatoes are in season and I recommend eating them while they are hot. Tomatoes are fruits, but do they really taste like fruit? Not really. But things change when heirlooms come into the picture – they are sweet and succulent. And the addition of very expensive olive oil and vanilla-infused sea salt enhances the dish. Like the Maine lobster and peach salad I had, a simple scoop of ice cream would've slotted this dish in the dessert category. It was THAT refreshing.

I was done with the appetizers and picked up the menu again. For some reason, my mind is only picking out the bizarre nouns... like brains and hearts. And its exactly what I had.

Incanto Beef Heart

Grilled Beef Heart, Pickled Watermelon & Pistachio
I'm used to chicken hearts but I didn't expect the beef heart to be... well so beefy. If I was told that this was a steak, I would've believed so. I was expecting to see valves and veins but the beautiful searing covered it up. What brought this dish together was the pickled watermelon... I can eat them like candy all day long – so good!

Incanto Calf Brain

Calves' Brains with Porcini, Capers & Lemon
Now just imagine egg tarts at dim sum. Imagine the steamed egg at korean restaurants. Imagine panna cotta but with a beefy taste to it. And that's calves' brains. I loved loved loved this... partly because it wasn't as rich as I had imagined it to be. When I had brain tacos in SF last year, all I could taste was FAT. Although good, I couldn't imagine anyone pounding more than one of those. I had read somewhere that the cow brain contains anywhere from 2,000-3,o00 calories because of all the colored matter. Not good for you. Anyway, the sauce that accompanied this couldn't be more perfect. The brain is so delicate and rich that you need nothing more than a beautiful, buttery, lemony stock to wash it down. I guess the only thing creepy about this dish really is the cloud-like shape of the actual calf brain. Other than that, Cosentino has made a stellar dish.

Incanto Tuna Heart Pasta

Sardinian Cured Tuna Heart, Egg Yolk & Parsley Spaghettini
The bartender, server and guy sitting next to me recommended this dish. Three people can't be too wrong. I knew this dish was up next because I could smell the strong waft of sardines... but it was immediatly followed by a slap of garlic. Wow. I had to sit there and enjoy the aroma for a few seconds before digging in. I mixed the egg yolk with everything on the plate, and the result was a golden hue with little freckles of shaved, fried tuna heart. I ate this in approximately 3 minutes without one sip of water or wine. I wanted more and more. Why did they tell me that I could order a 1/2 order of this?! Excellent!!!

Incanto Lamb Ragu

Lamb Ragu with Handkerchief Pasta
I didn't have to taste this to know that this was going to knock me over. Braised-to-death slivers of lamb, velvety ribbons of fresh pasta swimming in a golden river of cholestorel. Oh man. Again, I killed this dish.... scratch that.... inhaled it in 3 minutes.

I'll be honest with you, I can't justify spending $20+ on pasta because it's something that I attribute to home cooking. It just seems so expensive for what it is. I would eat pho WAY LESS if it was $25 a bowl, even if it had braised short ribs or kobe beef in it. Wouldn't you? But thank you to Chef Cosentino, I am craving more freshmade pasta now. And I cannot wait to go back here. *Applause*

I had only eaten two of SF's best places, and I was already feeling spoiled. But it seems that the Gods of Employment saw that I was having too much fun... they threw a big thunderbolt of work at me. Approximately two days of 16+ hour workdays and a 30+ hour all nighter of work at me.

Thanks, Gods of Employment.

And on the last day, after 30+ hours... I ended up here in the streets of San Francisco. Completely exhausted, delirious, with stinging eyes... wandering the streets for some sort of reward.

San Francisco Tsingtao Billboard

I saw this sign while walking around aimlessly. I found it funny at the time and laughed out loud like a madman, maybe it's not as funny now... especially if you can't read Chinese.

My flight was in 2.5 hours and I needed to redeem the last few days of vacuuming and polishing Satan's basement. My friend, Immaeatchu's man, had told me about a great spot called City Beer. At this point, it was 11:45 and I found myself staring at the shop from across the street. They weren't opened yet. It was either I go here for a liquid lunch and look like an alchy, or head out to Burma Superstar for one of SF's favorite joints. With my backpack and raggedy carry-on, I looked at my cellphone for the time again.

11:54 AM.

11:57 AM.


You see, the biggest problem and guilt comes from the fact that AM is showing on my phone, not PM. Any big drinker will tell you that it's NOT a drinking problem when you drink in the PM. What's one beer? I'll go to Burma Superstar after that ONE beer.

City Beer San Francisco

12:05 pm. I walked in to City Beer. Like a kid in a candy store, I was suddenly awakened by the sight of something so beautiful. Just hundreds of colorful beer labels beckoning me to pick them up and caress them. Hold them and love them and cherish them. See them grow, graduate and have their own families.

I met the owner Craig, a mid-30's guy, who is so passionate about beer he'd kick you out if you even asked the question, "do you have any wine coolers?" City Beer offers a weekly selection of beers on tap and only charges $4 for an 8-10 ouncer. You can try any beer on the shelves or fridges for only $1 corkage per bottle.

City Beer Hops

These are hops used for making beer. I was buzzed and popped one in my mouth and you kno what, not a bad snack. I'm sure I would've said the same thing if I had eaten grasshoppers.

2.5 hours later, 5 beers and $35 worth of beer, I had forgotten about my lunch plans and found my new batcave. Quite simply, I was drunk. And this couldn't be a more perfect way to end the rough week. Drop by and have a beer with Craig, you'll learn a lot. He's a great guy.

But the fun doesn't stop... I'm currently writing from a hotel in San Francisco... again for the 2nd week. Stay tuned...!

Thanks for reading.

Bar Crudo
603 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA, 94108
(415) 956-0396
www.barcrudo.com

Incanto
1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA, 94131
(415) 641-4500
www.incanto.biz

City Beer
1168 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA, 94103
(415) 503-1033

Eat Drink Style Yangshuo, China (Guangxi Province) - Hello From A Tiny Dot on the World Map

Yangshuo, China

I've been to Southeastern China many times in the last few years, but the trip to Hong Kong this time would be different because I would be going with my other half. If you've been following J's blog, you'll know that she's been backpacking for the last few weeks with her brother in Vietnam. As a teacher, she's got a crapload of time off. So she decided to meet me in Hong Kong and Macau. This would be a good chance to see how J and I do in a foreign land. We get along very well but of course, we have our downfalls. For example, fighting over color correction in photo editing. Fun stuff.

Yangshuo Bear Zoo

We decided to backpack in a small town two hours away from the beautiful city of Guilin. Guilin is known for its beautiful, lush karst peaks, two long rivers, the Yulong and Li and weird circus acts pictured above (thanks Jozy!). But its also known for its large influx of Chinese tourists. If my parents have been there, then for sure it's touristy. No thanks. We read in Lonely Planet that Yangshuo was the place to be for those interested in NOT being on a tour and those that tread away from the beaten path. Getting to Yangshuo was not easy... an hour bus ride to the airport, two delays, an hour flight, a 2 hour taxi ride that finally got us in at 2 am, when we were supposed to arrive at 9 pm. We found a place off Hostels.com called the Yangshuo Culture House which got an A rating from reviewers. For $11 a night per person, we got A/C, wireless internet, comfortable beds, 2 cooked meals a day and a choice between Chinese calligraphy, cooking or Tai Chi classes daily. Not bad. It was different once we got there though. It was 2 am, muggy, raining and we were greeted by a sleepy owner, named Wei. There's a reason why there aren't many photos of this place on the internet. Well, simply because the hostel was built in an underdeveloped area with absolutly no street lamps. Things didn't look good at this point and the only thing we could think about was showering and sleeping. But what we didn't know, was that this place would change our lives, open our minds even more and leave a memorable experience inside our hearts. For only $11 a night.

Yangshuo Culture House

One thing everyone talked about on Hostels.com was the fact that Wei and his family, who also live there, really make you feel at home. As soon as I walked in, he asked me to take my dirty ass Pumas off. So Asian, I like it.

Yangshuo Wei

Here's Wei and I outside. Many people online have also commended Wei on his willingness to take care of everything for you. As an ex-travel agent, his English is very good and makes things much easier for China newbies. From raft rides to taxis to minibuses - anything you want, Wei will take care of it for you. Wei also states on his site that many people in the Yangshuo town will pretend they are him and take you to another hotel. On his site, it read, "You only have to look at my right hand and see that I only have four fingers." When we arrived and shook Wei's hand, we knew it was him right away. *Kinda tickled.*

Yangshuo Backpackers

Fellow backpackers from Portland, Netherlands, UK and Spain.

Yangshuo Family Meal

Wei and his family weren't joking when they said that family meals were provided. I don't have a wide lens on my camera, but you can see that there are clearly over 11 dishes of awesome homecooked food... all ingredients picked fresh from the local market and fields. I usually don't like rice, but I was eating the food non-stop. The setup was great. 6:30 pm we showed up for dinner and seated with the rest of the backpackers, 14 total. Beer and soda was available in a small fridge for only 4 RMB. FYI, the exchange rate for US to China RMB is 1 to 7.5. Yes, ice cold beer for only $0.53, whichs is SIX TIMES more expensive than the beer J & her brother were drinking in Vietnam.

After a night of full rest, we walked out to the main area in Yangshuo called West Street to explore.
Yangshuo Oldman

I took one look at this old man (I named him 'Old Man Liu') and knew this would be a classic shot. He's playing an instrument called an 'er hu', a two string chinese violin which sounds super sad. If he played Celine Dion's titanic song on the 'er hu', he could drive people mad. I gave him some money and he happily fiddled away. Time for our first meal in Yangshuo.

Yangshuo Guilin Mifun

Yangshuo Guilin Mifun

This is Guilin's most popular dish, 'mi fun', which means 'rice noodle'. This soup noodle dish consists of preserved vegetables, ground pork, roasted peanuts, noodles in a powerful chicken broth. God, the broth in China rocks. Only 5 RMB. A taxi driver we had met expressed his anger in the price increase of this dish due to tourism. It USED to be 2 RMB. Was there a point in time when everything was once FREE in China?

Yangshuo Wontons

Yangshuo Wontons

These are Yangshuo-style wontons, which mainly consist of ground pork, unlike Hong Kong-style wontons which have ground pork, shrimp, dried fish and yellow chives. These were absolutely delicious. The wontons were cooked for no more than 2 mins in a delicious chicken broth and the freshly made wonton skins melted like snowflakes. I think I ordered another bowl of these.

Yangshuo Guilin Chili Sauce

Guilin is also known for their craft in making excellent chili sauce, 'gui lin la jiao'. I say you put Sriracha down for once and go pick up this sauce at your local Chinese market. Its perfect for dumpling sauce, stir fries and soup noodles. I use this when I make my Chinese beef noodle soup and it kicks people's asses!

Yangshuo Claypot Rice

Besides porridge, the Chinese like to eat a type of 'wet rice' or 'soupy rice' called 'xi fan' (pronounced 'she faan'). This must've been a staple here in Yangshuo because we saw nearly 12-15 of these restaurants in town. While you're 'xi fan' was being cooked over high charcoal heat, you got to choose your own meats and veggies as you can see in the image. You would then hand it to the cook who cooked everyone's meal in an assembly line fashion. Definitely not as cheesy as those mongolian-style joints you'll find at mall food courts. They weren't using 3-foot long chopstickers either.

Yangshuo Young Fisherman

After lunch, J and I headed to West Street and chilled at a cafe called 7th Heaven, one of 25+ eateries where the foreigners hung out. There, you could get western food, WiFi and cheap alcohol.
Yangshuo Tsingtao

It was only 1 pm and it was damn hot. I usually don't practice the religion of drinking alcohol in the sun because of its dizzying effects on the head, but rules change on vacation. Yes, this Tsingtao beer tasted as refreshing as it looked.

Yangshuo Li Quan Beer of Guilin

LiQ is Guilin's standard beer with 10% alcohol. 10% for a beer is way higher than domestic American beers but it certainly didn't taste bad at all. Even J was downing the beer because it was simply refreshing in the humidity. I also tried Guilin's official rice wine and it was quite possibly the most awful thing ever... with just a few notches above the plastic Popov Vodka bottles you can find at Albertson's for only $7. It was so nasty that I had another 6 shots. Beer after beer, shot after shot... I was in a happy place at about 2 pm. J just looked at me and shook her head with that 'you're a loser' look. Yes I know J, but I'm on vacation.

Yangshuo Scooter Time!

Next thing I know, I'm bugging J to get off her stupid laptop and go do something. I looked over to my left and saw a few people renting out bicycles and scooters. I walked over to them.

Me: "How much does a bike cost a day?"
Lady: "30 RMB."
Me: "Ok, not bad. How about the electric scooter?"
Lady: "50 RMB."
Me: "Wait, so for us to get two bikes and expend our own energy, it'll cost 60 RMB."
Lady: "Yes."
Me: "Give me the electric scooter!"
Lady: "Ok, 500 RMB deposit though."
Me: "No problem."

Even if I didn't return it, a scooter for 500 RMB is not bad at all. I could have a scooter for myself until the police tracked me down. I called J over and we both got on the scooter. Problem was, my motor skills weren't exactly at 100%. Apparently I was twisting the accelerator the wrong way and going a whopping 8 mph. The people that rented us the scooter just laughed at us. Old people were walking by faster than us. Was this some joke??? Once I pressed the accelerator in the right way, it was definitely business time.

J: "Where we going?"
Me: "Who cares. Let's just go!"
J: "Let me get the map."
Me: "Fuck the map."

Within a few minutes we're out of West Street and stopped on the main street. Boy, did it look like the Frogger video game. At top speed (20 mph), we were no match for buses, motorcycles and even really fast old people on bicycles. Things were moving around EVERYWHERE. I really didn't know why there were lanes to begin with. Alright, here we go.

1.... 2.... 3....

We put trust in our little electric scooter, 'Frogger', and gunned it across the street. Never have I heard J scream so much and say things like "Watch out for the TRACTOR!" The Chinese LOVE to use the horn, so I took advantage of it. Honking at slow bikes, slow people and big trucks. I didn't see one middle finger haha. Within a few miles, my alcohol buzz had worn off and fear had converted to pure andrenaline and joy, and we were on the road to nowhere. Exactly what we wanted.

Seems like the thing to do in Yangshuo, if you're a guy, is to hangout on your bike on the street, smoke cigarettes and watch people go by. Maybe it's not a choice if you're unemployed. We stopped over and asked this random guy for some directions. His name was Mr. Hsu, and for 5 RMB, he offered to take us around the countryside... ROUNDTRIP. Hell yeah!

Yangshuo Random Guy Mr. Hsu

Yangshuo Moon Hill

This is called Moon Hill, a tourist destination that requires YOU to pay THEM to WALK up a steep mountain. No thanks. Mr. Hsu gladly showed us a nice vista point. For how much? All inclusive of the 5 RMB tour. After this, Mr. Hsu took us to three other areas and it was just awesome. We then started to hunt for restaurants serving dog meat. Every place we went to ran out of it... or maybe IT ran away. Oh well, maybe the whole dog meat thing is a myth started by PETA. As I was coasting at 20 mph on a scooter with J holding me from behind, I couldn't help but smile and appreciate the fact that life couldn't be better even with J's constant screaming as vehicles approached. The scenery was simply amazing and pristine. I realized that I started a little late in seeing China and the possibility of traversing China as a whole was all but too slim. If I were to die that day and get roadkilled by some tractor, it would be all good. We thanked Mr. Hsu for the 3 hour ride and payed him 35 RMB instead of 5 RMB. He looked like he was going to cry.

When we got back to the Yangshuo Culture House, we were still thinking about our awesome scooter trip. Like a redneck convincing people about his alien abduction, we told all the other backpackers about our day and they all wanted to do the same. The next day, we decided to hangout with a group from Portland, Oregon.

Yangshuo Massage Menu

After lunch, we decided to get a massage for dessert. Look at these prices... for 2 HOUR massages. Divide by 7.75 and that's the US rate. I can afford a $10 massage! The 5 of us were just silent in the massage parlour. Nobody said a word; it was just too good. Portland had been traveling for nearly 5 months, coming from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos most recently – and a foot massage was long overdue.

Yangshuo Portland 7th Heaven

Here's a shot with Portland. 2 hours later and in a higher level of relaxation, we took them to the same cafe yesterday. Walking over there was pure bliss. I've never had a foot massage b/c I know it can be painful, but they seriously turned my feet into pillows. An hour later, we said bye to Portland and we were off to our next thing.

Yangshuo Street Market

I love to cook and I'll even do it on my vacation. We signed up for the Yangshuo Cooking School, which we found online a few months ago. Bob, tell them what they get! For only 100 RMB, a van will pick you up, take you to see the local market, teach you how to cook 5 Yangshuo favorites, eat the 5 things you cooked, admire the stellar view of the karst peaks during sunset AND take you back home. Nice! The following are shots from the market tour.

Yangshuo BBQ at the Market

Yangshuo Tofu

This lady was totally dozing off. I don't blame her because the heat here was intense. I was just waiting for her to take a face dive into the tofu sheet. Look at the beautiful fresh tofu.

Yangshuo Chickens

Chickens were everywhere. So was the smell of an incense used to burn off the odor of freshly killed meat. It smelled like the anti-mosquito stuff you use while camping.

Yangshuo Pigeons

I think I might have a new favorite bird. I didn't eat pigeon here in Yangshuo, but I did a few days earlier in Macau. I had it served like roasted duck. The pigeon meat does taste like duck but is definitely not as fatty as duck; neither is the skin. Not a bad way to get rid of the rats of the sky.

Yangshuo Clay Eggs

These are similar to the 'thousand year old eggs' called 'pi dan', only they are buried in clay/mud for long periods of time.

Yangshuo Cleavers

This is probably one of my favorite shots. So manly and grisly. I love the remaining morsels of whatever beast was killed for our gastronomic pleasures. The meat dept. in the market didn't seem too fresh. There was absolutely no refridgeration and meat was left out on benches for immediate purchase. It was already 3:30 pm and I could smell the odor of old meat. I saw a man taking a nap on the bench next to some pork butt and pork belly, and asked our cooking school tour guide how much that guy cost per pound. She didn't find that too funny and continued walking.

Yangshuo Cooking School

Yangshuo Cooking School

After the market tour, we were herded to a small pocket in town laden with chickens and dogs on the road. The architecture changed dramatically as we drove. I looked back and smiled as the town shrank to a tiny dot. Here the buildings were made of bricks that may not pass US inspection, but you know that they've been here for probably close to a century. I felt like I was on the set of a Asian period film, like Crouching Tiger. If only I had long straight hair, a silky man-gown and levitation capabilities.

Yangshuo Cooking School Introduction

Our class consisted of two instructors and about 14 students, mainly from the UK. Like our buddies back at the hostel, they had also been traveling for a few months. We each had our own setup: wok, burner, cleaver and ingredients. The class was a lot of fun and lasted almost 3 hours.

Yangshuo Cooking School Garden

One of the workers at the cooking school picking out fresh scallions in the huge garden.

Yangshuo Cooking School Steamed Food

Here are three things the people of Yangshuo love to steam: squash blossoms, mushrooms and fried tofu cubes. Each of the items were stuffed with a filling consisting of ground pork, scallions, garlic, ginger and oyster sauce.

Yangshuo Cooking School Steam Baskets

After we stuffed the items, we stack-steamed them and had to remember our number for later retrieval.

Yangshuo Cooking School Prepping

I haven't used a cleaver in such a long time and I actually missed it. I forgot how versatile this tool is. While American and French cooks rely on several different knives in a knife block, the Chinese use this one tool for everything, including circumcision. Just kidding.

Yangshuo Cooking School

Beware of people with cleavers. They are usually angry and very hungry. Especially the 1/2 vietnamese, 1/2 japanese ones wearing white hats.

Yangshuo Cooking School Prep

Yangshuo Cooking School Eggplant

Yangshuo Cooking School Cashew Chicken

Yangshuo Cooking School Beer Fish

This dish I was excited for. I had read about Yangshuo's famous dish, Beer fish. First, carp fish is fried skin-side down and then tossed with beer, pickled chilis, garli, ginger, oyster sauce and scallions. The result is a very tasty and light dish that is reminiscent of Chinese home cooking.

Yangshuo Cooking School Beer Fish

Yangshuo Cooking School View

This was our view at the cooking school as we ate the food we cooked. There was something amazing about eating rural Chinese food with huge karst peaks all around you. You could hear the loud buzzing of cicadas all throughout the valley. We were a bit sad to leave.

When we got back, we had another family dinner, which was excellent. For some strange reason, I decided to buy the nasty Guilin rice wine and bring it back to the hostel. After a few of us killed the whole bottle, we were hungry. And you haven't had the full experience of China until you've paid a visit to the night market, like Taiwan. Party time!

Yangshuo Fellow Backpackers from Spain

Here's a shot with Spain, Jeff and Maria. Jeff looks like 'Jesus with a Trim'. And guess what, he's a carpenter. No kidding.

Yangshuo Li River Shrimp

Oh man, one of my favorites of the night. This is Li River shrimp and grow no larger than 1.25 inches. They are deep fried and then stir fried with veggies. This is the REAL popcorn shrimp – the shells fried crispy and flavored with the perfect amount of salt. I probably ate 30-40 pcs.

Yangshuo Chili Snails

Another great Yangshuo treat... snails. These took a bit more work because you had to take each shell one by one and suck them out of their shells. Nonetheless, a big reward for a small task.

Yangshuo Grilled Oysters

These were a night market favorite. I didn't try these grilled oysters though.

Yangshuo Eels

Fresh river eels.

Yangshuo Grilled Chinese Sausage

Do I make your horngry? Grilled sweet sausages.

Yangshuo Pickled Chilis

Chopping up pickled chilis.

Yangshou Garlic Chives

Another favorite of mine... skewered garlic chives. These were flash fried for 2 seconds and brushed with a spicy satay bbq sauce. Killer!

Yangshuo Noodle Man

This man is not jumproping. He is making fresh hand-pulled noodles.

Yangshuo Hand-Pulled Noodles

Yangshuo Dog

Out of respect for those that own a furry friend, I am using a fork and knife as a metaphor for what really went on. What I saw in the market the other day was definitely grisly and I myself am not comfortable showing anyone the photos. But before you call PETA on me, please understand that China is not a rich country and will eat anything to get by. We love pork, beef and chicken... just as they do. Americans find it odd to eat dogs but in China, there are only 4 species of dog that they eat: black, white, spotted and brown. And according to my friend Nick, that is the same ranking in quality with black dogs being the USDA Prime and brown dogs being the canned meat. There are no cute chihuahuas with pink ribbons, golden retrievers that bring you your daily newspaper or poodles that sing and hop on two feet. These are mutts, animals that have naturally roamed the land like wolves and coyotes do. Asians found it odd that Americans were so into beef because in Asia, cattle provides labor in the fields, much like a dog provides companionship. After searching for dog meat in the outskirts of Yangshuo, I was finally able to find this delicacy. I approached a young girl working a small stand. She asked me what I wanted, and after asking 10+ times for dog, I had given up hope.

Girl: "What do you want? What can I make for you?"
Me: "Do you have dog meat?"
Girl: "Yes!"

My eyes grew big and face lit up in joy. In the most barbaric, beastly way. So did the other backpackers.

Me: "How do you cook it?"
Girl: "Quick braise and stir fry it with chilis, celery, garlic and chives."
Me: "How much?"
Girl: "35 RMB."
Me: "30 RMB."
Girl looks at me and pauses and finally gives a nod and starts running off.
Girl: "Be right back!"
Us: "Nice!"

We took a seat at the tables and ordered up some beer. We were all very excited. 5 mins. 10 mins. 15 mins. 20 mins. 25 mins. 30 mins. Wait a minute, the fact that we saw her run off and still hasn't returned in 30 mins seemed bizarre. We grew more curious. Suddenly, as I lifted up my beer for another cool sip, I see a blurry figure running towards me.

It was the Girl. Holding a dish. With the dog meat in it.

She placed the plate down and we all put down our beers and gathered around it like a campfire. It smelled great! I went first. And I'll tell you what, this is the some of the TASTIEST RED MEAT I HAVE EVER TASTED. J wasn't with us so I asked the girl to well, doggybag the dog, so that J could taste it. J and the other backpackers loved it. The meat, like kobe beef, is extremely rich. On a gaminess level, it's way softer than lamb but has a taste that makes you want to eat more and more. One of the backpackers said he would convert to a dog meat eater if it was more available in the UK.

Yangshuo Bamboo Rat

We decided to go to Round 2 of fear factor. As we paid the bill for the dog mcnuggets, I saw what appeared to be a rodent that looked like it was ironed by a semi truck. I looked at the other backpackers and without saying, we nodded. It was a bamboo rat, not rodentus lowereastsidenewyorkus. The guy working the stall grabbed the rat and chopped the hell out of it, head first. He then stir fried it with chili, soy sauce, chives and ginger. The result was a plate of small brown bits. We took a bite and tasted skin and bones, no meat whatsoever. The bones were brittle enough to be eaten but this dish was definitely more work than pleasure. I recommend dog over rat for sure.

Yangshou Frog

Frog legs are easy to find in the SGV, but to watch the whole preparation of the frog is really awesome. Our guy picked out 3 fat frogs about 7-8 inches long from a net. He took one frog in one hand and lightly banged the head of the frog a few times. He set the frog down on the chopping block and I watched as the frog started to spit out foam. The banging technique was apparently used to knock the frog unconscious so it wouldn't hop away. The guy then picked up the frog and exposed the belly to us and used the cleaver to make an incision to remove the organs. It was quite gross. Spain filmed the whole thing on their digital camera and will probably put it on YouTube soon.

Yangshou Frog

And here is Kerokerokeroppi, cooked with garlic, chives and bell peppers. The skin on the frog came off like skin on steamed fish, exposing white meat that resembled chicken. And guess what, it tastes like really fresh, juicy chicken. Very good!

Yangshou Grilled Corn

Now for some more Fear Factor food. Grilled corn with spicy satay sauce. Awesome.

Yangshuo Happiness at the Night Market

Look at the smile on my face. I was like a kid at the county fair, only I didn't eat corndogs or deep fried twinkies. No, I definitely didn't haha.

Yangshuo Hammer Time

The next day, we decided to team up with Spain and ride the scooters through the countryside. We again saw Mr. Hsu hanging out on his bike at the same spot. We asked him to take us around but he only ended up taking us to really touristy areas. We really just wanted to be alone. On the way up, we saw some construction workers hacking away at rock. They looked exhausted. Spain decided to help them out a bit and started hacking away. I took a hammer and started to hack away too. Damn, 8 hours of this a day. I think I'd rather stick to YouTube all day long.

Yangshuo Peeing in Public

China is a BIG PLACE. Of all the places I chose to water the plants, I had unknowingly picked an area with a huge sign saying:

"Implement the policy of preservation for soil conservation. Control the soil erosion caused by mankind activities."

Oops, sorry Mao!

Yangshuo Steamed Dumplings

Yangshuo Dumpling Dough

Yangshuo Steamed Dumplings

Yangshuo Xiao Long Bao

Pictured above are more of Yangshuo's food we had for lunch. They prefer steaming their dumplings then panfrying. Spain had never had these and loved them. The last photo of the buns are Yangshuo's version of 'xiao long bao' (soupy dumplings) which sucked.
Doughy with zero pork juice.

Yangshuo Swimming in the Li River

Yangshuo Swimming in the Li River

And this is where we finally ended up at after an hour in the countryside. Exactly what we were looking for. It was bliss. You can see me swimming in the photo above. I really can't explain the feeling of jumping into a warm river that provides so much for the small town of Yangshuo. Seeing little fish swim around you, investigating your foreign body. Watching old men on rafts glide by, making the moment seem timeless. I didn't know what time it was or what day it was really and this place was certainly a home I'd never have. I realized that to backpack through a country is to leave all that you have behind and taking only what you need. But the same ideology works on a physical and mental level. You have to leave any thoughts and concerns you may have, go with the flow and keep an open mind. Even if it means staring at a dog that lays motionless on a wooden bench in the market. He is at peace, whether or not you believe it. It means no itineraries. No annoying tours. No sense of place. Only to live as the locals would live. And for me and J, China was the place for us to do this. And I'd give anything to ride through the countryside again with J on that 18-mph scooter.

Thank you to J for sharing an amazing trip with me, to the awesome backpackers, Wei and to you for reading.

Check out Portland's thoughts on Yangshuo.