Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Off the Eaten Path on NBC 7! Fridays @ 4:30 PM

When I get “that craving” sometimes I get it bad. Like, stop-whatever-we’re-doing-I-need-it-now bad. Ramen, sushi, dumplings, pot pie, you name it. Who knows what trigger, brain chemistry or planet alignment is behind such a feeling that manifests like a tiny Hulk post-hibernation.

One time, it was very late and I was with a few friends at someone’s house. I said, “Oh my gosh, I can totally go for some ramen right now!” They were digging what I was putting down, so next thing I knew I was in a packed car at 2 A.M. driving to a little ramen/sushi spot in Mission Hills. It was a great night. Oh, and the ramen was good too.

That’s the thing about food. It’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s everything needed to satiate voracious cravings and more. A lot of times, though, it’s more than that. It’s something that gets you out of the house, away from that screen and engaged with incredible people. Not to mention, if you read certain Off the Eaten Path food blogs, the experience can be in a brand new place. What can be more exciting? (Unless you're an extreme introvert. Then there's always the to go option. #nojudgment)

I am thrilled to announce that shameless plug above is heading to the big screen! By that, I mean however big your television is. 

Some of you know, I’ve been writing about my favorite places to grub around San Diego for several months now. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with my NBC 7 higher-ups and we thought this “eat beat” would be a great opportunity to celebrate San Diego’s cultural diversity. Not to mention, it may inspire more people to step out of their comfort zones and explore parts of San Diego they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Our first segment airs this Friday, July 24th at 4:30 P.M. on NBC 7 San Diego. Three others will air the Fridays after that around the same time.

The first piece is on...wait for it…drum roll please...CHINESE FOOD!

Char siu bao (BBQ pork buns) in the making @ Jasmine Seafood Restaurant

My photographer and good friend Enrique Lopez traveled around San Diego’s Convoy area exploring the sweet, the savory and the burn-your-face-off spicy that doesn’t come in a white to-go foam box. People! Please believe me when I tell you there's a whole new world beyond orange chicken, fried rice and fortune cookies with pandas on them.

With that Alicia Keys song in mind...my mouth is ON FIIIIRRREE! Szechuan food @ Spicy City Restaurant

First, we taste some Cantonese food from Jasmine Seafood Restaurant on Convoy Street. Cantonese flavors come from China's southern area, notably Guangzhou. We don’t actually go into the main restaurant, but rather its express section in the back. It’s a great place to pick up lunch or dinner for the family at home. It’s quick, it’s very affordable and all the dim sum is handmade - rolled, folded, steamed and baked to perfection. Steamed BBQ pork buns anyone?

A chef standing behind stacks of char siu bao (Cantonese BBQ pork buns)
Next, we fire things up at Spicy City Restaurant, which is also located on Convoy Street (surprise, surprise). We're talking total annihilation here, but in a good way! During rush hour it's not unusual for the restaurant to have a line out the door. 

Many popular Szechuan dishes start with Chinese peppercorns. They look innocent enough (like dried juniper berries), but did you know they were banned in the U.S. for years? Cooked with spicy peppers, the spice creates a flavor the Chinese call "ma la" or "numbing and spicy." It's hard to describe. Maybe like eating electricity or novocaine. Or like, when you were a kid and silly enough to stick your tongue on a 9 volt battery to feel that buzz on the tip of your tongue. It's sort of like that.

Chongqing Chicken w/ peppercorns

Chongqing chicken, duck spicy hot pot, shredded pork & cold dish appetizer
Something I didn't have time to go into detail in the segment is the cold dish appetizer section of the restaurant. Typically, Szechuan restaurants have this near the register. If you're an adventurous eater, you won't want to miss it. There are some deliciously gnarly bits here, which I grew up eating and loving. It'll probably differ depending on the restaurant, but they could serve seasoned seaweed, pickled chicken feet, pig ear (which is really good!) or something called "the husband and wife" dish. It's a mix of thinly sliced beef and tendon covered in seasoning and peppercorn chili oil. That was my favorite cold dish at Spicy City Restaurant.

Cold dish appetizers. You get to pick 3. Can you guess what that is?

Photographer Enrique Lopez filming our waiter Skylar at the cold dish section. 

Last, but not least, Dumpling Inn in Kearny Mesa. I'm such a fan of this place, I already wrote a post about them. Here's the gist, and I'm not trying to be dramatic.

YOU HAVEN'T LIVED UNTIL YOU'VE TRIED XIAO LONG BAO. It's pronounced show-lung-bow and known by English speakers as Chinese soup dumplings. If you translate it literally, it means "little basket steamed bun." And that's what they are! They're little cute baskets of steamed deliciousness. Like little chipmunk purses plump with savory goodness. They're very popular in the Eastern regions of China, especially Shanghai.

Beautiful, beautiful dumplings (xiao long bao)

Chinese food is not all the same. It's not just chow mein and egg rolls. Different flavors highlight different regions and celebrate different people. Get out there and start exploring! Can't wait to hear your thoughts on our first segment this Friday.

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