The Tengs, friends of mine, own a small private farm in Richmond, Missouri. Tom’s entire 25 acres is dedicated to Asian pears. He has about four or five different varieties. Tonight, we went to his restaurant, China Tom’s, and got to try some of them. His wife brought out a platter with two different kinds – an Asian pear (a.k.a “Korean pears” or “Yali pears”) which grows all throughout Eastern Asia and an American varietal, with a darker and thicker skin.
The Asian varietal is crisper and more juicy. The skin color ranges from a pale yellow to a butter yellow. The flavor starts off with a little tartness but is quickly chased away by intense sweetness. The American variatal, not surprisingly is pure sweetness from start to finish – geared toward our saccharine-cravin’ palates. The American varietal is more dense, less crisp, and a tougher chew – in part because of the slightly thicker and more brownish skin.
Of course, though tempted, man does not live on pears alone. We ordered food – a very simple meal, but satisfying nonetheless. A successful farmer, Mr. Teng is also a worthy chef. Tonight he prepared one of my favorite dishes at his restaurant – huang gua tsao la pi (or huang gua tsao liang fun) – cucumber with mung bean noodle salad. The dressing is very spicy and garlicky – basically a mix of vinegar, garlick, a bit of salt and sugar, a few drops of rice wine, red chile flakes and chopped cilantro. Wow, is it good. The mung bean noodles (liang fun, or la pi – which literally translates to “pulled skin) are transluscent, broad and thin sheets of pasta – somewhat like spring roll wrappers or a large sheet of thick gelatin. Mr. Teng prefers using Korean mung bean broad noodles because they are sturdier and have a nice chew.
To make this dish, Mr. Teng first immerses the noodle sheets in boiling water. As soon as they are softened, he immediately cuts them into pieces. If you wait until the noodles go cold, they’ll curl up and become difficut to cut. Working quickly, he tosses in sliced cucumbers (English or Asian) and mixes it with the dressing. What results is a garlicky and spicy noodle salad. Yum.
We also had a plate of stir-fried flounder slices ($10.95). The silver dollar-sized pieces of fish had been cooked with fermented soybeans (do ce), snow peas, cucumbers, and carrots. I dare any American chef to produce a plate of sliced fish as exquisitely tender and soft as Mr. Teng’s.
A plate of chopped and stir-fried you tsai (a Chinese mustard green) and a big bowl of rice vermicelli (mi fun) and pickled greens (shien tsai) soup rounded out the meal.
If you’re ever in the area, check out China Tom’s. Order from the “Special Authentic Chinese Menu” for some more traditional food. Of course, if you want my favorite dish, huang gua tsao la pi, you might want to call ahead to make sure they can prepare it for you. To see all of the dishes from my meal, visit my flickr account.
2816 West 47th Avenue
Kansas City, Kansas 66103
(Across from the Apple market – in Fairway North Shopping Center)
[Edited to add: You should check out their weekend lunch buffets which feature some great hard-to-find authentic northern China breakfast-type foods, like sao bing (flaky flatbread-type pita rectangle studded with sesame seeds), yio tiao (fried dough stick), and do jiang (soy milk). They also have duck, and one of my favorite Chinese sweet treats – ba bao fan, or “eight treasures rice” – a dome of glutinous rice stuffed with eight different sweet goodies like candied fruits, dried dates and red bean paste (think ice cream bombe-shaped and layered). All this for $9.50.]