Food Writers Don’t Seem to Get Respect, Even in Hong Kong

As television networks become less and less interesting, I am finding other means of entertainment that I never knew existed. One is the television programs from Hong Kong which are broadcast on the TVB channel. They are usually a one-time program of about 20 to 30 episodes which are broadcast and later distributed on DVD’s or on the Internet. Of course the programs later distributed come with English subtitles or else I would not be able to understand them (even Mandarin speakers have to have Chinese subtitles in order to follow what is happening).

One can gain a surprising amount of food knowledge through the programs, although this is usually done as a means to develop the program plot. In The Rippling Blossom the entire plot is built around Japanese food, which the main characters import to Hong Kong through competing Japanese restaurants. I am mentioning the show as a backdrop, which can be viewed for free at this web site:

https://www.viki.com/explore?country=hong-kong .

I have checked the site and there are no strings attached except that they show ads in the middle of the episodes. Be sure to turn on the English subtitles, though, through the settings icon in the lower right part of the window.

One of my favorite parts of the show is where Keung Keung, a young food writer who specializes in Japanese food, comes to live with the Yu family (their two sons end up operating rival Japanese restaurants). At her first family meal with them Keung Keung is served some dishes but begins to complain about them making such statements as “this is too salty,” and “this does not taste right.” She definitely does not mean this as an insult but out of habit probably said it out loud as she would do when visiting restaurants which she wanted to review. Chi-ying, one of the sons who later becomes Keung Keung’s boyfriend instinctively says to her, “Why do you criticize a family meal?” Keung Keung, not really embarrassed but at the same time not trying to be snooty, replied “I can’t help it. I have sensitive taste buds!” While not condoning her actions, I do understand how she feels.

One of the jokes of the program is that the family’s name “Yu” has the same pronunciation as the word meaning fish, and the sons deal with fish every day as their profession.

Many commenters on forums about this program indicate that they cannot watch any of the episodes without getting hungry for sushi or the other Japanese food shown in the program. The program does show the amount of effort that goes into really good sushi. I think it is helpful when visiting high end sushi restaurants and realizing what really goes into the food they are serving.

Christmas in Southern New Mexico–Tularosa, NM

For those who might be in the Alamogordo or Ruidoso area at Christmas, one way to experience a traditional New Mexico Christmas is to see the luminarias at the Catholic Church in Tularosa, a historic town about ten miles north of Alamogordo.

Setting up luminarias

Setting up luminarias in Tularosa, NM

These photos were taken during the afternoon of Christmas Eve when it seems that practically the entire town participates in setting up luminarias. Hundreds of luminarias are set up outlining the church, lighting up the church grounds, and following the main street in town leading to the church. They are lit at nightfall in preparation for the the special Christmas Eve service which takes place at the church.

The Catholic Church in Tularosa

Saint Francis de Paula Church

The church in Tularosa has the typical Spanish style architecture that is found in New Mexico, and this one dates from 1869. Even without Christmas decorations the town is quite photogenic, and is worth a stop if you are in the area. With the Sacramento Mountains as the backdrop, the White Sands to the west, and extensive pistachio orchards to the south, this is one of the most scenic spots in New Mexico any time of the year. I will say from experience that usually the weather in this part of the state is agreeable enough to enjoy the celebration and possibly a few outdoor activities during the daytime.

The manger scene

The manger scene

The tradition of luminarias signifies lighting the way for Mary and Joseph to find their way to the stable where Jesus is about to come into the world. The tradition of lighting luminarias is found in towns throughout New Mexico, but I find the light show in Tularosa to be one of the most impressive I have seen.

Casa de Sueños

Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa

Of course most restaurants are closed late on Christmas eve and on Christmas day, but at other times visitors to Tularosa can enjoy traditional New Mexican cuisine at Casa de Sueños on the south edge of town. I particularly liked the red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas (the blue corn variety is not normally served in southern New Mexico). Casa de Sueños is not particularly spicy, but it is spicy enough to be what I would call “real” New Mexican food that is not dumbed down for tourists. Quite a few tourists stop here, though, because of its reputation for serving delicious New Mexican style food.

I also discovered another stop a few miles south of Tularosa on U.S. 54 and 70 where the McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch has its store and winery at 7320 US 54/70 (but don’t worry about the address, just look for the giant pistachio on the west side of the highway).

 

The giant pistachio at McGinn's

The giant pistachio marks the location of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch

 

Of course one of the main items for sale is the pistachios grown on the McGinn Ranch, and these come in different sized bags according to how many you think you might need. They have a number of different flavored nuts, but after trying several of the free samples I decided to go with the plain ones.

Quite a number of other items are also available, including New Mexico salsas.

McGinn’s is open daily according to the newmexico.org web site, but of course there may be special hours around Christmas.

Zomato

Probably many readers are familiar with the Zomato web site, but I would like to write a few comments about this and other food related web sites. In 2015 Zomato bought Urbanspoon and included the former Urbanspoon restaurant reviews into its own web site. At the time I had come to rely on Urbanspoon as a source of information for restaurants more than any other site, and I have continued to use Zomato since then. Both of these sites have had pretty spot on reviews of restaurants with which I am familiar, and I think this is a good way to judge the validity of the other reviews on the site.

I do not see that the basic reliability and honesty of the reviews have changed since Zomato took over Urbanspoon. I think Zomato has made an honest effort to publish fair reviews (all the reviews are written by diners, but Zomato has ways of screening them so that the objectivity of the opinions expressed remains fairly high).

The main problem I have had with Zomato has been with the functionality of the site. Urbanspoon used to have ways of looking up restaurants in a city by cuisine or other factors that helped me find specific ethnic cuisines or other specialized restaurants. Also their method of listing the “most popular” restaurants out of hundreds in the city was usually pretty useful, although not always the way I think it should have been done (for instance, there was never more than one or two Mexican restaurants listed among the most popular places in El Paso).

This is relevant to me because I started developing lists of places to try around the country, not because I thought I could eat at many of them but because I knew that at times this list would be a good resource for me, and because friends visiting other cities also wanted to have a similar list. I was shooting for having eight to ten good choices in moderately sized cities, more in larger cities, and a few especially good restaurants in smaller areas. I thought this would be a good resource to provide for readers in addition to the restaurant reviews which make up the the bulk of this site.

What developed from this list is what I am presenting on this blog as the “Restaurant Guide.” These are listed for a number of states in the Southwest and West, and of course I am relying on the information I get from other sources for most of the restaurants listed.

I was working my way eastward across the country in doing the preliminary research when Urbanspoon suddenly was no more, and became Zomato. The new web site still had the same reviews, but I could not find a way to query their large database to find the restaurants I wanted. This can lead to much more detailed discussions about other web sites that do provide some limited information about certain cities, and I do try to use these. But what is now missing, as far as I can tell, is a standardized way to find restaurants all around the country using what I consider to be a reliable methodology. The problem is that several web sites can provide good reviews of restaurants if you type their name into the index, but Urbanspoon was the best way to find the best restaurants out of a large list. Zomato has just been more difficult to work with than Urbanspoon used to be.

This means that it will be quite difficult to expand the Restaurant Guide from the areas that are already covered. I did get some information from Urbanspoon for the Midwestern states from Kansas to Indiana, and I will try to add these when I get time. At this time, though, I do not have a good methodology for adding more states that would not be horrendously time consuming.

I do want to remind readers that if you find this type of list useful, please add your own suggestions to any of these lists. I do not want these lists to become much longer, but I want them to become better (if you think there are better suggestions than the ones listed).

The Restaurant Guides have a list of sources at the bottom, and nearly all include Zomato. I do want to explain, though, that in most cases Urbanspoon was the actual source of information.

Of course in some cases Zomato is still a good source to get updates, verify information about restaurants and whether they are still open, and find out if the reviews are still positive. Mostly, though, I have moved to Yelp for this.