Friday, January 22, 2016

Chinatown Treasures

I was wandering around Downtown Oakland when I spied more than a jian of puerh on the top shelf of a new dried seafood super store. One does not behold such a sight very often in the States- that many tongs in retail nor that many jars of dried seafood critters in the $1000 to $2000 per pound range.

The dried fishy aromas wafting out the door of the store were so powerful, I had to compel myself to go inside to investigate. You can see beneath the tongs a row of various beengs (shu and sheng) in open gift boxes.  I would imagine the dried seafood odors have irrevocably infused into the oils of the tea. 

I'm sure a lot of these dried up sea cucumbers will end up at a new year's banquet if not a Chinese wedding banquet.  I really wish I was in the market to buy one with this kind of selection available, but like any Korean, I like my cukes raw and crunchy- preferably freshly dead.  Since I've seen sea cucumbers plentifully littering the ocean floor while snorkeling, I would not dream of spending good money on one but I spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure out which sea cucumber I would take home with me.

Here is a situation not unlike puerh buying in the old days. There are a few scant english websites guiding you(here and here) on how to buy a sea cucumber but you can't really gauge the quality and texture until after you buy and reconstitute it.  Then you have to contend with overpriced misrepresented sea cucumbers to outright fake counterfeit sea cucumbers made with konjac jelly. Vendor trust while important I think only goes so far.  Much of the shorelines of the world are unfortunately polluted and so one can't know what kind of pollutants lurk inside a bottom feeder like a sea cucumber. 

How to choose a sea cucumber when you are confronted with a vast range of grades from $20-$2000. The big leap in price is differentiated by culinary use vs. medicinal use as $1000+ cukes possess magical anti-cancer properties.  Even so,  I think it's easier and cheaper to become a sea cucumber connoisseur than pursuing puerh.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Cure for Tea Greed

Recently I began fasting on a weekly basis, giving my body a 20 hour rest with water and tea as my only sustenance.  In the last few years, the news has been awash with scientific studies touting the health benefits of intermittent fasting.  I had been curious but non-committal until the WHO rained on my bacon parade last October by unequivocally proclaiming processed meats were the short road to cancer.

Of course I was acutely aware of bacon's dark side but I'm gonna go to my grave with bacon breath. Cancer however is not to be taken lightly and to mitigate potentially harmful effects, I have decided on a compromise.  Fasting kicks the body into cleaning and repair mode called autophagy which breaks down potentially pre-cancerous old and abnormal cells.  I figured a day of fasting more than compensated for my two slices of weekly bacon.   But I was doubly motivated by the golden premise of enhanced brain function as an evolutionary adaptation to fasting- our hungry fore-bearers had to become mentally sharper to nab their next meal

Initially I had planned to drink teas and shop for more teas during my fasts.  But
this simple practice of weekly fasting has unexpectedly tamped down my tea hoarding instinct and I ended up not even looking at tea vendor sites.  I don't know how and why fasting would subconsciously upend a decade long condition that my husband's tireless efforts could not. Perhaps it was experiencing the positive effects of deprivation that is now effectively preventing more tea shipments out of China into our household.  Hoarding is mainly driven by a fear of scarcity.   Once I severed my system from a continuous feed and found I could easily stop eating for day,  I felt a strange sort of freedom by not having.  Cutting the mental shackles to food must have also weakened my pathological need for ever larger amounts of tea.  I now feel if I can have good tea of any kind a few times a year, I would be content.

I really thought this fasting was something onerous to be endured for the sake of my beloved bacon but it turned out to be something I look forward to. I am extremely productive and flowing with energy on my fast days.  Tea also tastes better on fast days.  When you're hungry,  your olfactory system becomes heightened so the teas taste more intense than when you are satiated.  Oolongs taste intensely floral.  Amplification works in all directions and rank basement aged sheng becomes even more unbearable.

Perhaps the most gratifying side effect to fasting is that food tastes most deliciously wonderful when you break your fast.  But so too is your last meal before starting the fast.  I am partial to the coconut pandan waffle with black sesame at this Hong Kong Snack House which was my last provision before fasting on Saturday.   How can happiness be bundled in such a chewy glutinous interior...