Greetings from Chinatown

Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Entrees | 4 Comments

Run run run.

The word rang out in her head over and over, matching her footsteps as her feet pounded against the sidewalk. It was the only thought.

She knew she was in Chinatown because the signs had changed. She was starting to get stares as she rounded a corner as fast as she could, her heart screaming in her chest. She could smell the singed, gingery flesh of pork.

They were right on her heels. She felt them there like hot breath on the back of her neck. She pressed on and begged her legs to give her more, the way a rider would urge on a dying horse.

There was a crack, a pop, and she didn’t even scream as the bullet bounced off the brick beside her, just inches from her head.

She had to get off the street.

When your Chinese coworker offers to cook for your blog, you say yes. Especially when she says the word “ribs.”  Right? Right. Glad we’re all in agreement on that one.

I stood at Yuan’s side while she cooked, taking notes like some reporter from the ’30s. My favorite exchange went like this:

Me: Wow. You’re adding sugar?

Yuan: Yes.

Me: To the meat?

Yuan: Yes.

Me (this must be some kind of Chinese home cooking technique. It’s amazing! This is great! My paper’s gonna love this exclusive, I tell ya!) : Interesting. Why do you add sugar? (I hope it’s something cool! Steeped in HISTORY. And EXOTIC.)

Yuan: Americans like sugar.



Me: Oh.

Yuan’s Improvised Eggplant with Oyster Sauce

Served 1 computer programmer, 1 photographer and 1 writer with enough leftover for photographer’s hungry fiance.

Note: The amounts are approximate here because Yuan was just throwing stuff into the pan. Good times.


1 eggplant, cubed and seeded
Some sugar
1/4 cup and 2 TBsp of Vegetable oil
Soy sauce
Potato starch (find it in Whole Foods or specialty supermarkets)
3 cloves of minced garlic
Red Chili Flakes/Powder (Moderately Spicy)
Chopped scallions


Heat a wok or frying pan with a 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. While it heats, submerge the cubed eggplant in cold water. Drain eggplant and then add to sizzling pan. Once oil is absorbed (the water bath will help with this), remove eggplant and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 TBsp or so of vegetable oil, a moderately huge (that’s a thing right?) pinch of red chili flakes or powder, depending on your desired spice level, and garlic. Add eggplant back in the pan and stir. Now add a TBsp or so of sugar (because fat ass Americans love us some sugar) and a big splash of soy sauce. Add a little water. Taste. Season with more sugar to taste.

In a separate bowl, add a little potato starch to some water. We’re looking for a nice amount of starchy water, to thicken the sauce. Add enough to the pan to thicken and stir over medium heat. Add the chopped scallions.

Plate. Eat with deliciously caramelized pork rib nuggets and a bowl of white rice. When you ask the chef what she calls her dish and she replies, “I do not know the direct translation. Fishy Eggplant?” politely inform her that you will be calling it something else entirely.


  1. Mere
    July 18, 2011

    I LOVE that Yuan cooked for you all! It it looks absolutely amazing!

    Nice work.

    • Judi
      July 18, 2011

      Thanks Meredith! It was delicious. So nice to hear from you- hope you’re well. 🙂

  2. Concetta Cutrone
    July 18, 2011

    Looks great. Why is it called with Oyster Sauce? Did I miss something. Love you, Mom

    • Judi
      July 18, 2011

      I have no idea. Another coworker suggested that’s what the dish actually is so I looked it up- you could make “oyster sauce” with actual oyster essence but it’s usually just a thick brown sauce made of sugar, water, salt and a thickening agent. Yuan’s had soy sauce in it for flavor.


Leave a Reply