Two weeks ago I wrote about Chinese braised ham hocks. So, this post is indirectly related to that post. Recently, my family and I went to Budai, the restaurant that serves ham hocks. We always order from the “secret menu” where the ham hocks can be found, but, tonight we wanted to try some different dishes from the “secret menu.” Before I delve into the food, I would like to make some comments on the concept of the “secret menu” at Chinese restaurants. It’s secret for several reasons: you have to ask for it, it usually contains the non-Americanized dishes with more exotic ingredients, and frequently it’s written in only Chinese (however, at Budai it’s written in Chinese and English). This is where I thank my parents for making me go to Chinese school as a child because if I can’t read it in Chinese, at least the server can verbally describe it to me so I know what I’m ordering.
Budai continues to be our favorite Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque because it remains consistent in its quality and the flavors stay true to Chinese cooking. I can say this because I’m Chinese and I’ve eaten at Chinese restaurants in Houston, LA, NYC, Vancouver/Richmond, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, and in my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens. Once my son knew we were going to Budai for dinner, he repeatedly stated we were going to order the steamed pork buns; not one but three orders of the buns. Off the “secret menu” we chose Three Cup Chicken and Snow Pork; off the regular menu, the green beans (they didn’t have any pea shoot leaves and it was not hollow stem vegetable season yet).
As an appetizer, the steamed pork buns were just right for the four of us (my husband and I each got 2 and the kids each got 3). These buns were acceptable for Albuquerque; the skins should be thinner and there should be more juice when you bite into them, but my kids were satisfied. The way to eat a bun is, using your chopsticks to hold the bun, dip it into vinegar (sometime soy sauce is added), put the bun on your spoon, place a few strands of ginger on the bun and take a small nibble of the skin to break it open. Then suck up the juice that comes pouring out of the bun, finishing it off by putting the whole thing in your mouth to savor.
The Three Cup Chicken (1 cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce and cooking wine like Shaoxing), similar to ham hocks, is comfort food. It has the dark brown sauce with ginger which goes great with white rice. This dish also contains basil, which is not commonly used in Chinese cooking, but complements this dish nicely giving it a hint of Southeast Asia.
The favorite of the night was the Snow Pork. It’s called “snow” because of the vegetable in the dish is called “snow vegetable” in Chinese. This pickled and salted vegetable actually is Chinese mustard greens, one of my favorites (and my son’s). The owner told me that her husband, the chef, salts the greens the same day he plans to use them, not days before, like what I’m used to hearing. Many years ago, we would buy canned snow vegetable but freshly made is heavenly (which I will describe in a future post)! In larger cities, Chinese markets and restaurants sell their freshly made pickled/salted mustard greens but not Budai. In addition to the mustard greens, the dish is a combination of pork, strips of baked spiced tofu, and bamboo shoots.
Once again, a wonderfully satisfying meal at Budai. We will be back and I plan to try their beef noodle soup soon when the hollow stem vegetable will also be in season.
Tip: Don’t forget to try something off the “secret menu” because you won’t be disappointed.
Date of visit: April 29, 2012