I know Kung Fu. Well, I know a few key basic moves. Ok, I used to know Kung Fu. It was part of a special extra curricular program that was part of my Chinese School when I was younger. Chinese school was a painful memory of my past. While all my friends where enjoying two full days off from school, I had only one and a half days to play outside. My Chinese school was from nine in the morning until noon. It was a short class, but it felt like a lifetime to a ten year old. And, like my regular school, I wasn’t a very good student at all. I would usually wake up early that Saturday around six or seven in the morning. Run to the television and turn it on for Saturday morning cartoons, Saved By The Bell, and California Dreaming and attempt to finish a full week’s homework in between commercial breaks. Once my parents woke up, I would then put the homework away and keep my textbook out to do last minute studying for a quiz (because I had finished my homework days in advanced) and then go to class. During class I would listen real hard and answer in Mandarin, which is why I credit my ability to have basic conversations in Chinese but also why I lack reading and writing skills. The redeeming factor on Saturdays was ending the day with my Kung Fu class.
Kung Fu class was fun. I learned some fun sequences and felt like I could be the next Bruce Lee or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I didn’t get very far in my practice. I had no idea as a kid that the art form required so much discipline and focus. But, you know what? I got to yellow belt and I was satisfied. I just wanted the accessory. It was something that I could show off to the world when my parents took me out for lunch and errands after school. I was a super hero. Well a beginner belt superhero.
One of the places I got to show off my “manly-ness” was at A&J restaurant. Still one of my favorite restaurants of all time and I still get the same dishes every time I visit. We went so often, to the point where the moment they saw a tiny Taiwanese boy running awkwardly in the parking lot with baggy Kung Fu clothes and a yellow sash, my order would already be in the kitchen. A few minutes later, while my parent where still waiting for the rest of the order, I would have in front of me Zha Jiang Mian, pickled seaweed, and stir fried tendons.
I’ve been able to get both the seaweed and noodle dish in NYC to help curb my cravings. But, I have yet to find a place in the city to satisfy the tendon bug. The texture of this dish is hard to describe. It’s a soft gelatinous chewy goodness, but has a subtle crispness fruity from the cooking processed. Because the chili oil and scallion impart an intense citrus and floral fragrance, the flavor profile of the earthy garlic becomes a subtle nuttiness mixed with a hint of spice. Add the caramelizing of the soy sauce and you have a complex profile of flavors and textures in a dish that only has five simple ingredients.
The key thing with this dish is to use lots and lots of oil. You want the tendon to stir fry and not stick to the pan. Also, make sure your pan is screeching hot. Like, smoke alarm is going to go off hot. So make sure the house is well ventilated and you’re ready to deal with some chili oil smoke. There is a chance, if you don’t open a window, that you are creating some illegal bio-warfare.
Enjoy this dish. It’s not exactly like the original, but maybe if I put on a Kung fu outfit and a yellow belt, it will almost be the same.
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 chili pods (or you can use 2 tsp chili oil)
1½ lb beef tendon (boiled until soft), cut in 1 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 scallion stalks, 1 inch slices
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine
heat oil on high with chili pods until almost smoking
add all ingredients and stir fry for a few minutes, until fragrant
remove from heat and add salt to taste