Garlic scapes, fried as a vegetable


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Garlic scapes, or 蒜芯 suanxin, from Chinatown’s underground market

We are deep into the season of garlic scapes. Fortunately for those of us in Philly, we are able to find these strong-flavored beauties with fair regularity through springtime in Chinatown and even at area farmer’s markets. These are a twisting flowering bud of the garlic plant, and they have a wonderful flavor. They are delicious fried, grilled, or even pickled. They can be slightly woody (especially older scapes) and have a similar fibrous structure to asparagus. In fact, you can cook them in much the same ways you do asparagus.

It’s already the first day of summer, but I was still able to find these treasures today in Chinatown. I’ll chop these into segments and fry them in a simple brown sauce with some pork, and it will be scrumptious.

Note: these are also sometimes referred to as “garlic stems”, like in the classic recipe with smoked Chinese bacon that Fuchsia Dunlop sites in Every Grain of Rice. The Chinese she uses is perhaps more familiar in mainland China: 蒜苔 suantai.

If you look for these in Philly markets, beware that they are not often labeled in English, and when they are, it might be in “creative English”. It’s best to know what to look for, or be observant of the Chinese characters. Here are two versions of signage, at the underground market and at Spring Garden Supermarket:

In shape, these are a little larger than the more regularly available “flowering garlic chive” or jiucai hua 韭菜花 (which is usually sold next to their leaves). Garlic scapes are thicker and are closer in size to long beans.

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Ingredients for today’s quick stir fry, garlic scapes: soaked chile peppers, sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, sliced pork, cornstarch

Cooking with this vegetable is very simple as so much of the flavor comes from within. You don’t need to add garlic or onions–there are already plenty of aromatics present in this vegetable.

That said I’ve decided to over-complicate this today with a typical brown sauce: a touch of sugar, splash of rice wine, a tiny bit of oyster sauce, soy sauce, water and cornstarch. You could do far less and still achieve a tasty result. If you use salt and oil, They will be great. All else can be considered optional.

In a very hot wok (I’m using a new stove with a much bigger flame than I’m used to) I seared pork slices for about 30 seconds before putting in the garlic scapes and chiles. Then in quick succession I tossed in a spoon of sugar, a splash of rice wine, tiny bit of oyster sauce and a splash of soy sauce. When all is cooked (on my new “high” it was 2 minutes), stir in water and cornstarch to finish.

Serve as an accompaniment to a larger meal or simply with rice.

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Savory Uyghur flatbread at the base of a stew


A recent Xinjiang delight from a Beijing restaurant: nan qordaq, or 馕包肉

Travelers to Uyghur cultural zones of Xinjiang will be familiar with the Uyghur staple flatbread (aka nan) and its many uses at the table. It is served alongside tea, dried fruits and nuts for breakfast and afternoon tea. At kawap (kebab) and laghman (pulled noodle) restaurants, nan is often served as a plate for the intensely seasoned bites of meat.


Prepping portions of “whole grilled lamb” on plates of nan at the famous “Qaxshal tonur kebabs” in Hotan (قاخشال تونۇر كائاپلىرى)

It is also served in restaurants in another way, as a base sponge for a savory stew. The bread is generally cut into triangles before a stew is dumped on top. In the US This might strike us as odd perhaps only because it otherwise closely resembles pizza, and as a pizza it would be difficult to pull out a slice with stew on top. Despite that, the combination really works. The coal or wood-fire bread is often baked with onion, and the smokiness and onion add a beautiful dimension to the stew. Additionally, Uyghur nan are generally made from much stiffer doughs (than say, a pizza dough). The consistency is closer to that of a bagel, with around 60% hydration. This helps it stay together, even under a stew.

The climate of the Tarim Basin is very dry. Breads tend to completely dry out not long after being baked. Culturally and historically speaking this has an important advantage. Dry bread basically lasts forever. Just add tea/soup/stew. That is likely closer to how this sort of presentation evolved as a bread-under-stew. In any case, the bread adds attractive texture and flavor components, and there is an added benefit of a dramatic presentation. This is something you should experience–it might change your concept of “bread bowl”.


My version of a Uyghur chicken qoruma stew on top of my home-baked onion nan

Recipe: Uyghur-style chicken qoruma over nan نان-توخۇ قورۇمىسى

As was previously mentioned, In arid climates nan can dry out fairly quickly after baking. In cases of further cooking in Uyghur households, this is not a problem at all as the bread readily welcomes broth/tea/stew. Personally, I’ve been getting a lot better at baking nan at home, and I am getting closer to a “tonur”-style nan (see here for a past post relating to that oven) by using a combination of a baking steel and my broiler. Although my bread recipe has evolved since last year to a stiffer dough, my past post on nan and stew has several key bits of information for those interested in baking Uyghur-style nan at home.

This is a simple qoruma-style stew. My recipe is built largely on one from Mexmetjan Rozi’s 2007 cookbook in the “Uyghur food and drink culture series” Toxu goshi qorumiliri (chicken roasts and stirfrys) from Xinjiang People’s Press.


Ingredients for today’s simple chicken stew, clockwise from left: 10″ onion nan, salt, fowl (I actually used a lean Asian fowl for this), white pepper, star anise, cassia bark, ginger, chile peppers, leek, and cilantro. Not pictured: soy sauce

1. Chop up the chicken, bones, skin and all. Trim skin and fat if you need to. Coarsely chop ginger, chiles, and leek.

2. Start frying the chicken pieces in a pot, pan, or wok. Toss in leek, ginger, chile, star anise, and cassia bark. Season with salt, soy sauce, white pepper.

3. Add water to cover. Boil until chicken is cooked and tender. If you use a tougher bird like the one above, you’ll need to boil for a lot longer.

4. Chop about 1/2 a cup of cilantro to include at the end of cooking.

5. Cut nan into triangle pieces and ladle stew over the top.IMG_0050 2

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Xi’an’s famous foods in the instant noodle section


One example of new instant cold “skin” noodles from Shaanxi Province 陕西凉皮. There is a Northwestern dialect expression under the chef: “liao di hen” 嘹滴很 (“very delicious”)

In 2014 I wrote a post on the growing popularity of “Xi’an” and “Northwestern Chinese” foods in Philadelphia and beyond. Since then we’ve seen even more restaurants open as Philly’s Xi’an Sizzling Woks added another location in University City and Chinatown gained yet another “Lanzhou style” pulled noodle restaurant (right under the arch). In New York, Xi’an Famous Foods has more than 10 locations in the city and the boroughs, and had a short-lived spinoff restaurant/bar Biang! Popular northwestern street food items are also slowly creeping onto restaurant menus that cater largely to Chinese eaters: liangpi 凉皮 (cold “skin” noodles), and “Chinese hamburger” 肉夹馍 are a few examples of things you might find–the new Danlu in University City [update: Danlu was short lived and is no longer serving] is featuring the latter as “Xi’an sandwiches”.

These food trends are not happening on the East Coast alone. Our local developments are similar to food trends happening on the mainland, with Shaanxi-style restaurants popping up all over. This can be further evidenced by the increasing number of “northwestern”-themed instant food products at markets catering to Philadelphia’s residents from mainland China. Over the past year and a half, I’ve noticed quite a few new offerings in the instant noodle aisles and in the refrigerated section at Chinatown markets, Spring Garden Supermarket, and at Hung Vuong (which since last year is owned by Heng Fa) on Washington Ave.

Below I’ll highlight some of the several instant/prepared food items I’ve picked up over the past year or so with some commentary…

Liangpi 凉皮

Liangpi 凉皮 is a style of cold noodle and gluten dish popular in Central China. It is dressed with spiced oil and vinegar, and is commonly consumed as a refreshing street food. As simple of a food as it seems to be, the process of making this from scratch actually takes a few days. Last year I found a great 4-part video tutorial on this process from the very talented Xiao Gaojie (小高姐的 Magic Ingredients)–click here to link to that YouTube video series, starting with the spiced chile oil. Steps include mixing a wheat flour and water dough, rinsing the starch away from the gluten and then boiling down that starchy water to make the “skin” noodles and finally recombining the “skin” and sliced gluten into a cold noodle dish with a savory sauce.

When they are freshly made, Liangpi have a crisp and slightly gummy texture. Gluten pieces (I used to think these were pieces of diced white bread!) among the noodles nicely soak up the savory dressing and provide an interesting contrast to the gummy noodle. The instant noodle versions pictured above are not quite as nice; they have a rubberier texture. That said, they are still pleasant enough to enjoy as a side to a meal. If you decide to try these, I’d suggest steaming the noodles as opposed to microwaving them–they’ll be a little softer and less rubbery.

This is how one such example looked out of the packaging–the Qinsheng brand liangpi with the happy chef, image at the top of this post:

As you may know, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia Provinces are home to very large indigenous Muslim peoples. Many restaurants throughout China that specialize in these noodle dishes are run by Muslims themselves, and are halal (in Chinese qingzhen 清真). It is rare to see these influences in the US, but the Qinsheng brand advertises this on their products:


I’ve also been seeing gluten more available in different forms. The brand Havista (I previously posted on their line of tofu skin threads) can be found in the refrigerated section–this gluten can be eaten cold or warmed, perfect for a quick inclusion to a dish:


Liangfen 凉粉 (bean starch jelly noodles)

Liangfen is another item that is now being marketed as a “Shaanxi” notable food. I wrote on this unique cold noodle dish in 2014–be sure to check that out if you are interested in making these from scratch. As I hinted in that post, liangfen have become pretty widely available through the explosion of “authentic” Sichuan restaurants in the US. Liangfen is popular from Sichuan up through the northwest corridor through to Xinjiang, where it is known as langpung.

Here are two kinds of “Shaanxi” liangfen found recently from Spring Garden Supermarket, Qinzong brand, spicy and mild.

Lanzhou lamian 兰州拉面 (Lanzhou-style pulled noodles)

This is another topic that I’ve written about at length in the past, largely focusing on making this noodle at home and enjoying this at Philadelphia restaurants. I’ve noticed a steady shift over recent years seeing both dry and fresh “Lanzhou” pulled noodles at markets. I’m skeptical of what makes these different from other wheat noodles available at the market–the thing that makes Lanzhou noodles special is the way they are pulled by hand. In any case I had to get a pack and see. Nothing to write home about, but okay for a quick preparation. Again, Havista brand:


Qishan saozi mian 岐山臊子面 (Qishan-style minced meat noodles)

West of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province is a county famous for noodle dishes–all the way back to ancient times. This is Qishan 岐山a place already referenced above in the images of liangpi noodles. Saozi mian 臊子面 is a specialty, understood as “minced meat” noodles, and the brand “Dear Xidada” (DEAR XIDADA 旗下实力品牌) is producing this and a few other notable specialty noodles of the NW region. Again, Xiao Gaojie’s Magic Ingredients has a great video tutorial on making these noodles from scratch.


Biangbiang mian

Finally, that brand Dear Xidada is also making a version of instant Biangbiang mian (sometimes called “belt noodles”). This is the same Biang that the NYC short-lived Xi’an Famous Foods spinoff was named after. Tim Chin and Cook’s Science put out a nice video last year and now has a nice recipe behind a paywall for on making these at home–check it out.


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Delicious greens: yuchoy


Long leaf vegetables are a key component of most meals at our house, and yuchoy is a vegetable that comes fresh to Philadelphia markets regularly. That is to say it is usually in our fridge. It keeps pretty well for 3-5 days, so we can eat a bag over two or three meals, alternating with other vegetables.

Yuchoy 油菜 (or youcai in Mandarin) literally means “oil vegetable”. This is because it is closely related to the plant that produces rapeseed oil (aka canola oil). The vegetable is delicious chopped into bite size segments and stir fried with oil, garlic, and soy sauce. It is also nice in savory soups (like the Northern Thai stew “boiled greens” which I wrote on a few years ago.

I ate this vegetable often while living in Guangzhou in the 90s–it is very common there, so it is perhaps fitting that is frequently referred to by its Cantonese name in Philadelphia. The version of this vegetable commonly found in markets across Thailand–with longer stems and bright yellow flowers–is called simply gwangdoong vegetable, or ผักกวางตุ้ง (i.e. Guangdong Province). That variation might be referred to here by the Cantonese name “heart” of yuchoy, or yuchoy sum 油菜心.

My favorite way to prepare this vegetable is to simply blanch it for a minute or so and top it off with a quick mixture of oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and water heated in a pan. From start to finish, this dish can be done in five minutes or less. Needless to say, we eat this a few times a week because it is so fast and easy.


One tool I would recommend is a wide shallow pot. My pot of choice is one that is meant for Korean hotpot–it is made from lightweight material that helps water quickly come to boil.  I find myself using this pot several times each week, whether to blanch whole vegetables, or to boil long dried noodles. Its width makes it possible to quickly blanch or boil things things that are long or awkwardly shaped.

Recipe: Blanched yuchoy 清煮油菜

This recipe is so easy I’m almost embarrassed to post it here. Still, I realize that this simple preparation maybe hasn’t occurred to some readers–hopefully those people will be inspired to try it:

1. Bring water to boil in your pot, pan, or wok. Toss in a spoon of salt.



2. Wash vegetables. Give them a good rinse. If the sliced part of the stem is discolored or wilted, feel free to trim it a little bit. Don’t worry about draining them well–they’re about to go back into water. If you didn’t do a good job cleaning them, it likely won’t make much difference–the boil is like a second cleaning! I used a good handful of yuchoy, enough for 2 people as an accompaniment.


3. Put vegetables into the boiling water and use chopsticks or another utensil to ensure they get submerged. Boil covered or uncovered for 1-2 minutes. Stems will start looking bright green.


4. Turn off the heat. Take the yuchoy out of the water. I like to take them out one by one and stack them on a plate. Notice how I do that, with the plate tilted to drain water off back to the pot.


5. This is also optional, but I like to chop the vegetable on the plate into bite-size segments.


6. This part is also optional and highly customizable… you can serve the vegetable as is, or with some sort of a seasoned topping. I like a combination of oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, chopped garlic, and sugar (with a little water to keep it from burning). You can premix those things or just add them one by one to the pan. I used one clove of garlic, and 1/2 tsp sugar, and about 1 tsp each oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and water.


7. Drizzle optional topping over vegetableIMG_7585

8. Enjoy with rice and some other accompaniment. Today this is breakfast, and I enjoyed the yuchoy with a rice and a fried egg:


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Young tamarind leaves and an Isaan-inspired sour chicken soup

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Tonight’s tasty soup: chicken with young tamarind leaves

Green tamarind and tamarind leaves are back at my go-to Cambodian market, providing an opportunity to explore cooking with these rare Southeast Asian sour treats. Dried tamarind fruit is of course a standard souring agent for cuisines ranging from Persia all the way to Southeast Asia (and even to Central America). I previously posted on the joys of souring soups and salads with that food item in Cambodian cooking and Thai cooking. That sticky and sweet/sour fruit or compressed blocks of it are pretty easy to come by in Philadelphia, especially at markets that cater to South and Southeast Asian tastes. Tamarind leaves, however, are a lot less common in Philly markets. But today I found the leaves, together with the raw green tamarind fruit.


A recent find of green tamarind fruit and tamarind leaves

Green tamarind is perhaps most commonly eaten in Thailand primarily two ways: skin scraped and pounded with aromatics and raw pork or shrimp and peppers in a mortar and pestle, and then pan-fried into a meaty and intensely flavored dip for raw vegetables–see here for an image search of that dish; the other way is to eat it simply as is, a crispy sour green fruit dipped in a complement of a funky nam phrik spice paste (usually flavored with aromatics and fermented fish, crayfish, or shrimp paste)–see here for for a video example of that preparation. In coming days I hope to experiment with dips, but today I am making a tom yam-style soup, relying heavily on the sour tamarind leaves for the sour note.

The soup I am emulating is a popular one around Thailand, especially in Isaan. Names for this dish range from simply “boiled chicken with young tamarind leaves” ต้มไก่บ้านใบมะขามอ่อน to “tom yam chicken with tamarind leaves” ต้มยำไก่ใบมะขามอ่อน.


Aromatic ingredients for today’s soup (beside the tamarind leaves), clockwise from tomatoes: Thai chiles, shallots, magrut leaves, lemongrass, galangal, lime

If you are familiar with tom yam-style soups, this cooking process is pretty similar. Most recipes found for this dish tend to use the same essential “kreung gaeng” เครื่องแกง soup components of lemongrass, galangal, and chile. I also used tomato, bashed shallots, and makrut leaves. Amounts of young tamarind leaves can range from 1/2 cup per pound of chicken to 2 cups of leaves for the same amount. I used about a cup of leaves, and I also added a little lime at the end too.

I should also say that the chicken I used was a typical US chicken thigh. Most commonly in Thailand, this dish is prepared with a bone-in chopped up “domestic” chicken (i.e. a type of fowl more closely related to pheasant and are the type strutting around the village–gai baan ไก่บ้าน). These birds are full of flavor, but they are a lot less meaty. Comparable birds can also be found in certain Philly Chinese markets (Hong Kong Supermarket on Adams, for example). The bodies are longer, and a little more gangly. I didn’t have access to one of those today though, so I’m going with some chicken I had in the freezer.

The most time-consuming part of this cooking event was separating young, tender leaves from the pile of tamarind leaves that I bought. Older leaves would also be fine in the soup, but they would be hard to chew and swallow. I chose to sort through the leaves and separate the young and tender sections for soup today. See images below for what to look for. Basically, if the stem feels woody or twiggy, or if it is hard to pull the stems apart, it will be too hard to chew (although those leaves will also impart a pleasant sourness to the soup).

Recipe: Boiled chicken with young tamarind leaves – ต้มไก่ใบมะขามอ่อน

This soup is very simple, and is very similar to other standard tom yam preparation. As with tom yam, fresh aromatics are key! This takes about 30-40 minutes if you use chicken like I did. My recipe is a compilation from examples found in my cookbooks (Saep Isaan แซบอีสาน by Ratri Gaewsaengtaam ราตรี แก้วแสงธรรม, 2012, and Ahaan Isaan อาหารอีสาน by Ajaan Wut Jalaagun อาจารย์วุฒิ จาลากุล, 2015) and Thai language videos from webchef Krua Pitpilai and Straw mushrooms are also commonly used in this dish (if you used the canned ones, rinse them of brine).


  • IMG_7295coarsely chopped chicken, 1.5 lbs
  • prepared young tamarind leaves, 1 cup (or more)
  • galangal root, 6-7 coarse slices
  • 2 lemongrass bottoms 2″, coarsely sliced
  • 3-5Thai chiles, whacked
  • 3 shallots, peeled and whacked
  • 5 magrut leaves
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce (or to taste)
  • 5-6 small tomatoes, halved
  • water to cover, 5 cups+
  • salt (or “chicken powder”) to taste
  • lime juice or prepared tamarind sauce to taste (optional)

Simple steps:

  1. IMG_7301

    Note: these coarsely chopped and “whacked” items impart great flavor to the soup, but are not easy to eat. Eat around them. Or, if you must, fish them out before finally putting in the tamarind leaves at the end

    Boil about 5 cups water. Add in galangal, lemongrass, chiles, shallots, and magrut leaves, tomatoes, and a good squirt of fish sauce

  2. After those items return to boil, add chicken. After the chicken returns to boil, turn heat down to medium low. Skim any discolored foam off the top of the soup as the chicken simmers away.
  3. When chicken is cooked through, taste for salt. Add fish sauce and or salt to adjust. It should be pretty full flavored.
  4. Finish by dumping tamarind leaves in. Turn off the heat and give it a good stir. Taste for sourness. Add lime, or more tamarind leaves to adjust. Prepared tamarind sauce is also a delicious sour addition to the soup. If you plan to add this, you can add it while the soup is still on the boil.



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Lanzhou beef noodles, Lanzhou-style


Pulling breakfast noodles at Beijing’s Oxen Street (niujie 牛街), 2011

Three years ago I published my first post on this blog, focusing on a topic that has fascinated me for more than twenty years–Lanzhou hand pulled noodles and “secret” ingredients. Over the past three years that post has been far and away the most-viewed post, with quite a few new views every day. To be sure, Lanzhou-style pulled (aka beef noodles) lanzhou lamian 兰州拉面 lanzhou niurou mian 兰州牛肉面 continue to captivate newbies and drive obsessive DIY cooks crazy.

That first post was a very basic entry into the world of Lanzhou-style pulled noodles and issues with noodle pulling that home cooks would certainly encounter. Today I’d like to take you a little further down that rabbit hole and explore what makes Lanzhou noodles unique–and how Lanzhou noodle shops in Philadelphia compare. I’ll close with reflections on my own experiences in noodle pulling (which I’ll confess, is not quite perfected), and suggestions on ways to accomplish decent results with typical US all-purpose flour.

New video sources and a newly published book

Quite a lot of new videos have been uploaded to YouTube on the topic of “Lanzhou noodles” since my first post. Some of them (especially Chinese language videos) are very good–I’ll highlight these below. Other bits of information are gleaned from a book I acquired in Beijing last year: Lanzhou Flavor: the Story of Beef Noodles, by Bing Yan《兰州味道 牛肉面的故事》作者:燕兵 (2016). That author and his work is also featured in a beautifully filmed 2-part Chinese language documentary on the history and tradition of Lanzhou pulled noodles, which can be viewed on YouTube: Part 1, and Part 2.


A personal favorite: Philly’s Nanzhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Before I talk about how our Philly “Lanzhou” pulled noodle shops are quite different to noodle preparations in Lanzhou, I’ll first say that I am a huge fan of Philly’s offerings. Currently we have four pretty decent restaurants… for a list of those shops with notes and links to more information, see the bottom of this post.

At our local noodle shops each bowl is expertly pulled to order, with noodles thick or thin, topped off with dark and deeply flavorful soup, interesting cuts of meat (usually beef, pork, and lamb), nice chewy blanched Shanghai choy cabbage, and chopped aromatic herbs of cilantro and green onion. Tableside, customers can add their own optional flavors of chile oil, vinegar, and sometimes even suancai pickled mustard greens according to their tastes. Part of the reason I like our Philly options so much is that these are very similar to noodles I used to enjoy in Guangzhou (Canton) hole-in-the-wall joints as a student in the 90s–a perfect lunch. That said, those presentations of “Lanzhou beef noodles” are quite different to how it they are commonly seen in China’s northwest, and in Lanzhou itself.


My attempt at replicating a Lanzhou food memory

In Lanzhou, noodles are king. Wheat products are the base for every major food staple of the region, but while pan-fried and oven-baked breads and pies are enjoyed as snacks and specialty treats, noodles are meals, any time of day.

Multicultural influences perceived in the “ideal bowl”

In his book, Bing Yan posits that the perfect bowl of Lanzhou noodles is a culmination of cultural mixing between three groups: Tibetan cultural zones to the south produce the best meat for slow cooking to top this dish: yak, not beef! (but in Chinese yak is thought of as a kind of beef). That, combined with Han spices and Hui noodle pulling techniques result in the ideal bowl. I’m a little skeptical that cooking techniques took on ethnic dimensions in this way a hundred years ago,  but


The “beef lamian” commemorative statue in central Lanzhou (ca 2010)

many in China do associate Hui (Chinese Muslim) culture with wheaten foods of the northwest, including the tradition of noodle pulling. Lanzhou is situated at the center of the Hui heartland, and that city has long been a meeting point for Turkic, Mongol, Han, and Tibetan culture. The person widely credited with standardizing the dish of “Lanzhou beef noodles” was a Chinese Muslim noodle seller in the early 1900s named Ma Baozi 马保子. He started as a street vendor selling “hotpot noodles” (热锅子面) and over time became a local hero in food. His combination of flavor lives on with the standard “five colors” that are deemed necessary for proper Lanzhou noodles today (see below).

Outside of Lanzhou, “beef noodles”, or “Lanzhou lamian” restaurants often have green awnings signifying that they are halal. Noodles at these places would only be using beef/yak/mutton for their soups and toppings. That connection to Hui or Muslim Chinese culture is not present with Philadelphia’s “Lanzhou” restaurants, where pork is a common add-on possibility.


Five colors of Lanzhou beef noodles

In Lanzhou, an ideal bowl of noodles is appreciated through five colors: Clear 清 refers to the finest beef bone broth being clear and not cloudy (this also means that soy sauce and sugar are not in the soup!). Yellow 黄 refers to the off-white or pale yellow color of the noodles after they take on alkaline seasoning, i.e. from penghui solution. White 白 refers to the obligatory pairing of boiled daikon slices to accompany beef. Green 绿 refers to chopped aromatics of cilantro and green onion and/or other vegetables as toppings. Finally Red 红 refers to the chile oil that is dolloped onto the top of the soup broth. This chile oil is loaded with floating sesame seeds as well, and is sometimes spiced with other aromatic seasonings. All of these toppings come direct from the kitchen. Often the only table condiment that is optional is black vinegar, which is a popular addition at the table.


A recent attempt at a clear broth with the right colors involved at home. With beef tendon.

Meat choices and soup

Yak of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau (adjacent to southern Gansu) is supposed to be the superior “beef” for inclusion in this dish. Beyond the animal, bones are a key part of


Common aromatic spices used in Lanzhou soup recipes

building the broth, as is beef liver. That said, most mainstream shops use tough cuts like tendon, which slice or cube nicely after 3-4 hours of simmering.

Meat and bones are simmered together with a variety of traditional Chinese spices like fennel seed, star anise, white pepper, cassia bark, Sichuan peppercorn (huajiao), bay leaves, and caoguo pods for 3-4 hours. Fresh ginger is also generally included, as are other dried medicinal roots. Every shop has its own recipe.

Further explorations into the problems of pulling high-protein (and high-gluten) dough

Penghui 蓬灰 is an elusive ingredient for us in the U.S. Perhaps because it is difficult to obtain in the U.S. and even around China, it is largely thought of as the secret ingredient in making Lanzhou-style noodles. Penghui is the favored alkali of noodle makers in Lanzhou, and it influences noodles in at least three ways: the alkali turns the noodles to a pale yellow, it strengthens the noodle texture (especially for low-gluten doughs) and enables noodles to be pulled extremely thin. If too much is used, a sulfuric flavor can be detected in the noodle.

Penghui originally comes from a plant called jianpengcao 碱蓬草 (Suaeda glauca) that grows in the highlands of Alashan (north of Lower Gansu, in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia). After this plant has been charred in a pit for several hours it is compressed into a dark crystal block. That is later processed with water to make a solution that noodle pullers use on mixed dough. Most people use the “quick dissolving” version (速溶蓬灰). That can be found at shops in Gansu Province (and even on TaoBao). You can see images of this plant, the crystal block, and the solution made from it in this very informative video broadcast from the CCTV Military Science Channel.

Can you pull noodles without penghui? Yes, you can. Penghui (or any alkali) is not required for noodle pulling–though it helps provide a nice texture while giving noodles elasticity. Alkali like Penghui actually help toughen dough, and should be applied after the dough has been properly processed to a pullable state.

“You need to first break the dough’s strength before adding strength back in”

Problems with pulling tough noodle dough have more to do with flour than any “secret ingredients”. As I stated in my last blog post on this subject, typical U.S. all-purpose flour is much higher in protein (and therefore gluten) than typical NW Chinese flours. This makes them much harder to pull than low gluten flours. Interestingly, Chinese noodle chefs talk about higher protein flours as superior. That said, noodle shops in China have machines that break the dough down to the right consistency to make for pliable dough before adding penghui. See this process in action again in that 2015 video from CCTV Military Science Channel.

Now, moving across the ocean to North America… check out the following short video from Ryan Ding with the noodle chef Brock Li (of Vancouver’s Legendary Noodle). He implies that the flour in North America is of higher quality, and “machine strength” is required to break it down before adding salt and alkali to add strength back later (see video from 1:45-2:45):

In his book, Bing Yan also discusses the types of wheat used in Lanzhou tradition. He points out the best flour of all is the “monk’s head” style (i.e. bald), a local variety of wheat which is produced in small yields only (implying that most wheat flour used for lamian in the NW is not quite as good). In Yan’s book, and in video interviews with chefs (like above), people link “quality” with higher protein content in the flour, and they also say more protein can mean less penghui is required to provide a nice mouthfeel.

With that in mind, I review three methods for pulling noodles at home:

(1.) Pulling without alkaline additives. Believe it or not, it is possible to pull noodles without alkaline additives at all. Uyghurs in Xinjiang and home cooks around China employ this technique with a coil-resting method. In this technique, the gluten in the flour is encouraged, and not ripped and torn like it is in Lanzhou pulling traditions. That means to say, that the pleasant mouthfeel of Xinjiang-style pulled noodles has more to do with maintaining the elastic structure of the gluten in flour. Essentially, a super long noodle is rolled by hand, coiled on a plate and covered with oil, and then thinned again (at least once) before boiling. I previously posted on this type of noodle, and highly recommend trying this method. It is a LOT easier to get started with than the Lanzhou method–and the noodles taste great. This method is also used in other parts of China, and can be witnessed in the following video from La, taken in 2007 in Shaanxi:

(2.) Pulling noodles from a sliced piece of noodle. This method is for a a low-gluten noodle dough (a method employed by many home cooks in Gansu and Shaanxi). This is kind of in between the methods of #1 and #3. After the dough is mixed and rested, it can be rolled flat with a rolling pin and cut into strips. Those strips, one by one, can be pulled long and thrown into boiling water. You can see this performed in the home visit documented in Corine Tiah’s video project:

(3.) Pulling noodles from one block of dough. This is the method witnessed at restaurants all over China, and even at a few in North America. It is so impressively fast. The requirements here are a dough that has been abused to the point were gluten has been broken down and the dough is almost like taffy. That is easier to do with a low-gluten flour, and even then in my experience this happens only after about 40-50 minutes of aggressive twisting and tearing (by hand). I’ve tried a mix of flours and settled on the ones posted and explained at Mark Rymarz’s site. I will say that while it was IMG_7148very rewarding and enjoyable to be able to pull noodles like they do at restaurants in China, the flavor and mouth feel of my experiments have not been great. I have found better results with the method #1 above, and I tend to stick to that if I want to be sure of a good result.

That said, I am still “in training” for the Lanzhou-style pull, and my next experiments will include getting the dough to that taffy consistency before testing alkali waters (as the chef above says, “you have to break the strength before adding it back.” One such alkali water that I expect to experiment with (available from Chinatown markets) is pictured to the left, FYI.

Go out and try a bowl of hand-pulled noodles in Philadelphia!

  1. Nanzhou Hand Drawn Noodle House 美味兰州手拉面 (1022 Race St.) This is a great bowl of noodles. The taste is adapted for broader Chinese clientele, but the stock and noodles are delicious. You can see the guys in the kitchen pulling noodles, but you have to go up to the kitchen counter to see.
  2. Spice C Hand Drawn Noodles 林記蘭州手拉麵 (131 N. 10th St.) also does a delicious bowl of noodles. One thing I really appreciate here is the boxes of pickled mustard greens on each table along with other condiments. You can add as much as you like! This isn’t necessarily a Lanzhou tradition, but it is yummy. Again, you can see them pulling through a window to the kitchen. This place experiments with “spicy Sichuan” soups for its noodles.
  3. Ochatto (3608 Chestnut St.–previously named Chattime, see my post on here) This University City spot is perfectly situated for Penn/Drexel student lamian cravings. It is a great bowl of noodles, and is the only place in Philly where the noodle chef comes out in public to pull noodles to order, right next to the sushi chefs.
  4. Authentic LanZhou Hand-Pulled Noodles (aka Henan little kitchen) 蘭州拉麵 (河南小吃)(935 Arch St.—just under Chinatown Arch). This restaurant with two signs with different names on opened new last year. Their specialties seem to be more mutton hui mian than pulled noodles. I confess I haven’t yet tried their pulled noodles, partly because there are so many other unusual things on their menu. Their liang pi, or “凉皮” cool skin noodles, popular in Northwest China, are delicious.
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A foray into Ethiopian flavors


Today’s attempt at a plate of wot and vegetables

Please allow for a temporary distraction from the great Asia-focused food in Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong, this is an exciting time for new Asian food items–it seems every day there is something new–but I’d like to share a recent revelatory food experience I had at an Ethiopian shop in West Philadelphia. As many of you know, West Philly is a place where Ethiopian food is well represented, with restaurants and store supplies of spices, unroasted coffees and piles of injera (on that last item there was a really nice highlight by Alex Jones on the “West Philly’s injera lady” in the summer issue of Edible Philly).

For several years I have been fascinated with Ethiopian food, and particularly with the rich meat-based stews and various vegetable and lentil sides. I sought out insights on basic recipes in any English-language book I could find (often through interlibrary loan) and I ended up with a lot of respect for two books: the 1970 TimeLife book on African Cooking, and Daniel Mesfin’s 1993 Exotic Ethiopian Cooking. I was pleased with the recipes from those books for the most essential Ethiopian flavors: spiced red pepper powder berbere, and for the spiced clarified butter niter kibeh. While those key ingredients produced delicious stews, there were always a puzzling difference in flavor notes when I compared my dishes with Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants. Today I finally learned why that was, and about the spices that had previously eluded me…


Some of today’s shopping: Berbere spicy blend of chiles and spices top left, korerima Ethiopian “false cardamom” seeds right, and besobela and kosseret bottom left

The Rift Valley Grocery Store (715 S. 52nd St) is a small corner store that looks like many others in Philadelphia neighborhoods. A bulletproof glass cage surrounds the cashier with cigarettes and lottery tickets, and that enclosure is accompanied by two racks of non-perishable goods and a cooler. Those non-perishables though–there are some rare items! I started my exploration with the ground berbere and other unmarked spice blends, and I ended up getting schooled a bit on my very narrow understanding of Ethiopian spices.

I questioned a plastic container of something that resembled dried thyme, and the shopkeeper said it was besobela, something important for clarifying butter (i.e. for preparing kibeh). After getting into a discussion about the way I had been doing it (i.e. by simmering butter and hard spices like fenugreek, clove, cinnamon, [green] cardamom), the shopkeeper was amused and surprised. She said, “some of those secondary ingredients are fine, but you should have at least the three key components for clarifying butter: besobela, kosseret, and korerima.”

I assumed these were probably Amharic translations for some of the things I was already using. But then she started opening containers and having me smell them. I was dumbfounded by a strong aroma of these extremely fragrant herbs and surprised I hadn’t encountered these before in books. The strong smell of Kossaret reminded me immediately of hops, and besobela had a sharp smell of Ethiopian holy basil. She asked how much butter I was clarifying, and she graciously prepared me a mixed batch of kosseret and besobela to take home to correct my kibeh. I had already located the third spice korerima at an Indian grocery in University City (International Foods & Spices at 4203 Walnut).

As soon as I got home, I started scouring the internet to make sense of what I had experienced. I quickly found the excellent site How to Cook Great Ethiopian Food, and confirmed Rift Valley Grocery’s suggestions. I happily went forward with correcting my kibeh.

I also went forward with preparing a decent dorowat (chicken stew with onions and berbere). Again, following the advice of the site How to Cook Great Ethiopian Food, I first prepared a garam masala like spice mix used to finish wot stews called mekelesha:

Here are the ingredients I used to make my dorowot:


Ingredients for doro wot, from clockwise from top left: Chicken, onions, ginger, garlic, olive oil, mekelesha, lemon, eggs, kibeh, and berbere in center

I blended a whole bag of onions, which are one of the key base flavors for many Ethiopian dishes, especially for dorowot. The first cooking step for dorowot is quite unlike any other cuisine culture that I know of: the finely shredded onions are dry-fried without oil for upwards of one hour (caution: this will make your house/apartment smell strongly of onions for some days!):

These onions need to be frequently stirred to keep them from burning. When they have changed colors to an earthy ochre, other ingredients can be added to build up the stew. It is very interesting how these onions set the stage for the wot.

I suggest checking out HTCGEF’s video on dorowot for suggestions on the typical effort that goes into this stew (i.e. the many hours). Basically after the onions are ready, a lot of oil and kibeh are added and then garlic, ginger, berbere. The onions are further melded with these flavors for another hour. Finally lemon-marinated chicken and shelled hard boiled eggs are added. The stew is finished with a sprinkling of mekelesha.


My dorowot, to be included in a broader collection of dishes with injera later

I didn’t attempt to make my own injera–but I do see this as a key complimentary flavor to dorowot. As many of you know, that is a multi-day process that also is best done on a special griddle. Fortunately for me, injera is pretty easy to come by in West Philly. I got a bag at International Foods & Spices on Walnut St. To accompany injera and wot I also boiled some split yellow peas (yekik alicha) and fried some cabbage, onions, and carrots, as sides, along with some leftover sweet potato greens and pickled beets, and a dollop of sour cream:


Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, - Featured Markets, - Unique food traditions, Non-Asian | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Grilled long eggplant, two ways


Cambodian-style grilled eggplant with fried pork

It is a nice day for grilling, and I’d like to use up a few ugly vegetables I have kicking around in the fridge. Some lovely hardwood smoke will do wonders to make these guys shine, and the preparation couldn’t be simpler. I’ll do two dishes featuring grilled long eggplant (sometimes called Japanese eggplant): a dish based on a popular night market street food in Cambodia, and another based on a simplified Lao jaew dip to eat with vegetables and sticky rice.

Long eggplant is pretty versatile. It is excellent stir fried or braised, either together with meat or on its own, and it doesn’t require any special preparation to remove bitterness like its larger Western cousin often does–you can simply cut it up and toss it into a pan. Grilling long eggplant is even easier–just put it over the coals.

Create a street food ambiance–use hardwood charcoal

I really like using hardwood charcoal. Once it is lit, memories come flooding back. I am reminded of nights around a campfire, winter in Northern Asia, and best of all, night markets of China and Southeast Asia. Wood coal is one of the most common cooking fuels in Asia for many amazing street foods.

This preparation is incredibly forgiving. The skins of the eggplants, tomato, shallots, garlic, and chiles will be discarded. The inside bits are what we’ll be using. That means these items can even be a bit charred on the outside and still pick up positive smoke elements while they have cooked through on the inside.

My coals are probably too hot for these items (especially for those Thai chiles–which I couldn’t salvage in the end). If I was grilling meat, it’d be burnt. I keep the grill covered to get some nice smoke going, and grill these things for about 15 minutes. The eggplants and tomatoes should be nice and soft. The garlic and shallot may need more time.

Cambodian grilled eggplant (with fried pork) – dot trab ដុតត្រប់

This popular Cambodian street food seems to be commonly prepared two ways. It can be grilled and then halved and topped with a fried minced meat (here is a nice video example from Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong from SBS, and here is another video in Khmer from 2Day Cooking for comparison). The other common preparation is to coarsely chop the grilled eggplant flesh to mix together with fried minced meat. I am cooking this one. There is a video from Khatiya Korner that you can see that follows the second preparation. My other source for this dish came from a long conversation with a shop keeper at my favorite Cambodian market (thanks Molina!)

Fry shallot, garlic, and chile in some oil and add pork. Break up the meat small and season with palm sugar, oyster sauce, fermented soy bean sauce (optional), and fish sauce. Taste for seasonings. When flavors are strong, toss in the chopped eggplant, mix to finish, and plate with some chopped cilantro on top.


Lao-style grilled eggplant dip – jaew makeuayao แจ่วมะเขือยาว

Jaew is a perfect accompaniment to fresh or blanched crunchy vegetables and sticky rice. A few years ago I posted on two other equally delicious jaew preparations: a grilled oyster mushroom jaew, and jaew bong. Today’s jaew is modified slightly from a more common grilled tomato jaewjaew makeuatet/jaew maklen (แจ่วมะเขือเทศ/ແຈ່ວໝາກເລັ່ນ). I really like the addition of eggplant. This preparation is incredibly simple. Char eggplants, shallots, garlic, tomatoes and chiles over coals (or under the broiler, or even over a gas flame). After grilled soft, take off skins. Bash aromatics in a mortar and pestle. Coarsely chop eggplant and tomato and add that to the mortar and pestle and continue to bash/combine. Season to taste with fish sauce and lime juice.


Lao-style roasted eggplant and tomato dip–a perfect accompaniment to sticky rice and crunchy vegetables

Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, - Recipes, Cambodian food, Thai/Lao food | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sino-Thai Sunday brunch: bakuteh and batonggo


Today I recreated a food experience from last summer in Bangkok, when my sisters-in-law took me out for a Chinese-style brunch at a place that specialized in “meat bone tea” (肉骨茶), or as locals in Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia refer to as bakuteh บะกุ๊ดเต๋. The meat and mushroom stew was savory and delicious, and interestingly, it was served together with deep fried dough known as batonggo ปาท่องโก๋, which I’ve only ever eaten with a sweet accompaniment of soymilk or sweetened condensed milk. I preferred it with the savory stew!

Here are a few images from that experience:

A story about Batonggo ปาท่องโก๋

Deep-fried dough is a classic breakfast item among Chinese communities all throughout Southeast Asia (and also China of course). I referenced these cousins of batonggo (the Chinese youtiao and the Indonesian cakwe) last year in my post on the incredibly indulgent Javanese-style chicken and rice porridge. Like the name of that item, in most other Southeast Asian communities this is referred to as “oil-fried devil” in Chinese dialects, sounding something like “yaujagwai” เหยาจากวั๋ย 油炸鬼. This is supposedly a reference to a traitor to the Song Dynasty. Apparently Chinese patriots revel in eating effigies of that person. In Thailand, these do often look strangely people-like…


Today’s first batch of batonggo–they were crisp and perfectly chewy


Storebought youtiao 油條 for comparison

In Mandarin Chinese and in mainland China, it is now generally referred to as youtiao 油条 (i.e. oil-fried strip).

Strangely, in Thailand the name of this food was originally meant for another food altogether. Supposedly (wiki reference–FYI) vendors used to sell youtiao and another sweet fluffy cake, baitangguo 白糖糕 together. Their shouts advertising their products ended up making the name for the fluffy cake equal to the name of the fried cruller. So now the name batonggo is widely understood to be the youtiao or cakwe cruller.

IMG_6753While I was in Thailand last summer I found a cookbook specializing in batonggo (left). I’ve long been planning to test out some recipes (freshly fried crullers are light years better than the ones in the freezer section), but there was one ingredient in recipes that I had some trouble finding: ammonia bicarbonate. This is a type of baking powder that has a pretty strong odor out of the jar, but that odor dissipates and the chemical helps to make a crispy texture for the fried dough. I ended up accidentally stumbling upon this ingredient while I was browsing for Lebanese spices at Makkah Market in West Philly last week.

Batonggo dough has three leaveners: baking powder, yeast, and ammonia bicarbonate. The other kind of unusual thing in batonggo recipes is after the preliminary mixing and kneading, dough needs to rest for at least three hours. As batonggo is generally a breakfast thing, I decided it would be good to mix and rest the dough the night before, and then chill it in the refrigerator until it was time to shape and fry.

As usual for specialty Thai meals/dishes, the YouTube series MrFoodTravelTV had great instructional videos on both of these foods: batonggo and bakuteh. These programs are in Thai, but they should be pretty easy to follow if you recognize the ingredients (which are usually posted on their page in Thai and English).

IMG_6747After I prepared my batonggo dough, I decided I should also do the “meat bone tea” the night before too. It was late and I was lazy–so I cheated and used a pre-mixed set of spices that La brought back from Malaysia (see right). To mix your own spices, see that MrFoodTravelTV video above for suggestions. Key flavors of the broth include garlic, white peppercorn, and “Chinese medicinals” (most commonly including dried sliced roots and barks–similar to my lushui recipe for guilin mifen stock). If you prefer to try the instant route, Southeast Asian markets may have a pouch of spices marked with the characters 肉骨茶. You still need at least one whole head of garlic, meat with bones (I used pork short ribs), mushrooms/vegetables, dark and light soy sauces, sugar, and oyster sauce (these create that dark broth that is well-known in Klang, Malaysia (and is similar to my restaurant memory from Bangkok).


This fried dough is not rocket science. To get perfect shapes though, you’ll need to play with it a bit. ANY shape dough will taste the same though, and keep in mind that for serving with something like bakuteh, even the ugliest of these “oil fried devils” can be sliced into a bowl and be made quite attractive.

The traditional “X” shape is done by pinching two flat strips of dough together in the center with a dab of water. I found that dough strips of one inch became two inches when I pulled them off the counter. Approximately two inch-long is what you are shooting for.

I have to say, about half of my effort did not look as nice as the ones above. They did well enough to sliced in a bowl next to the finished set (top image) though.

Measurements: 3 cups of flour (I ended up with at least 3 1/2 cups due to an extremely sticky dough), 1.5 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp yeast, 3/5 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ammonia bicarbonate (or carbonate), 1 tsp salt, 1 3/4 cups water.

The steps were simple. Add all leaveners, salt and sugar to the water. Dissolve well. Mix in the flour until you have a consistent dough that can be rested. Mine was stickier than typical bread or noodle dough, for example. Let rest for 3-4 hours (or overnight in the fridge). Flour the counter and form into a flat strip about 1/4 inch thick that you can slice into smaller strips. Again, shoot for 2″ pieces to go into the hot oil. Fry until golden–pieces will need to be flipped (I use chopsticks for that).

By morning my stew was perfect for preparing an individual portion. I put some of the stewed ribs into a shaguo 砂锅 clay pot with reconstituted shiitake mushrooms and bone broth. I topped that off with enoki mushrooms and cilantro and sliced batonggo to serve.


A classic food of the Chinese emigre communities of Southeast Asia! Hope you try it and enjoy it!



Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, - Recipes, Chinese food, Malay/Indonesian food, Thai/Lao food | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The pleasures of sour kimchi and kimchi stew


Kimchi is a great accompaniment to rice, soup, and stir fry dishes. After a jar (or tub) has been kept for several weeks however, it starts to get sour. That can also be delicious as it is, but many would use it only for cooking after it starts getting sour. The flavor on its own is very intense, but in cooking, a deep flavor is added to soups, pancakes, and stir fried dishes.

Kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae 김치찌개) is one of my favorite things to eat. Sour kimchi and kimchi brine impart a deep base flavor to the soup, and chile powder and gochujang add a nice spicy bite. This stew is a perfect meal with rice. Best yet, the dish can consist of pantry ingredients and “this and that” that might be around the fridge. Pork, fish, and even canned tuna are delicious in this soup, and soft tofu adds a nice texture.

I had a jar of kimchi in the fridge for about a month, and the flavors were getting strong. It was time to assemble a nice stew.


Key ingredients in today’s kimchi stew, clockwise: egg, tofu, sugar, gochujang (red tub), doenjang (brown tub), old kimchi, chile flakes, sliced onion, chopped garlic, green onion, chopped pork belly

I love cooking in clay, and I have enjoyed my Korean black clay pots (ttukbaegi 뚝배기) for some years now. These pots can be found at Philadelphia Korean markets (Hmart, Saehan, Ko Ba Woo) and can be comfortably used on top of a gas ranges and even electric tops, and they really hold onto heat. I think this dish is best customized based on size of pot, items available, and personal preference. Today this is what I had:

  • 1/3 lb coarsely chopped pork belly
  • 1/2 medium sized white onion, sliced
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped sour kimchi and 1/3rd cup juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp+ Korean chile flakes (gochugaru)
  • 1/2 block of tofu
  • 1 Tbsp doenjang
  • 1 Tbsp gochujang
  • pinch sugar (if necessary), salt (if necessary), vinegar (if necessary)
  • egg
  • green onions, chopped

This is such a forgiving stew that you can put these items in nearly any order and the outcome should be good. The egg should be last though, unless you want it hard cooked.


I started with some oil in the bowl, and frying the onions, garlic, and pork belly. Add in the chopped kimchi and kimchi juice. Add some stock. I used a basic Korean-style anchovy, kelp, and radish stock as suggested by Maangchi. Maangchi is a pretty well-known food celebrity at this point, but if you are not familiar with her and common home-style dishes like kimchi jjigae, she has some terrific videos for making most things. Check out her page on kimchi jjigae for reference.

I hope you try this very simple and delectable dish!

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