Traveller's Story: My Exotic Food Adventures
During several trips to Asia, Odynovo (formerly Odyssey Tours) regular customer Elliott Brender discovered a plethora of new and exciting dishes and snacks. Here he shares his exotic food adventures in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Who am I? My name is Elliott Brender. I am a retired general and colorectal surgeon. I am a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine.
In 2008 I began doing volunteer surgical missions to Cambodia and returning from my trips through either Hong Kong or Shanghai. This is where I got involved with China Odyssey Tours.
I have traveled 3 times now with China Odyssey Tours. The first time was after a volunteer mission. Instead of returning through Hong Kong I decided to go through Shanghai and make a side trip to Guilin.
I have been asked how I select my restaurants. With the help of the television food programs, such as Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods". I check the Michelin Star Ratings, and I use the internet.
Ever since I was a teenager I became interested in foods, foods of all kinds. I grew up in a Jewish-Italian neighborhood in Queens, NY. There were many Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. I tried calamari (squid) and scungilli (octopus). I used chili flakes to enhance the flavor of the dish. We ate Chinese food every Sunday night. Shrimp and lobster sauce was a family regular. I experienced and liked hot Chinese mustard.
In high school, we studied Spanish so our class took a trip into the City (that is what we call Manhattan) and I had my first experience with Mexican food. Carne asada enhanced with tabasco, refried beans, rice, and tortillas. At the 1964 World's Fair, I went to the African pavilion and had cold peanut soup and lobster cooked with honeydew melon. Fantastic.
I went to college in the Bronx but got into Manhattan frequently. I discovered Indian food and shrimp vindaloo. I was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Vietnamese, Thai, and Southeast Asian cuisines were quickly added to my experience. I loved the food and I loved the spice. Thai food especially but Vietnamese can be quite hot as well. I went to Hong Kong in 1972 and I discovered real Chinese food. I learned there are 8 different varieties of Chinese food. I loved Sichuan because of the spice but Yunnan was quite spicy as well.
1997 was my first trip to China. The Great Dam was starting to be built and it was a see or lose forever the Great Gorges. We flew to Beijing, then Xian, then Chongqing where we boarded a riverboat down the gorges to Wuhan. Prior to boarding our boat, we ate at a Holiday Inn and I had the honor of being invited to a hot pot with the crew and the Chinese guides. Everyone else ran off to the French restaurant. I poked my nose in on the crew who were eating in a separate dining room. I asked "what are you guys eating?" hoping for an invitation which was politely offered. That turned into a fantastic evening. There was a big yin yang symbol and half the pot had boiling clear water; the other half had boiling red water, obviously spicy. I spoke no Chinese, the crew spoke no English, but the Chinese guides did. We spent the evening talking back and forth through interpreters and trying different meats and vegetables in the two sauces. The spiciest was soaking vegetables in the red water. They apparently absorbed the spicy fluids. The weirdest food I ate, the lining of blood vessels which cooked up like a chip. They were amazed by my spice tolerance and that I didn't react. We had a great time.
First stop - Shanghai, and soup dumplings, one of their local specialties. Din Tai Fung. Now with branches worldwide, they make excellent soup dumplings. I love Chinese dumplings.
Left: Spicy Pork Noodles Right: Soup Dumplings
Left: Giant Soup Dumpling Right: Fried Dumpling
Left: Entrance Right: Reception
Left: Thai Zeed Right: Tea Leaf Salad
Left: Spicy Pork and Vegetables Right: Dessert
Left: Jade on 36 Right: Interior
Left: Brandy Alexander Right: Molecular Appetizers
Left: Soft Egg Cooked at 65 Degree with some Lemon Jelly and Homemade Sauce Lobster
Right: Foie Gras
Left: Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant Right: the Chef Carvesa Peking Duck
Left: Chinese Bitter Melon Right: Duck Feet
Left: Pickle Right: Condiment's for the Duck
Left: Goose Liver, Truffle Jelly, Avocado Right: Spicy Beef
Left: Greetings from the Staff Right: Appetizing Cold Dish
Left: Venison Brain with Chinese Herb Soup Right: Bird-Shaped Steamed Prawns
Left: Braised Deer Pizzle with Hot Sauce Right: Fin & Shredded Chicken
Left: Sesame Cakes with Minced Meat Right: Camel's Paw with Garlic
Left: Roast Beef Steak Right: Braised 4 Kind of Treasures
Left: Deep Fried & Sauteed Fried Mandarin Fish
Right: Braised Mushroom with Minced Fish & Vegetable
Left: Mixed Fruits Right: Small Assorted Cakes
Mapo Toufu in Chengdu
Left: Entrance Right: liáng cài Cold Dishes
Left: máo bǐ sū Crispy Calligraphy Brushes filled with ground
Right: Pork fried taro root and Black Garlic
Left: Black Truffle on Egg Right: Twist of Dough
Left: liáng fěn shāo bào yú Abalone with Glutinous Rice Jelly
Right: A Gelee Based Completely on the Juice of Tomatoes
Left: yú xiāng duì xiā Fish-flavored Shrimp
Right: Boiled Dumpling with Chili Oil, Ginger
Left: Rare Fungi from Yunnan Right: Light Egg Custard with Rabbit
Left: cì guǒ xiǎo bāo Steamed Bun with Red Bean
Right: diào piàn zhāng chá Ya Filling Tea Smoked Duck served with flatbread
Left: cì guǒ xiǎo bāo Steamed Bun with Red Bean
Right: DelicateSkate with Chilis on Fine Vermicelli
Left: jiā cháng miàn Home-style Noodles Right: Fragrant flower soup
Left: Fruit + Flaky Dragon's Beard Candy Right: Asian Pear
Left: The Dining Room Right: Buttered Tea
Left: Table Setting Right: Barbequed Yak
The food can vary from squid, pork, beef, and chicken to more exotic items.
Bugs such as scorpions, spiders, centipedes are available.
Left: Huge centipedes Right: I chose silkworm larvae.
Tasting Silk Worm Larvae
Left: Highway 4 Restaurant, Hanoi Right: Sauteed Squid
Left: Cricket Spring Rolls Right: Grasshopper Salad
Left: Signage Right: Spicy Frog& a Spicy Tofu Dish
Left: Deep Fried Foie Gras and Squid Right: Butter Figurine
Left: Dim Sum Right: Spicy Jellyfish& Cucumber
Shrimp, Lima Beans served at my hotel and guide selected restaurants.
Zhangye Danxia Landform
Left: Scallion Pancakes, some of the best Scallion Pancakes I've ever had.
Right: Spicy Pickled Goodies, at Street Scene in the Town of Huangshan
Left: Wang Yi Tiao Wonton Right: Assorted Wontons
Tarantulas & scorpions
I am currently trying to establish an International Surgical Residency Rotation in Cambodia for UCI surgical residents. Please go to Quality Surgery for Cambodia to learn more about what I have done and what I'd like to do to help improve surgical care in Cambodia.