Shark’s Fin Soup: Is the Fin Worth the Cut?

After a delicious dim sum meal at Hung To Seafood restaurant, I decided to take a look at the banquet menus that were posted by the front door.  Shark’s Fin Soup was listed at $48… $48!  I can’t believe it!  I’m a Chinese American dude that’s been eating Shark’s Fin at most family special occasions, and I can’t figure out why an order of Shark’s Fin could or should even be that expensive.  This is nothing new, there has always been controversy over the treatment of sharks.  Sharks are caught at sea, fishermen cut their fins off, then release them back to the water.  This kills a bunch of sharks.  With the rise in middle-class Chinese in the world, we see much overfishing of many different species of sharks.

When I was a kid, I once asked my father why we drank Shark’s Fin Soup.  I always noticed that we always put a little Cognac or red vinegar into the soup.  This signified to me that the soup didn’t taste right.  Why then, was this soup so popular? My father mentioned that the Chinese believed that Shark’s fin was a sign of wealth and power.  How would this be a sign of wealth and power, when almost everyone is eating it?  To me, this is no longer a sign of wealth.  I would rather spend that $48 on something like Troya for a Turkish dinner for two.  Was it the texture?  The crunchy, gelatinous texture?  You could tell the cheap Shark’s Fin soup from the rich, by the texture and shape the Shark’s Fin was served in the soup.  As the Shark’s Fin’s shape was broken, the cheaper the bowl of Shark’s Fin.  Sometimes, you’d get the really cheap stuff, and it would just look like Vermicelli noodles.  Why then, can’t we just put Vermicelli noodles in our Chicken broth soup?  Let’s undercook that Vermicelli so that there’s the gelatinous and throw some chicken cartilage for that crunch.

As I pondered this, I saw a bus advertisement on my way home.  It was a picture of the Chinese Frankenstein, Yao Ming, covering a bowl of soup.  The text said, “Shark’s Fin Soup? Yao says no.”  There you have it, the most popular guy in China, next to Aaron Kwok says “No.”

What’s your take on Shark’s Fin soup?

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I Left My Stomach in San Mateo… or Top Peninsula Eats

Farewell upper peninsula. I’ve taken a position in SOMA San Francisco, and will be leaving Foster City. When people ask me what I’m going to miss, I am always going to tell them the good, cheap lunch spots within driving distance. So, here’s a list of top 10 Peninsula Eateries according to Kingston in no particular order:

Jersey Joe’s Hoagies & Cheesesteaks
21 El Camino Real
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 592-7317

If you are looking for the best cheesesteak sandwich in the Bay Area, look no further than this San Carlos Cheesesteak establishment. “THE BEST CHEESESTEAK SANDWICH IN THE BAY AREA.” There I said it. For around $10 you get a delicious, mouthwatering cheesesteak, fries, and a medium drink. This establishment will be the one I miss the most. Make sure you put some Buffalo Hot Sauce on your Mushroom Cheesesteak. Oh… Man. In fact, this will definitely be on my weekend Peninsula visits. (BTW, for all you Philly freaks, they have the traditional Cheese Sauce.)

Ike’s Lair
555 Twin Dolphin Dr
Ste 115
Redwood City, CA 94065
(650) 637-8903

So, you get all the hype from the San Francisco Ike’s Place, and realize, that waiting 2 to 3 hours is really not worth it. Now for Peninsulites (Peninsulans? Peninsuli?) all we have to do is make a phone call at 9:00 am to pick up our sandwich at 12:30 pm. I mean, it takes all the guess work out of figuring out which restaurant to go to for lunch. My office did several 15-20 orders of sandwiches to bring back, since there’s no seating there. My favorite is the Not A Reuben (Paul Reuben for my SF Place homies) with Mustard around $9.50.

Old Port Lobster Shack
851 Veterans Blvd
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 366-2400
TheCultureBite Bite Back

Ah… yes. The Lobster Shack. Sigh… Where do I start. I’m actually not a lover of Lobster (I’m more of a crab type of guy), but their Lobster Roll is deeelish. I mean, come on. You walk into this establishment as if it were straight off an old port in Maine. Make sure you start off with some Creamy Clam Chowder, order a Maine Lobster Roll (if you don’t like mayo or green onions order the Naked Lobster so you can dip into a side of mayo or butter), and enjoy that side of fries. Can’t say I’ve tried anything else here, but I hear their BBQ is award winning! My meals were usually around $30 here, so take someone special.

Kabul Afghan Cuisine
135 El Camino Real
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 594-2840

I love the lamb here. We used to come here for special occasions, and then we realized we should just come here for no occasion. The Kebabs are delicious, and they remind me of the song from the Flight of the Conchords “Most Beautiful Girl” ( Mostly because they mention kebabs and these are my favorite ones, specifically the Kabab-e-gousfand. Say that five times fast. The Lamb is seasoned just right and juicy. You get such large portions that I always have to take it home. The other dish I love here is the Challaw kadu. It’s a vegetarian dish with pumpkin in it. thdfsdf <–that was me wiping the drool off of my keyboard

Sushi Sam’s
218 E 3rd Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 344-0888

This is one of the more expensive lunch dining options in the San Mateo downtown area. I’ve come here for lunch a couple of times, but I’ve come here for dinner a ton of times! S loves getting the Omakase everytime we eat here, but I don’t mind trying all of their other things. The rolls are phenomenal, the Uni tastes fresh, and the service is fantastic. This has replaced my need to return to the Tsukiji Fish Market for my fresh fish. If I were an account manager with a good expense account, I would take all my clients here. My recommendation is to try the Omakase the first time, then try a few rolls. If you feel adventurous they do have some multi-course meals.

Everyday Beijing
637 S B St
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 373-7878

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for some Northern Chinese food. There are so many different variations of Northern Chinese food, that it’s always fun to try a new one. Some of them may have the XLB’s with the thin skin or the bun skin, some might have fresh soy milk, this one has Cumin Lamb. Yes, people, the lamb is excellent. Also, I love the meaty meat pancakes.

Saffron Buffet Line
Saffron Indian Bistro
1143 San Carlos Ave
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 593-4269

It was always a treat to come here. It’s a really cheap buffet ($10), and there’s such a wide variety of Indian food to choose from. You come in to the joint, and you’ll notice that there are white table cloths on each table. I kept thinking, oh no, Indian food and white table cloths don’t seem to go well together. Then you sit down, and realize, wait, I should just get my food right away. The smell of restaurant is fabulous, if you love Indian food. Once you get your plate, you are greeted by a salad bar. I usually skip this, as I’m here for the main event. I spoon a little bit of rice, then, it time. Time to pour on the different curries on each side, Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer. There are 8-9 different curries to choose from, and they all have their own tastes and textures. The last thing I pick up is the Tandoori chicken at the end and I’m ready to sit back down. Now, once you sit down, you’ll notice that buttered Naan has been magically placed on your table. Oh man, the waiters are wonderful. Sometimes, you can catch a sports game on one of the two televisions if something is on, otherwise, just sit, relax and enjoy the orchestra of Indian flavors.

Jack’s Prime
3723 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
(650) 638-1479

You want a tasty gourmet burger? Then you better come to this modern diner style establishment. They’ve got all the good stuff you could ask for at a burger joint, milk shakes fries, burgers, onion rings, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it all. I personally recommend the Angry Cowboy which is a burger with smoked bacon, onion rings, jalapeno relish, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce. Yeh doesn’t sound healthy, but it’s delicious.

Cha Cha Cha Fried Plantains and Pork
Cha Cha Cha Cuba
112 S B St
San Mateo, CA 94102
(650) 347-2900
TheCultureBite Bite Back

I love this place. The food is excellent, and the service is outstanding! My usual favorites are the Fried Potatoes with Chili Aioli, Fried Plantains, Ceviche, Calamari, and Mussels. Actually, I didn’t find anything I didn’t really like. One extraordinary thing is that I would actually enjoy drinking their Sangria. If you know me, I usually don’t like drinking alcohol. It’s so good here, how could I not? This place was introduced to me by my good friend, Victor D., who introduced us to the owner, Mario. Mario is a very friendly individual who has very interesting tales of the history of his family. You should ask him about the raft that’s posted on the wall. =)

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Mr. Fong/Tai Wu BBQ and Noodles – South San Francisco

Mr Fong BBQ Combo with House Made NoodlesMr. Fong/Tai Wu BBQ and Noodles
King Plaza Shopping Center
950 King Drive, Ste 101
Daly City, CA 94015

Rated: ♣♣♣♣

I have a tradition of coming here once of every week. You may think Chinese food tastes like all other Chinese food, but you have not tasted the BBQ combo housemade noodles at Mr. Fong’s. That dish will blow your mind; it’s so good.

The scene:

Their Foster City location is no more, but Mr. Fong’s has taken over the Classic Bowl complex in South SF. First, they opened the fancier, banquet-style restaurant. Then, they opened this BBQ/noodle take-out joint. Now, they’re going to open up a bakery.

The BBQ/noodle restaurant is always packed, but for some reason, they’ve worked out a flow where you don’t have to wait long. I don’t think I’ve ever waited any longer than 5 minutes for this place.

Service is quick and friendly, the latter is definitely uncommon at a Chinese restaurant.

The food:

Last I came, I went with my family, so I was able to order a variety of dishes.

Clay Pot Rice w/Salted Fish and Chicken – I was so excited to see clay pot rice on their specials menu. Clay pot rice is a casserole dish made with rice and some kind of topping. The topping could be anything from chicken and mushrooms to frog legs and veggies. Yeah… I won’t be having any frog legs, but salted fish and chicken sounds good to me! The beset part about clay pot rice is the crunchy rice on the bottom of the casserole dish. Add some sweet black soy sauce and you’ll find comfort food at its best.

Porridge w/Preserved Egg – This is my go-to dish when I can’t make up my mind. Mr. Fong’s has about 200 items on their menu and it could take me forever to decide what to order. Their porridge is very fresh here. The rice stews in it’s own thickness, no corn starch needed. The flavor of the porridge is much more flavorful than other Chinese restaurants. I’m thinking they cook the porridge with some kind of chicken flavoring, whether that be bones or broth, I don’t know.

BBQ Combo Housemade Noodles – This is the jackpot. Well, anything on the housemade noodles menu is part of the jackpot. Mr. Fong’s has one of the best BBQed meats I’ve tasted in the Bay Area. It’s lean, tender and fresh. For the BBQ combo, you are allowed to pick any 2 kinds of meat from the BBQ counter. My choice: roast duck and BBQ pork. They are not shy about their meats here at Mr. Fong’s. You’ll find a large helping of the pork and duck lying on top of a massive bed of noodles and broth. The noodles really don’t look like anything special, but you’ll be surprised about the texture. It’s chewy! The broth is very meaty tasting, not sure if it’s MSG, but I won’t ask because I don’t want to know. It’s too darn good for me to care.

There are a million other things I’ve been wanting to try here. I’ve heard a lot about the fried ox tail from K’s boss. MUST try that next time.

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Kung Fu Tacos – San Francisco

Kung Fu Tacos Duck and Pork TacosKung Fu Tacos
Sacramento & Montgomery
San Francisco, CA 94111
Neighborhood: Financial District

Rated: ♣♣♣

K was just telling me the other day, “Someone need to make a Peking duck taco.” Well, at Kung Fu Tacos, you can get just that. An old college friend (and fellow foodie) came to visit me at lunch one day during work and decided to try the famous KFT.

The scene:

This is an order, grab your food and eat at your desk kind of place. You’d have to work in the area to eat here since there’s no where you can park or sit.

The line was short and service was quick. It took about 2 min til we got our food.

The food:

Their menu consists of only 5 different kinds of tacos, but the specialty tacos ($3 each) is where the party’s at. You’d definitely need at least 3 to get full.

I actually had lunch before I came here, so I was only able to try the duck taco and a dessert.

Roast Duck taco – These are street-style tacos, so they’re about the size of my hand which is pretty tiny. This taco consisted of roast duck, Hoisin sauce, mango salsa and green onions all on top of a chewy corn tortilla. The mixture of flavors are great. I would’ve been fine with just the duck and sauce, but the salsa really brings it up a notch. The sweet and tangy salsa adds a punch to the taco both texturally and taste-wise.

Dulce de Leche Banana Empanada – Unfortunately, this sounds a lot better than it tastes. I was looking forward to a buttery, crispy shell oozing with mushed bananas and caramel on the inside. To my dismay, I found mostly crust and a super thin layer of caramel sauce with a hint of banana flavor. Super disappointing.

Kung Fu Tacos is one of the more famous food trucks in San Francisco, and by the taste of their tacos, I can see why. I’d love to come back again to try their Wu Shu Char Sui taco.

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Sam's Chinese Kitchen – Pacifica

Sams Chinese Kitchen SoupSam’s Chinese Kitchen
793 Hickey Boulevard
Pacifica, CA 94044

Rated: ♣♣♣♣

Thank you Sam’s for making the best Hung Tao Yee Fu Wonton (fried wonton soup)! I’ve been having this soup at all over the city since I was a little girl and I could not remember who made it best. Some places add peas and corn, others add cilantro. Sometimes the wonton is too soggy and other times the broth is too watery. I’d much prefer a hung tao yee fu wonton with crispy wontons and a thick broth similar to egg flower soup. Yum, doesn’t that sound delicious?

The scene:

Sam’s Chinese Kitchen is the hidden gem tucked away in Pacifica off of Skyline and Hickey. Locals frequent here primarily as a to-go place as there are only 5 tables. K and I were the only ones sitting in the restaurant, but the phones were ringing off the hook. Service was quick and attentive.

The food:

Total bill came to $13 for 2 people.

Hung Tao Yee Fu Wonton – What more do I need to say? The soup was like an egg flower soup base. Thick, eggy, flavorful. The wontons were fresh out of the fryer so they were still crispy. Spoon me a bowl of that with a few hits of white pepper and I’m set.

Tomato Beef Pan Fried Noodles – This too was delish. It was probably the most noodles I’ve ever gotten in this dish at any other Restaurant. K and I were stuffed and I still had leftovers which I ate 5 days later. And get this, the noodles were still crunchy! I guess that makes me wonder what’s in the noodles that keep it crunchy, but whatever, it tasted good.

This is a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and I’m going to give this 4 clubs. If it were any other Chinese restaurant, I wouldn’t dare go past 3. THAT’s how good Sam’s Chinese Kirchen is.

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