December 30, 2013

Gathering the clan

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Tonight was a very special evening.  There hasn't been a gathering of my clansmen (and clanswomen) of this scale since... EVER!  The last time there were a good many of us in Taipei at the same time was more than a decade ago, when grandma passed on.  Tonight we almost achieved a full count - only one cousin was missing.  Some of the cousins were meeting for the very first time... and the youngest in my generation has already graduated from college.  A decade ago we went from three generations to two.  We are now happily back to three generations, as the latest addition to the family came a couple of years ago.

For a gathering of this size, it's a no-brainer that we're gonna do Chinese.  Since our youngest cousins have never set foot in Taiwan, it seemed appropriate to do this over a Taiwanese meal.  The Orchid Room (蘭花廳) at Brother Hotel (兄弟飯店) has long had a reputation for delivering quality Taiwanese fare, although I honestly can't remember my last meal there myself.  This would be a good opportunity to check it out.

One of the banquet menus was chosen, as there were 16 of us... As it turned out, I didn't think it was particularly Taiwanese...

Mullet roe and the seven fairies (烏魚子七仙女) - classic Taiwanese fare on an appetizer platter, including mullet roe, cuttlefish, marinated jellyfish, goose, vegetarian goose... etc.  I can't believe that my Birdbrain Cousin felt that my original arrangement wasn't pretty enough, and dared to stick her chopsticks into my food... Sheeesh!

I passed on the braised shark's fin (三鮮燒魚翅), since I refuse to eat shark's fin.

Wok-fried tiger prawns in tomato sauce (乾燒大明蝦) - I can't remember the last time I had this dish... served with a thick and dry sauce with ketchup, diced onion and garlic.  My Favorite Cousin reminded me that there were a couple of loose heads left behind on the plate, so I picked up an extra head and dutifully sucked out the contents.  Yum.

Braised fish (紅燒馬魚頭) - not sure what kind of fish this was... but it was not bad.  Once in a while, it's nice to have something other than Cantonese-style steamed fish.

Stir-fried sweet potato leaves (炒地瓜葉) - love this veggie.

Braised abalone with meat balls (彩球燴鮑片) - interesting take on meat balls, with chopped water chestnut inside and wrapped in omelette strips.  Sliced shiitake mushroom and abalone are a good match, and of course there's lots of starchy sauce!

Stir-fried scallops and sea cucumber (帶子炒烏參) - this was OK.  The sea cucumber was still crunchy, as they certainly weren't gonna braise them for hours like mom does.  The scallops were surprisingly done mi-cuit...

Stir-fried seasonal vegetables with lily bulb and wolfberries (枸杞百合扒時蔬) - the leafy mustard (芥菜) wasn't too bitter.

Glutinous rice with giant mud crabs (大沙公伴米糕) - classically Taiwanese.  The crab was pretty good, even if there wasn't any roe.  And the sticky rice... well what's not to like?!

Chicken and mushroom soup (花菇燉全雞) - can't go wrong with chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms.  Comfort food.

Steamed taro stick (芋頭條) - made with a mix of taro and sticky rice, and filled with red bean paste.

Red bean soup (紅豆湯) - with sago and finely chopped taro.

Naturally I was the wine supplier for the dinner, and even my Favorite Cousin told her dad not to bother bringing any...

1995 Jos. Joh. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - petrol, white pepper, flint.  Very sweet on the palate.

2002 L'Evangile en magnum - minty, a little pungent, perhaps sulfur?  Smoky, coffee and potpourri.

The food wasn't fantastic, and neither were the wines, but it didn't matter.  This was a momentous occasion, and I can see that everybody was happy to be here tonight.  Sixteen adults and a toddler - eleven of whom were born with the same family name.  Something like this isn't easy to orchestrate for a family like ours - scattered across six countries and four continents - and I wonder if we'll be able to do another gathering like this again... anytime soon.

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