Sunday, January 18, 2009 ;
4:11 PM
15 Jan
Thur

I took the subway by myself! First time!
I needed to go to Isetan because I had ran out of udon noodles, seaweed and some other Japanese cooking ingredients. The kids love udon noodles and only Isetan carried the nice springy ones. We tried some others that were so disappointing.

In fact, at Sakura restaurant in Spore, the kids happily tucked into the udon they had and didn't want to eat anymore cos the udon they used were mushy and did not have the bite and oomph of the ones they are used to having here.

I buy the udon noodles and mainly make soup noodle dishes with it. I tried fried udon twice but find it quite messy to fry. Sometimes I use it as pasta, pour milk and cheese in it and make something like Mac n Cheese but it's udon noodles instead.

I also had to buy a birthday present for ds1's friend whose birthday was on Sat and he invited ds1 to his party. In Tianjin, it is the accepted norm or maybe unspoken rule that you must get good quality gifts from Isetan.

When H needed to help her hubby buy a lucky draw prize for the company, she headed to Isetan. At previous birthday parties of ds1's classmates, everyone brought gifts in Isetan bags and Isetan gift wrap. I learnt that if you bought gifts anywhere else, they tended to be damaged at first use, and people will think you are not sincere enough or not thoughtful enough. Also, Isetan had a comprehensive kids' dept with a wide variety of high quality toys, mostly imported. Of course, the prices are more expensive than anywhere else in Tianjin, but that is why the Isetan gift wrap and bag means so much.

Unlike in Spore, where there are so many major dept stores, it seems Isetan is the only place to go. And it is so far away from my apt.

If I take cab, it will be expensive (not by Spore stds but still...) and will take a long time since the route snakes through the central district and the jams are notorious. So I took a cab to a subway station and then took the subway to the station where Isetan is.

I was pleasantly surprised. It could be that I took the train at 10am, when it's not so crowded, but even though I had to stand throughout, it was not packed like sardines. Because the trains here are much shorter and smaller than Spore's, and the population numbers much higher, I had expected a worse crowd than in Spore.

The train station was clean, the train was clean, and using the token machine was a breeze. I had to buy a token at the machine. The words are in Chinese, but I think there are English options. It is just that I often cannot understand English instructions here at all, so I rather read the Chinese one slowly. It cost me 2 yuan (S$0.40) for the trip!

The token fell out of the machine after I inserted the cash, and I used the coin-like plastic token to tap the gates. The gates opened and I could enter and access the train platform.

The wait was short and the train arrived shortly.

This is where the joke on me arose. You know in Spore, how the first cabin or last cabin had more space cos most people don't walk all the way to the ends to board the train right?

I did the same thing as I do in Spore all my life, walk from the stairs all the way to the end of the platform to wait there.

Guess what???!!!???
The train arrived and sped past me, stopping way ahead, and the length of the train is much shorter than the length of the tracks exposed to us. Maybe some other stations are shorter, I don't know, or they have long and short trains at different intervals?

But yes, you can visualise me running from the end to where the last cabin was. Fortunately it wasn't too long a distance, but I know I just looked stupid.

This pic shows the subway station and the short train. Their gates are not full length (ceiling to ground) for the underground trains, unlike Spore's.


On the train, it was uneventful and it was easy to alight too. At the gates of my destination, I just slotted the token into the machine and it wasn't returned to me. I think, in this case, for such single trips, this concept is better than Spore's? Cos if I am not wrong, if you wanted a refund for the deposit in your single trip card in Spore after using it, you had to queue to get it? Sounds troublesome to me. I just bought an EZ link card but I know some tourists might not want to pay for that if they are in Spore for a short visit?

Just another sign I saw. Just wondered what people burn in the building that warranted this sign?

By the way, as I am typing now, firecrackers and fireworks had been going on for a few hours already. They start so early??!?

Again, learning the customs here. In winter, a lot of Chinese and Koreans boil a lot of soup from bones, and then freeze them in portions. Koreans especially, have huge freezers for freezing their kimchi, soups and stocks.

My ayi told me to boil more oxtail soup and 牛膀骨汤 (no idea how to translate). She said the other Chinese and Koreans have boiled a lot already and I should boil some too, otherwise I might not have anything to eat during CNY.

Ok, I certainly don't want to starve during the 15 days, so I agreed and asked her to buy the bones for me.

She said the korean butcher ran out of oxtail cos all the koreans bought tons and tons of it. So she ordered Ox knees, Ox joints and Ox leg bones (in Chinese, the 牛膀 thing, I think) from the Korean specialty store for me.

When the delivery guy came, he was obviously Korean, so we didn't talk, just gestured. He pointed to the sum on the invoice, I paid, we bowed to each other and he left. Actually he bowed first, so I thought I should bow in return too.

I looked at the receipt/ invoice. Every word was in Korean except for the price of the bones. Nevermind, my ayi will interpret for me when she comes in the afternoon.

They looked very strange to me. Usually when I do chicken, pork rib or beef soup, there is always meat on the bones. These are basically all bones. Bones alone, with the cartilege here and there. At least, not very fatty. (Saw the huge knee of the Ox for the first time. So solid, hard and heavy!)

Anyway, she taught me how to prepare them. Boy, is it tedious!

here goes:
1. wash the bones. soak in tap water for 1 hour.
2. drain the blood, floating oils and fats.
3. fill the pot of bones with filtered water now. boil vigorously.
4. pour all the "dirty water" away. it has cooked blood clumps and fats and so on in it.
5. use chopsticks to pick out all the bones, place in huge bowl or stainless steel basin to cool.
6. wash the pot thoroughly cos it is coated with a layer of fats and foam. fill with more filtered water. place on stove to boil the water.
7. pick up cooled bones, wash each bone with hand under running water from the filter tap.
8. placed cleaned bones into pot of boiling water.
9. after vigorously boiling, bring it down to a simmer.
10. thereafter begins abt 4hrs of skimming oils and fats off the top layer, all the while still simmering. (ayi had left by then, she had given me instructions to switch off fire only when water level reaches the top of the bones)
11. next day, when the soup cooled completely, there was this layer of solid fat. seriously, it was about 5-6cm thick (or 2 inches). I was totally amazed cos we had removed tons of fat and oils already! I had already been told to remove it by ayi, so I did.
12. Then add more filtered water to the soup, start to boil again. After it is boiling, simmer. Again for 3hrs.
13. Ayi arrived, took a look and said, "hmm, finally the soup has some milky colour, good". we skimmed the top layer again.
14. Next pour out the soup. Leave to cool and refrigerate.
15. Pour filtered water into soup pot still with bones. Now repeat steps 9-12.
16. Combine the soup from 2nd boiling with the first that was refrigerated.
17. Now fill pot of bones with water and repeat steps 9-12 again. Basically it is to obtain 3 batches of soup from the bones.
18. Combine all the cooled and refrigerated soup.
19. Throw all the bones away. Wash the pot. Pour all 3 batches of soup into clean pot. Now boil all 3 batches together and reduce volume of soup to about half to 2/3. It will be a nice thick milky soup base now.
20. Note, nothing else is added. No salt, no other condiments.

According to ayi, that's what the Koreans use for their noodle soup base, rice soups etc.

I was lazy and didn't do 3 batches. But after 2 times, I saw that the bones had hollowed out a lot! Ayi says the bones should be totally clean (all marrow and cartilege dissolved) when they are ready to be thrown. Wow.

This pic shows the bones after 1st batch of soup has been collected. Note the cartilege is still present and there are still quite a lot of fats.

This shows the bones after 2nd batch is collected. The marrow has been pretty much cleaned out huh! Dh devoured the cartilege after "marinating" it with sesame oil, soy sauce (they call it 生抽 here) and dark soy sauce (老抽). He said it was delicious. I don't like cartilege, so I was happy to let him have it all.

We could see the matrix of the bone fragments too. Interesting. That means the soup was made milky by the dissolved bone bits??

After tasting the soup, I realised it tasted a lot like what the instant noodles here taste like. All those with 浓汤 flavour had soup base that looked and tasted a lot like this.

This soup is supposedly very good for keeping you healthy and warm through winter. I think the fats and oils certainly would.

Ayi says most Chinese just put chopped 葱头 (spring onion leaves?) in a bowl, some salt, and pour piping hot soup into the bowl. Then drink it all up at once.

I stir fried some zucchini and carrot with miso paste for dinner that day, together with the soup.



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