Wining On: In the dragon’s dens

Although it’s been a month, almost, since 2012 began, let me tell you how seriously I take these new beginnings. It’s not just about the gorging — although for most of my 34 years the aim has primarily been that — but 2011 started in the most appalling way possible, that my new year needed a complete rethink.

And this wasn’t just about poor little me, but also applied to my December 31 partners in crime. January 2011 turned out to be so very rubbish that we decided to hijack other cultures’ festivities and start over again.

Yes, that’s right, the bad behaviour came courtesy of a man, two men in fact, and we felt so slighted that the only way out of this horrible, man-induced slump, was to begin the year afresh in February.

The Year of the Rabbit began in the nick of time and a slap-up meal in China Town meant we could release those horrible memories, and resign those sketch books of how to slowly and painfully torture said men to death.

But despite our best intentions, the rest of 2011 continued to be bumpy with new-year gang members suffering various other misfortunes — blood clots followed by weeks in hospital, relatives dying, appalling journeys — and it turned out that Chinese New Year simply wasn’t sufficient.

We therefore added into our calendar the end of the fiscal year, Jewish New Year and a few other random ones which I can’t quite remember, no insult intended.

But with 2012 comes the Year of the Dragon, the most fortuitous sign in the Chinese zodiac — so much so that a baby boom is predicted over the coming 12 months in China — which kicked off on Monday. Needless to say, we embraced the essence of the east, albeit in Almagro, with Marco whipping up an oriental storm below the thunder clouds.

In Almagro’s China Town, however, some bright spark had even snapped up a bundle of fortune cookies, and there were enough for everyone to crack open two. I discarded the lesser of two evils, opting for some “Take it calmly” advice.

So if you haven’t donned red, or bought a dragon fruit-flavour water — which I did by complete accident on that very Monday and am still really hoping it means “something” — or learned how to write “happy year of the dragon” in whichever characters you can fathom, there is still time to put things right, if only by chowing done some chow mein.

First, I thought I’d try out what one friend has called his favourite Chinese restaurant in the city — and it isn’t in the Barrio Chino. Barrio Norte’s Shi Yuan, which has made it Vidal Buzzi’s rather discerning list of must-go to eateries, is not open terribly late, as I found out to my detriment in the run-up to New Year (I got there at 12.30am, granted), but when you get there, cross the bridge complete with koi carp swimming below and opt for a sexy booth. Also ensure you get the more ample carta complete with pictures for maximum menu-age, and the very organised must simply order a whole crispy duck a day in advance.

Although you could try and get change from 100 pesos with careful selection, you might leave hungry and this wasn’t the name of the game on Wednesday night. After Marco’s culinary flirtation, it was time for the real deal and so we ordered steamed pork dumplings, vegetable chow mein, hot ‘n sour soup with pork and tofu, and a load of crispy, spicy pork.

This may sound like a lot of pork for two damsels, but the waiter, who assured us everything was excellent when asked for his favourite dish, said the latter dish was only for one person. Wrong. There was ample for two, especially with the accompanying noodles which were practically doused in button-style mushrooms and as fresh as a daisy. Total bill with a beer and tip? Just 140 pesos.

Heading north to China Town for Thursday lunch, I was beginning to feel like a pork dumpling myself. But in the name of research and welcoming back Trev from terrorizing the garotas in Brazil, a veritable feast awaited at BBQ Town. A restaurant recommended by both Trev and Pick Up The Fork, you simply must go famished to take advantage of the extensive Korean-Chinese fusion barbecue, which you sizzle up, from the middle of your table, in a foody’s attempt at group bonding.

Late as usual, a toothy fish was grimacing at me when I rushed in, but so, excitingly, were some oysters on steroids, so large and juicy they were. I leapt straight in.

For 80 pesos, the assortment of little bowls akin to Korean tapas is boggling, and can range between 25 and 35 vegetarian, meat and seafood dishes. From kimchi (fermented vegetables), and more pork dumplings (I demanded an encore, as you can repeat your faves), salads, algae, crêpes, eggy concoctions slathered in hot sauce, even sugar-speckled sweet potato, and hot ‘n spicy, soup, the excitement truly begins when the bulgogi, or raw meat and seafood — marinated beef, pork, octopus and more steroid-infused prawns — appear, accessorized with tongs and scissors. Let the brazier sizzling begin.

Although a fun diagram pasted to the wall could help explain, first, how to cook bulgogi, which was ranked the world’s 23rd tastiest dish by CNN Go last year — fish kick off proceedings, so as not to ruin the grill (whoops) — and second, how to put together a pork belly lettuce wrap, we had a riot snipping up bacony bits to shove into the green leaves once they were sufficiently sizzled to our liking.

If only I could read Korean (and arrived on time), I would have stood a greater chance of knowing what I was eating. But sometimes, that’s half the fun.

Shi Yuan
Tagle 2531, Barrio Norte,
Tel: 4804-0607

BBQ Town
Juramento 1656, Belgrano
Tel: 4783-2780

Photo courtesy of Pick Up The Fork

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