If you happen to find yourself in Midtown today, it's worth going over to Times Square to check out the 3rd annual International Chinese Culinary Competition, which is being held live in an outdoor arena on 48th Street between 7th Avenue and Broadway. It's the Chinese version of Iron Chef, complete with the pageantry and commentary that one expects at such events.
You can watch on a big screen in the arena as judges poke and prod at dishes being prepared by Chinese chefs from around the world, or listen as unsuspecting tourists and passersby are lassoed into chatting with the hosts.
Gongs sound off every 45 minutes to announce the beginning of another round. Preliminary rounds, which took place in Times Square yesterday, were organized by regional cuisine: Sichuan, Shandong, Cantonese, and Huaiyang.
During the Shandong round, I watched as chefs prepared squid using the classic "bao" technique in which segments of squid were rapidly deep-fried prior to being stir-fried. Sections of squid, cut in a cross-hatch pattern, barely made contact with the wok before being hustled out of the bubbling oil. The squid was tender and bouncy at the same time, a texture that can only be achieved with a lot of oil and very little cooking time.
Also during the Shandong round, a whole deep-fried fish was served in a silky smooth sauce of spicy bean paste.
Of note during the Sichuan round was a dish of stir-fried beef with plenty of red chilies and Sichuan peppercorn. The tender slices of beef were coated in an appropriately effusive quantity of crushed Sichuan peppercorns, making it a tongue-numbingly delicious experience.
The finals of the competition will be taking place all day today, October 1, until 8 p.m. You shouldn't have any trouble finding the event; they're decked out the arena in Tang-Dynasty inspired decor. You won't be able to taste dishes as they're being cooked (only ticketholders can), but it's certainly worth a look at the spectacle of it all.
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