Two Perfect Foods
1. The Rose Petal Jam at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong
Don’t be put off by the name. I don’t normally care for anything floral, either, whether it’s a tuberose hand cream or an otherwise delectable Moroccan pastry ruined at the last second by that infernal dousing they do with the orange blossom water, but this isn’t like that. The rose only timidly asserts itself through the rich, tart paste, which smears more like apple butter than a jam; it’s there, but it’s not soapy.
If I had to guess at the base, and I haven’t tasted it in over a decade, I would say guava or quince, both for the jam’s membrillo-like grittiness and its coral pink color. It reminds me of haw flakes, too–those compressed discs, a little like communion wafers, made from the fruit of the Chinese hawthorn and with a flavor like candied crabapple. But the hotel won’t reveal its recipe, so I’ll never know for sure.
At the Mandarin Oriental’s famous afternoon tea buffets, it’s served with clotted cream and splotched on scones. (There’s a picture of the stuff in the post I’ve linked to, three photos down.) Addicts can leave with a jar, and I often did from the age of fourteen or so, sacrificing the equivalent of US$12 in allowance money for the privilege.
The price has since risen to about US$20 for a small jar, a sum I would gladly pay if the Mandarin in New York would let me. Cruelly, as I learned in the course of a phone conversation this morning with a clearly bewildered employee who was nonetheless determined to be a good sport about it, they don’t even serve it with afternoon tea, opting instead for marmalade. (Marmalade! The pedestrian gall of it!) I would ask my mother to send me a jar, but she’s only just finished indulging me in my last two whims–namely, obtaining a traditional lacquer candy chest in time for Chinese New Year, as well as all the accoutrements for a betting game called “Fish-Shrimp-Crab” that, as it emerged, is so archaic that even people in Hong Kong don’t know what it is–and probably deserves a reprieve.
Rose Petal Jam: we shall yet be reunited. Stay tuned.
2. The green beans at Fanelli’s in New York
This dish really has no business being on a bar menu, but I’m so happy that it is. It’s sloppy, it needs utensils, and it doesn’t go especially well with beer, but it’s there because, clearly, the owner or the manager or someone loves it, and there it will stubbornly stay.
I last ate these green beans on Monday, my first day of grad school at NYU, when I had two hours to kill between classes and some truly brutal weather in which to kill it. I’m not one of those people who has merely learned to tolerate sitting alone at the bar–I sincerely love it, and now that I’m a Married Woman, it’s a rare treat. And, well, to sit alone in Fanelli’s on a cold winter’s night, where I might speak with the son of one of the original Lower East Side haberdashers, or a woman with a secret passion for British cookery magazines (only British will do), where the same bartender who has been serving me for four years will suddenly reveal–and prove–that he speaks Mandarin, and where I can order green beans with a side of good bread and make a meal out of it, that is a treat among treats.
The dish: haricots sautéed bright and crisp, here and there a smudge of char, smothered with a rough concassée of skin-on tomatoes cooked with heaps and heaps of garlic. That’s it. Seven dollars, and the bread is free. Why this very French thing is flanked on the menu by chicken fingers and loaded potato skins, I’ll never know, but I’m not complaining.