Episode 38: Calvin Eng + Fermented Chinese Flavors

Photo credit: Paul Wagtouicz and Calvin Eng

While you may be familiar with some fermented Asian food staples, like soy sauce and kimchi, in this episode we explore some of the less well-known flavors from the Chinese pantry with help from Calvin Eng of Nom Wah. Learn about all the fermented and preserved funky goodness you’ve been missing out on as the chef guides us through the “oddities” in his fridge!

We start the show by asking Calvin about his culinary journey: where he's from, how he pursued culinary in college (by tricking his mom!), and how he moved away from his interest in fast casual food to be working now with Jonathan Wu at Nom Wah Tu. 

Calvin then walks through the fermented foods you'll find in his fridge...literally (see above photo). Lynda and Calvin discuss the origins, uses, and level of funkiness of fermented beancurd, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, fermented black bean, salted eggs, and century eggs. Fun fact: apparently Lynda eats all of those things on congee.

When I was little, my mom used to fuck with me and say that if I didn’t finish my rice, I would have an ugly wife in the future. So I would just take [shrimp paste] straight up on my rice and eat it up.
— Calvin on how he eats shrimp paste

Lynda and Calvin then touch on how to navigate the many different brands. They also talk about the non-Chinese American perceptions of these fermented products, and how far away we are from finding them in the average American household. (It's gonna be a while with this list, guys.) Calvin finally tells us a bit about what's next, or rather, why he's not too concerned about it, and the food legacy he wants to leave.

We wanted to let listeners know that we are raising money for Heritage Radio Network, the independent, member-supported, nonprofit radio station, broadcasting from two recycled shipping containers in the back of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn. If you’re a fan of Feast Meets West and want to support Heritage Radio Network so that they can keep bringing shows like this one to you for free, please do head on over to the Feast Meets West Facebook page and make a contribution. Every little bit will help HRN reach their 2017 goal!