Friday, July 13, 2007

New Recipe Discovery: Steamed Cardboard Buns

Update July 20
Enjoy the post that follows, but with a few grains of salt. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Report is out now that the story is a hoax according to the the NY Times.

Beijing Television apologized to the public during an evening news broadcast Wednesday and said the reporter, identified by the official Xinhua News Agency as Zi Beijia, was detained by police. A copy of the broadcast was obtained by AP Television News on Thursday.

''He used deceptive means to get the footage on the air,'' said news anchor Wang Ye, without giving specifics. ''The Beijing Public Security Bureau has taken the criminal suspect, Zi, into custody and he will be severely dealt with according to law.''

Zi's footage appeared to show a makeshift kitchen where fluffy buns were stuffed with 60 percent cardboard that had been softened in a bath of caustic soda and 40 percent fatty pork.

Beijing Television said an investigation revealed that in mid-June, Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Zi ''gave them the idea'' of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.

The newscaster said the station was ''profoundly sorry'' for the fake report and its ''vile impact on society.'' The station vowed to prevent inaccurate news coverage in the future.

Police said Zi told editors he wanted to investigate the quality of pork buns, and spent two weeks visiting stands but could not find anything to report, Xinhua said. He filmed the fake report after coming under pressure to produce a story, the agency said.

H/T Blake Hounshell for mentioning it. Otherwise I might have missed it.
He sees an interesting parallel between how Chinese authorities caught this story and how US authorities claim to be "catching" terrorists.

...this incident reminds me of—bear with me here—the FBI's efforts to nab al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Undercover FBI agents have run several sting operations wherein they target people whom informants have identified as having extremist tendencies and recruit them into fake al Qaeda cells.

He makes a good point.

There is are important distinctions between real terrortists and terrorist wannabes, but the main distinction is brains and talent. As anyone discussing lottery winnings knows, there is a great divide between people who are rich and those who are dreaming of being rich. Same is true of wannabe singers, sports figures or (dare I say it) freshman politicians. Check out any of the many popular exhibitions of non-talent shows.

Lots of potential big crimes never come to pass, not because authorities put a stop to them, but because the perpetrators were their own worst enemies. TV and movies notwithstanding, most criminals are not noted for good judgement.

I remember a local case of an attempted robbery of a cafeteria manager. The guy was armed and made the manager give him the money. The plan was alse to steal the manager's car to make the get-away. The manager gave him the keys and everything went according to plan...until the poor guy realized too late that he didn't know how to drive a car with a standard shift transmission. He fled in panic, leaving the money behind, and was soon caught.

This is not to say that AQ wannabes are harmless, but catching bad guys is not always as impressive as authorities would have us believe. Plans and results are miles apart. Ask any entrepreneur. Whatever happened to the "clear and present danger" metric?


"Waste not, want not" says the old proverb.
Yesterday's story from China illustrates the point.

The video is more informative than the audio, but CNN picked up the AP story so we can read it in English.

BEIJING, China (AP) -- Chopped cardboard, softened with an industrial chemical and flavored with fatty pork and powdered seasoning, is a main ingredient in batches of steamed buns sold in one Beijing neighborhood, state television said.

Steamed buns sold in Beijing contain 60 percent cardboard, a report on China Central Television said.

The report, aired late Wednesday on China Central Television, highlights the country's problems with food safety despite government efforts to improve the situation.

Countless small, often illegally run operations exist across China and make money cutting corners by using inexpensive ingredients or unsavory substitutes. They are almost impossible to regulate.

State TV's undercover investigation features the shirtless, shorts-clad maker of the buns, called baozi, explaining the contents of the product sold in Beijing's sprawling Chaoyang district.

Baozi are a common snack in China, with an outer skin made from wheat or rice flour and a filling of sliced pork. Cooked by steaming in immense bamboo baskets, they are similar to but usually much bigger than the dumplings found on dim sum menus familiar to many Americans.

The hidden camera follows the man, whose face is not shown, into a ramshackle building where steamers are filled with the fluffy white buns, traditionally stuffed with minced pork.

The surroundings are filthy, with water puddles and piles of old furniture and cardboard on the ground.

"What's in the recipe?" the reporter asks. "Six to four," the man says.

"You mean 60 percent cardboard? What is the other 40 percent?" asks the reporter.

"Fatty meat," the man replies.

The bun maker and his assistants then give a demonstration on how the product is made.
Squares of cardboard picked from the ground are first soaked to a pulp in a plastic basin of caustic soda -- a chemical base commonly used in manufacturing paper and soap -- then chopped into tiny morsels with a cleaver. Fatty pork and powdered seasoning are stirred in.
Soon, steaming servings of the buns appear on the screen. The reporter takes a bite.

"This baozi filling is kind of tough. Not much taste," he says. "Can other people taste the difference?"

"Most people can't. It fools the average person," the maker says. "I don't eat them myself."

The police eventually showed up and shut down the operation.


Thirty-five years in the food business makes me more responsive than most bloggers to obscure stories like this. That old saying about not wanting to know how sausage is made has more than a grain of truth. No one eating a hot dog wants to know what goes into the formula.


Everyone knows that thrifty cooks don't toss out anything that can be fed to the family. Stews, soups and casseroles are perfect examples. Stuffed peppers, shepherd's pie, and cornbread dressing have become respectable dishes that often use fresh products because there are not enough left-overs.


But this story takes recycling to a whole new level.

And it reminds me of one of my favorite "war stories..."


I am proud to report that my cafeteria was not far from the local county health department office and occasionally hosted the boss and some of his cadre of sanitarians for lunch. Most of the public never knew, but it made me especially proud that the inspectors who put grades on the place felt good enough to bring me their business.


It was once my honor to host a visiting Russian counterpart who was part of a Russia/USA exchange program, a guest of the head of the health department. He wanted to show her a typical American operation for comparison. She didn't speak English but her comments and questions indicated that she was very sharp. Looking into a closet where we kept bulk supplies of dish room soap and other cleaning supplies, she spied a stack of canned soft drinks left over from a holiday party. (Fountain drinks were served on the line, but we sometimes used canned sodas for employee parties. Saved washing glasses and using the fountain after hours.) She wanted to know if it was approved to store chemicals and food in the same place.


I proudly showed her the expensive water-softening system that took minerals out of all our hot water to minimize buildups in hot water pipes, steamers and other equipment. To me the boiler room was a state of the art wonder, but she simply glanced in, nodded and kept walking. I figured she didn't have to worry about anything expensive since profitability was not an issue under a Socialist system. If you need something, you submit a requisition and if what you need is available, you get it. Otherwise you do without.


This story about cardboard buns rang a bell with me. When the Russian food inspector saw cubes of shortening in our bakery in cardboard boxes with blue food-grade plastic liners I could tell from her expression that she didn't like that one bit. Russian cardboard is apparently more unsanitary than dirt, and more dangerous because of the chemicals used in its manufacture. When we kept moving I had the feeling that she was still not comfortable with the idea.


In conversation we found an important difference between her mission and that of her US counterparts. In America we presume that products received from approved sources are safe. In Russia this was not so (and since this was several years ago, before the fall of the Soviet Union, it's sure to be worse today). Anything coming into the building was presumed to be unsafe and it was her mission to inspect and/or test everything to insure safety. I cannot imagine working in such an environment.


Like any good Southern cafeteria we offered an impressive display of products. Twenty-plus salads, ten or more entrees, fourteen vegetables, seven of eight breads, and fifteen or twenty desserts. It was a poignant moment when we paused in the middle of the kitchen and she looked around at all the equipment -- stoves, refrigerators, slicer, grinder, scales, mixers and stainless steel sinks. She said "I feel like I am at home...except we do not have this much food."


vietnamcatfish said...

Hoots, Cadre of sanitarians, eh? You had me at cadre.
While reading your foray into food-dumb I couldn't help but recall your recent story of "cardboard houses" for the homeless. I was going to say, "if they got hungry, they could always eat their house."
But that would be insensitive, so will the jury please disregard that last comment!
Plus, I am homeless myself. To a degree, anyway.
Don't you miss those scintillating days of yore [ mama ], when you were one of the captains of a fleet of boats sailing the high seas of Piccadilly-dumb.
Storing sodas with the cleaning products. What's wrong with that? Doesn't everybody?
P.S. At C.B., during my training ( ? ), one instructor told the tale of an employee at the home office, who drank a can of diet coke that she purchased there at the h.o. She became deathly ill. Seems the can had had rodent feces on it. Microscopic size, evidently. Moral of the story: Wipe cans before indulging!
Enjoyed the tale-not the rat's one.

Kobayashi Maru said...

Hoots - Tag. You're it.