When I was in elementary school, we learned that tongue had four taste receptors - sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Well... that was the olden days. Now, there is a belief that we have a fifth taste receptor - Umami.
Uma-what? Umami! Umami is a Japanese term that refers to a flavor that's savory, not just salty, but meaty too. These taste buds respond to glutamates. That's one reason that MSG is a popular seasoning... MSG represents umami.
From Wiki, foods that contain glutamates: soy sauce, fish sauce, kombu, mushrooms, anchioves, parmasean.
There's a Chinese New Year dish, which I haven't had in 20 to 25 years, but I still remember the strong flavors and the crunch of water chestnuts. I think it was the umami of the dish that made this dish stand out.
Here's my attempt at make the dish - Lettuce cups with dried oyster filling.
Oysters (hao si) is a symoblic food since hao sounds like "good" or "good fortune". Lettuce is symbolic of "prosperity".
Lettuce Cups with Dried Oysters
1/3 C (about 5) large dried oysters, soaked a few hours to overnight to rehydrate
1/4 C Water Chestnut, minced
1/2 lb Ground Pork
1/4 C Carrot, minced (for color)
1/4 C Shiitake Mushroom, rehydrated and minced
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1/2 t Ginger, grated
1 Green Onion, chopped
1/4 C Stock
1 T Oyster Sauce
2 t Soy Sauce, Regular
2 t Soy Sauce, Dark
Picture of the rehydrated oyster.
Soaking the oysters made for easier mincing.
The rest of the ingredients.
1. In a hot wok or saute pan, add about 1 T oil and slightly fry the garlic and ginger (30 seconds) add the pork to start cooking... About 1 minute add the oysters.
2. I became impatient and added the rest of the ingredients and seasoning.
Stir to break up the ground pork. Add the broth and cook for about 10 minutes.
The dish did not look as dark as I remembered so I dug around my pantry and found some dark soy sauce.
The finished dish - minced meat and lettuce cups.
Scoop some of the filling into a lettuce cup and fold to eat like a lettuce taco. :-)
The dish turned out very close to what I remember.
Looking at the ingredients, this dish is laden with umami flavors - dried oyster, dried mushrooms and soy sauce (two kinds), oyster sauce and possibly the garlic.
Add more water chestnut for more crunch.
Add more oysters or use less ground pork... in order to have a stronger oyster flavor.
Not sure If I really need the ginger or carrots.