Friday, July 31, 2009

Chop chae for the cowboy round-up

Last weekend I attended a surprising event.

There's an organization in the Bay Area called the Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers. My mother knows a woman who is a member and who has invited her to attend some of the get-togethers. They usually involve lunch or dinner, a food demonstration or lecture, and occasionally, western gear and line dancing.

I had trouble getting a handle on the confluence of these elements myself, and the husband was even more confused when I described the event I had agreed to attend with my mother last Sunday.

"It's an Asian-style potluck in Alameda, with a 'cowboy round-up' theme and line dancing. And we're supposed to come in western dress, because there's a costume contest."

"What?" he replied, blankly.

I didn't understand it either. I did know for a fact that I wouldn't be dressing up. My family, we are not dresser-uppers. I guess I might do it if forced to attend a Halloween party, but why would I be forced to attend a Halloween party?

Anyhow, costume or not, I agreed to go. When your 72-year-old mother asks you to attend a weird but harmless event within driving distance, you say yes.

We had to bring something for the potluck. She had gotten a recipe from my sister for chop chae.

Chop chae is a Korean vegetable-and-noodle salad. I'd had it before but never made it. Turns out it's kind of the dream dish to bring to a potluck, because it's simple and best if made ahead and allowed to sit overnight. Plus it can hang out on a buffet table for ages without wilting.

The noodles are cellophane noodles, or bean thread. Growing up, my dad, who was Chinese, called them by their Chinese name, which to me and my sister sounded like, "fence." I guess it did to my mother (who is Swedish), too.

"It's just vegetables, a tamari sauce, and fence," she said. She had come up to our place the night before to hang out and spend the night, and we were assembling the dish together.

It certainly came together in a flash. Of course, my mother had painstakingly julienned the carrots, shitake mushrooms, and onions earlier, which had taken the better part of an hour. By the time I came on the scene, we just soaked and cooked the noodles, whirled some tamari, garlic, and sesame oil in a blender, and stir-fried everything for 5 minutes.

It turned out fabulously. The noodles absorbed the salty sesame sauce, and the vegetables kept it fresh and light.

The event was exactly what it had purported to be. There were a lot of people, most of them over 50, many of them Asian but not all, and a good portion in cowboy costumes. The variety at the potluck was unmatched. I saw everything from curried chicken to Vietnamese spring rolls to clam chowder. The chop chae was a hit.

There was a dim sum demonstration, which we missed because we were running late, and a lecture that we skipped. But we did witness a dance troupe decked out in sequinned tops and cowboy hats line dancing at the end as we snuck out.

"That was odd," my mother said as we headed back over the bridge to the City.

I agreed. But it's always great to have a new potluck recipe to add to your arsenal.


  1. ...
    Huh. That's a really strange event. Sounds like fun though (heh, at least until the line dancing.) and I bet there's nothing like a cooking teacher potluck for quality either!

  2. Haha funny story. That chop chae looks good!

  3. This dish IS indestructible! And the spinach DID NOT turn to mush....The ACCT members are all very hospitable and excellent eaters! My first trip to Alameda with the hungry dog blogger was memorable. Only wish your Dad could have been there. The Mother.

  4. Hello! I'm glad you enjoyed this ACCT event! Please visit our website at The website includes recipes, restaurant reviews, and event recaps. Cheers and happy eating!


  5. Cowboy hats and asian food! Goes together - not :)

    But love the chap chae. My (Chinese) mum does a version with rice vermicilli and it is always a feature at buffets/potlucks/parties - you're right about the indestructibility!!

  6. That looks tasty. If your dad had been able to attend -- I can picture him line dancing with your mom....

  7. Lovely post to read. It made me smile. The dish looks great too!

    Jackie at

  8. Bob: you're right--the quality at that potluck was certainly well above most!

    Chef Fresco: thank you! And thanks for visiting.

    Mom: we had fun, didn't we? At least making it... :)

    Shaz: yes, chop chae will definitely be a go-to recipe for me for future parties.

    tracey: the idea of my parents line dancing is ludicrous.

    Jackie: thank you so much!

  9. Mom neglected to tell me about the western theme...if you liked the chap chae, I'll send you my pa jun (Korean pancake) recipe next.

  10. i would go to great lengths to witness such a display—what can i say, i’m a sucker for a cowboy get-up. :) this dish sounds special and delightful, and your post was a great read!

  11. That sounds like a good time! Food and fun will never do you wrong!

  12. "MisterJary"--ha ha--nice. Yeah, email it to me.

    Grace: yes, I guess I was lucky to witness the whole thing--at least I got a blog post out of it!

    Cee: I agree about food and fun!

  13. hello, what a wacky but fun sounding event! and we're still waiting for the recipe for chop chae... was it a vegetarian version? Looks delicious!

  14. You know, in my defense, I usually respond with "What?" accompanied by a blank stare.

  15. foodhoe:yes, it was veggie. Although it would be good with shrimp or pork...? I will post the recipe soon.

    d: oh honey, that's only sometimes true.

  16. Your right this is a great buffet dish. I will certainly bring it to my next buffet outing!