The pangolin, or scaly ant-eater (chuan shan jia 穿山甲), is an extraordinary creature. Plated in armour-like scales, it looks like a pine cone (or a stylised carp – if you just look at the scales – which is why one of its Chinese names is ling li 鲮鲤). Unfortunately, it’s now being eaten to extinction – and you can guess who is to blame. Yes, it’s the Chinese, along with the Vietnamese. Their relentless appetite not only for the flesh of the pangolin, but for its scales, a traditional medicine, is driving an illegal trade in pangolins from Africa and Asia. According to the newly-updated IUCN List of Threatened Species, the pangolin is now the most illegally-traded mammal in the world, and all eight pangolin species are threatened with extinction. Continue reading…
Chinese food culture, Environment, Shark's Fin, Unusual delicacies / 3 Comments
A rather incredible evening on Monday… At short notice, I was invited to a dinner at Mosimann’s for a gathering of the Club des Chefs des Chefs – an elite association of chefs working for heads of state around the world. The reason: so that I could accompany the Chinese delegation, who might otherwise have felt stranded in a sea of non-Chinese-speakers. It was surreal and wonderful to meet the chefs in charge of the kitchens at the White House and Buckingham Palace, as well as the chefs attendant on the King of Thailand and the Irish President, among others. Interestingly, the Chinese delegation were not the personal chefs of the Chinese President, but two of a team of thirty-something culinary experts from all over China who produce state banquets at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Visiting heads of state do not stay in the Chinese president’s official residence while in Beijing, but in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, and we know nothing about the Chinese president’s private catering arrangements.) It was fascinating talking to the Chinese chefs, who were originally from Jiangxi and Liaoning (they and their colleagues take it in turns to attend the Club’s international events), and also a pleasure to be able to make them feel more at home. Continue reading…
Thanks to Lambda Li for sending me this video of a suckling pig being sliced at the Kimberley Hotel in Hong Kong! The whole point of this, as you will appreciate if you turn the sound up HIGH, is the amazing crisp, crunching sound of the skin being cut. Slurp.
(I was unable to video this myself because my iphone was too full of food photos at the critical moment!)
Banquets, Beijing, Chefs, Chinese food culture, Chinese restaurants, Politics, Sea cucumber, Sichuanese cuisine / 3 Comments
While I was in Chengdu in March, I found myself staying in the same hotel as Michelle Obama for a couple of nights. Despite our proximity, I didn’t catch the slightest glimpse of her, although the hotel restaurant was swarming with White House people during her stay, and I was penned in at the side of the road outside the hotel one evening while her imposing motorcade swept past. As you can imagine, the question at the top of my mind was: of all the possibilities, where are they going to take the First Lady to eat?!
In the end, according to newspaper reports, the organisers settled on two restaurants: a Tibetan restaurant, and a hotpot restaurant. And while I fully understand the reasons for choosing a Tibetan restaurant, and love the riotous fun of eating hotpot from time to time, I’m sorry that Mrs Obama didn’t also have the chance to enjoy a more typical Sichuanese meal. Hotpot, after all, despite being a fun experience and an example of the mala (numbing-and-hot) exuberance of Sichuanese cooking, is hardly a showcase for the broader cuisine in all its dazzling variety. Continue reading…
Still can’t quite believe that on Friday night I won two more James Beard Awards – Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking took the prize for Best International Cookbook, and my Dick Soup article for Lucky Peach won in the Personal Essay category! I wasn’t able to make it to New York for the ceremony this year, so I found out on Twitter the following morning. Thanks, as always to my editors, Maria Guarnaschelli at W.W.Norton, Richard Atkinson and Natalie Bellos at Bloomsbury, and the team at Lucky Peach, Peter Meehan, Chris Ying, David Chang and Rachel Khong, as well as Chris Terry and Sophie Gerrard for their wonderful photographs.
You can read the Dick Soup piece here.
…or at least the most ancient kind. You can read my piece about fresh, unfried spring rolls in today’s Financial Times Weekend magazine – it includes recipes based on those from Every Grain of Rice. As I mention, it takes a little experimenting to get the knack of making the pancakes. The dough needs to be the right consistency, and the hotplate the right temperature – not too hot or too cool. Here’s a video of a professional doing it, a street vendor in Chengdu. Isn’t she wonderful?!
Banquets, Chinese food culture, Chinese restaurants, Politics / 4 Comments
Over the last year, high-end restaurants in China have been struck as if by lightning by President Xi Jinping’s ‘anti-corruption campaign’ and ban on dining out at government expense. ‘People in China are used to such political campaigns,’ one friend of mine told me, ‘But normally they drop off after a while. No one expected the ban on expense-account feasting to last this long.’
Officials in China are paranoid about being caught breaking the rules: these days, all it takes to ruin a reputation, and perhaps a career, is a meddlesome citizen with a smartphone camera, hovering outside the restaurant as you sneak out after eating your shark’s fin soup. Continue reading…
I’m thrilled and amazed to be nominated in two categories this year! Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking is on the shortlist for international cookbooks, and my Lucky Peach article ‘Dick Soup’ (one of the pieces I’ve enjoyed writing most!) is shortlisted in the ‘Personal Essay’ section, alongside pieces by two fantastic writers, Elizabeth Gilbert and Gabrielle Hamilton. You can read the full shortlist here.
With all good wishes for the Year of the Horse, here’s a picture of New Year’s Day feasting in rural Hunan, 2004. A table of plenty, all cooked either on an old-fashioned wood-fired stove, or in a blackened cooking pot hanging over the open fire on the kitchen floor. We were sitting around that table in an old mud-brick cottage in a beautiful valley. Happy memories.
And here’s another pic of my lovely friend Fan Qun’s father on a horse, for the Year of the Horse.
Have any of you blog visitors been cooking anything special for the Chinese New Year?