Archive for September, 2008

Not what it seems

Posted by Fuchsia on September 25, 2008
Chinese restaurants, Sichuanese cuisine / 1 Comment

Last night, I finally made it to Gourmet San (or ‘The Old Place’ as it’s known in Chinese) on the Bethnal Green Road in East London, spurred on by Jay Rayner’s enthusiastic review in the Observer. It was filled with trendy young Chinese people, and the atmosphere was immediately charming.

Spicy Sichuanese dishes feature heavily on the menu – Geleshan chicken in a pile of chillies, twice-cooked pork and so on – with some Xinjiang-style lamb kebabs laced with cumin for good measure. It’s hearty, colourful food, served on vast platters. Despite the lavish use of dried chillies and Sichuan pepper, however, the food we ate didn’t seem to me very Sichuanese – there was a noticeable absence of chilli bean paste and sweet fermented paste, the classic spices of twice-cooked pork, and various ‘Sichuanese’ dishes weren’t cooked in the Chengdu or Chongqing style. Continue reading…

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50 Best Cookbooks

Posted by Fuchsia on September 17, 2008
Books / No Comments

Nice to see that the Independent newspaper in Britain has included Sichuan Cookery (published in the US as ‘Land of Plenty’) in its list of the 50 best cookbooks.

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Arcimboldo revisited

Posted by Fuchsia on September 16, 2008
Events / No Comments

The sixteenth-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo is best known for his striking paintings of human figures made up of fruits and vegetables. And as part of this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, (theme:vegetables), to my surprise I found myself trying to make similar pictures – but with real vegetables! This after-dinner experiment was the brilliant idea of the cultural historian Carolin Young and the artist Charles Foster-Hall, who had brought along basketsful of produce, wooden boards and frames, and hundreds of cocktail sticks for holding the fruits and vegetables in place.

Here is the result of a collective attempt by my Turkish friend Aylin, another emerging vegetable artist called Kathryn and me to make an edible portrait of the food historian Sami Zubaida (the photo was taken the following morning):

And below is a photo of the team of artists, with our model. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a striking likeness. One other symposiast said he thought it was ‘like a Lucian Freud in its merciless realism’.

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Last of the line

Posted by Fuchsia on September 12, 2008
People / No Comments

The other day I went out fishing in a lake in Zhejiang. At the edge of the lake I met an old man and his wife who were living on a sampan. They were sitting at either end of their boat, patiently hooking tiny worms at intervals onto two long, long fishing lines. Apparently this takes them several hours every day. The old man had a mug of tea to sip as he worked, and a pack of cigarettes. In the small living space in the well of the boat were their simple possessions: rolls of bedding, a few clothes in a bundle, a calendar, an old-fashioned wireless and a clock. Some half-shelled soybeans were lying in a bowl on the floor.

The fishermen I was with say that just a few decades ago the only way to get around this area was by boat, along the canals and through the lakes, and that boat-dwellers were fairly common. These days there aren’t many left. The old man I met, who grew up on a boat, said his three children were all migrant workers in cities – he’s the last of the line (if you’ll forgive the pun).

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The thinnest noodles in the world

Posted by Fuchsia on September 08, 2008
Chefs / 1 Comment

The other night I was introduced over dinner to Li Enhai, a famous noodle chef. Apparently he is noted in the Guinness Book of Records – his claim to fame is being able to pull noodle dough into strands so fine that you can fit thirty-nine of them through the eye of a needle! The other guests told me that his noodles are so thin they resemble cobwebs. After dinner, there was a loud clanking as we prepared to have a photo taken together. I wondered what this was, and then saw that it was Master Li rummaging in his bag for his gold medals, won over the years in the Chinese culinary equivalents of the Olympics!

Here are some pics of Mr Li in action.

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What a lovely breakfast

Posted by Fuchsia on September 03, 2008
Unusual delicacies / No Comments

Even by my usual standards, the breakfast I had the other day in Beijing was a bit weird. When I talk about my usual standards, I mean that I’m not like most foreigners in China who insist on eating toast and jam, cereal or some other normal Western food first thing in the morning. Nothing pleases me more than to be offered xi fan (rice porridge) with fermented beancurd, steamed buns or noodles with chilli sauce when I wake up. But the other day was exceptional. Continue reading…

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