Archive for April, 2009

Chinese takeaways

Posted by Fuchsia on April 30, 2009
Uncategorized / 1 Comment

All this talk of swine flu brings back vivid memories of Hunan during the SARS crisis of 2003. I lived there from the early days of the epidemic until it fizzled out, and it was a frightening and often surreal time (I wrote about my experiences in the ‘Sickness Enters Through the Mouth’ chapter of Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper).

Anyway, mindful that things could escalate very fast with swine flu, I sent an email to a couple of friends who live in my neighbourhood, reminding them that they are always welcome to ask for help with shopping or cooking if they are ill. By return, I received this message from Sam:

“Actually I have got a bit of sniffle. Could I have Gong Bao prawns and Fish Fragrant Aubergine delivered to my desk?”

 The cheek!

On not eating shark’s fin

Posted by Fuchsia on April 27, 2009
Chinese cuisine, Environment, Shark's Fin, Unusual delicacies / 2 Comments

European Union ministers are demanding urgent action to protect sharks in European waters, because a third of shark species are endangered because of chronic overfishing.   It’s easy  to guess who the main culprits are – lovers of shark’s fin soup, most of them, I assume, Chinese. I’ve been avoiding shark’s fin on my trips to China for the last couple of years for environmental reasons. But I do sometimes wonder whether this is pure tokenism: I mean, almost all the fish and other seafood one eats nowadays is from threatened species, and if we carry on as we do now, there won’t be any left (have a look at this chilling article by Andrew Purvis in yesterday’s Observer Food Monthly). What’s the point of not eating shark’s fin a few times a year if I’m still eating oysters, cod and wild sea bass? Isn’t it just a silly sop to my conscience, a way of feeling good and pretending I’m doing the right thing, when I’m overexploiting the planet like everyone else? (I’ve always thought it ridiculous that people should object to the cruelty of fox-hunting when they eat factory farmed meat and cheap clothes made by child labour for similar reasons. )  On the other hand, I suppose one does have to start somewhere…

World’s 50 best restaurants?

Posted by Fuchsia on April 23, 2009
Awards, Chinese restaurants, Events, Restaurants / 1 Comment

On Monday night I went to the awards ceremony for Restaurant magazine’s annual survey of the ‘World’s Fifty Best Restaurants’. Predictably, and I think deservedly, El Bulli took the top spot for the fourth year running, and Ferran Adria and his brother Albert were there to receive the award. But once again the only Chinese restaurant on the list was Hakkasan – in London! I’m a great fan of the dim sum at Hakkasan, and I love the design, but the best Chinese restaurant in the world?! Come on…

More talk of Ba Shan…

Posted by Fuchsia on April 19, 2009
Ba Shan, Chinese restaurants, Review / No Comments

Time Out published a glowing review of Ba Shan, the latest restaurant in the Bar Shu Group, last week – five out of six stars! 

And Richard Vines, writing on Bloomberg.com, called it ‘the most exciting new Chinese restaurant I’ve tried in London since Bar Shu three years ago’. 

I have to say that I’m seriously addicted to the guo tie (pot-stickers) and the dumplings in chilli oil sauce.

Beijinger interview

Posted by Fuchsia on April 19, 2009
Uncategorized / No Comments

Interview with me in the Beijinger last week…

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Cheese for Chinese

Posted by Fuchsia on April 15, 2009
Ingredients, Unusual delicacies / 7 Comments

Apparently the makers of Stilton, that delicious blue-veined English cheese, are to start exporting it to China

As is widely known, the Chinese traditionally have little taste for cheese. In the past, eating it was seen as a barbarian habit.  The American anthropogist E.N. Anderson mentions in his The Food of China that he once heard it described as ‘the mucous discharge of some old cow’s guts, allowed to putrefy’ – a quote I always like to repeat to Westerners expressing disgust at Chinese eating habits.

When I lived in Chengdu in the 1990s, it was impossible to buy any cheese except for small packages, exorbitantly priced, of some horrible processed stuff – and even this was available only at the city’s single backpackers’ cafe, the Flower Garden. This was why, when a British TV producer for whom I’d done a little translation work asked me if her crew could bring me anything from London, the first thing that came to my mind was cheese. A week later, a large piece of Stilton, perfectly ripe, was handed over to me in a hotel lobby – it was such a treat I threw a dinner party in its honour.  

I’ve had little success in introducing cheese to my own Chinese friends. Most of them find it pretty revolting, if they’re willing to taste it at all. I’m very curious as to how the Stilton venture will go, particularly as Stilton is towards the more extreme end of the cheese scale in terms of its smell and appearance. The European ex-pat community will be thrilled, no doubt, but will they be able to persuade the locals to give it a try?

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Easter weekend

Posted by Fuchsia on April 14, 2009
Cooking / 1 Comment

I’m just back from a weekend of unusually traditional English cooking at my parents’ place in Oxford. Roast lamb, new potatoes and a salad with land cress and dandelion leaves from the garden for lunch on Easter Sunday (and no caterpillar-type secret ingredients – people who have read my Shark’s Fin book will understand what I’m talking about here!). Inevitably a few Chinese characteristics crept in, though – like the finely-sliced spring onions 葱花 in the goose-egg omelette I made for supper the same day, with a soy-sauce garnish. 

The highlight of the weekend was a fleeting moment in which my aunt and uncle passed directly over the garden in a hot-air balloon! They called us from a mobile phone just before to say that they were headed in our direction, so we rushed outside to look. And sure enough, there they were, drifting in from the southwest. They were low enough when they passed over for us to see their faces hanging over the basket, and to exchange a few words with them. An extraordinary coincidence, because you have no control at all over the breezes that carry you around in a balloon. It was magical, like a scene from a fairy tale! And it reminded me of my own excursion with my balloonist uncle, years and years ago – a spur-of-the-moment evening jaunt that gave me the best excuse I’d ever had for not doing my chemistry homework.

Incidentally, someone called Martin C sent me a message through this website – and I managed to delete it accidentally before I had read it. Sorry, Martin! Please, if you are reading this, try to resend!

The Jane Grigson Award

Posted by Fuchsia on April 07, 2009
Awards, Books / 3 Comments

My latest book, ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’, has just received The Jane Grigson Award from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals’!

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Ba Shan – the first reviews!

Posted by Fuchsia on April 02, 2009
Ba Shan, Restaurants, Review / No Comments

The new restaurant, Ba Shan, was the subject of Fay Maschler’s main review in the Evening Standard on Wednesday. And there’s already a review up on Time Out’s website, which mentions ‘the exquisite food and impossibly cheery service‘ – we understand that it will appear in the magazine itself the week after next. It was a blogger, however, who had the first word on the new restaurant, visiting it even before the sign had been put up outside!

Memories of Hangzhou

Posted by Fuchsia on April 01, 2009
Tea / 2 Comments

On my last day in Hangzhou, a friend arrived at my hotel with some of that most precious of commodities – new season West Lake Longjing (Dragon Well) tea. They were some of the first leaves of the season, so new that they were not yet available on the market. I could lose myself in the scent of these delicate spear-like leaves. It is magical: green and gently intoxicating, reminiscent of fresh pistachioes. Back in London, their aroma is even more thrilling, because it takes me back in an instant to the shores of the West Lake, to its soft contours of willow and peach, to the sound of the waters lapping. (I stayed in a hotel by the lake, and every morning I walked out to its brink, looked out to the island, blurred by the mist or bright in the sunlight, and felt calm and happy.)

At home in London, I infuse the leaves in some hand-painted teabowls (gai wan), the water not too hot, inhale their gentle vapours, and sigh.

I’ll post more about the trip later – there is so much to say!

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