Archive for May, 2010

The joy of potatoes?

Posted by Fuchsia on May 31, 2010
Chinese food culture, Ingredients / 5 Comments
Sliced potatoes with pickled greens - to be eaten with rice

Sliced potatoes with pickled greens - to be eaten with rice

According to this piece by Lauren Keane in the Washington Post, the Chinese government is hoping that the potato will help to provide greater food security as the country’s population peaks. Earlier this year, the article says, the government signed an agreement with the International Potato Center to jointly launch a potato research centre in Beijing.

Of course, persuading the Chinese to eat more potatoes will not be easy. Most Chinese people I’ve talked to about the importance of potatoes in, for example, the British diet, are incredulous - you mean, English people are willing to eat potatoes as 主食, a staple starch food?!!!*&@%^&*!!

Continue reading…

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Science vs. Gastronomy

Posted by Fuchsia on May 21, 2010
Chinese food culture, Development, Unusual delicacies / 4 Comments
A delicious tangle of octopi!

A delicious tangle of octopi!

I was just looking through one of my notebooks, and found a rather endearing story. It was in Ningbo, at the end of a fabulous dinner that had involved, among other things, divine little octopi (served whole), crunchy jellyfish, salted raw crab, white shrimps and red-braised pork with sea moss, and the chef was telling us all about a culinary conference he’d attended in a nearby city. ‘You know, everyone at the conference agreed [he sighed as he said this] that Western science was very advanced and developed, but that Western food didn’t amount to much. Whereas China might not have such advanced science, but the Chinese had really moved their brains 动了脑筋 when it came to food.’

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Chinese people blaming gastronomy for their country’s decline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries*, but I loved the way he expressed it!

*In my ‘Shark’s Fin’ book I think I mentioned the Xi’an taxi driver who picked me up from the Banpo Neolithic village, and who moaned on the way back into town about the fact that the Chinese had invented steaming in the Stone Age, but had only applied it to cooking, leaving it to the British, many centuries later, to invent the steam engine.

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Sichuan ya cai – further developments

Posted by Fuchsia on May 20, 2010
Ingredients, Sichuanese cuisine / 1 Comment

Another brand of ya cai, bought in London’s Chinatown. Not as good, in my opinion, as the one highlighted in my previous post, but perfectly usable in Sichuanese cooked dishes.

Chinese space food!

Posted by Fuchsia on May 14, 2010
Chinese cuisine / 6 Comments

So this is what Chinese astronauts eat in space, according to an article by Malcolm Moore in the Daily Telegraph, citing an astronaut’s autobiography:

“A selection of dishes from the Chinese Astronaut menu (2009 mission)

“Day One: Lotus root porridge, crispy tofu with spring onions, braised yellow croaker fish, pork ribs with seaweed, spinach with minced garlic.

“Day Two: Spicy pig skin, braised duck neck, hairy crab with ginger, chicken liver with chilli, pine nuts with sweetcorn, three-flavour soup.

“Day Three: Poached egg in fermented rice soup, Harbin sausage, Huajiang dog, baby cuttlefish casserole, eel with green pepper, spicy beans with dried tofu.

“Apples, pears and oranges served with every meal, as well as rice, noodles, sweet potatoes.”

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Sichuanese preserved vegetable – 芽菜

Posted by Fuchsia on May 13, 2010
Cooking, Ingredients, Sichuanese cuisine / 28 Comments

I was very happy to discover today that my local Chinese supermarket stocks Sichuanese ya cai 芽菜, a speciality of the southern Sichuanese city of Yibin, and a vital ingredient in dishes like dry-fried green beans 干煸四季豆 , dan dan noodles 担担面 and dry-braised fish 干烧鲜鱼. You can use other Chinese preserves, like Tianjin preserved vegetable, as a substitute, but they are not as good as the real thing. Here, the preserve is sold in little sachets, chopped and ready to use. Apparently the shop had been selling it for some time, but I hadn’t noticed!

If any of you have tried asking for ya cai in Chinese shops, you may have found that the staff there point you in the direction of beansprouts, causing great confusion on both sides. This is because the Chinese characters for Sichuanese ya cai are exactly the same as the characters for beansprouts, and most people outside Sichuan have not heard of ya cai! Perhaps my photographs of the sachets will help you track it down. Continue reading…

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A cake, sausage or stew to rule over us?

Posted by Fuchsia on May 07, 2010
Chinese food culture, Cooking, Politics, Unusual delicacies / 1 Comment
A geng

A geng

It’s funny how the UK’s weird and inconclusive general election result has brought out the food metaphors! The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, spoke of a future coalition government as a sausage, in which the meat should be Conservative. And the BBC’s political reporter said on the radio at lunchtime that any government proposed by our current prime minister, Gordon Brown, would be a difficult cake to mix, because it would have to involve too many ingredients!

It reminded me of that age-old Chinese metaphor for the juggling of rival political interests: the seasoning of a stew (or, to be precise, a geng 羹, which is a kind of soup that is thick with cut ingredients – as opposed to a tang 汤, which is a lighter, more soupy type of soup). As David Knechtges says in a fascinating essay on this*: ‘In the Chinese classics, the proper seasoning of food is a common analogy for good government… The comparison of the perfectly blended stew with the art of good government is a commonplace both in ancient and later literature.’ Continue reading…

Frog ovaries for dinner

Posted by Fuchsia on May 01, 2010
Unusual delicacies / 10 Comments

When your dinner guests include a scientist who makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen at his own parties, and a food writer and broadcaster who is notorious for his adventurousness, how do you surprise and entertain them? I decided it was time to cook the dried frog ovaries I bought in Hangzhou last year.

Known in Chinese as 雪蛤 (xueha), and in English as hasma, hashima, snow frog etc (see this article by Jacqueline Newman in Flavour and Fortune), it’s one of those Chinese delicacies that is baffling to Westerners. It’s usually described as frog fallopian tubes, ovarian fat or ovaries – I’m not sure exactly what is is, but it’s the waxy looking amber-coloured stuff that encloses the eggs of dried snow frogs from the northeast of China. After a long soaking, and steaming, small pieces of this substance expand miraculously into flubberous, transparent clouds of tasteless texture. They are often served with papaya, or in soups that may be slightly sweetened. Continue reading…

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