Posted by Fuchsia
on May 24, 2011
After the second, exhausting day of a three-day photo-shoot in my home, I ended up this evening, as I did yesterday evening, with a fridge full of freshly-cooked Chinese food: some Hangzhou broad beans with ham, some garlic stems with bacon, Dan Dan noodles, a delicious soup of mustard greens, and five or six other dishes. Frankly, after a day at the stove, I didn’t feel like eating any of it, and was too burnt-out to contemplate an impromptu supper party. I also knew that I’d have a whole host of new dishes the following day, so I sent an SOS message to a few friends in the neighbourhood, offering a Chinese takeaway in return for a little light washing up. Within the hour one neighbour had popped in, done the dishes and returned home with several boxes of food. Later, another friend cycled over and relieved me of the rest, leaving me with enough room in the fridge for the remains of the chicken stock and some space in my head. They both seemed very pleased. There are pop-up restaurants and underground supper clubs all over London now: could a pop-up Chinese takeaway be the next hot thing?
The only problem is that now… I’m hungry! I think I’ll have some buttered toast with cheese before bed…
My piece about inviting some chefs in Shaoxing (known for its stinky beancurd and other smelly fermented foods) to taste a selection of fairly whiffy Neal’s Yard cheeses appears in this weekend’s Financial Times magazine. It was fascinating to be able to witness some very accomplished Chinese chefs tasting cheese for the first time in their lives, and gave me a new perspective on one of my favourite types of food.
Posted by Fuchsia
on May 15, 2011
I did this little interview (via Skype) with a Polish journalist, Ola Lazar, who presents a show about cookery books, while I was in Chengdu last month:
Look at this beauty! It’s a tiny Sichuan pepper tree! It was a present from Richard S., a friend of the Oxford Food Symposium’s, who managed to track one down in a specialist nursery in the UK. He told me he’d give me one a long time ago, and here it is! The leaves have some of that bewitching pepper fragrance if you squeeze them between your fingers. I have no idea how long it will take to bear fruit, but I hope it will eventually – I have seen one fruitful Sichuan pepper tree growing in Oxford, so I know it’s possible in the English climate! At the moment it’s sitting in a pot on my sunny, south-facing windowsill, but I hope to transplant it to my parents’ garden in Oxford before too long, where it will have more room to grow.
As those of you who have read my ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’ may know, I have never quite got over abandoning a tiny Sichuan pepper tree from Hanyuan at Beijing airport a few years ago. I had transported it very tenderly all the way from the mountains of Hanyuan to Beijing, but Britain was in the midst of the foot and mouth epidemic, with widespread paranoia and tight restrictions on agricultural imports, and I chickened out at the last moment and left it behind.
Posted by Fuchsia
on May 14, 2011
Driving through the countryside near Beijing on the way back from the Great Wall, we passed through a fruit-growing region, which advertised its wares through this enormous fruit bowl! It’s actually a half walnut shell, filled with totally out-of-proportion fruit.
Sichuanese black garlic
“Hmm, this black garlic is delicious.”
“Actually it’s made from the single-cloved garlic of Sichuan.”
“Is that like the wild elephant garlic of Iran?”
Such is the conversation when you invite the cookery writer Anissa Helou over for a quiet Sunday night supper. I’d promised her something very casual, but ended up thinking about the menu all weekend, of course. This is what we had:
A sweet, treacly black garlic clove each: these were a gift from the Sichuanese chef Yu Bo.
Smacked cucumber with a Sichuanese chilli-oil dressing.
Stir-fried venison slivers with yellow chives (made with superb venison from the Wild Game Company at Broadway Market in East London) Continue reading…
Of course, you can get a club sandwich from room service at any international hotel in China, and probably anywhere in the world, but how about this room service menu from a hotel I stayed in in Chengdu? It was wonderfully reassuring to know that I could summon up some diced rabbit in chilli oil or dan dan noodles if the need arose. The only problem was that when the need did arise with the onset of late-night munchies, the kitchen had closed for the evening. It was then that I noticed that the room service was only available until 9pm.
Fortunately, I was able to sneak out of the hotel, where I passed a mobile 烧烤 stall where a man was grilling everything you could think of on bamboo sticks, and then found a whole row of little eateries selling dishes made with goat, a speciality of Jianyang (简阳), a town to the southeast of Chengdu.
The extensive menu at the place I chose included every part of the goat you can think of, made into cold dishes, hot dishes, snacks and nourishing soups. Some of the dishes were versions of mainstream classics such as twice-cooked pork and red-braised pork, but made with goat. Since I was on my own and had eaten a rather large dinner a few hours Continue reading…
Yes, many of you guessed correctly, the dagger is a fishbone! To be precise, it’s a bone from the head of the Ya fish (雅鱼, a type of carp also known as 丙穴鱼), which is a speciality of the western Sichuanese town of Ya’an. (you can see a picture of the fish here). The fish, which is often made into a claypot stew, is famously tender, with few bones and delicious savoury flesh.
On the left, you can see a Ya fish, presented dramatically in a cloud of dry ice in its raw state, to be cooked in the dining room, in the pot on the left-hand side of the photograph.
My hosts that night mentioned some colourful legends about the knife in the fish’s head, and I’ve done a little research today. There seem to be a few different versions of the story. Some say that the bone was formed when the creator goddess Nu Wa 女娲，while patching up holes in the sky, let her double-edged sword fall into the waters of the river at Ya’an, far below. One tells of an evil river demon who demanded that a beautiful girl be given to him as a bride, threatening calamitous floods if the people of Ya’an failed to oblige him. A young woman volunteered to save her community by offering herself up as his wife, and she challenged the demon with a double-edged sword. All the fish in the river, so the legend goes, decided to commemorate the bravery of her sacrifice, by forming an image of the sword in their heads, and using it to suppress the river fiend.
Posted by Fuchsia
on May 01, 2011
Can anyone guess what this is? (see picture on the right)
Clue: I was given it at the end of a grand banquet in Chengdu a few weeks ago, and I was the only guest at the table to receive one.
P.S. Apologies for my long absence from this blog. I’ve been busy in China… I’ll try to catch up now!