Posted by Fuchsia
on April 04, 2013
The picture on the left is of my lunch yesterday, at home: pao fan 泡饭 (‘soaked’ or soupy rice) made from leftovers of brown rice with broccoli, with added green pak choy, and some spicy fermented tofu. You could say it was the most basic, skeletal epitome of the Chinese meal: a staple grain, some healthy brassica greens, a little protein (the tofu), and a strongly-flavoured relish to ‘send the rice down’ (xia fan 下饭) (in this case the tofu again). It was just what I felt like after a few days of rather gluttonous eating over Easter: plain, cheap, healthy and nutritious but also rather nice.
The privileged among us really do live in one of the golden ages of eating. Like rich Romans of classical times, who served peacocks at their banquets, or the upper classes of Tang Dynasty Chang’an, with their predilection for Silk Road spices, we can pick and choose what we consume; we can have Sichuanese food tonight, Italian tomorrow and Japanese the day after; we can buy fresh uni, fennel pollen and verjuice; we can eat meat at every meal, or decide to become vegetarian for intellectual reasons. We can fuss over the provenance and purity of our coffee and chocolate. We can throw away vegetables that are a little wilted, or good food that we simply forgot to cook because we were out at some fancy new restaurant. Our biscuits are double-choc or triple-choc, our ice creams are threaded with extra nuggets of luxury. The world is our oyster. Continue reading…
Very happy to be in the Chinatown issue of Lucky Peach, which is out now! It’s a fantastic issue, packed with interesting stuff. Londoners can find it in Foyles in Charing Cross Road.
I’m currently in Shanghai, after the end of my first gastronomic tour with WildChina! I spent ten days or so introducing a small group (ten guests) to the amazing diversity of Chinese cuisines. We began in Beijing, where we tried famous Shandong dishes, Beijing folk cookery, Mongolian hotpot and Peking duck, and then flew to Xi’an, where a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors was bookended by slap-up feasts of local specialties. In Chengdu, we sampled xiao chi (‘small eats’), hotpot and many traditional dishes, enjoyed a glorious formal banquet and attended a hands-on cooking class; and in Shanghai and Hangzhou we scoffed fabulous dumplings and many local delicacies. All in all, if you count street snacks, we tried over 300 dishes. Continue reading…
Here’s a video interview I did about Chinese food:
I’m very happy to report that I’ll be leading a gastronomic tour of China from October 13-24 this year, in conjunction with WildChina, a specialist travel company based in Beijing. We’ll be eating our way around Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shanghai, as well as visiting amazing sites such as the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall. I’ll be arranging menus and explaining the food. Should be fun! Please go to the WildChina website for more details
This is the signboard for a little restaurant/takeaway in the backstreets of Jianshui, in southern Yunnan Province. It says ‘The sisters’ fast food shop’. You might imagine that they’d be selling fried chicken and chips, but ‘fast food’ in this case meant a ravishing selection of dishes freshly made from ingredients they’d bought that morning in the street market just around the corner.
Of course I couldn’t resist stopping by for a quick bite, and ended up with a delicious and healthy bowlful of spicy tofu, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, cucumber salad, stir-fried lotus stems,pickled taro stems with a little minced pork (these were stupendous), and rice jelly with Chinese chives, all served with steamed rice. I sat at a table outside in the sun, opposite the small son of one of the sisters, who had just popped back from school in his lunchbreak.
The market itself consisted of a couple of streets where peasant farmers from the surrounding countryside were selling their own produce, gathered that morning: lettuce stems and radishes, spinach and potatoes, garlic stems and peasprouts, mint and garland chrysanthemum leaves… It was a vibrant reminder of what freshness really means (and of the sad un-freshness of much of the produce sold in supermarkets).
Posted by Fuchsia
on August 16, 2011
An August Saturday night in a flat in Wapping, East London… and I was privileged to share the best Chinese meal I’ve ever had outside China. A Shanghainese friend emailed me some time ago to say that his mother would be visiting from China and cooking dinner, and would I like to come? Now, anyone who has lived in China could tell you that the best home-cooked food can be better than anything you can taste in a restaurant, but this was extraordinary. My friend’s mother had flown over from Shanghai with a suitcase full of dried vegetables and seasonings. When we arrived at the flat, the table was already covered in little dishes of Shanghainese appetisers: sour-and-hot Chinese cabbage, green soybeans with ‘snow vegetable’, fried sea moss and peanuts, home-made pickles, wheat gluten with shiitake mushrooms (烤麸), pig’s tongue steeped in fermented rice liquor… an incredible array. So the five of us began to eat, and every few minutes my friend’s mother would emerge from the kitchen with another dish: pieces of deep-fried grouper with a vinegar dip; stir-fried prawns; steamed pork belly with Shaoxing dried vegetables; sea bream in a sweet-and-sour sauce; stir-fried spinach… And everything, just everything, was utterly delicious, expressing the essential nature (本味) of the ingredients, perfectly balanced and perfectly cooked. After we’d enjoyed the main dishes, there were noodles in spring onion oil, pot-sticker dumplings and a delicate soup. I counted 23 dishes in all, which would be a large number in a restaurant, let alone in a private home. And aside from the food, the company was delightful, and we drank beautiful wines, and, as a digestif, a fine Taiwanese tea. As I assured my hosts would be the case, I have remembered that dinner ever since almost as a dream…
A glorious morning yesterday at the Worton Organic Garden and Farm near my parents’ house in Oxford. I brought back purple sprouting broccoli, basil, multicoloured tomatoes of many different shapes, and, most excitingly of all, a couple of freshly harvested, locally grown Chinese vegetables! It turned out they were growing the prickly Chinese variety of cucumber for its exquisite flavour (it’s much less watery than a typical European cucumber) and soybeans. They also had a row of Chinese chives 韭菜 in their hothouse – not enough, they said, for commercial use, but growing enthusiastically. The budded chives stems 韭菜花 are particularly good stir-fried with a few slivers of marinated pork; the chives themselves in dumpling stuffings or made into omelettes or scrambled eggs.
I boiled the soybeans, green and tender in their bristly pods, and we ate them before lunch, with a sprinkling of seasalt. The cucumber will find its way into a spiced Sichuanese salad 炝黄瓜 very soon.
I did ask owners of the farm if they’d considered growing wo sun 莴笋(known in English as celtuce or stem lettuce), which is one of the most versatile and subtly delicious of southern Chinese vegetables, but unfortunately they said it didn’t much take to the English climate, and that their attempts to nurture it had fizzled out.
Later in the year, they tell me, there will be plenty of pak choy and gai lan… I can’t wait.
Do any of you blog readers grow your own Chinese vegetables? If so, which ones?
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…