The real spring roll…

Posted by Fuchsia on April 05, 2014
Chengdu, Chinese cuisine, Cooking / 3 Comments

…or at least the most ancient kind. You can read my piece about fresh, unfried spring rolls in today’s Financial Times Weekend magazine – it includes recipes based on those from Every Grain of Rice. As I mention, it takes a little experimenting to get the knack of making the pancakes. The dough needs to be the right consistency, and the hotplate the right temperature – not too hot or too cool. Here’s a video of a professional doing it, a street vendor in Chengdu. Isn’t she wonderful?!


Roast chicken musings

Posted by Fuchsia on January 27, 2014
Chinese food culture, Cooking / 4 Comments

As always, cooking mainly ‘Western food’ for Chinese friends was an interesting experience. For a start, I faced unusual competition for the best bits of the chicken. Whenever I cook roast chicken for my family or Western friends, chances are that someone will want the breast meat, which suits me fine – but anyone Chinese knows that the most delicious parts of the bird are the legs and wings, as do I. My friend chose to have wing ‘so I can fly high!’. She added that when she was a child, her parents wouldn’t let her eat chicken’s feet because they thought eating them would make her calligraphy as ugly as chicken’s footprints! (Probably her parents just wanted to eat the feet themselves.) And she said many Chinese parents in the past deliberately gave their children – or most likely, their sons – the cockscomb, because this resembles an imperial official’s cap, and might help them to enter the civil service. Continue reading…


Pizzle puzzle

Posted by Fuchsia on September 27, 2013
Cooking, Unusual delicacies / 5 Comments

How to cook a stag penis? Not a question I’d ever seriously pondered, until I inadvertently acquired four of them, and had to find a way. You can read about my adventures in the latest issue of Lucky Peach or on Buzzfeed here…

Lucky Peach is a little hard to find in the UK, but I know Foyles in London’s Charing Cross Road stocks it, and you can also buy it on Amazon.

Here is the Amazon link:

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New York Times recipe lab (+ a note on substitutions)

Posted by Fuchsia on September 24, 2013
Cooking, Ingredients, Interviews / 11 Comments

You can see Julia Moskin and three New York Times readers chatting with me about ‘Every Grain of Rice’ here:

And the full article, focusing on Gong Bao chicken, is here.

A brief note about substitutions: Continue reading…

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News, tapas-style

Posted by Fuchsia on September 21, 2013
Barshu, Books, Cooking, Restaurants / 2 Comments

READING: I’ve been gripped by Anya von Bremzen’s memoir of eating in the USSR, ‘Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking’. The story of three generations of her family and a century of life in Russia (and other parts of the USSR), it’s darkly funny, richly informative and fascinating. The sweet-sour nostalgia for an era characterised by food queues, political doublespeak, black humour and deprivation reminds me a little of China, where some people still reminisce fondly about life under Maoism.
Continue reading…

A Devon idyll of cakes, cooking and conversation

Posted by Fuchsia on September 07, 2013
Cooking, Foraging, Writing / 5 Comments

Totleigh Barton

I’m just back home after a week of intensive teaching and eating in Devon, where writer, designer, cook, photographer and restaurateur Alastair Hendy and I were running a food-writing course for the Arvon Foundation. We and thirteen students were let loose in Totleigh Barton, an ancient thatched house filled with books, with no television or radio and virtually no telephone or internet access. On all Arvon courses, lunches are provided by visiting staff, but dinners are cooked by whichever group of writers is in residence, and everyone fixes their own breakfast as and when they choose. Normally, the Arvon people provide recipe cards and suggested menus for the dinners, but with a food-writing group that included accomplished amateur and professional cooks… well, as you can imagine, we were largely left to our own devices, which meant that we feasted like kings for four days. Continue reading…

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Stone Age cookery

Posted by Fuchsia on August 22, 2013
Cooking / No Comments

I’m fascinated by news of some research that suggests Europeans were spicing their food with garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in the Stone Age – there’s more about it here. Scientists at York University have analysed residues in fragments of clay cooking pots found at archaeological sites in Denmark and Germany, and discovered traces of the seeds of this plant. Because the mustard seeds have little nutritional value, the researchers reckon they must have been used to add flavour to the food. According to the BBC report on the story, “The implications from these findings challenge the previously held belief that hunter-gatherers were simply concerned with searching for calorific food”.

Somehow it surprises me that anyone should be surprised that our Stone Age ancestors were concerned with making their food more delicious. Isn’t taking pleasure in food part of what makes us human?

(Are there any other species that add relishes to their food as we do?)

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Eating your national emblem

Posted by Fuchsia on June 30, 2013
Chinese cuisine, Cooking, Environment, Unusual delicacies / 6 Comments

You can read my piece about the Australian hang-up about eating kangaroo meat here, on the BBC website. And if you like, listen to a different version on From Our Own Correspondent here – it’s the last recording, towards the end of the programme.

Of course, Australian’s reluctance to eat their most distinctive local meat is not particularly surprising, given the deep irrationality of human food choices. Most people in the West, for example, will eat shrimps but not insects, pork but not dog, and beef but not horse meat. History is littered with examples of societies that suffered because they wouldn’t change their eating habits, like the mediaeval Norse community on Greenland, who starved to death because they refused to eat fish and seal like the natives, but insisted on maintaining a tradition of cattle farming that was unsuited to their fragile northern habitat.

Kangaroo meat shop in Adelaide

The interesting question is how much people will be prepared to change their eating habits to accommodate climate change and rising global population. If the UN has its way, we’ll soon by eating insects...

Above, on the right, by the way, you can see my own cooking experiments: Sichuanese kangaroo tail soup; stir-fried wallaby with yellow chives; wallaby with cumin; and mapo tofu with minced wallaby.

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In praise of simplicity

Posted by Fuchsia on April 04, 2013
Chinese cuisine, Cooking, Festivals / 11 Comments

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…


Magic ingredients: Papery dried shrimp 虾皮

Posted by Fuchsia on March 25, 2013
Cooking, Ingredients, Recipe / 12 Comments

I always keep a bagful of these tiny dried shrimp, known as ‘shrimp skin’ in Chinese, in my freezer. A spoonful or two can be used to jazz up a bowlful of wontons in soup, fried rice or an omelette, and a handful transforms a cabbage into a fragrant, irresistible stir-fry. They are made from tiny, unshelled shrimps that are boiled and then sun-dried or baked dry over a gentle heat. As you might guest, they have a salty, umami taste that can lift the flavour of all kinds of savoury dishes. (Some people find their taste a bit strong and fishy, but not many, in my experience.)

I’ve included a couple of peppercorns in the photograph on the right so you can see how extremely small they are. Continue reading…