Unusual delicacies

Endangered sharks

Posted by Fuchsia on September 16, 2014
Chinese food culture, Environment, Unusual delicacies / 1 Comment

Shark fins for sale in Hong Kong

I was very interested to see this article on the Guardian website, highlighting the threat to sharks from tuna fishing. Basically, enormous numbers of sharks are being killed as ‘bycatch’ in the course of tuna fishing in Indonesia. Their valuable fins are sold onto the Chinese market, according to the article, while their meat is eaten locally:

“The shark are technically bycatch, but they’d be more accurately described as valuable byproduct. And the sheer numbers being caught are shocking. Even more alarming is the fact that all three of the shark species mentioned above are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species.”

I have wondered for some time how many sharks were killed as bycatch, because it throws an interesting light on the campaign against eating shark’s fins: i.e. that it’s not just the Chinese appetite for fins that is jeopardising shark species, but destructive fishing practices in general. However,  when I interviewed an expert from a major environmental organisation about the fin trade, he seemed reluctant to discuss it. I wondered at the time if this was because any evidence of large numbers of sharks being killed as bycatch might detract from the black-and-white clarity of the campaign against the Chinese fin trade… Continue reading…

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The threatened pangolin

The pangolin, or scaly ant-eater (chuan shan jia 穿山甲), is an extraordinary creature. Plated in armour-like scales, it looks like a pine cone (or a stylised carp – if you just look at the scales – which is why one of its Chinese names is ling li 鲮鲤). Unfortunately, it’s now being eaten to extinction – and you can guess who is to blame. Yes, it’s the Chinese, along with the Vietnamese. Their relentless appetite not only for the flesh of the pangolin, but for its scales, a traditional medicine, is driving an illegal trade in pangolins from Africa and Asia. According to the newly-updated IUCN List of Threatened Species, the pangolin is now the most illegally-traded mammal in the world, and all eight pangolin species are threatened with extinction. Continue reading…

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Crunch crunch

Posted by Fuchsia on June 30, 2014
Hong Kong, Restaurants, Unusual delicacies / No Comments

Thanks to Lambda Li for sending me this video of a suckling pig being sliced at the Kimberley Hotel in Hong Kong! The whole point of this, as you will appreciate if you turn the sound up HIGH, is the amazing crisp, crunching sound of the skin being cut. Slurp.

(I was unable to video this myself because my iphone was too full of food photos at the critical moment!)

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James Beard awards update

Posted by Fuchsia on May 06, 2014
Awards, Books, Unusual delicacies / 12 Comments

Still can’t quite believe that on Friday night I won two more James Beard Awards – Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking took the prize for Best International Cookbook, and my Dick Soup article for Lucky Peach won in the Personal Essay category! I wasn’t able to make it to New York for the ceremony this year, so I found out on Twitter the following morning. Thanks, as always to my editors, Maria Guarnaschelli at W.W.Norton, Richard Atkinson and Natalie Bellos at Bloomsbury, and the team at Lucky Peach, Peter Meehan, Chris Ying, David Chang and Rachel Khong, as well as Chris Terry and Sophie Gerrard for their wonderful photographs.

You can read the Dick Soup piece here.

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James Beard Awards 2014

Posted by Fuchsia on March 19, 2014
Awards, Books, Unusual delicacies / 10 Comments

I’m thrilled and amazed to be nominated in two categories this year! Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking is on the shortlist for international cookbooks, and my Lucky Peach article ‘Dick Soup’ (one of the pieces I’ve enjoyed writing most!) is shortlisted in the ‘Personal Essay’ section, alongside pieces by two fantastic writers, Elizabeth Gilbert and Gabrielle Hamilton. You can read the full shortlist here.

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Strange fruits

Posted by Fuchsia on November 03, 2013
Chinese food culture, Foraging, Unusual delicacies / 5 Comments

These extraordinary wild fruits, harvested in the Zhejiang countryside, taste rather like pear or jujube, although of course they have proportionally less flesh to skin, to the skin seems thicker and more fibrous. The seeds form outside the fleshy fruit, as you can see in the pictures. Their Latin name is Hovenia Acerbis Lindl, which may be the same as Hovenia Dulcis, the oriental raising tree – see this Wikipedia entry. In Chinese, theyare called guai zao(拐枣), whose literal translation is apposite and charming: jujubes turning corners! A perfect description of their sweet, jujube-like flavour and strange, angular construction. I think they look like dancing horses or underfloor plumbing. According to Wikipedia, they taste like raisins when dried.

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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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The ‘preserved mustard index’ 榨菜指标

Posted by Fuchsia on August 14, 2013
Development, Sichuanese cuisine, Unusual delicacies / 5 Comments

Who would have guessed that a famous Chongqing pickle, the preserved mustard tuber made in the town of Fuling, would be used by the Chinese government to measure labour migration?! According to this article from the Economic Observer (which I found via the South China Morning Post), zhacai 榨菜  is a ‘low quality consumable’ 低质易耗品 that people eat regardless their income. Under normal circumstances, the article says, consumption of zhacai, and instant noodles, is pretty much constant among the urban population – so if statisticians notice a sudden rise in zhacai sales  in a particular city, this implies that a lot more people are now living there. Continue reading…

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Eating kangaroo – reprise

Posted by Fuchsia on July 10, 2013
Environment, Food and health, Food safety, Unusual delicacies / 6 Comments

My piece on the Australian relationship with eating kangaroo meat seems to have stirred up a lot of interest and emotion! It was one of the most read and shared articles on the BBC news website throughout the day it was published, and I received a fair number of tweets, emails and comments about it, roughly divided between people who agreed with what I said and those who didn’t. Continue reading…

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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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