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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
This is a video of a magnificent dried sea cucumber after two days of soaking and slow-cooking. As you can see, it has a lazy, springy, sticky texture. When I brought it home, dry and rock-hard like a fossil, it had an unpleasant fishy smell (like Bombay Duck, if anyone can remember that). But after the requisite soaking and simmering, it had virtually no aroma or flavour: it had been reduced to pure, glorious texture – which meant it was ready to be cooked. Isn’t it amazing?
One of the great barriers to outsiders’ appreciation of Chinese food is the Chinese love of textures that others consider revolting, as I’ve written before: the slimy, slithery, bouncy and rubbery; the wet crispness of gristle; the brisk snappiness of goose intestines; the sticky voluptuousness of that reconstituted dried sea cucucmber. This was the subject of a talk I gave as part of a London Gastronomy Seminar last week, following an excellent exposition by French psychologist Dominique Valentin on the cultural influence on food choices.
We ended the evening with a tutored tasting of some classic ‘texture foods’ (pictured right): naked, undressed jellyfish in all its crisp slitheriness, a terrine of pressed pig’s ear, layered with thin sheets of crunchy cartilage; sticky ox tendons in a spicy sauce; and then, for each guest, a duck’s tongue, which is a perfect example of a Chinese delicacy with a ‘high grapple factor’, which is to say one that requires a detailed, concentrated engagement of tongue and teeth to separate out the bouncy flesh and slender spikes of cartilage. We also had a comparative tasting of fermented tofu and Stilton, to highlight the distinction made by some Chinese friends of mine between what they found the clean, rapidly-dispersing stinkiness of fermented tofu, and the greasy, clingy, mouth-coating stinkiness of cheese.
It gave me great pleasure to see a whole roomful of people eating (in most cases) their first duck tongue, in the intentional pursuit of pleasure. (I’ve received quite a number of emails from readers of my book ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’ who say that they’ve tried eating ‘rubbery things’ with a completely different, open-minded attitude after reading the chapter ‘The Rubber Factor’, which attempts to explain why the Chinese enjoy eating flavourless foods with interesting textures.)
This excellent breakfast, enjoyed at the Big Table café in Adelaide’s Central Market, might look like a run-of-the-mill fry-up, but it’s not. I’d been browsing the market in search of local specialities, and had inevitably spent a while at the famous kangaroo shop, and another stall called Something Wild where they sell kangaroo, crocodile, goat, buffalo and camel meat. It was my last day in Adelaide, and I was dying to try some of these unusual ingredients, but none of the local cafes appeared to serve them (I think I’d only had crocodile once before, actually in a Cantonese restaurant in West London). But the incredibly kind staff at the Big Table, where I’d eaten breakfast a few days before, agreed to cook a couple of speciality sausages for me as a substitute for the bacon and eggs in their ‘Big Brekkie’. So here they are: a kangaroo country sausage from the kangaroo shop, and a crocodile sausage from Something Wild. And I’m happy to report that they were both absolutely delicious, and not disturbing in any way. The kangaroo banger was dark, juicy and peppered with fragrant herbs (it didn’t taste gamey at all), while the crocsausage was gorgeously juicy and tender, a little like chicken but lighter in texture. Both were wild, sustainable, free-range meats – and in the case of the crocodile, I’d say it’s better to eat it before it eats you. Continue reading…