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  1. Grandmother's spicy tofu is an essential Sichuan dish, and graces the menu of every Sichuan restaurant I've ever seen, anywhere in the world. It is quintessential Sichuan food, bursting with flavor and chock full of bold spices. The Chinese name refers to its historical inventor, a grandma with a pockmarked 麻子 face. Yunnan, where I live, has fondly adopted this dish and has made it our own. Not surprising, since we appreciate spicy food here just about as much as they do in Sichuan. After enjoying it for years in restaurants, I've been making it at home these last several months. A major advantage of doing it yourself is that you can adjust the heat of the dish, adapting it somewhat to your likes and dislikes, while still retaining its essential character. But I don't want to mislead you: no matter how you tweak it, this is food for an adventurous palate. It's not white toast or mashed potatoes. Let me show you how I made it yesterday. Like many good things here, it begins with a trip to the market to pick up the best fresh ingredients. I almost always approach these projects by telling the vendor what I intend to make and asking for specific ingredient recommendations. My usual tofu seller reluctantly turned me away. He specializes in tofu from Shiping Town and he told me what I needed for this recipe could be had for half as much money just across the alley. (As always, click the photos to enlarge them.) What I needed was "soft" 嫩 tofu, and that's what I got. Neither the silky "flower" tofu 豆花 that falls apart immediately or the "firm" tofu 老豆腐 that is best for sautéing. Will show it to you closer in a minute. I also bought long, tender green garlic greens, plucked before they start to form the characteristic root bulb. These go by the name 蒜苗 or 青蒜 and Sichuan cooks love them. They impart a mild garlic flavor, with some crunch and a fresh note missing from dried cloves of garlic. They are "brighter" as well as more subtle. To the right of the garlic greens in the photo above you see fresh cilantro, complete with roots, stems, and leaves. I bought a handful of these. They have so much more flavor than dried coriander seeds. On to the spice lady now, master of pickled foods and slow-preserved sauces, some of which you see just above. I always get a thrill out of entering her kingdom, and linger as long as I possibly can. She shows me new arrivals and tells me of alternatives to my tried and true selections, tempting me to expand my horizons. My shopping list from her only called for two items, but both were crucial to the success of the venture and neither would admit of any compromise. First was 豆豉, salty fermented black soybeans. These are in the left foreground of the picture above left. The beans are discrete, not mashed into a paste; but note that they aren't black "turtle beans" such as are used in Mexican cooking; they are a special soybean variety. And the star of the seasoning lineup, and one of her specialties, was the rightly famous Pixian douban jiang 郫县豆瓣酱。It is shown in the photo above right, in the big bowl on the left-hand side. This magnificent seasoning has often been described as "the soul of Sichuan cuisine." It is made from fermented broad beans and chilies, plus an assortment of auxiliary spices. The best of it takes months or even years to ferment and has so much punch you can smell it across the room. Let me show you now how all this came together in my Kunming kitchen yesterday afternoon. Important side-note: Before anything else, as in most Chinese home cooking, start soaking the rice. It needs a 15 minute pre-soak, and then requires about 30 minutes to boil and steam in my electric rice cooker. I do ingredient prep while the rice gets a head start, but never actually fire up the wok until the rice is completely ready. One prep item was a little out of the ordinary, and that was the essential Sichuan peppercorns 花椒。For this dish they need to be toasted and ground. I used a non-stick skillet with no oil and a marble mortar and pestle. You toast them until they begin releasing their aroma. When you smell them at that moment, it's a reminder that they aren't really peppers at all, they are unusual members of the citrus family. They have a distinct citrus aroma. I used two teaspoons of them. The tofu needs to be cut into cubes and soaked for 20 minutes or so in lightly-salted warm water. This does two things: first it removes any "off" flavors and second, it firms it up a bit so that is easier to handle during cooking. Less likely to fall apart or crumble. Finely sliver or mince some fresh ginger 生姜,enough to make two or three teaspoons. Do the same with two cloves of dry garlic 大蒜 and roughly tear apart three or four dried red chilies 干红辣椒。This is an important juncture because it's where you can easily alter how fiery you want the dish to be. To crank up the heat, use fresh chilies instead of dry ones. Selecting more potent chilies will allow you to earn admission to the "forehead drenched in sweat club" when you eat the finished product. 出汗 Finely cut the garlic greens 蒜苗, fresh cilantro 香菜, and the white of a large spring onion 大葱。I hold back a few of the chopped garlic greens and coriander so I can sprinkle them on the top of the finished dish as a garnish. I do the same with some of the crushed 花椒 toasted and ground Sichuan peppers. The rice just now announced that it was ready. I checked it, gave it a quick stir with a pair of chopsticks, unplugged the cooker and cracked the lid. Gently drain the tofu and set it aside. Everything is now ready to go, including the ground pork. One could use beef instead. I bought about 400 grams of tofu and abut 50 grams of meat. (I buy them by eye and then weigh them afterwards at home.) A ratio of six or eight to one is about right. This is mainly a tofu dish, not a meat dish. Mushrooms can be substituted for the meat if you are vegetarian. I've laid out two heaping tablespoons of douban jiang 郫县豆瓣酱 (on the left) and one heaping tablespoon of fermented black beans 豆豉 (on the right.) Used my big knife 菜刀 to finely chop the black beans so they will cook a bit quicker. Add some oil to a hot wok, quickly stir-fry the minced ginger, and add the garlic and dry red peppers when it begins to change color. Taking care not to burn the garlic, next add the ground meat and fry it until it looses it's pink color. Add the chopped garlic greens, cilantro, and spring onion, stirring quickly 翻炒 over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽, two tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking wine 料酒, and about a cup of chicken stock or water. This is the point at which to add a teaspoon or so of sugar if you think it is getting too spicy. Sugar seems to slightly moderate the heat. Mix everything well and then gently add the tofu, turning the fire to low. Let the tofu cook 2 or 3 minutes with minimal stirring. When you do stir it, do so with the back of your wok tool 锅铲 or ladle 大汤勺, only pushing slowly away from yourself, moving it in one direction only. No vigorous swirling, flipping or back and forth movements that might cause the tofu to fall apart and sort of just disappear. When the tofu has taken on the colors of the sauce in which it is cooking, you can thicken the juices with a mixture of cornstarch 淀粉 and water 水淀粉, prepared ahead of time by mixing one teaspoon of corn starch with two or three teaspoons of water. Don't add too much. The pan juices should just barely coat the back of your spatula or ladle. Don't turn it into a paste. I usually don't put in any extra salt because the beans, bean paste and soy sauce all are salty. Sprinkle on the remainder of the freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns, scoop it all out into a bowl and garnish with some of the reserved greens. This is a dish that is best served right away, while it is hot, straight from the stove. Diners, myself included, often heap some of it directly on top of a bowl of steamed rice and eat it that way. Might mention that some recipes call for adding additional vegetables to turn it into a one-dish meal. Though that's an approach I sometimes take with other Chinese food, I prefer not to risk messing up this classic. After all, it's one of China's "top ten" signature dishes, famous throughout the Middle Kingdom as well as all corners of the "outside world." Give it a try if you are in the mood for something spicy and delicious. It will make your day!
  2. Let's say you arrived in China earlier this year either for work or for study and don't have a lot of time, money or language skills at your disposal. And, though it was fun at first, eating out all the time has become problematic. Yes, it can be cheap, but it isn't the healthiest of options and it isn't always as convenient as just whipping up something simple at home. Several of us old timers will try our best to give you a few hints and tips as to how to make some of your meals at home without much in the way of tools or materials. These won't be gourmet feasts, but they will keep body and soul together without costing an arm and a leg and without cutting too deeply into your busy schedule. This thread is intended to provide a forum for discussion, comments, questions and answers. We hope it can serve as a useful starting place for your China cooking and eating adventures. You will find that once you try cooking for yourself over here, it will also make it easier to order when you do go out since you will have some familiarity with Chinese ingredients, seasonings, and preparation methods. You will know what those words mean when you see them on a menu. A personal digression, to be up front and get it out of the way. I first came to China in 2006 and fell in love with the people, the food, the way of life. I was still working full time back in the US at the time, but took progressively longer and longer vacations. Am an ER doctor, and was senior enough to have the luxury of being able to schedule generous unpaid time off as long as I did it well in advance. Spent most of my China time learning the language and immersing myself in China's rich history and culture. Have traveled to every province with the exception of Tibet and Xinjiang. Lived in Zhuhai, far south, and Harbin, far north. Spent time in Dalian and Beijing as well. Tried Shanghai. Eventually retired and settled in Kunming, where I now spend most of each year. Go back to Texas for a couple months annually. At every stop along the way I have either stayed in a dorm or rented a small apartment, with a short lease of 6 months or less at a time. Never wanted to invest in purchasing top-notch tools or appliances since I knew I would have to soon leave them behind. So I have, by now, equipped six or eight small kitchens, and have done it frugally. Have had a chance to correct beginner mistakes and do things better the next time. Learned tons from my Chinese friends and shamelessly copied their methods. Dorm cooking is similar to bachelor cooking in a bare-bones efficiency apartment. It assumes not much room, not much money, not much time. Let's start today with the basic durable items that will make it possible to prepare at least some of your own chow. You will need something to cook in, such as a flat-bottomed wok. The one shown is a real good one; but a no-name "starter wok" will cost under 100 Yuan and is adequate when beginning. Wok is 炒锅。Mine, illustrated here, is ASD brand 爱仕达。That's a good label; 苏泊尔 Supor is another reliable one. Some woks are round on the bottom, and only work well when cooking on gas. My old one was that kind, pictured below. Flat bottom wok is 平地炒锅 though that can also mean a western-style skillet with strait walls. Please see this earlier article for more about selecting a wok plus how to season it and care for it. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51217-wok-and-chopsticks/#comment-392506 Woks almost always come with a lid. It shouldn't cost extra. Lid = 盖子。Here are my two lids, the one with a glass center and a convenient "stand up" attachment. The old plain one is lying down beside it. Here, below, is a wok I saw in the store yesterday for peanuts (19 Yuan and 80 Mao.) You want one that can be used on an electric hot plate 电炉, such as the one pictured above. Electric hot plates can be purchased for between 100 and 200 Yuan. Expensive ones have a larger heating area and put out more intense heat. Sometimes they are also programmable, a feature you won't need. An alternative to a wok plus hot plate is an all-in-one electric skillet 电炒锅。These can be bought for as little as 100 Yuan. I would suggest spending around 200 Yuan instead because they cook more evenly. The very cheapest ones have hot spots and cold spots that makes it difficult to cook food without parts of it burning. Best to buy a major brand. Two which are dependable are 美的 and 九阳。Supermarkets like Walmart 沃尔玛 and Carrefour 家乐福 carry them. Appliance stores such as 苏宁电器 are also a good bet. Prices will be the same across the board, unless you hit a special sale or promotion 活动。 I don't have one of these, so cannot tell you for sure first hand, but I've heard that they don't cook as fast as a wok on a hotplate. Arguably, none of these electric skillets do as good a job of 炒菜 frying, but they are satisfactory for less demanding tasks, such as boiling broth for hot pot 火锅 or for 涮菜, useful tasks in a minimalist kitchen. A knife and cutting board 菜板 are essential. This cutting board can be of bamboo or plastic. Either option only costs 10 or 15 Yuan. The square Chinese "cleaver-like" 菜刀 is great for most tasks and one can be had for a song, well under 50 Yuan. A paring knife, known here as a fruit knife 水果刀 can also be useful. The ones on the left, above, are mine. But here are snapshots from a recent shopping trip to the corner store showing a knife and cutting board for 10 Yuan each. Not a very large investment. You need something with which to stir the food and eventually scoop it out. A special stir-fry spatula or 锅铲 may even be included with your wok at no extra charge as a bonus or "sweetner" to clinch the deal. This is the single most important hand tool. A ladle 汤勺 and a coarse strainer 滤网 are also handy. Furthermore, you would be smart to buy some chopsticks 筷子。Knife 刀, fork 叉子 and spoon 勺子are optional but suggested. A supermarket is where to shop for these. Useful "extras" include something with which to handle a hot dish or hot pan. You could, of course, just use a rag instead. Something on which to set a hot pan to keep it from burning the table also is handy, but once again, you could improvise with a magazine or one of last-year's textbooks. The third item in this category of "nice to have" doodads is a steamer stand so that you could place a dish of food in your wok and let it steam over simmering water (with the lid on, of course.) Dishes from which to eat are always discounted in one or another supermarket, and typically cost between 5 and 10 Yuan each. The essentials are a rice bowl 饭碗 and a soup bowl 汤碗。A flat European-style soup dish is also useful, in that it can be used for steaming as well as for eating at the table. You can also find paper plates and paper bowls to use some of the time. I will stop here for discussion before moving to the next section, which will be about essential perishable/disposable items that need to be in your cabinet, such as oil and salt. Please pitch in with your own experiences and ideas. Feel free to offer additions and corrections. Matters of this kind have no absolute right and wrong; lots depends on one's personal preferences and perspective. Thanks!
  3. Chinese kitchens usually don't have an oven, but everybody has a rice cooker 电饭煲。Even bachelors and newly-weds have a rice cooker; it's as essential as a wok 炒锅。Here's a simple chicken dish inspired by a more complex Hakka 客家人 favorite. Not much to it and the taste is surprisingly delicious. You will need one small, relatively young chicken, about 2 kg cleaned weight. If you've shopped for chicken lately, you realize the process does have a few small wrinkles. Avoid the big, fat, tough stewing hens 老母鸡 that make such splendid soup. Also, steer clear of the prized free-range chickens 土鸡 that are so flavorful in stir-fry dishes. Both of those require too much heat to become well done. And there's no need to spring for an expensive ultra-tender 三黄鸡 even though they are great for poaching. What's called a "fryer" in the US is just fine; this is a younger, smaller bird. Sometimes I make this dish with a whole chicken, sometimes with a couple of thigh quarters. A whole chicken has the disadvantage of the white meat (breast) cooking faster than the dark meat (legs.) Today I made it with the rear half of a small chicken. Note that it didn't have much fat. Washed it well and cut it up, removing the backbone (saving it for soup.) I separated the drumstick 琵琶腿 from the thigh 大腿 by slicing through the joint. My chicken parts weighed 0.6 kg, about 1.3 pounds. Fresh chicken works best for this. Avoid the "weekly bargain special" frozen legs often found in the supermarket; they contain too much water. Rub the cut chicken pieces liberally with coarse salt and let them stand undisturbed for 30 minutes or an hour in the refrigerator. No need to cover them; just put them on a plate. This partially "dry-brines" the meat. It's OK to leave it two or three hours if you'd like, but not overnight. (Chinese table salt is very fine; best to use a coarse-grained salt such as sea salt or Kosher salt.) Cut two large spring onions 大葱 into segments 切段。Slice a thumb-sized piece of ginger生姜 into coin-shaped rounds. Two or three dried chilies 干辣椒 optional. Set these aside. Mix two tablespoons of light soy sauce 生抽 together with half a teaspoon of dark soy sauce 老抽。Slip on a disposable plastic glove 一次性手头 and rub the soy sauce mix into the chicken well. Do it two or three times, massaging thoroughly 按摩。 Add a tablespoon of cooking oil to the rice cooker bowl; use your fingers to rub it all around. (Don't let it just pool in the middle.) Arrange most of the spring onions and sliced ginger (and dry hot pepper if you are using it) in the bottom of your 电饭煲 and set the chicken on top. Use the rest of the 葱姜 on top. Add two tablespoons of Shaoxing wine 绍兴酒 or yellow cooking wine 黄酒/料酒。 Turn on the heat. Select the program that is designed to cook ordinary rice. On mine, it's the orange button, top right ("灶烧饭。) That cycle usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes, but is controlled automatically. No need to fuss around with it. Go put your feet up and read a book. Enjoy some music and a glass of wine. When the rice cooking program ends and the machine beeps and switches to "keep warm/standby" mode 保温, open the lid and turn the chicken over. (That's the photo below left.) Then close it and press the same "cook rice" button a second time. This time it may finish a little quicker. When that cycle is done, don't open it up immediately. Let it stand closed and unplugged between 5 and 10 minutes. This lets the chicken re-absorb some of its cooking juices. If you have made a whole bird instead of just legs, stick a chopstick into a thigh joint to make sure it goes in easily and the juices run clear (not bloody) as a final check for done-ness. Take it out and serve it as you wish. The meat is tender and juicy. Balanced flavor, crispy skin. Can be picked up and eaten straight off the bone, can be sliced, or it can be torn into long shreds. Today I sliced it and served it on a platter with some just-cooked noodles and a raw cucumber. Not much labor; no fancy technique; easy clean up. Decent, tasty meal. This cooking method originated in Fujian, but spread to neighboring Guangdong. Today it's popular not only in China, but in every country where there is a significant Chinese diaspora. The original way of doing this uses a kilogram or two of salt, with the chicken double wrapped in parchment paper and cooked very slow in a covered wok for a long time. (The "kilogram or two" is not a misprint.) The rice cooker simplifies the process immensely. If you like chicken, might want to give this simple dish a try. If you have not yet bought a rice cooker, this is another good reason to take the plunge. Every Chinese household, no matter how small or large, no matter how rich or poor, has two small electric appliances: a rice cooker and an electric water kettle for boiling water to brew tea.
  4. It has rained a lot over the last week; our rainy season 雨季 has started with a bang. Clueless tourists will be stranded in mud slides before even making it to the entrance of Tiger Leaping Gorge. In Kunming we know about weather and adapt to it, and when the rain clears, like it did this morning, we jump fast to take full advantage. The sun was out by 9 a.m. and I was in the wet market 菜市场 with my shopping list by ten. It was bustling and busy like a Sunday. The aunties 阿姨 and grannies 奶奶 had large baskets and cloth bags to take home a portion of the bounty. I made a beeline to where the most people were grabbing stuff; this produce was bound to be the freshest, cheapest and best. Most locals are savvy shoppers and I imitate them. I loaded up with crispy green long peppers, the pointy kind, not sweet bell peppers. Thought I would make an old standard, green peppers and lean pork stir fry 青椒肉丝。But then I noticed the abundance of mushrooms. It's too early to eat the wild ones 野生菌 just yet, there is too much chance of unpleasant toxins 毒 Later in the season the wild ones are safer, so I usually wait another month or so. With that in mind, today I bought cultivated ones instead 人工香菇。 Swung by the stall that features "black pork." That designation puzzled me for a long time, until I finally figured out that 黑猪肉 doesn't mean black meat, it means the meat from pigs that have black hide. Supposed to be a little more tasty. They are raised in the hills in large pastures, sort of "free range," instead of being confined to cages or pens. Purchase a nice piece of lean loin meat 猪里脊。This cut is not marbled and it can be tough; but proper technique can make it delicious. Came out real good, so I thought I would share. Here's how I put it together. (Remember, you can click the pictures to enlarge them.) Clean the mushrooms and cut off the stems. Slice the caps thin. Wash the long green peppers and cut off the stems. These are spicy, have a nice bite, but are not fiery hot. I leave most of the seeds but remove the pith near the base. Cut some of them into circles instead of slivers. Why? Because it looks good. Locally these go by the name of 青辣尖叫 some of the time. You can find red ones as well, same shape and basic flavor profile. Peel down the outer leaves of a few spring onions and snap off the root end. Slice them into small rounds, using all of the whites and some of the greens as well. Wash and finely chop some cilantro. Stems as well as leaves. Assemble the vegetables. Turn your attention to the meat. I had put it in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes while prepping the vegetables to let it get firm and be easier to handle. The goal was to slice it thin across the grain, into slivers 肉丝 or very small pieces 肉片 so it would cook fast. This piece weighed only 150 grams; less than a fourth of a pound. It doesn't take much: a dish like this is mainly about the vegetables. The meat is just in it to enhance the flavor, to give it a little more punch. Marinate the cut meat in corn starch and cooking wine for 30 minutes or so. Makes it more tender. Fire up the wok. Use high heat. You want these ingredients to sear, cook fast and get a little color without actually scorching. If the flame is too low they will stew and be soggy. This is the part of the process that requires your full attention; don't play with your phone or look out of the window. If you don't stir fast enough, something will burn. Start with the meat; cook it about three-quarters through and scoop it out while it is still faintly pink. Then cook the mushrooms, stirring and flipping 翻炒 them constantly. The idea behind a process like this is to start with the ingredients that take more time to be done. Mushrooms take longer than peppers. When the mushrooms have released their moisture and wilted, add the peppers to the center of the wok. That is the hottest part. Let the peppers get soft and even begin to get slightly brown before adding the spring onions. Last of all, add the cilantro leaves and stems. At each step along the way I add a sprinkle of salt, instead of waiting until the very end. It's easier for me to judge the right amount that way, though it isn't essential to follow that strategy. Return the cooked meat to the pan and cook it all together for a minute or so to blend the flavors. At this stage I added a splash of soy sauce 生抽 and a few spoons of a corn starch slurry 水淀粉 to thicken the juices. If you like a pinch of MSG 味精, this is the time to put it in. (I use it, but realize not everyone can.) When the juices have been absorbed into the dish and all these harmonious flavors marry, in only a minute or so, it's ready to serve. Don't want to overcook things like this; the vegetables still need to have some crunch. That's part of what distinguishes real Chinese food from what you get for $5.98 at Golden China Buffet in the strip mall on the loop in small-town Texas where I spend part of every year. Plate it up. Goes well with plain steamed rice. Goes well with sunshine after a week of rainy days.
  5. If you’re Chinese, this is a familiar classic. Your mom made it for you once a week every summer from the time you were a tadpole until you finally went off to college. It was mandatory hot weather food. Bitter melon 苦瓜/kugua has myriad health virtues, chief among them is that it dispels excess internal heat. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals, delivering them with relatively few calories. People striving to lose weight and adult-onset diabetics are always advised to eat plenty of it. For the rest of us it’s somewhat problematic; it seems foreigners either love it or hate it. Furthermore, you're not likely to find it at Panda Express. If you aren’t sure which camp you belong in, I would urge you to give it a try. Paired with beef like this and with the bite reduced through smart handling it has a lot going for it in the flavor department. You could try it first in a restaurant and if you think it’s a winner, then come back here for the “how to.” Ask for 苦瓜炒牛肉 (kugua chao niu rou) and you won't get any strange looks; the waiter might even think you're a local. Here's what this bad boy looks like in the wild, namely in the wilds of my neighborhood wet market. It will be less bitter if it's not too large and the bumps (called "teeth") are not too prominent. Light green is milder than dark green. After selecting a couple, head over to the beef lady with her sharp cleaver. Ask for a cut that's suitable to stir fry so you don't wind up with stew meat. Butchers in the local market are specialized: this one only purveys pork, that one only beef, and another one, flanked by woven bamboo coops, handles chicken, killing them to order right on the spot. (Remember, you can click these photos to enlarge them.) At home, you should start on the meat first, since it requires some time to marinate. Chinese beef can be tough, and restaurants all give it special handling. The Muslim restaurants 回族餐厅 are especially skilled at making it tender and delicious. But you can use some of their tricks in your own kitchen. First and foremost it needs to be properly cut. Sharpen your knife and work across the grain of the muscle 横着。When I remember in time, I put the meat in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes to firm it up and make it easier to handle. What I had today was a 320 gram piece of eye of round, a relatively tough and lean cut from the rump of the cow ("黄瓜条“). The grain of the muscle fibers is not well seen when viewed from above (left photo) but you can see how they slant in the right photo. This meant my cuts needed to be on an angle, as shown, instead of straight down. I was slicing as thin as I could, being deliberate about it. If you are pressed for time, shortcuts are possible, but tday I wanted to be sure to get it right, so I took the long, careful road. Put the meat in a bowl and sprinkled in a half teaspoon of baking soda 苏打粉。Added enough water to barely moisten it and massaged it with a gloved hand for half a minute or so. Let it stand 10 to 15 minutes, then washed it clean with potable water. This gets it ready for the main marinade, composed of 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce 耗油, one tablespoon each of Shaoxing cooking wine 黄酒 and sesame oil 香油, a half tablespoon each of light soy sauce 生抽 and dark soy sauce 老抽。Resist the urge to go nuts with the soy sauce or you won't be able to taste the beef itself. Put on another disposable glove and give it the second massage of the day. Let it stand 20 minutes or so on the kitchen counter, or up to an hour in the fridge. (The two marinade steps can be combined, but use less baking soda if you do it that way.) Move on to the beautiful melon. Cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Use your spoon to scrape away at least some of the white pith, since it has a very strong flavor. Cut it into uniform pieces that suit your fancy. If it's a small melon, I just cut straight across, but this one was larger so I cut on a rolling bias 切棍。 To reduce the bitterness, salt these cut melon pieces and let them stand about 10 minutes. Then blanch 焯 it all for a minute or so, straining it into an ice bath. If you prefer your dish to have more of a bite, like I do when I'm making it just for myself, omit either or both of these two steps. Strain the cooled melon and set it aside. Now it's time to quickly stir fry your marinated beef. But first add a teaspoon of the last-minute secret ingredient, 木薯粉/mushu fen/cassava powder. Mix well. Using high heat, preheat the wok and add two or three tablespoons of oil (beef tends to stick.) The meat needs to just barely cook, to still be slightly pink in the center in order to avoid becoming tough. This only takes a minute or so. Scoop it into a pan on the counter 备用 and rinse out your wok. Most people use a stiff bamboo brush for this step. A little more oil in the hot wok and quick fry part of an onion, some minced ginger and garlic. They don't need to brown; only need to begin releasing their aroma 爆香。 Add the bitter melon and fry quickly for a minute or two. You want the vegetable to become slightly soft but to still retain some of its crunch. Then add back the cooked meat. Cook it all together for a quick minute so the flavors can blend, adjust the seasoning. Shouldn't need much, if anything. Plate it up 装盘。 Serve with steamed rice. Some Chinese food can be made a few minutes ahead and served at close to room temperature without significant loss of its charm. This dish, however, really needs to be eaten hot from the wok. If I'm making several dishes for guests, this is the one I do last for that reason. Any discussion of bitter melon seems to include comments about how learning to "eat bitter" or 吃苦/chi ku early in life builds character and is essential to wisdom and virtue. I would certainly not want to argue with the sages, and simply present that as one more reason to try this fine dish without too much delay.
  6. If you are recently arrived in China, you may have discovered that the vegetable section of many restaurant menus features hearty combinations with stick-to-your-ribs portions of meat and potatoes that overshadow the lighter veggies in the dish. Furthermore, these often arrive at your table swimming in oil. If you are puzzled regarding how to get some simple fresh vegetables in a restaurant, three approaches can help you out. The first is to just order a vegetable stir-fried alone, such as 清炒菠菜。This would get you a plate of plain sautéed spinach. The waitress might ask if you wanted them to add garlic, 加蒜泥。 Another method is to order a clear soup made with a green leafy vegetable. Example of that would be 苦菜汤, the unfortunate translation of which is “bitter sow thistle.” It’s usually just the named vegetable and water, boiled till tender, with perhaps a dash of oil and a pinch of salt. The third approach is to order a 凉拌 or cold dish, made with a vegetable and an oil-vinegar dressing or sauce. Even though the name says “cold,” these are usually served at room temperature and take the place of salad in a western meal more or less. Today I’ll show you how to make one of my summer favorites: long green beans and king oyster mushrooms 四季豆杏鲍菇凉拌。Simple flavors with a pleasant crunch. I sometimes eat it by itself as a light lunch topped with a hard-boiled egg, but it can also be a side dish for your dumplings/jiaozi 饺子 and your lamb kebabs 羊肉串。 These 四季豆 beans go by several names, much as they do in English, and are easy to find in supermarkets here as well as closer to the source. They should be fairly stiff and not limp; color should be a vibrant deep green. I buy mine at the wet market, where a large bunch, enough for two generous meals, sells for 2 or 3 Yuan. They are traditionally paired with king oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇,but if you can't find these, the dish will work with other mild-flavored mushrooms just about as well. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) King oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇 are on the left. They often grow on the stumps of dead hardwood trees. They have an umami note as expected and a tender texture, often compared to abalone or ... well, better yet, about like oysters. Flavor is mild, sometimes with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Cut away and discard the base of any thick, woody stems. Brush off soil with a wet paper towel. It's not necessary to scrub or soak them. Chinese chefs find their texture is best if you tear them into strips or coarse shreds with your fingers instead of chopping them with a knife. This gives a more pleasant mouth feel 口感。 Wash the beans and cut off the stem end. These are about as long as my forearm, but they aren't tough or knobby. They don't have tough "strings" or "threads" on the margin like some other varieties.The peas inside the long pods are tender and immature. I slice them into 6 or 8 inch sections, cutting on a diagonal, but you could chop them straight across to save a few seconds if necessary. I've also finely chopped three or four cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger 生姜。Removed some of the seeds from three hot chilies and cut them into thin strips 切丝。 Blanch 焯 the mushrooms in a pot of lightly-salted boiling water for a minute or so. Lift them out with a strainer and drain their water 捞出、流干水粉。You will use the same pot of water in a minute to boil the beans, so don't discard it. Saute the chilies, garlic and ginger in a little oil. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry quickly, adding a conservative pinch of salt. They don't need to brown; you just want the flavor of the aromatics to develop and blend with that of the mushrooms. Scoop them out into a temporary holding pan 备用。 Boil the beans for 4 or 5 minutes, testing them frequently so as to stop the process when they just barely begin to get tender. Don't overcook them; better if they are al dente. Drain them and "shock" them quickly with ice water. This stops the cooking and also improves their color. Drain them well and toss them with the cooked mushrooms 拌匀。 Sauce the combined beans and mushrooms with 2 tablespoons of olive oil 橄榄油, 1 tablespoon of aged vinegar 老陈醋, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽, half a teaspoon each of salt 食用盐 and sugar 白沙糖。 MSG 味精 1/4 teaspoon if you use it. (I do.) Toss everything together and allow the flavors to blend by putting it in the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes. It doesn't need to actually get cold. Best served at cool room temperature. It's easy to find this dish or some variation of it in simple neighborhood restaurants all over China. It's also pretty straight forward to make at home. Give it a try and see what you think. This kind of food works real well when the days are warm, such as now.
  7. DavyJonesLocker

    Selecting a wok 炒锅

    thanks for the right up @abcdefg Incidentally I think I need a new wok. Even frying ginger is sticking to the pan. Moderator note: This thread has been split from abcdefg's write-up on cola chicken wings.
  8. abcdefg

    Middle Kingdom Limoncello

    Limoncello is native to the citrus growing region along southern Italy's Amalfi Coast, but it can be home made in Kunming as well. We have an abundance of fresh, full-flavored citrus, especially in the cooler months of the year. If silk and porcelain and tea could make their way west centuries ago, no reason why the caravan cannot now head back to the east. Home made limoncello has always been the best kind, with a taste more fruity and fresh than commercial brands. It is traditionally enjoyed as a post-prandial digestif, served cold in a small glass right after eating. It is also loved as an aperitif, before the meal. Or it can be turned into a tall drink with club soda or tonic water. It is sunny and bursting with fresh lemon/citrus flavor. Let me show you how I make it. Buy a couple of bottles of trusty and potent Red Star Er Guo Tou 红星二锅头, which is known and maybe loved/maybe hated by every Old China Hand worth his salt. This notorious 白酒 is 52% alcohol, making it over 100 proof. One of the beauties of this recipe is that it is a way of "taming the dragon" -- transforming this fiery "rocket fuel" Er Guo Tou even beyond the palatable, actually turning it into a beverage which is smooth and enjoyable. This is the famous grain neutral spirit that is sold in every hole in the wall lunch stand in "unit dose" sized bottles. You regularly see hard hat guys knocking it back with their noodles. A 500 ml bottle of this powerful concoction costs the princely sum of 13 Yuan and 50 Mao. I used a bottle and a half, about 750 ml, just because of the size of my containers. The Er Guo Tou distillery produces some other whiskey that is more refined and lower proof. Don't need it; this original wild potion does just fine at a price which cannot be beat, only pennies more pricey than Coca Cola. Buy four to six nice firm lemons, preferably from the market where they haven't been sprayed with wax to extend their shelf life (as is common in the US.) Oranges are prime just now and I bought five of those along with my five lemons. Limoncello can easily be modified by using part tangerines or grapefruit. I've experimented with youzi 柚子 (pomelo) and the small green limes 青柠蒙 that are so popular here. Both have very thin skin, making them difficult to use. But mixing lemon with another citrus fruit makes the resulting liqueur have a less aggressive character; sort of rounds it out. Scrub them well with a vegetable brush and sharpen your best paring knife. The goal is to deftly remove the yellow zest with very, very little of the bitter white pith underneath. I used a ceramic-blade peeler and the paring knife. It takes some time to do this right. One can alternatively use a micro-plane grater, but it will make the finished product slightly cloudy. Do the same with the oranges. Just like the lemons in the picture above, you can see the full thickness peel on the left, the white pith sliced away with careful scalpel strokes, leaving the finished peel on the right. I pull a chair up to the table, set it all out on a cutting board, put in earphones with some Bach or Beethoven, and take my time. Let my mind go blank into that semi-meditative 刀法 zone. (daofa = knife skills) As you work, drop the finished peels into a big wide-mouth jar that contains your alcohol. Screw the lid on tight. If the fit is not snug, put a piece of Saran wrap 保鲜膜 over the top before sealing. To backtrack a moment, Er Guo Tou is really not the only way to go. Everclear plain grain alcohol would do, but I've never seen it for sale in China. Similarly, vodka is ok, but you need the 100 proof kind, which is nearly impossible to find. You want a high alcohol content because it acts as a solvent and puts the aromatic elements of the fruit into solution. Set this jar up on a shelf for at least a week. Every day or two agitate it gently. Some schools of though call for leaving it like that for a month or more. A week is as long as I've personally been able to delay. Maybe resting it longer would make it a hundred times better, but I will probably never know. After a week, it is time to make it sweet. This is done with a Chinese version of simple syrup. Bing tang, Chinese rock sugar, 冰糖 adds an element of smoothness that works with the Er Guo Tou like the two were made for each other. I used a cup of rock sugar and three cups of water. This will make the finished product about 50 proof, which is about right for my palate. You could use less water or more depending on your personal preference. Bring the sugar to a gentle boil in a saucepan, stirring off and on until it's all dissolved. After that, be sure to let it cool completely to room temperature. If you rush that step the resulting brew will be muddy in appearance. Now pour the cooled simple syrup into the alcohol and citrus peels. Seal the jar again and let it stand overnight. My jar wasn't big enough to hold it all, so I improvised with a clean ceramic casserole. Next morning strain it into a bottle. I used a fine mesh strainer first, set in a large funnel, then did it twice more with cheese cloth. One can also use a coffee filter, but I didn't have one. When you do this, don't be greedy. Don't try and press all the liquid through with a wooden spoon or such, determined to get the very last drop. The reason is that this would push through the unwanted crud attached to the peels; stuff that you would like to discard. Here's my finished product. You can smell the citrus across the room. And the taste is smooth, without that ferocious 白酒 bite. I poured mine into a saved vodka bottle because it's the right size to fit in my fridge. This finished limoncello doesn't absolutely have to be refrigerated, but it keeps longer like this so I don't feel compelled to guzzle it too fast. Safe for a month or more. It still seems to disappear pretty smartly on its own; I sometimes think there must be some refrigerator mice with straws at work after lights out. Why have I included a picture of ginger? Because I thought I would tell you a Chinese herbal secret. This limoncello is fantastic served hot with an additional squeeze of lemon or lime and several slices of fresh ginger. Put the juice, ginger, and a generous shot of limoncello into a mug and fill it with nearly-boiling water. In the technical parlance of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it will "cure what ails you." So you have wound up with a bottle of first rate home-made joy that can be served strait as an aperitif, mixed tall with club soda or tonic water, taken after the meal to settle things, or utilized as medicine to chase away the winter vapors. Can't go wrong with that. Give it a try and see what you think.
  9. This popular Yunnan lunch item is easy to cook but difficult to translate. It has no catchy English name. For several years I was sure 红三剁 meant "three red things that were chopped." This was always puzzling because it uses red tomatoes and pink lean pork, but combines those with very green peppers for color contrast. What happened to that third red ingredient? Regardless of the linguistic issues, I can show you how to whip it up at home. This is a quick and easy dish to make, doesn't require any fancy ingredients or techniques. Furthermore, it's difficult to mess it up; a good beginner 初级 project. A couple of nice ripe tomatoes 番茄,two or three long green peppers 尖椒, the white part of one large spring onion 大葱, a couple cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a small piece of fresh ginger 老姜。 Lean pork works best for this dish and I usually buy a piece of tenderloin 里脊。Marinate it 腌制 for 20 or 30 minutes with a couple teaspoons of cooking wine 料酒 and a teaspoon of corn starch 淀粉。Sometimes I also add a half teaspoon of sesame oil. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water briefly, score the skin with the tip of a knife and slip it off. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp in the center. Chop them fine. Mince the ginger and garlic. 剁碎 Slice the spring onion fine. Do the same with the long peppers, removing the white fibrous sections and some of the seeds. These long slender green peppers are not very hot; the lady from whom I bought them at the market described them as "mild and fruity." Still, if you don't like spicy things at all, you could substitute sweet bell peppers 甜辣椒 (also called 柿子椒)。 Gentle reminder: You already started the rice, didn't you? Don't even think about heating the wok until the rice is ready. My rice cooker just dinged, took about 30 minutes plus a 15 minute soak. I checked the rice visually to make sure the surface had those important small steam holes. (Those tell you it's done.) Fluffed it up with a couple of chopsticks. Unplugged the cooker (don't leave it on "keep warm" 保温 or you will wind up with overcooked rice.) Closed the rice cooker lid, and now we are ready to proceed with the stir fry. Double check to be sure everything is ready; once you start the process, it goes fast. Today I used 150 grams of finely chopped meat 碎末肉 with two tomatoes and two long green peppers. These ratios are not critical, and you can make this dish by eye if you just use roughly equal amounts of meat, tomatoes, and peppers. First quick-fry 翻炒 the lean ground pork 猪肉末 with the minced ginger 碎末姜。Take it out and set it aside when about three quarters done 七成熟。The meat does not need to be browned, but it does need to lose its pink color. Wipe out the wok and add a little more oil. (Most Chinese families use a stiff bamboo whisk for this.) Stir fry the green peppers and the minced garlic for half a minute or so over high heat, being careful to not burn the garlic. When you can smell the aroma, add the tomatoes and the spring onion. Cook a minutes or so, adding stock 高汤 or water as needed to keep it from becoming dry and taking on a scorched note 糊。 Add the cooked meat and stir well, adding more liquid as needed. The result needs to be slightly soupy, not dry. Add salt 食盐 to taste and MSG 味精 if you like it. I usually add about a fourth of a teaspoon unless my guests ask me not to. Stir fry for a minute or two on medium heat. (Don't walk away.) And voila, the finished product. Serve it in a bowl beside steamed rice. My friends and I usually spoon some out and combine it with fluffy white rice in our individual bowls. Sometimes I present it as a plated "covered rice" dish 盖饭 because that looks extra nice. Either way, it tastes top notch. Hope you will give it a try someday soon, especially if you are in the mood for something with no good English translation.
  10. Last week I had something real good in a local restaurant and today I tried to reproduce it at home. That is always a risky proposition, but what I wound up with was a pretty good adaptation even though it was more labor than initially expected. As you know, Kunming is famous for its cross-bridge rice noodles 过桥米线, as is most of southern Yunnan. One local eatery which I frequently visit is known for its variations on the old, time tested theme. They offer a variety of vegetables and meats to put in the boiling hot broth: sometimes they offer seafood, sometimes pigeon or quail, other times it's wild mushrooms that takes center stage. Last week they were trying out beef combinations with mint. One dish was called 滇味牛肉过桥米线 which had thin-sliced cooked beef 白切牛肉, green peppers 青椒, and mint 薄荷。It was available at an introductory price of 15 Yuan, down from 17 list. The other new menu item was those ingredients plus sliced beef stomach tripe 牛肚, called 金牌牛肉过桥米线 at the special price of 23 Yuan instead of the usual 25. If you aren't familiar with Yunnan cross-bridge rice noodles, please take a look at this previous discussion. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52493-yunnan-cross-bridge-rice-noodles-过桥米线/?tab=comments#comment-404109. Here's what it looks like in the restaurant, complete with raw quail eggs and chrysanthemum flower petals. (Click the photos to enlarge them.) Small plates 碟子 of cool or room temperature items are brought to your table along with a bowl of uncooked rice noodles. The waiter next delivers a bowl of extremely hot broth 高汤, and you put it together yourself, adding ingredients one at a time so they cook quickly on the spot. The noodles go in last of all, so as not to prematurely cool off the broth. My home adaptation of this dish saw me making it on the stove. If I had owned a free-standing hot plate or induction burner, could have done it right on the dining table instead. The flavors of beef and mint seem like they were meant for each other and the combo is a staple of Yunnan cuisine, much as lamb and mint are wedded in some western traditions. This dish showcases the marriage of beef and mint. Here's how I did it; here's how you can make it yourself at home. First, let's look at the beef. Bought a piece of rump roast, about 800 grams. Didn't actually need that much; a third or even a fourth of it would have been enough for today. But the trouble involved in slow cooking it means that it makes sense to cook a big piece and have some left over for other projects. Buying beef in the market tends to be an adventure. Works best if you are armed with some knowledge of the various cuts. They aren't identical to those used in the U.S. This cut sells for about 50 Yuan per kilo and doesn't have much waste. Slice it in half and tie the two pieces with twine so it will cook more evenly than if it had a thick "head" and a thin "tail." Bring it to the boil quickly in lightly salted water to clean it of blood and surface impurities, throwing away that water. Beef here in China tends to be tough, at least the most economical cuts do. So it's best to keep that in mind and cook it in a pressure cooker 高压锅 on high for 25 or 30 minutes. Let it come down to a safe temperature naturally over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, don't need to use a "quick-release" method. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can slow simmer it for 60 to 90 minutes until it's tender when pierced with a fork. Include some ginger 老姜, garlic 大蒜, a cardamom pod 草果, one star anise 八角 , a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark 桂皮, and a bay leaf 香叶。A few "numbing" Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 and several dried Yunnan red peppers 干辣椒 are optional. (I admit liking to add them.) After it cools completely, slice it thin. This process gets you what is known as 白切牛肉, plain sliced boiled beef. It's one of the old standards of Chinese cooking. Often served just like that with a fragrant and spicy dipping sauce 沾水 at the start of a special meal. I saved the stock this produced and combined it with some chicken stock I already had on hand. Turned my attention to the vegetables. Most of China, and most of the world, views mint differently from Yunnan. Here it's a bonafide green leafy vegetable, not just a garnish or a condiment. We eat it by the handful, especially in summer since it's a "cooling" food 清凉。Here's a link to mint soup, which shows it in its "vegetable" role: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/ Used the crinkly-skinned spicy green peppers 虎皮椒 that are so popular here along with a red bell pepper mainly for color. Had a bunch of garlic chives 韭菜 and a bunch of very small spring onions 小葱。Washed and sliced thin as shown. I went through the mint as I washed it and tossed out any tough woody stems and damaged bits, being careful to not just wind up with leaves since small and medium mint stems have lots of flavor. Assembled the meat, shown here beside some home-made chili sauce 辣酱 and spicy pickled turnip greens 酸菜 cut fine. Got out a handful of rice noodles; this is about 1 Yuan worth. Put the stock 高汤 on low flame in a clay casserole pot, uncovered. When the stock barely began to simmer, I added the peppers. Let them cook a minute or so, until just starting to soften a little, then added the small spring onions and the garlic chives. Stirred it frequently so it didn't boil over. Now it's time for the thin-sliced cooked beef and a pinch of salt. (Don't need much because the 酸菜 diced pickled vegetables are salty.) As soon as the meat heats through, add the mint. Let these flavors combine for a half a minute or so, minimal cooking time. Add the rice noodles, preferably a few at a time instead of in one big clump. These are fresh noodles, straight from the maker. They have never been dried. If you're using dried noodles, probably best to start them off to the side in a separate pot of lightly salted water. We're done. It's ready. Eat up 动筷子!The mint combines great with the beef and the other flavors are completely harmonious. Every spoonful of broth makes you want to close your eyes and smack your lips. Try it, you'll see what I mean.
  11. Today is Sunday in Kunming. I don't have to go anywhere soon or do much of anything. Woke up late and wanted a breakfast that would be substantial enough for me to painlessly skip lunch. Already had the ingredients for this on hand, all that was needed was to whip it together. Thought I would show you the method since it's a versatile dish that one could reasonably have for a light supper along with a soup or salad. Cheap, nourishing, easy to make. Tofu here comes in many kinds. This recipe can be made with most of them. What I had in my fridge was soft tofu 嫩豆腐 in a small block that I had bought earlier in the week. Rinsed it off 洗净, cut it into small pieces 切小块 and simmered 焯 them gently for about 10 minutes in lightly salted water 盐水。Scooped them out 捞起来 into a bowl. Drained away the water 干水。This removes any off taste 腥味 and makes the tofu less likely to fall apart later when handled. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) Cut up 切段 one medium spring onion 大葱, a ripe tomato 番茄, and a clove of garlic 打算。Shown together here with three free-range eggs 土鸡蛋。 Using medium heat, saute 煸炒 the aromatics (onion and garlic) until you can smell them 爆香; they don't need to become brown. Add the tomatoes followed by the drained tofu cubes and turn them 翻炒 gently until they begin to change color and become a little bit golden 变金色。 Stir the eggs 搅拌 and add them, reducing the flame to between low and medium. Be restrained with your spatula 锅铲 so as not to break things into small fragments. I used a flat-bottom non-stick pan 平底不粘锅 which made it easy. Add a sprinkle of salt 食盐 and another of MSG 味精 if you use it. A tablespoon or so of light soy sauce 生抽 also improves the flavor. When the eggs are no longer runny, the dish is done. Don't overdo and turn them to leather. Plate it up 装盘。Goes well with a pot of green tea 绿茶。 Try it out; see what you think. This is a good straight-ahead project that will give you an intro to working with tofu.
  12. Chinese chives, known over here as jiucai 韭菜, is an ingredient that's easy to find all over China and it isn't too challenging to track down even in the west. It's an ingredient that's fun to use because it is versatile, lending itself to many applications. It's also forgiving, not easily ruined when you are using it. I unexpectedly lucked in to a big batch this weekend and wound up cooking jiucai three days in a row. I had three days of jiucai feasts. The back story might be of interest. A hot springs sauna where I sometimes relax grows all its own vegetables organically out on the northeast edge of the city. It's one of their boasting points and is a claim to local fame. Whatever they bring in fresh in the morning, gets used up by the end of that same day; they are scrupulous about not holding anything over. "Completely organic and completely fresh" is what you can expect to eat on their premises, according to their promotional literature. They set a lavish buffet for lunch and another for supper. Breakfast is also provided, but it's a simple affair. If you are leaving anytime after supper, as you check out and settle your tab, they will ask if you want a bag of that day's leftover veggies. The receptionist won't let you pick through them or select what you want. One person, one bag; take it or leave it. I find it hard to say no to this kind of pot luck bounty, and usually smile and nod yes. This means that sometimes I walk out with a heavy bag of cabbage or half a dozen eggplants plus two carrots. This time my treasure was more jiucai than anyone could possibly eat at one go. Luckily, it keeps pretty well for a day or two in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Looses a tiny bit of it's fresh-picked bite, but not much. It's a pretty durable item. So now after three straight days of jiucai practice, I'm a self-declared expert. My best friend agrees, but we all know she's biased. In any case, I'll take great pleasure in showing you some jiucai tricks so that you can also perform jiucai magic at home, wherever you might live. This splendid green vegetable has a taste somewhere between that of onion and garlic, and is related to both. The flavor is more concentrated than either and it makes a very distinctive ingredient in many quintessentially Chinese specialty dishes, top among them probably being jiucai dumplings 韭菜猪 肉饺子。These rule the roost if you live up north, above the Chiang Jiang 长江, aka the Mighty Yangtze. Someone else will have to show you how to make those, since my dumpling skills are rudimentary at best. But today I'll gladly show you how to use jiucai in a stir fried scrambled egg dish 韭菜炒鸡蛋。Next we will make it up into crispy thin griddle cakes 韭菜煎饼。A day or two later, if there's sufficient interest, I'll take you through turning them into a tasty and simple fried rice 韭菜鸡蛋炒饭。All three were a hit with my Kunming friends. Never broke the bank or required excessive amounts of kitchen time. Trim off a little bit of the fibrous white root ends and discard any brown or wilted leaves. Wash them well, dry them, then chop into pieces 3 or 4 centimeters long. Break two or three eggs into a dish and mix them with chopsticks. I usually figure one egg per person when preparing this as a side dish to go with other parts of a meal. Scramble the eggs in a non-stick flat bottom skillet 不粘平底锅 with a little oil over low to medium heat. Turn the eggs out into a dish when they are barely done, don't overcook them. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set them aside. 备用 Wipe out the skillet, heat to medium, add a little more oil. Stir fry the jiucai until they wilt, but don't let them get real dark or burned. This usually only takes a minute or two. Add a light sprinkle of salt. Add back the scrambled eggs and cook them together for another half minute or so. Scoop them out into a serving dish. Set it on the table and dig in. This is a dish best enjoyed while it's still nice and hot, fresh from the flame. This goes well with nearly anything you can name in the wide realm of Chinese cooking. Its taste is distinctive but not overpowering. I've had it accompany a fish main course, or chicken or duck. One can simply enjoy it with a bowl of steamed rice as a brunch, or even with a bowl of Yunnan noodle soup 米线。 Hope you will give it a try. Eager to see what you think. On a spectrum of one to ten, this falls a bit below zero on the difficulty scale. Highly suitable for fledgling Chinese chefs.
  13. This cornerstone condiment is somewhat unusual in that it's not only found in every Southwest China kitchen for daily use in cooking, but it is found on nearly every restaurant table as well, in an open-top jar or small ceramic pot. You won't find a salt shaker on cafe tables in Kunming, but even the simplest 小吃店 snack shop has some of this 红油 readily available so you can easily add it to your noodles 米线, fried rice 炒饭 or wonton 红油馄钝。 Let me show you how to make it at home. Sure you can buy it ready-made, and that's better than going without. But when you make it by hand in your own kitchen you will know what goes in it. No artificial coloring or flavoring, no MSG, no unpronounceable stabilizers and preservatives. First and foremost you need some dried chilies 干辣椒。I made a small batch yesterday afternoon and it required two large handfuls, on my small kitchen scale this was 50 grams. Rinse them quickly to remove any dust, and spread them out to dry thoroughly in the sun. Smash a thumb-sized piece of ginger 老姜, two large cloves of garlic 大蒜。Coarsely cut the white part of one large spring onion 大葱。Set these aside and turn your attention to the dry spices. Cinnamon bark 桂皮 at 12 o'clock, followed by a smashed cardamom pod 草果,a piece of dried orange peel 橙皮,two or three star anise 八角,two bay leaves 香叶,four or five cloves 丁香,a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns 花椒,most of a tablespoon of white sesame seeds 白芝麻,and finishing up at 11o'clock with a teaspoon of fennel seeds 小茴香。Toast these quickly over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking it constantly so they don't burn. Take them out and then toast the dry red peppers the same way, again being careful not to let them get too hot. This slight caramelization of the peppers really boosts the flavor of the finished sauce. (But I must caution you that this step is where it's easy to go wrong; it's easy to scorch them if your attention wanders.) Now grind the peppers fine either using a mortar and pestle or a blender 搅拌机。You want a coarse powder, not chunks and flakes. Might mention that if you want to tone down the Scoville heat a little, you can remove some of the seeds now, before you do the grinding. On the other hand, if you want to soup it up and give it more kick, this is the place to add a small amount of some other smaller, more pungent dry chilies, chopped fine. Plenty of options exist. Your 50 grams of dry peppers should yield about half a cup when ground. Pour this into a heat-proof bowl (I use metal) and scoop out a hole in the middle like the crater of a volcano. Now pour a little more than one cup of rape seed oil 菜籽油 into the skillet 平底锅 with the toasted dry spices and the ginger, scallion and garlic. Use medium heat to gently fry these flavor ingredients for three to five minutes. Don't let the oil get hot enough to smoke. When you can smell the aroma of the spices and can see the white scallions and garlic beginning to get golden brown 金黄,take it off the flame and strain the oil. Discard the solids and return the oil to the heat. When the oil reaches the point of just barely beginning to smoke, turn off the flame. Pour about a third of it into the dry peppers and stir quickly with chopsticks as it boils, fizzes and bubbles. Let the oil stand for another few seconds, most of a minute, and then pour another third into the peppers and stir, just like before. After a few more seconds, half a minute or so, add the sesame seeds and pour in the remaining hot oil, stirring it some more. It is said that pouring the oil in stages like this lets the hottest oil develops the fragrance (增香) of the ground chilies, while the second develops the red color (颜色变红) and the third balances their heat (会辣)。 The old Chinese kitchen saying that deals with this is 一香二红三辣。 Let it cool overnight to let the flavors blend before using. It also gets more red as it stands. Some of it can be stored in a small ceramic pot on the table and the rest can be put away in a screw-top jar in the fridge, where it will last 3 or 4 months. Of course if you live in Sichuan or Yunnan, you will use it all up long before then. In the photos below, I've poured some in a plate so you can see it better. This red chili oil 红油 is good stuff! Versatile and tasty. It's fragrant, rounded and balanced; pungent, yet without any sharp bite. Much more to it than simple liquid fire. Makes a great dipping sauce for 饺子 jiaozi, combined with equal parts soy sauce 酱油 and black vinegar 黑醋。
  14. Fennel 茴香 (huixiang) here means the fragrant lacy fronds of the fennel plant; not the solid bulb that you are used to seeing in the west. If you've traveled much in China, you have probably met it paired with ground pork in dumplings 茴香猪肉饺子, but in Yunnan it's the prime ingredient of a very tasty soup. Yunnan takes pride in making main dishes out of several items that you are used to thinking of as seasoning or garnish. Mint is one such that we have looked at before. Link to that: Mint soup Today I'll show you how to make an honest, straight-forward soup from fennel and silky tofu. The process couldn't be more simple. My concern, however, is that you might not be able to get fresh fennel fronds overseas. Even though the plant has a long growing season, the fronds are delicate and surely don't travel well. Pretty sure they are usually just discarded, like carrot tops. Here's the kind of fennel we are talking about. Bought some this morning in the market. Three big handfuls at 1 Yuan each. (Fennel in the middle of the image.) Stopped a few minutes later on "tofu row" for 2.5 Yuan worth of Mrs. Zhang's best small-batch soft tofu (嫩豆腐)。Note how the firm tofu (老豆腐) in the foreground stands up straighter. The soft tofu towards the rear is bulging and leaning over. Please click the photos to enlarge them. At home I washed the fennel and chopped it into pieces a couple inches long. Three slices of fresh ginger 生姜 and a piece of aged dry tangerine peel 橙皮, just to kick it up a notch. Don't fret if you don't have aged tangerine peel; it's not essential; just leave it out. In fact it's worth pointing out that this is an extremely flexible recipe: if you want more fennel or less fennel, that's OK; if you want more tofu or less tofu, that's OK too. Make it the way you like it. Give the ginger a sharp whack with the side of your caidao 菜刀 cleaver knife to partly crush it and then put it plus the tangerine peel into about 750 ml of chicken stock. One can make this soup more dilute or more concentrated according to taste. If you're vegetarian, it's fine to use plain water instead of stock. Let these seasoning ingredients simmer about 10 minutes to extract more flavor. (Maybe next time I'll simmer them even longer.) Rinse the block of tofu and cut it into irregular pieces, suitable in size to be picked up easily with chopsticks. Gently add the tofu to the stock and simmer it a couple minutes with minimal stirring. This makes the tofu more likely to stay intact instead of falling apart. Then lift the tofu out with a strainer so it won't get too fractured and beat up while you cook the fennel. The fennel only takes two minutes or so. You want it to retain some crunch and not be completely soft. When it has reached that point, add back the tofu. Season with a scant teaspoon of salt 食盐, a dash of white pepper 白胡椒粉, and a half teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精 ji jing. This latter seasoning, popular in China, is like granulated chicken bouillon plus a small amount of MSG. Let it come back to a simmer, and you're almost done. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed (might need a little more salt, depending on your chicken stock.) Serve it up. As an afterthought, I garnished the dish with a couple of thinly-sliced cherry tomatoes. I'm sure they caught your eye in the market picture up top. Obviously, I had to buy a few. Big tomatoes are not great right now, but these little ones have lots of flavor with a pleasantly tart finish. Served it with a bowl of left-over chicken rice. It probably would make a nice lunch alongside a grilled pannini sandwich.
  15. This simple dish is reason enough to visit Yunnan. The province is famed for doing magic with half a dozen kinds of rice noodles, and this is one of the specialty dishes that contributes in a major way to that reputation. The best ersi arguably come from Tengchong 腾冲, in the west, not far from Burma. But they have definitely spread to Kunming. Instead of being extruded like most fresh noodles, whether wheat or rice, these er si 饵丝 are first kneaded and pounded into a firm cake and then carefully sliced. They are thicker and more chewy than ordinary rice noodles, which makes them delicious when fried then quickly simmered with a bold gravy/sauce (lu 卤)。During the process, the sauce penetrates the noodles as well as coating them with flavor. Here's what they look like: I've put some chopsticks on top to give you a better idea of scale. If you cannot get ersi where you live, you could use ordinary rice noodles by shortening the cooking time. One could also substitute wheat noodles, though the dish would not have quite the same mouth feel 口感 or taste 味道。 I bought them this morning in a street stall instead of my usual market. The vendor looked surprised and asked, "Do you know what to do with them?" I assured her that I did, but it reminded me that these aren't easily available all across China. They are one of the regional glories of Yunnan cuisine. This bag cost 2 Yuan and I used most of it today. Today I made lu ersi 卤饵丝 with some smoked pork just because I had it on hand. Usually I use roast pork belly 烤五花肉 bought from the market from a vendor who makes it fresh daily over slow coals in a clay oven. I've seen it in supermarkets for sale pre-wrapped. The recipe can also be made with plain ground meat, pork or beef 磨肉。 I paired this strong-flavored meat with a vegetable that could stand up to it as an equal: long green chili peppers 青椒/尖椒。 These are only medium hot and I take out about half of the seeds. Cut some in rounds, some in strips. One could tone it down by using bell peppers. Added a large spring onion 大葱 and some garlic, crushed with the side of my knife and chopped fine. Heat the wok, add some oil and give the meat a head start. Since my meat was already cooked by the curing process, I only gave it 30 or 40 seconds. Didn't want to dry it out. Added the vegetables and aromatics one by one, stirring and turning things over quickly 翻炒, with my spatula 国产 using high heat. Season with half a teaspoon of salt 食用盐, a tablespoon of oyster sauce 耗油, a tablespoon of soy sauce 生抽, and a teaspoon of prickly ash oil 花椒油。 I add about a quarter teaspoon of MSG 味精, but leave it out if it disagrees with you. A pinch of sugar is also optional (but suggested.) When these flavors have had a chance to blend and the vegetables have just barely begun to cook (don't want them to loose their crunch) add slightly less than a rice bowl of water (about a cup.) Stir it up, reduce the flame to medium, and add the ersi 饵丝。 Stir fry about a minute longer, until the ersi become slightly soft, just al dente, not too soft. If making it for the first time, it's best to err on the side of too short a cooking time. Maintaining the texture is important for an authentic result. Serve it up. In an unpretentious Kunming open-front café, they will give you a small bowl of clear broth 清汤 to sip as you eat, but between you and me, this fine dish goes very well with a cold beer. Give it a try and see what you think. Pretend you have been transported to Yunnan.
  16. Now is the time for cauliflower: it's at its best in local markets. We find two kinds at the wet market near my house, one being the traditional tight head of cauliflower such as is popular in the west, and an organic 有机 variety which has longer-stalked, gangly, looser florets. This latter kind has more flavor, and it's the one I usually buy. It's the one I bought today. Here's what they look like. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) Dry frying or 干煸 (gan bian) is a cooking process popular in the southwest of China: Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou. The idea is to cook a mild vegetable with a minimum of extra moisture so as to concentrate the vegetable's flavor. 干煸花菜 (gan bian huacai) is popular here and you can find it in most restaurants, large and small, at this time of year. If you like Sichuan food 川菜, you are probably familiar with dry-fried green beans 干煸四季豆 (gan bian siji dou); they are a staple menu item, both here in China and overseas in the western world. It's a dish that has been successfully exported. I'll show you a straight-forward way to make this nice cauliflower dish at home. Doesn't take much time; requires no fancy tools. Today I was making it for one, and I used about a third of a head of organic cauliflower, the kind with the longer, somewhat spindly florets. Use your fingers to tear it into shreds. Large pieces of stalk should be cut into thin pieces. If you are using western cauliflower, with the bigger florets, cut it up into thin slivers. The idea behind this is to allow it to cook fast with dry stove-top heat. Thick pieces would require a different cooking method to become tender. Soak these cauliflower pieces in dilute salt water for about 20 minutes. (I used a scant teaspoon of salt in nearly a quart of water.) While it is soaking, prep the other ingredients. Many Chinese recipes call for using fat pork belly meat 五花肉 (wuhua rou) sliced thin. Others call for sausage. Today I used Yunnan slow-cured ham from Xuanwei county, in the NE mountains of the province. 宣威火腿。Sliced it thin, alongside some minced ginger 老姜 and garlic 大蒜。Tore up two or three dry red chili peppers 干辣椒 and sprinkled out a half teaspoon of cumin seeds 孜然。I had some tasty cherry tomatoes 小番茄 in the fridge, and I sliced a few of those. Since the quantities were small, I used a non-stick saute pan today 不粘平底锅, but I could just as well have used a wok 炒锅。Quick fried the garlic, ginger, peppers and ham slivers over medium heat until they began releasing their aroma 去香味。Careful not to burn the garlic; only takes 20 or 30 seconds. Drain the cauliflower and blot it dry, then add it to the spices in your skillet. Stir it with a flipping motion 翻炒 of your spatula or wok tool 锅铲 keeping the heat between medium and high. When the cauliflower begins to take on a bit of golden color 变金黄, add the small tomatoes. At this point you could also add some fresh hot green peppers 青辣椒 for more heat, or sliced spring onions 大葱 for greater complexity. Reduce the heat to medium now and continue stirring until the cauliflower is tender-crunchy and the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture (about 5 minutes.) Add a sprinkle of salt and another of sugar. (Remember that the ham has some salt, best not use too much.) Add a teaspoon or so of light soy sauce 生抽 and another of dark aged vinegar 老陈醋。Don't be tempted to add water to make a gravy, as you might if this were a standard stir-fry. You want all the flavors to be absorbed into the vegetable as it cooks. It's ready when the stalks yield easily to being pinched with chopsticks. Plate it up 装盘 and dig in 动筷子。This can be served with rice as a side dish in a larger meal. If you prefer a vegetarian version, just leave out the meat. The finished product!
  17. It is with some trepidation that I will try to give you a little background on how tofu is made and consumed here in my part of China (Yunnan, Kunming.) Since it is such a vast topic and I lack expertise, what I did was just walk around my neighborhood wet market and take snapshots of the tofu that was readily available. I'll simply show you the photos and tell you what I can about what they show. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) It goes without saying that other types can be found in supermarkets, the result of rigidly standardized large-scale industrial processes. These are nicely wrapped and have ingredients and expiration dates listed on the package. But they often come with flavor enhancers, preservatives, stabilizers, and coloring agents to make them sell better. My 老百姓 neighbors eschew them as "factory food," and find their way to the wet market to buy the "real stuff" instead. It also goes without saying that tofu differs from place to place within China, and even more so when talking about those from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma and so on. These often represent the taste preferences of members of the Chinese diaspora who landed and settled there many years ago. These "foreign tofu's" also often reflect changes made to incorporate local ingredients: coconut milk on such and such island, fish sauce in such and such port, and so on. All tofu starts out as soy milk, extracted with heat from soybeans, that has been acidulated to produce curdling or coagulation into a solid form. That basic raw tofu is then strained and pressed into blocks. It can be pressed a little or a lot, making it thin enough to need to be kept in a pot, or a little thicker, sort of like jello, or a lot thicker and firmer like cheese. (I have oversimplified grievously.) Here's a look at some of that basic raw tofu. In the two photos above, you can see a color difference between the tofu in the foreground and that in the background. The "whiter" tofu in back is softer; it is called 嫩豆腐 (nen doufu) or "tender" tofu. That in the front is slightly firmer and is called 老豆腐 (lao doufu) or "tough" tofu, though it isn't very tough at all. Some recipes work best with one, some with the other. Tofu vendors frequently sell other things as well, things that are often paired with tofu or things that can easily be made with the same raw materials. Photo on the left shows soy bean sprouts and mung bean sprouts next to the nice lady who sells them. Bottom left in this photo is a non-tofu item that is often eaten instead of tofu; it's made from bean sprouts that have been processed differently, often with addition of some natural gelatin. Goes by the name 凉粉 (liang fen) around here; in the west, when it can be found, it gets the odd name "grass jelly." In these parts it's usually cut in strips and served cold with a sauce of chilies and scallions. Sometimes the tofu is barely solidified at all, being described as "silken." This extremely soft style is known here as "tofu flowers" 豆花 and is used in making several delicious dishes such as 豆花米线 (tofu flower rice noodles) which is one of Kunming's signature snacks 小吃。Douhua mixian 豆花米线 is shown below right. The food stall offers a meatless version or a version with seasoned ground pork. I'm not vegetarian and I enjoy the kind that has meat, as you see here. It is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and includes pickled chopped greens 泡菜 and several kinds of herbs to achieve a result that is just this side of Heaven. Often tofu is processed instead of being consumed in it's raw, unadulterated state. One of the most common things that is done to it is to press it, removing some moisture and allowing a concentration of flavors. This process is particularly prized when the water with which the tofu has been made tastes good on its own. This is true of the deep Artesian well water of Jianshui 建水 and Shiping 石屏, both ancient cities in SE Yunnan's Honghe Prefecture 红河州。 Here is some of that on display at the stall where I usually buy it: Not surprisingly, these rectangular sheets of pressed Shiping tofu come in different tastes and textures. You can buy firmer or softer; milder or more flavorful varieties, tailored to your preference or cooking application. Some of this tofu has been allowed to ferment slightly and is formed into small "packets" shown at the rear of both photos above. This tofu is "mildly stinky" 臭豆腐 -- a far cry from the hugely pungent product popular in Taiwan. In the far left of the photo just above, in a white basket, is the notorious "hairy tofu" 毛豆腐, that has a very distinctive look, aroma, and taste. The photo below left shows another vendor's hairy tofu. Some days it's more photogenic than others. Below right you see a snack stall on the edge of the market where the guy is grilling the small briquettes of stinky tofu to serve hot with a spicy dipping sauce. You belly up to the bar facing him, sit on a low stool, and eat your fill. He keeps track of your consumption with small colored beans and and the sharp eye of an experienced casino croupier; you settle your account after eating your fill. Once tofu has been pressed it can be brined and then smoked, as discussed in the recipe posted here yesterday. As you can well imagine, the finished product is affected by the kind of tofu one pressed to start with and then how it was soaked, in what and for how long. Finally, the flavor and texture are further dictated by how it is smoked, over what wood or twigs and for how long. It comes in several shapes, analogous to the way smoked cheese varies: a smoked Edam is not the same as a smoked Provolone. One from this maker may not be exactly like that from his neighbor. Sometimes tofu is deep fried, puffing it up and giving it a golden color. It can then be eaten with a sauce, or served together with dishes that contain lots of gravy, such as red cooked pork 红烧肉。Here below left is some of it coming out fresh from the wok. That's a good time to buy it, instead of later the same day after it has sat around in a plastic bag getting stale. Sometimes tofu-making byproducts are for sale, such as tofu skin that has risen to the top of the pot during processing. It can be air dried or fried, and is usually sold as tofu skin 豆腐皮。(Below right.) Numerous special local wrinkles exist, such as this vendor who only sells tofu made with the water of a prized mountain spring in NE Yunnan's Xuanwei County 宣威县。It sells for a small premium but there is always a line outside his stall, telling me that it's in high demand. I've tried it, but honestly can't tell the difference. One part of my neighborhood wet market is "tofu row" with about 25 vendors near each other. Some have the usual fare, and others have exotica. Some make it completely on the premises and others have workrooms nearby where the rent is cheaper. They resupply throughout the day by motorbike or electric scooter 电动车。 This vendor makes his on the premises and has a workshop behind the sales area. You can see a tall pot on the stove, in the left corner. Probably has more kinds than anyone else. Unfortunately he is not very forthcoming and doesn't like to chat about his wares. You point and he bags it up; you hand over your money and leave. Not even a thank you. What I do from a practical standpoint is buy certain tofu staples over and over from the same one or two vendors. Then from time to time I branch out and try new types or new variations on the old types. I often ask the sellers for their recommendations as to cooking methods. Sometimes I try something in a restaurant that I would like to try to reproduce, or watch something being made on TV. Before moving here a decade ago I seldom ate tofu at all; in fact practically never. Now it's something I have about once a week. Good source of protein without many calories and it is definitely economical. For better or worse, tofu has become part of my China life. Here's a link to the last two tofu recipes: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56990-addictive-smoked-tofu-青椒豆腐干/ https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56975-sunday-brunch-tofu-and-eggs-豆腐炒鸡蛋/
  18. This is one of those dishes for which there are a hundred casual recipes on the internet, most of them sorely lacking. It has been oversimplified to death; but good results can be achieved with a modicum of effort. The bonus is that if you master the technique you will find it is transferable to a dozen other tasty dishes, all of which use this Chinese braising process. I'll show you how to do it. Buy 16 chicken wings, the medium joint. These should weigh about half a kilo or one pound. I've included a quick review of chicken wing anatomy below. The part to buy for this dish is the 鸡翅中。They cost more than the first joint, the 鸡翅根, but they are easier to work with because their size is more uniform, they don't have one large end and one small end. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) You will need 3 or 4 large spring onions 大葱, a thumb of ginger, 4 to 6 dried chilies 干辣椒, and a teaspoon of Sichuan prickly ash peppercorns huajiao/花椒。 Toast the huajiao 花椒 and the dried red chilies 干辣椒 over low heat until they begin to release their aroma. Scoop them out and pound the 花椒 with a mortar and pestle or simply crush them in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Tear the dry chilies into sections. Cut the white part of the spring onions into long pieces 切段 and slice the ginger into coin-sized segments. (The ginger does not need to be peeled.) Rinse the chicken, shake it dry, 洗净流干水分, poke a couple holes in each side with the point of a paring knife. You don't need to marinate the chicken for this recipe; it will acquire plenty of flavor as it cooks. Chinese poultry recipes usually have a step designed to remove any "off" flavors 去腥味 and cleanse the meat of blood 去血。This one is no exception. Put some of the spring onion and ginger into a deep skillet or wok along with the toasted and crushed Sichuan peppers and the chilies. Add a tablespoon of cooking wine 料酒。Boil this stock for a minute or two and then add the chicken. When the water comes to a full boil again, scoop the chicken out and set it aside to drain. This quick blanching step 焯 also serves the important function of thawing any frozen places so that all the wings will be the same temperature and can cook uniformly. Blot the wings dry with paper kitchen towels. Wipe out your wok or skillet 平地锅 and add two tablespoons of cooking oil. I generally prefer corn oil, 玉米油 though for this dish rapeseed oil 菜籽油 or peanut oil 花生油 are also fine. Add the wings and brown them about 3 minutes per side. If you have too many to do them in one batch without crowding, divide them in half. If you squeeze them all in too tight, they won't brown and will stew instead. The skin will never become crisp; it will be mushy and unappealing. By the way, even though I'm a firm believer in a standard, well-seasoned iron wok for most Chinese cooking, this browning step works best if you have a non-stick utensil 不粘锅。 Remove the chicken when it is golden 金黄 and add your liquid ingredients to the wok or fry pan. The cola needs to be standard old-fashioned Coke. Coke Lite or Coke Zero 零度 won't work. The artificial sweetener breaks down and turns bitter when cooked. Furthermore, the sugar is necessary for the meat to develop a pleasant caramelized surface. Pour in 250 or 300 ml; don't dump in the whole bottle. Two or three tablespoons of light soy sauce 生抽, two or three tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine 料酒 or dry sherry, and only one scant teaspoon of dark soy sauce 老抽。If you use too much dark soy sauce, everything will just acquire a nasty axle-grease color. To these add the remainder of your spring onion and ginger plus a teaspoon of salt. When it reaches a gentle boil, add the pre-browned chicken wings. Let it simmer uncovered about 10 minutes over low to medium heat. Then pick out and discard the spring onions and ginger slices. Now you are ready to thicken the sauce by reducing it carefully over low heat 小火慢炖。Be attentive and don't let it scorch since that will ruin the flavor profile. This stage usually takes about 10 minutes, but depends somewhat on your pan and flame. Might take a little longer. Stir it gently and slowly, but stir it a lot. When the sauce develops a rich color and is almost gone, you're ready to plate it up. Sprinkle on some minced cilantro 香菜 and white sesame seeds 白芝麻。These wings can be eaten right away while nice and hot, or served later at room temperature. The chicken is tender and moist, not dried out, and has a rich flavor. The glistening skin is intact and not soggy or falling off. No surprise that this recipe was a favorite of the Qianlong Emperor. (Smile) To be truthful, there are many ways this dish can go wrong; it isn't foolproof; it does require some care. But if you can master the process, you will find that it provides a key to a host of other tasty traditional braising recipes such as red-cooked ribs 红烧排骨。
  19. It's cold outside: Time for a big bowl of winter melon soup 冬瓜汤。In all fairness, this is one of those family favorites that can be enjoyed any time of year. It's mild and warming; not difficult to make. Sometimes I cook it without meat, but today I used ground pork meatballs. Let me show you a reliable and straightforward way to go about it. At the market you will usually see two kinds of winter melon. Admirably, the nomenclature couldn't be easier: namely big 大 and small 小。Wish all ingredient names were always that obvious. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) The big ones, pictured on the right, are so large that you would have to use both arms and grunt to heft a whole one off the ground. They are always sold in small sections, such as those just in front of the friendly shopkeeper. Notice the white "frost" on the surface. This is where these gourds got their name. They actually grow better in the summer months, but way back when, a long time ago, their appearance reminded someone of a snowy winter. Smaller winter melons are also for sale, left part of the picture. They are more fibrous and work better in stir-fry dishes. This seller also has lush, deep orange butternut squash 南瓜, near the back of the picture. These all grow on vines, often trellised to improve yield. Her husband and her brother tend the farm, south of the city. She comes to town to sell the bounty. Both kinds are really cheap. For under 5 Yuan you can buy enough for two or three meals. The big ones have a texture somewhere between that of a watermelon and a cucumber. Donggua has a bland flavor, ever so slightly sweet. They aren't eaten raw; and they shine as an ingredient in soup because they don't eclipse other flavors. Often they are paired with pork spare ribs in a hearty soup 冬瓜排骨汤。I'll show you that one another day. One of the reasons this vegetable is such an integral part of Chinese family-style cooking is that it can keep a long time after being picked: 3 or 4 months if it hasn't been cut. For many of China's lean years it was a "go to" peasant food, along with cabbage 白菜。It could be grown without a lot of pampering; didn't require the sort of modern plastic tents 塑料大棚 that today make summer vegetables available nearly year round. The seller will peel and seed it if you ask her, but I usually do that at home since I might not use it all at one go, and it keeps better with the peel on. Today I rinsed it and peeled it with my knife, then cut away the soft central pith. Sliced it into pieces a couple centimeters thick as shown. I bought a few flavorful organic carrots 有机胡萝卜, some spring onions 葱,single-head garlic 独蒜, and a piece of ginger 老姜。Cut these up as pictured, taking pains to mince the garlic and ginger really fine 切米. The Chinese term for this kind of cutting means that they should be minced into pieces no larger than grains of rice. I bought some pork, ground to order with about 70 percent lean and 30 percent fat (by eye.) Pork prices have gone up recently because some pigs have had to be killed to prevent spread of a nasty virus. This has impacted stockpiles and supply lines. Put the ground pork on a chopping block 菜板 and minced it even finer with my cleaver 菜刀, turning it this way and that plus folding it over on itself half a dozen times. Then mixed it in a bowl with half a teaspoon of salt, a fourth teaspoon of ground white pepper, a tablespoon of soy sauce, one egg white 蛋清, and of course the minced garlic and ginger. Stirred it all together really well 搅拌均匀。 Put about 750 ml of water on the stove to come to a simmer and then spooned in the seasoned meat, forming it into approximate spheres using two teaspoons to make them round. Sometimes I put on a disposable glove and shape it with one hand, using a squeezing motion. Drop these one at a time into the simmering water and let them partially cook. When they all float, after about 2 minutes, lift them out gently with a strainer and put them in a bowl. We will finish cooking them a little later. Since the carrots take longer to cook than the winter melon, start them first. Sometimes I use sections of corn on the cob instead of carrots. They can be put in right along with the winter melon. When the carrots become nearly tender (can be pierced with a fork) add the winter melon. It cooks fast, usually only requires about 3 or 4 minutes. When it's partially translucent 半透明 and tender (can be pierced with a chopstick) then return the meat balls to the soup. Give it all another 4 or 5 minutes for the meat to finish cooking and allow the flavors to blend. Keep the pot at a low simmer; a rolling boil would overcook the vegetables and meat, plus make everything kind of fall apart. The best Chinese clear soups are made by cooking the ingredients just barely long enough. I've chopped some fresh cilantro 香菜 as well as the spring onion 葱花。Just before the soup is finished, I taste to see if it needs more salt and sprinkle these aromatic leaves on top as a garnish. Dish it up. This mild-flavored soup can be served as a side dish or it can be served with steamed rice 米饭 as a light meal. Adjust the amount of liquid to suit your taste. I prefer it kind of concentrated, and that's the version that is shown here today. In a restaurant, it's more likely to be somewhat thinner. This is one of the advantages to cooking things at home. This glorious but humble soup started as the food of farmers and factory workers, eventually becoming so well accepted that it's now found in five-star banquets. It's another of those authentic regional dishes that I'd never heard of, let alone tasted, until coming here a decade ago. It probably would not sell well at the all-you-can-eat China Star Buffet on the strip mall in Smalltown, Texas, USA. Try it and see what you think. Nothing flashy. Just honest family-style Chinese food. The real deal.
  20. Here's another good way to turn Chinese chives (jiucai 韭菜) into something tasty without too much trouble. Admittedly, it requires a little more effort than the simple stir fry scramble that we made with them a couple days ago, but not a whole lot. That recipe is here in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56328-chinese-chives-韭菜-two-or-three-ways/?tab=comments#comment-435504 Today we'll make griddle cakes 煎饼 which can easily serve as a breakfast or as the backbone of a light supper or lunch. Adding a bowl of rice, a salad or a soup turns it into a decent, well-balanced meal. Start with the same primary ingredient 主料, namely a bundle of fresh jiucai 韭菜, aka Chinese chives. The first time or two that you make this, you might want to be more careful with the weights and the measures, though after that it's fine to just work by eye. This handful of jiucai weighed about 250 grams when I started, and about 200 grams after pulling off brown or dead leaves and trimming away the tough sandy/muddy ends of the white stems. Washed them well three times, until the wash water remained completely clean to the eye. Drain in a colander and blot dry. This time, instead of cutting them into short pieces like we did before, I chopped them up fine. This makes them easier to incorporate into a batter a few minutes later on. Also cut up a few slices of lean ham/huotui 火腿, this time using some I bought in the store instead of my favorite which comes from the wet market a little farther away. Canadian bacon would work well in place of this if you live in the west. Finely diced half a large carrot and lightly beat two fresh eggs in a small bowl with my chopsticks. Made a thin batter from 50 grams of all purpose flour and about half a cup of potable water. Stirred it well with a fork. You could also use a small balloon whisk for this, but an electric mixer would be overkill. Mix in the two eggs, followed by the ham, carrots, and jiucai. Stir it well to evenly distribute all ingredients, adding about a half teaspoon of salt 食盐 as you work. 搅拌均匀。It should be a somewhat soupy, wet batter for this particular use; not a thick, stiff batter like you might prefer in some other applications. Use a non-stick flat-bottom saute pan 不粘平底锅 for this instead of your trusty wok. If you don't have one of those, don't despair. A well seasoned wok will also get the job done, though it requires a little more oil. Heat your pan over medium heat and add the batter using a large spoon. The individual cakes won't be perfectly round, but don't fret about that. It's not your year for that second Michelin star anyhow. After a couple of minutes, turn them with a silicone spatula and a pair of chopsticks. Let the second side brown as well. By now the centers are well cooked, but still moist. Take them out of the pan and reserve 备用 on a preheated plate or platter. You will probably have to make them in two batches. What I do is pour boiling water over a large plate and then dry it. Cover the finished griddle cakes 煎饼 loosely with a clean kitchen towel. This way your fresh-cooked goodies are still hot when they reach the table. Dig in. You and your friends or family are ready to enjoy a home-made jiucai treat.
  21. The slow-cured ham of Xuanwei 宣威火腿 and the lightly-processed cheese from the high-pasture cattle north of Shilin 石林乳饼 are both big Yunnan favorites. It shouldn't be in the least surprising to learn that they are often combined, more often than not by simply steaming them together. It was a marriage of flavors made in food heaven and I would wager that nearly every family in this part of China makes it at home on a regular basis, using just ham and cheese without anything else. I make it with some regularity too, but tonight I fancied it up in a way that compliments the primary textures and flavors. Came out real good and the process was straight forward. Let me show you the method. The only trick if you live overseas might be finding authentic ingredients. I believe you could substitute another cured (not smoked) ham such as those from Smithfield in the southeasten US, and you could use a good quality Italian bufala mozzarella for the cheese. Wouldn't be exactly the same, of course, but it should still be good. Wash some red and green peppers and peel the outer tough skin off a mild Bermuda onion 洋葱。I used red bell peppers 红甜辣椒 and the long green half-hot chilies 青辣椒, but you could substitute locally available varieties, as long as they are fresh and full of flavor. Cut these vegetables up as shown; no need to be too fussy about it. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The cheese vendor offers to slice it at the time of purchase and I usually say yes because it saves some labor at home. He does it freehand, using a piece of stout monafilament string. He cuts it just right, but if you are doing it at home, don't slice it too thin, or else it will fall apart when steamed. China is not known for its cheeses, but this Yunnan product is an exception to the rule. Different versions of it exist around Dali, where it can be made from goats milk, and around Lijiang, where it can be made with milk of the great hairy alpine yak. I buy my ham in a block and then slice it myself, making the cuts thin but as thin as I might with prosciutto . I include a little fat, but not as much as most Chinese cooks. They often prefer the slices to be nearly a third fat. You could adjust that element to taste. My ham lady has a brother in Xuanwei Town 宣威县城 who hangs and cures these hams for about half a year. The prep work is simple and fast, and now you are almost ready to apply the heat. Select a shallow bowl that will fit in your steamer. If you don't have a steamer, you can use your wok with a wire rack and a lid. Spread a layer of onions in the bottom of the bowl, follow that with a layer of cheese topped with ham. Sprinkle on plenty of sliced red and green peppers, then do it all again. Two layers is usually enough, but there is no law against more if your dish is deeper than mine. This dish doesn't need any added salt because the ham supplies just enough. Place it in your steamer and set a timer for 25 minutes. At that point I usually wash up my knife, cutting board and any other prep dishes that might have accumulated. So much easier than waiting till later and it gives you clean work surfaces. Near the end of the cooking time, I usually make a tablespoon or two of thin corn starch slurry 水淀粉 to use to thicken the pan juices before serving. This makes a fine gravy to use in topping your rice. One nice thing about steaming a dish like this is it doesn't dry out. Nothing more to do until the timer dings, then lift it out. Pour some of the juices into the bowl with your corn starch slurry and combine well. Drizzle it over the cooked ham and cheese. The flavor of the vegetables melts into the primary notes of the mild cheese and the ham and does it without getting in the way or becoming confusing. I've made this dish for several Yunnan natives, and as conservative as they sometimes are, none have yet turned up their noses and walked away. Changing a classic comes with some risks and is not always successful. The "less is more" mantra often applies. But this time the modifications yielded a real winner. Try it yourself for your family or your friends and see what you think. Pretty sure you won't be disappointed.
  22. Lotus root 莲藕 and corn 玉米 are a winning team, often paired in hearty winter soups. The flavors go so well together that last night I combined them in a 凉拌 or big hearty salad, just right for a hot weather meal. Here's how I made it in case you'd like to try it at home. Lotus root is one of those things that isn't quite accurately named. Instead of truly being a root, it's actually part of the segmented stalk of an unusual underwater rhizome. Grown mostly in the south part of China, as well as in Vietnam, India, Korea and Japan, it's a plant which loves sunshine. The paddies where it flourishes are initially filled with large, vivid flowers, parts of which are also edible. The flowers have acquired a good deal of significance in several religious and philosophical traditions. Here's how lotus roots are grown and what they look like when freshly harvested. Being a lotus farmer is challenging work. The ones I buy in my neighborhood wet market are grown near Yiliang 宜良,to the east of Kunming, not far from Stone Forest 石林。The young man and his wife who operate the stand sell them alongside bamboo shoots, from hills in that same area. They are a friendly and helpful couple, enthusiastic about their wares, and the wife always quizzes me carefully as to the intended use of my purchase. First time this happened I wasn't sure what to think and kind of drew a blank. So she prompted me by asking, "For salad, for soup, or for a stir fry?" Then the light bulb went on and I could answer. She selects the appropriate specimens with your culinary goal in mind; pretty darned helpful when you come to think of it. When I got them home, I scrubbed them clean under cool running water. Then sliced off the hard surface with a sharp vegetable peeler. She has picked me nice pieces, the ends of which are still closed. Pieces that are broken or already cut in half sometimes have traces of sand and mud inside that is very difficult to remove and makes them slightly gritty. Mine were pristine. Note that these two segments are not terribly big around, they are young sections and thus have a milder flavor than some of the bigger, more mature ones. The latter are great for soups and stews, but these are perfect for salads. They are crunchy and mildly sweet, while being slightly starchy. This is an item that plays well with others; doesn't insist on always dominating or being the center of attention. Slice it thin and put the slices directly into acidified water. I used a splash of white vinegar, but lemon juice is also fine. If you don't do this and just leave it exposed to air after cutting, it turns brown and ugly; never gets white again regardless of how hard you might scrub it. Let these slices soak while you get the other ingredients ready. I cut a cob of fresh corn into thin rounds. This makes them easier to pick up later with chopsticks at the table. Boil them for about two minutes in lightly salted water. I planed down a carrot 胡萝卜 with a vegetable peeler, though you could just as well do it with a knife. Sliced a large scallion 大葱, and a single hot pepper 辣椒, removing most of the seeds. If you like more fire, leave them in. Washed and chopped some cilantro 香草。 At this point I like to make the dressing. I used one with dark vinegar 老陈醋 for the mixed vegetables and another one for the lotus root slices with white vinegar 白醋 so as not to discolor them. In each case it was just a tablespoon of vinegar, a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽 and a tablespoon of sesame oil 香油。Salt and a pinch of sugar; add MSG 味精 if you like. (Most Chinese do.) Drop the lotus into boiling water (I used the same salted water in which I boiled the corn) and let it blanch for about a minute. If you cook it too long it becomes mushy and uninteresting. Plunge it immediately into ice water to cool it fast; this keeps it nice and crisp. Sauce the lotus and the other vegetables separately in two containers and put them into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Keeping them apart like this isn't essential, but it makes the finished product have more eye appeal. Very white lotus and colorful vegetables contrast nicely with each other when plated side by side. When you are ready to eat, build your big dinner salad and put it on the table. It's a tasty and healthy one-dish summer meal, easily supplemented as desired. I ate mine with French bread and Emmental cheese plus a glass of chilled Spanish white wine.
  23. With the arrival of warmer summer days, I've been looking for ways to have less fried food while still enjoying premium local fresh produce and bold Chinese flavors. Eggplant 茄子 (qiezi) is one of my favorite vegetables, and tonight I made it steamed for supper. Let me show you how. Bought three of these tender long Asian eggplants 长茄子 at the outdoor market, along with some mildly-spicy crinkly red peppers 红椒 and a handful fresh spring onions 大葱. Took three heads of single-clove garlics 独蒜 from my existing kitchen stash. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) When making an eggplant dish it's best to prepare the other ingredients first, saving the eggplant until last. If it stands too long in room air, the cut edges turns an unattractive brown color. So that's the sequence I followed today. If you're not used to cooking with these Chinese spring onions, I can save you some time. Don't try washing them to remove the sand and soil. Just grasp a few leaves and peel them all the way to the root end, then snap that part off. I cut them on a bias with my sharp Hong Kong knife 菜刀 so they would fall apart and blend better with the eggplant in the steamer. Next I sliced the peppers in half and removed the fibrous core as well as most of the seeds. Sliced them into julienne slivers 切丝。 Smashed the garlic, removed the skin, and then minced it fine 蒜蓉。 After washing the eggplants, removed the stems and cut them into long pieces 切条 without worrying too much about making them completely uniform in size like you would if using them in a stirfry. These eggplants are young and tender; no need to remove the skin. Put all the ingredients together in a shallow bowl and set it in a steamer. Had I not had a steamer, would have used a wok with a lid. Let it steam for a scant 7 or 8 minutes, until the eggplant pieces can be easily pierced with a chopstick. While that was going on, I made a simple sauce. Whisked together one part aged vinegar 老陈醋, one part light soy sauce 生抽, one part sesame oil 香油。Stir in a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精, and a big pinch of sugar. When it's done, lift it out. Remember that the dish is real hot, so best to use a tool such as the one shown here. Drizzle on the sauce, stir it gently and serve while nice and warm. Inexpensive, healthy, easy summer food. Give it a try and see what you think.
  24. abcdefg

    Roast duck mango salad

    Summer is approaching fast and, as the days get warmer, a hearty salad sometimes hits the spot for supper. Here's one of my favorites. Cannot really call it Old School Yunnan cooking, but it nonetheless is a fine fusion of some classic local flavors. The duck was one of our prized Yiliang birds, purchased from the market for 25 Yuan. The type of bird and the method of cooking it are different from the more famous Beijing roast duck. The bird is very succulent, with crisp skin, partly attributed to being roasted in large, free-standing clay ovens. They originated east of Kunming, not far from Stone Forest in the small town of Yiliang 宜良县城 but now are widely found in Kunming as well. We old timey locals brag that they put Beijing ducks to shame. The vendor usually chops them into pieces for you, but today I asked him not to. Was a little surprised that it was a trick to find the right verb. They don't call it qie 切 or duo 剁,instead using kan 砍。"老板请不要砍" got the job done. (Remember you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The mangoes were from Thailand, and cost 12 Yuan a kilo. Price will come down a little next month. These are "sheng de long" mangoes 圣德龙, a sweet, sought-after variety. The seller will help you select a couple that are ready now, today and tomorrow, and a couple others that will be ripe towards the end of the week. Took me most of my first mango season to master this simple trick of "strategic spaced purchasing." Transported my bounty home in the basket on the handlebars of my bike. Wasn't feeling terribly ambitious, but fortunately this dish is really easy to make and doesn't even require turning on the stove. Bought a sweet Bermuda onion 洋葱 and a small bunch of fresh cilantro with the stems 香菜。A crisp Asian cucumber 黄瓜 and a couple limes 青柠檬。These cucumbers are long with tender skin that isn't bitter. I only partly peel them. The limes have less bite than Chinese lemons. Rough cut half of the onion. This ginger is different from what is usually exported: it's fresh 生姜 instead of dried 老姜。It has a milder flavor; you can use more of it with impunity. Coarsely sliced a big piece of it, the size of two thumbs. Doesn't need to be peeled. I usually buy cucumbers from the same lady. For whatever reason, hers are always fresh and sweet. She also has the bigger English-style cucumbers for sale; you can see them in the right front of her display. I partly skinned one Asian cucumber and cut it in half the long way. Scooped out the seeds with a spoon and sliced it into pencil-sized slivers. Put the cucumber and onion in a bowl, added salt and a pinch of sugar. Squeezed two limes and added the juice along with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cut a few stalks of fresh coriander, stems plus leaves. Tossed it all together. Skinned and sliced one ripe mango 芒果。It was so sweet and juicy that it required considerable self control not to just wolf it down immediately and forget the rest of the meal. Tossed it together with the vegetables, making sure the mango slices got well coated with lime juice. Let the flavors marry while cutting up the duck. I cut and tore the tender breast meat off the bone. One of the hallmarks of well-made duck is that the juices stay in the meat, trapped by the golden crispy skin. I added a sprinkle of salt. If you didn't have roast duck readily available, you could use roast chicken, although it wouldn't have quite as full a flavor. Home stretch now. Just toss it all together. This is enough for two hungry people as a main course. Great for a summer evening when you don't feel like firing up the wok. Hope you will give it a try before too long. You won't regret it.
  25. Here's the backstory to yesterday's recipe. (Link, in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56622-spicy-green-peppers-and-mushrooms-香菇炒青椒/?tab=comments#comment-438182 ) Let me give you a look at my trip to the outdoor market for the ingredients. It's a look at my neighborhood wet market in early summer. It's also a daily-life taste of the non-tourist China. (As usual, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) It was clear that lots of people had the same idea at the same time because it was hard to find a place to park my bike outside the gate. As previously mentioned, rainy season has arrived, and we all rush out to do errands when we get a blue-sky sunny day. We have begun to see some wild mushrooms for sale, though not the abundance that will be here in a month. As business is slow, the vendor even has time to puff his Yunnan water pipe, lower right. Instead of buying wild ones today, I headed for the large table where they sell an assortment of cultivated mushrooms. The boss was having a reflective moment, contemplating the meaning of life. Next door, I bought a pile of dragon fruit 火龙果. They were being sold by the pile 一堆 instead of by weight. You couldn't sort through them, but my pile had 4 fruits for 10 Yuan, so I wasn't about to complain. These had been brought up from Vietnam. One of the glories of this market is the large assortment of fermented condiments, pickled vegetables and vibrant Yunnan spices. Look at the lovely long red pickled peppers in the photo lower right. They are not as hot as they look and make a great accompaniment to a roast chicken. Today I bought a chunk of lufu 油卤腐, a specialty of nearby Yuxi 玉溪。It's a rather strange salty and spicy fermented product, made from hairy tofu 毛豆腐 pickled in chilies and oil for several months. It's pungent and sort of stinky; reminiscent of Limburger cheese, great spread onto a fresh steamed bun baozi 包子。 Even better when spread on one of these steamed braided buns hua juan 花卷。Doubt it will ever be a hit with Joe Sixpack back in Texas. Here's the source of the peppers in yesterday's meal. They are abundant just now. I bought the green ones 青椒 or 青辣尖椒, but red ones are available too. They are moderately piquant, and sometimes I prefer small red bell peppers instead. Yunnan people love their peppers and one can find a couple dozen different kinds. I stopped to say hello to Mr. Gao, purveyor of edible flowers. I sometimes cook the large yellow ones, but never got around to making the photos to show you. They are very tasty, but require some extra work. Today he had a basket of perfect jumbo figs, bottom left corner of his display. I bought a few one day early last week; an experience to be long treasured; goodness they were sweet. One fills you up and makes the sun shine even at night. A few meters away, a cluster of people looked over the lettuce and cabbage. It was a popular spot: prices were low and quality was high. It was early in the day, and the place I usually buy roast duck was just gearing up for round two. They hang the birds to air dry for a while before rubbing them inside and out with spices. Then they put them into sealed clay ovens to roast slow. This produces the famous Yilaing roast duck 宜良烤鸭 for which this region is famous. It rivals those from Beijing. They are prized for their tender meat and their crispy skin 脆皮。 Next door someone was selling roast duck by the kilo. They were cheaper because they were prepared somewhere off premises. Competition was stiff and they had a bowl of free samples that you could spear with a toothpick. This middle-aged couple lingered there a long time, sampling steadily as if trying to make up their minds. They didn't fool me and they probably didn't fool the duck seller; eventually they moved on without making a purchase. At the bottom of the frame, lower right, notice the big metal pan of spicy Yunnan chicken feet. They are not for the faint of heart. By now it was time for a bowl of one of my favorite local specialties, silky tofu "flowers" on rice noodles with a pungent pickled vegetable sauce 豆花米线。Mine had a sprinkling of ground meat, although they make a meatless version as well. 7 Yuan for a medium serving. The boss was bouncing a baby on his knee. I asked if it was his grandson. "No, he is my neighbor's.” 他是隔壁的。In a couple minutes the mother came over from the stall next door to reclaim her happy little boy. On the way out with my trophies, I passed some zongzi 粽子 booths just getting cranked up. Dragon Boat festival 端午节 is on the horizon and will be here in less than two weeks. Zongzi made with Yunnan ham 云南宣威火腿 are very popular here. Made my way back to the street, passing some free lancers selling small items they had carried in by hand. Outside the market proper there are always several small mobile vendors selling just a few items. Doubt they are really making a living; more likely just supplementing their slim pensions. The old man had brought in some small dried fishes, carried in two baskets on either end of a bamboo shoulder pole 扛。 When people back home ask me about the "Real China," I never know quite what to say, then I think about places like this. Ten minutes by bicycle from my apartment.
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