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  1. These wild mushrooms thrive when a couple of rainy days are followed by half a day or so of sun. That’s how it’s been this summer, and it has led to a bumper crop. As you probably already know, Yunnan is China’s top producer of wild mushrooms. We harvest a couple dozen varieties in the mountainous parts of the province. Lots of them are exported regionally, bringing top dollar in the fine dining restaurants of Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. I used to just buy them at my nearby farmers market, until I was convinced by local friends to visit the mother lode late this spring. By this they meant the wholesale wild mushroom market 木水花野生菌批发市场 in an older part Guandu Quarter 官渡区。Better selection, fresher product, lower prices in return for a 20-minute ride on the subway/MTR 地铁。I have officially been converted. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) 32 acres, hundreds of merchants, mostly small stalls, wares spread on the ground. I’ve gone every week or so for the last month and a half, concentrating on getting comfortable with only one or two varieties per trip. I also research the best ways to cook the ones I’ve bought. When you first walk into the market, people may approach with small baskets offering you “a special deal.” This man was selling a nice-looking tray of precious 松茸菌 songrong jun/pine mushrooms (matsutake) for only 100 Yuan. They would normally fetch three or four times that much, so there’s probably a catch, probably something fishy. Walk away. Once inside, the selection is nearly overwhelming: Takes a minute or two to get your bearings. On this trip I had decided to focus on 鸡枞菌 jizong jun (collybia termitomyces), Yunnan’s famous “termite mushrooms.” That meant I had to ignore these delicious 牛肝菌 (Niugan jun) a type of porcini/boletus, pictured just below. Niugan jun are delicious and I love them dearly. But they can sometimes be poisonous with varying degrees of toxicity and thus require special handling. Best not to mix them with other varieties, cook them hot and long. (Another day I’ll show you how.) First time at the market, I was surprised to see these wild bee and wasp nest 蜂巢 vendors. They extract the larvae 蜂蛹/fengyong carefully with tweezers, sort and sell them while still alive and wiggling. Local people consider them a delicacy. A night on the town has no better finish than a plate of these fried crispy and dipped in a fiery chili sauce, chased with a tall cold beer 啤酒 or an incendiary glass of 白酒 (Chinese "white lightning.") Starting to close in now on the kind I’m after, jizong jun 鸡枞菌, locally called “The King of Wild Mushrooms.” Unfortunately, it has no snappy English moniker. Have been pricing them as I walked along, getting a feel for how much the prime big ones bring, how much for smaller and less perfect ones. Have been assaying the amount of “wiggle room,” the difference between rock bottom and initial asking price. On average, medium size and medium grade can be had for about 200 Yuan per kilogram. I’ve also been making a point of talking with a sampling of experts here at “wild mushroom ground zero” getting their thoughts on how best to use them. My advance plan had been to make a hearty soup or stew in which I paired the mushrooms with half a wiry free-range chicken. Everyone has recipe tips: “Lots of garlic, but easy on the onions.” Or "be sure to include the head and the feet. They add lots of flavor." I've been urged to not mix them with any other mushrooms; to use them all alone so as to be able to appreciate their unique contributions. I listen carefully and jot things down. The seller below left is sorting songrong jun 松茸菌。Notice how carefully she handles them, only by the stem. The jizong jun 鸡枞菌 that drew my interest have long stems that look like roots and closed tops. Price goes down if the caps are open like an umbrella. Price goes down if the bottom parts have traces of black soil instead of the red earth in which this species thrives. She snapped off the woody end of one of these long-stemmed specimens. She wanted me to see and hear the way it broke cleanly like a twig; how it wasn’t mushy or soft. Fresh ones should not just bend. These jizong jun 鸡枞菌 are sometimes called “termite mushrooms” because they must grow right above a nest of large-bodied termites 大白蚁。If the termites move, the mushrooms die. Obligate symbiosis 共生。 (These 2 photos are from Baidu) It’s easy to be distracted by exotics such as these delicate beauties, below. They aren’t actually wild, they are cultivated. They sometimes show up at banquets here, thinly sliced the long way and fanned out on a plate. 竹苏野生菌/phallus indusiatus. As you might expect, vendors of dried wild mushrooms are also well represented. Sealed packages of dried wild mushrooms in the supermarket are sort of a local joke. Kunming old-timers 老昆明人 won’t touch them. But they grudgingly admit that good ones can be bought here in bulk and used in the deep of winter. You can have your mushrooms professionally packed and shipped home to Shanghai or Beijing by air freight. Domestic tourists come here and load up. It’s not too difficult to slowly stew them down into a thick, rich sauce 野生菌酱 or 野生菌油 that keeps a long time, even without refrigeration. A big dollop of it transforms a simple bowl of noodles into a memorable treat. (Noodles Baidu) Beware of mushrooms that have been misted with water to keep them looking fresh. (See the water bottle below left. Click the photo to make it bigger.) I wound up buying nearly a kilogram of this guy’s jizong jun 鸡枞菌。(Below right.) I tagged along with a retailer who was buying a whole lot to re-sell across town, benefiting from his bargaining skills. I didn't get as low a price, because I was buying a much smaller quantity. The seller's mother gave me tips on cleaning them by gently scraping with the sharp edge of a paring knife, followed by scrubbing with a toothbrush. Leaving now, passed into a second hall. This one has some fresh fruit and vegetables in addition to more mushrooms. My friends who are in the know say to avoid coming on Saturday and Sunday morning because the place is mobbed with restaurant owners laying in a supply for weekend diners. It was a little past 11 when I headed home with my trophies. Stopped off at a shiny clean snack shop 小吃店 for a bowl of 米线 mixian/rice noodles heaped with fresh mint 薄荷。Seven Yuan. One of the young cooks had just finished chopping lots of fresh vegetables for the lunch crowd. The front of this small eatery opened onto the street, while the back led directly into the market. I would imagine lots of mushroom sellers eat there at noon. Honest, humble food. No Golden Arches or McNuggets.
  2. Here's a look at how this fresh tea brews up. (This article is a companion to one about shopping for spring tea. You can read that one here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58172-hello-spring-tea-2019-早春茶/?tab=comments#comment-451546 .) It's the biluochun 碧螺春茶 from Youleshan Mountain 攸乐山 in deep south Xishuangbanna 西双版欸州。A two hundred-gram bag of it cost me 25 Yuan and will probably last me until the end of the year. This is plenty beaucoup cups of good tea. It's even enough that I can give a little to a good friend or two as well so they can try it at home themselves. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Biluochun 碧螺春 is the one below left, rolled into tidy little pearls. It's the one we will be using today. An open leaf maofeng 毛峰 from last year is shown below right for comparison. If you want one insider tip before surfing away to take care of other more pressing matters, it's this: Use a glass to brew these light green spring teas 早春绿茶。You get to enjoy the visual treat of the process along with the aroma and taste. Using that heavy old crockery teapot you inherited from Aunt Martha, the one with the tacky flowers, would be a crime against nature. You could get away with a gaiwan 盖碗 but a plain, clear glass of 180 to 200 ml capacity is the choice of the pros. Try it at least once and you'll see what a difference it makes. Fill the glass about half full with boiling water. Let it stand half a minute or so to allow the glass to get hot. Pour out that water. Drop the tea leaves into the glass and shake them around well. Smell the aroma; let the aroma sink in. Drinking tea is about pleasing the eye and the nose as well as the mouth. How much tea should I use? People who do this all day just drop it in by eye. I generally use enough to loosely cover the bottom of the glass, as shown above right. If you have a small scale, start with 5 grams the first time. Depending on factors having to do with how your tea was produced, you might need to use 4 grams or 6. Adjust it to taste after that first time. Either pour in hot water in a high, thin stream or put it into a small pitcher as a first step before adding it to the dry tea leaves. This lets it cool off a little. Water which is too hot will "kill" this delicate green tea and demolish its flavor. If in doubt, err on the side of less hot instead of too hot. Don't fill the glass completely full; that makes it difficult to handle without burning your fingers. Leave the top quarter or third empty. If your tap water is funky or full of chemicals, use some from a bottle. The tea masters say that "the leaves are father of the finished cup of tea, but water is the mother." Let the tea leave steep undisturbed until most of them fall to the bottom of the glass and you can see them expand. That takes less than a minute. It won't really hurt if you want to swirl the glass gently while reciting a Tang Dynasty poem. Just don't stir it madly with a spoon. It's also not a big deal if you can't wait and drink it a little too soon. It won't be the end of the world. The second brewing and the third will probably be better than the first one. These leaves are good for maybe 4 or 5 steeps before they become weak and insipid. Discard them and start over if you and your guests are still in a tea drinking mood. Pour it through a strainer 落网 into a small pitcher or beaker 公道杯 gongdaobei。You have warmed this ahead of time with plain hot water. Decant it straight away into your small drinking cup 品茗杯 and that of your guests. I'm sure you have pre-wamed these as well. Do lots of sniffing along the way. Be sure to smell the glass after you have poured off the tea. Smell the gongdaobei once it is emptied. Pass them around. This is my setup, above. It's a simple one but fine for two, three or even four people. A larger tea tray 茶盘 would be better for more. Even this small one has a drain hole where you attach a rubber hose to lead the spilled liquids away into a plastic discard pail on the floor. It's time now to play with the leaves. You don't need to be psychic. Spread some out on a plate and have a close look. The pickers just snap off the last little bit of new growth on the tea plant, usually one bud 一芽 and one or two leaves 两叶。They work fast but carefully, often getting their start in early morning just after a quick breakfast of porridge 稀饭/粥 with a fried egg on top. The work is made tough because in these far south Yunnan tea hills, pickers must stand on an incline all day, working their way through the bushes and small tea trees, most of them a little bit over head high. These aren't flat, well-groomed plantation fields like you see in the postcards. Notice that some of the leaves are darker than others. This is an indication that this tea has been processed by hand instead of by some computerized machine. The leaves have been hand-fried in a large hot wok that is set over a wood fire. This "kills the green" 杀青 and keeps the tea leaves from .oxidizing and turning brown. They are then roughly rubbed and rolled against an irregular pan in such a way as to break up inner cellular partitions a bit, releasing flavors that would not come to the fore if the leaves were left completely intact. These and the other steps involved in making this tea require experience and good judgment. It's an art. This light spring Yunnan biluochun tea 碧螺春 and its cousins will keep its charm pretty well for a year if stored away from direct sunlight. Put it into a cupboard where it isn't too hot. It doesn't actually "go bad" after a year in terms of becoming unsafe to drink; it just looses it's zip and becomes boring. Don't put it in the fridge. That doesn't work because as the refrigerator cycles, the tea gets damp and becomes musty, develops off flavors. If you can store it in a crockery jar or one made of clay, that's perfect. Best not to keep in the the plastic bag that came from the store. You can enjoy this tea art if you get on the next plane to Yunnan. Well, actually ladies and gentlemen, you can order some from your favorite purveyor by mail. Might not be quite as fresh as mine, but I'll bet it will still be real good. Refreshing plus all sorts of outrageous health benefits. Everything from curing cancer to weight loss and stopping the ageing process dead in it's tracks. Try it and see what you think. Warning: It's hard not to like it.
  3. Yunnan's glorious yangmei season 杨梅季节 has finally arrived. When I went to the market a couple days ago, sellers had baskets of them nearly everywhere I looked. They will fade out and be gone by about the end of the month, so I will enjoy them while I can. They currently go for 10 Yuan per 公斤, which is one whole kilogram. Last year at this time I was returning by train from Honghe Prefecture 红河州 in the southeast part of the province and it seemed that every person getting on during early stops had a small plastic mesh basket of them which they carefully protected, in addition to their other luggage. Some of the best ones are grown in and around Mengzi county 蒙自县。 Even here, just in one single location, there are several sub-varieties. The first set of photos, up top above, shows smaller dark yangmei fruit beside larger, redder ones. The small dark ones cost a little more and were slightly sweeter. I tasted both and thought the big ones would suit me well. This tasty fruit goes by the scientific name of Myrica rubra, and is grown in south China, below the Yangtze, ideally at an altitude of about 1,000 meters. The train mentioned above passed through or near hectares upon hectares of orchards up on the hillsides. The same area is rich in pipa fruit 枇杷果 (a type of loquat) and shiliu 石榴 (pomegranate.) I always buy too much when I go there and wind up giving half of it away to friends after I realize it might spoil. The individual fruits are between 2 and 2.5 centimeters in diameter, and each one has a single seed in the middle. (These 1 Mao 一角 coins are for size.) The flesh is sweet and juicy, while also being tart. I don't know of anything else quite like it in the western world. Ripe ones acquire a deep purple color; if they are bright red they will be a little sour. Best to buy fruit that isn't visibly bruised; you may or may not find it with a leaf attached as shown here. I eat my fill of them just as they are after washing them in several changes of tap water and letting them stand 15 or 20 minutes in lightly salted drinking water to kill any bugs that might be stowing away. Dry them after that by setting them out on a kitchen cloth or small towel that is approximately the same color (because the fruit will stain a white cloth beyond repair.) If you don't like tart things, they can be gently poached a couple minutes in sugar water on the stove, and served chilled in that juice. Yangmei also makes good preserves and jam. But the other thing that most locals here really look forward to most of all at this time of year is making a batch or two of Yangmei fruit liqueur 杨梅酒。 Simply clean the fruit as above and air dry it a few minutes, layer it into a wide-mouth jar with rock sugar 冰糖 and cover it with high-proof grain alcohol 白酒。China's notorious Er Guo Tuo 二锅头 lends itself extremely well to this application. It is made from sorghum (not rice or something else) 粮酒 and the label says it is 56% alcohol, about 112 proof. Furthermore, it's inexpensive, 15 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle at my corner store. Screw on the lid, put it somewhere out of direct sun and let it stand a month or two, gently swirling it 晃一下 every two or three days. That "month or two" is the hard part, and recipes for this fine concoction often jokingly call it "self-control wine" or 自制力酒。It's a test of will power to keep from sampling it every so often, "just to see how it's coming along." This year my strategy has been to put it out of sight on a high shelf, labeled with yesterday's date. Maybe I can just forget about it most of the time; maybe it won't invade my dreams the way it has before. If you have a chance, please try some of this lovely fruit right now; don't wait. Not sure how easily it can be obtained overseas, and I don't think I've ever seen it dried like many of these seasonal delicacies. Be sure to put it on your agenda if you plan to come to China soon or if you live here and have been seeing it for sale but were sure what it was. It's delicious!
  4. 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.
  5. You see tea eggs 茶叶蛋 everywhere you turn during 春节 Spring Festival, but you also find them a lot during ordinary times 平时。Yunnan tends to put its distinctive stamp on many food that are popular all over China. So it should come as no surprise that what I'm going to show you today is our regional variation on this popular snack food item. You can either use chicken eggs 鸡蛋 or quail eggs 鹌鹑蛋, and you will encounter both when out and about, even though the chicken eggs are more common. One frequently sees a big pan of them simmering away near the entrance to 米线 noodle stands or 小笼包 dumpling shops. The 老板 owner will scoop one out and give it to you in a tiny plastic bag which is open at the top so you can eat it with your fingers without too much of a mess. Typical cost today in Kunming is 1.5 Yuan. Tea eggs are also extremely popular as "long-distance bus food" and are sold at most bus stations 汽车客运站 here. Accompanied by an ear of steamed or boiled sweet corn 水果玉米, and a small bag of steamed or boiled peanuts 卤花生, they actually make a pretty decent meal: economical, tasty, and nutritionally balanced. That "holy trinity" bus-rider's feast plus a bottle of Chinese fruit-flavored milk will last you most of the way north to Shangri-La, or most of the way south to Xishuangbanna. But when making them at home, you can improve on the basic concept and give them an extra Yunnan kick that you won't find if you buy them prepackaged in a grocery store. I'll show you one way to make them, with the immediate disclaimer that something this common has dozens of small variations. So this might not be the same as your Mom's recipe; and we both know that Mom does it better. 用料 = Ingredients 主料 = Main Ingredients: 鸡蛋 = eggs,茶叶 = tea leaves 辅料 = Auxiliary ingredients: 1. 八角 = star anise 5. 茴香 = fennel seeds 2. 花椒 = Sichuan peppers ("prickly ash") 6. 老抽 = dark soy sauce 3. 香叶 = bay leaves 7. 冰糖 = rock sugar 4. 桂皮 = Chinese cinnamon (cassia bark) 8. 食盐 = table salt 做法 = Method of making Assemble the ingredients. I used fresh free-range eggs 土蛋 from Mr. Chen at the neighborhood wet market. The ones I buy are medium size and cost 1 Yuan each. They have lots of flavor and a dark yellow yolk. He carefully packs them in pine needles, nestling one bag inside another. You will see dried red chilies 干红辣椒 on the upper left plate. These are a Yunnan touch, as are the sliced ginger 姜 and gancao 甘草 pictured above. The gancao has a licorice flavor and is used in TCM as a cough suppressant. Boil these herbal ingredients, together with the sugar and salt, for 10 minutes all by themselves. Then add some decent Pu'er tea, preferably a ripe Pu'er 熟普洱,because it has a deeper color and flavor. This is not the time to break out your very best tea, however; that would be a waste because here it is mixing with quite a few other items and won't have a chance to shine on its own. But using Pu'er leaves in the dish is a distinctive Yunnan touch that you are unlikely to find in other parts of China. Boil the spices and the tea together for another 10 minutes, then add the eggs. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook another 15 or 20 minutes uncovered. Fish out the eggs one at a time with a strainer and crack them gently all over with the back of a spoon. Return them to the pot, bring it to a boil, cover and turn off the heat. The longer they stand now, the more flavor they will develop. I always aim for 6 or 8 hours, though sometimes I cheat and eat one of the eggs ahead of time. When you are ready to eat or to serve, fish them out and peel carefully so as to preserve the pretty marbling. The ones you don't want to eat today can be kept in the strained boiling liquid for up to a week in the refrigerator. You can make them with fewer flavoring ingredients and they will still be tasty. Or you can be creative and put everything except the kitchen sink into the mix. Regardless, you will probably wind up with tea eggs that are decorative as well as a treat to eat.
  6. I realized a few minutes ago that we didn't have an index or guide to articles about tea and tea culture on Chinese Forums. Thought it might be helpful to pull them all together in one place as a reference, especially for people who have recently joined. Be glad to try my best to add to them as we go along; so if you think something is missing, or there is something else tea-related that you would like to see, please let me know. 1. General introduction to Chinese tea and tea tools -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48538-chinese-tea-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%8C%B6/ 2. Yunnan red tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48661-dian-hong-%E6%BB%87%E7%BA%A2%E8%8C%B6-yunnans-simplest-tea/ 3. Brewing green tea, especially Biluochun -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48541-how-to-make-green-tea-that-isnt-bitter/ 4. Chinese flower tea, chrysanthemum, etc. -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52972-a-little-about-chinese-flower-tea-%E8%8A%B1%E8%8C%B6/ 5. White peony tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53980-spring-tea-has-arrived-a-look-at-yunnan-bai-mudan-%E4%BA%91%E5%8D%97%E7%99%BD%E7%89%A1%E4%B8%B9/ 6. Maofeng green tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51305-springtime-in-a-glass-yunnan-maofeng-tea-%E4%BA%91%E5%8D%97%E6%AF%9B%E5%B3%B0%E8%8C%B6/ 7. Taiwan Oolong -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49780-a-taste-of-taiwan-oolong/ 8. Pu’er tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48844-warming-up-to-pu%E2%80%99er-a-beginner%E2%80%99s-guide-%E6%99%AE%E6%B4%B1%E8%8C%B6/ 9. Loose-leaf Pu'er tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54367-loose-leaf-puer-tea-普洱散茶/#comment-417513 10. What to do with old green tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52708-last-years-tea/ 11. Herbal iced tea cubes -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52126-tea-recipe-herbal-t-cubes/ 12. About buying a tea set -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49840-about-buying-a-tea-set-and-what-does-it-say/ 13. The famous tea mountains of south Yunnan -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48134-south-yunnan-tea-mountains/ 14. Visiting Yunnan tea plantations -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/40013-learn-about-chinese-tea-and-see-plantations-in-yunnan-where-can-we-start/ 15. History of tea podcasts -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49617-laszlo-montgomery-on-the-history-of-chinese-tea-%E2%80%93-a-listening-guide/ 16. Handwritten tea label -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/44897-handwritten-tea-label/ 17. Tea eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53701-tea-eggs-yunnan-style-%E8%8C%B6%E5%8F%B6%E8%9B%8B/ 18. Quail tea eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54342-quail-tea-eggs-鹌鹑茶叶蛋/#comment-417555 19. Casual tea survey a long time ago -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/14934-favorite-chinese-teas6 20. Xihu Longjing -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54141-西湖龙井茶-west-lake-dragon-well-tea/#comment-415472 21. Spring tea 春茶 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56223-now-is-the-time-for-early-spring-tea-早春茶/ 22. Yunnan Pu'er Tea Expo -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54670-yunnan-puer-tea-expo-云南普洱茶国际博览交昜会/?tab=comments#comment-421112 23. Kunming Tea Industry Expo 2018 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57348-kunming-tea-industry-expo-2018/?tab=comments#comment-444897 24. Yunnan Spring Tea 2019 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58172-hello-spring-tea-2019-早春茶/?tab=comments#comment-451530 25. Brewing spring tea in a glass -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58173-and-heres-how-it-brews-yunnan-spring-tea-2019/?tab=comments#comment-451545 26. Honey rose milk tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58346-honey-rose-milk-tea-玫瑰奶茶/ Just to be clear about it, I wanted to emphasize that this is not my private turf by any means. Others have already contributed fine articles, and everyone is welcome to pitch in with their own contributions. (Ahem... @Alex_Hart, as 杭州人, 龙井 Longjing has your name on it.)
  7. Jianshui Old Town 建水故城 is full of cultural relics, and one that's outstanding is the Confucius Temple. It's one of the best preserved and is the second largest in all of China, second only to the one at his birthplace in Qufu, Shandong 山东省曲阜市。I've been to both and like this one better because it isn't so vast; the compound in Qufu is too big to tour on foot. It was built during the Yuan Dynasty 元代 about the year 1285, and like many such places, it has been restored many times. The pamphlet you get at the door on the way in after paying your 60 Yuan says it has been rebuilt 40 times. I went early one morning shortly after it opened at 8 a.m. The only people there were the early bird exercise walkers and one diligent sweeper. I entered from the rear gate, right onto a statue of the big man himself and the peaceful lake, nicknamed "scholar sea" 学海。 Walking around the peaceful lake gave a view of the bridge and one of the gate tower complexes before the sun was high in the sky. Each of these gates has a ceremonial name. Although I admired the architecture, I was glad I wasn't being towed around by a tour guide who wanted to read all the inscriptions out loud. In fact, I didn't see any tour groups the whole time I was there. Another gate and a gardener hard at work on his ladder trimming the tropical trees still in full bloom even though it was early January. Eat your heart out Dongbei 东北。Throughout the grounds were a number of smaller pagodas where one could study or just enjoy the peace and quiet. I suddenly heard the sounds of ancient music, strings, woodwinds, cymbals and gongs. Followed the sound and discovered some sort of musical performance by men and women in robes with scholar's hats. Sat down to enjoy this unexpected bonus. The music would pause from time to time and one of the men would stand and approach the main alter, bowing and reciting some sort of verse, perhaps something by Confucius. Afterwards I walked into the main hall behind the musicians to see the statues of Confucius and probably some of his disciples. Confucian thought isn't really a religion, but it sure has some of the trappings of one. You could kneel and pray, burn incense and make offerings. Made my way out, passing some less used areas. Eventually reached the main gate and got another look at those delicate flowers. (Do any of you know their name? Just wondering.) It was Sunday morning and outside the main gate people were dancing. A cluster of ladies were doing folk dances with drums, while nearby couples were waltzing. Several elderly men were dancing alone off to one side. It was another one of those "only in China" moments.
  8. Went to Jianshui last week to show a couple of American friends around. Thought I might share some photos with you since it's cold outside and I'm huddling by the heater at home here in Kunming sipping hot tea. It's a small city, small by China standards anyhow, at about half a million population, south of Kunming in Honghe Prefecture 红河州. Getting there takes a little under 3 hours by train and is faster by bus. They have better weather than we do, seldom snows in the winter and the summer heat tops out at 31 or 32 degrees. It's one of my favorite spots in Yunnan, and I've been several times. Here's the guest house where we stayed, smack in the middle of Jianshui's Old Town 古城。It is a modernized courtyard home 四合院 that retains much of its original charm even though now it has today's plumbing, electricity and so on. Front entrance is set back in an alley. You must ring the bell for admittance. Not easy to find the first time. The courtyard of the home. They have six or eight guest rooms. This one is used as reception, where you sign in. They brew you a cup of Pu'er tea. The four-poster beds are equipped with mosquito netting and it turns out to be useful, not only decorative. Each accommodation has a sitting area in addition to its own bathroom, complete with hot water. Breakfast nook overlooks a rear courtyard. Throughout one finds fine paintings and woodwork. The furniture is all over 800 years old. The rear entrance takes you through a bustling wet market. Tropical fruit is always in season. And, being Jianshui, one finds plenty of tofu sellers. This vendor features tofu made using sweet water drawn from the deep artesian wells near the West Gate. First day there, we emerged from the market and stopped at one of the roast duck 烤鸭 stalls for lunch. I wanted us to sample as many local specialties as possible. Friendly guy cut it up and steered us to an open-front food stall a couple doors down where we could eat it at a table, along with some tofu 考豆腐 and rice noodles 米线。The duck is served with a spicy sauce and a slightly-sweet and thick soy sauce. The open-front cafe was one of those typical Jianshui ones where you sit around the tofu grill, the cook indicating which pieces are done and ready to eat. He keeps a tally of how many you consume, and you pay at the end. Rather than making this post too long, I'll tell you about where we went in separate posts over the next day or two. Jianshui is not yet a hot spot on the international tourist radar, and even domestic tourists don't come by the bus load. One encounters no large groups with matching hats being herded around by loudspeaker-equipped guides, at least not for the moment.
  9. This Qing Dynasty 清代 estate is one of the main tourist draws of Jianshui, something not to be missed if you are anywhere close. It was built as a family compound complete with 42 courtyards and 214 rooms, occupying 50,000 square meters of grounds. It's arranged somewhat like a maze, and it's easy to get turned around. But if you wander long enough you will encounter family shrines, a clean blue-water lake and even a three-story pagoda. Many parts of the estate are fancifully named after places, people and events in "Dream of the Red Chamber" 红楼梦。 This is the main entrance, not far from West Gate. One must buy a ticket for 50 Yuan. They are open from early morning until 8 o'clock at night. Throughout the grounds one finds quite a few of these classic round "moon gates" 月亮门。They have the effect of inviting a guest to step through; they "draw you in." You walk from one courtyard to another in whatever order you choose. There are no big yellow directional arrows painted on the ground to regiment your flow or your course. It's not unusual to find serious photographers here carefully lining up their shots or analyzing lighting and shadows. Big heavy cameras are the rule, not the exception. In the early fall of the year, around National Day in October, one sees huge banks of large-head chrysanthemums. Now, in the deep middle of winter, the flowers are less spectacular, but still add small islands of color. Near one end of the grounds is a sparkling lake, watched over by a pair of pagodas. It is stocked with goldfish who don't seem disturbed by the chilly temperature of the water. No floating candy wrappers or cigarette butts here; the grounds are well maintained. This time of year is off season and there were not many visitors. It's a nice place to bring a book, a sandwich, and a thermos of tea. It's a nice place to go slow and pretend you are a poet. On the way out, I passed by a large room where an old man was writing calligraphy scrolls that you could buy to hang on a wall. I watched him a few minutes, said hello, and then left. I've visited at night and I've visited in the rain; I've visited when the overhead sun is blazing hot. It has always been a refreshing spot regardless of weather. One of several peaceful venues in Jianshui's Old Town 古城。
  10. Not only is Yuantong Temple 圆通寺 ancient, beautiful, and peaceful, it's a bargain at only 6 Yuan. In a time where many of China's tourist attractions have become inflated in price and swarmed by crowds of selfie-snapping yokels, Yuantong Temple remains blissfully small scale. It's someplace I visit a couple times every year. Let me take you along on my most recent trip, a week or so ago. Near sections of the approaching block of Yuantong Street 圆通路 are lined with shops selling incense, icons, and assorted religious paraphenalia. One almost always finds soothsayers 算命 squatting on low stools outside under the shade of the trees offering to tell your fortune for a relatively small fee. Some are dressed in special dark robes with sewn-on symbols representing half-moon, stars and streaking meteors; some wear tall peaked "wizard's hats" with a pompom or tassel. They won't allow photographs and will chase you away if you brandish a camera. Beggars with crutches are always parked near the ticket windows (below right.) They will loudly implore you to give alms. Sometimes they are unpleasantly aggressive, doing their best to be difficult to ignore. (As usual, you can click these photos to enlarge them.) But after running that gauntlet, you step across the high threshold and enter a place of peace and quiet. No music, no guides with bullhorns 喇叭, and no ads. An old man points you to a stand off to the right where you can take three free sticks of incense and two short red candles. They trust the honor system will prevent you from helping yourself to more. The layout is a little unusual in that you first must walk down to enter the temple grounds. Since such places are usually constructed on the ascendant, causing pilgrims and visitors to look upward, here you initially oversee the main gate at a downward angle. The gate itself is an eye catcher. Colorful and well maintained. The large gold inscription on the red background says... Well actually you might want to try reading it first, so I'll hide the transcription. I promised a friend who is having major surgery that I would burn some incense 烧佛香 for a good outcome. Because of breezes and dry vegetation, one must do that in safe, sandy places. One typically bows three times in each compass direction, holding the lit incense near one's head before planting it safely in the sand. One then proceeds to the main hall to kneel and make prayers to one or another of the the three large Buddha image 佛像 inside. One can walk inside the hall to silently admire the images, which include a large collection of lifelike Bodhisattvas. Photos outside are OK, but not inside the main temple hall itself. At one time a tooth of Gautama was allegedly housed here. Not sure what eventually happened to this relic, the story line is unclear. This is still an actual working temple, and as one walks around one sees friendly monks and nuns, in gray clothes with shaved heads. A little before noon on most days one can assemble in an outdoor courtyard off to the left and have a simple vegetarian 吃素 lunch for 10 Yuan. A sign on a wall sets forth the rules: No talking, no phones, and finish what is put on your plate. Second helpings of rice are allowed. The grounds are built around a small lake. Sometimes one finds goldfish. Both sides of the grounds are lined with classrooms and halls devoted to the history of the place. It was built in the late 8th and early 9th century, when Yunnan was center of the Nanzhao Kingdom 南诏, during the Tang 唐朝。People still come here to study and worship. Small groups of pilgrims come from other parts of Southeast Asia as well as from all over China, sometimes spending a week or to doing short courses under learned supervision. A notable collaboration resulted from the gift of a solid copper statue of Sakayamuni that is three and a half meters high and weighs four tons. Many Thai people come here on religious retreats and it's not uncommon to hear snatches of Thai language as one wanders the grounds. The rear of the compound rises in a steep hill. One can climb steps to the summit, but I didn't do that this time. One passes two caves which at one time were thought to house dragons. I usually stay about an hour before heading out the same way I got in. One passes a hall which is protected by the four traditional temple guardians, posted outside, one for each compass direction. Here's one of them, nearly impossible to photograph because of the protective glass case (lower left.) And then back up the steps to street level again. Once out on the street, it's only a five or six minute walk east to Yuantong Zoo, which is the best place to see cherry blossoms in early spring. Or one can take a bus for 2 Yuan to Green Lake, ten minutes west. A visit to Yuantong Temple is a very pleasant brief escape from modernity, city hustle and bustle. Something not to be missed if you are going to be in Kunming for a few days. Highly recommended and it won't bust your budget.
  11. Saw chance coverage Friday on the six-o'clock local news of the opening of this year's Yunnan Pu'er Tea Expo. (Quickly took these two snapshots of the TV screen so I could read them again after the program.) Decided to go have a look. It sounded like one of the fringe benefits of living in Kunming, which has become a major tea hub, especially for Pu'er tea. Turned out that it was well worth the effort and bus fare. It was held in the Convention and Expo Center, which is locally known as 国贸。 Several blocks were roped off to allow pedestrian access to several large dedicated buildings. I've been here before for other things in the past, one a very memorable local wood carving and woodcraft expo. Most of the exhibitors were wholesale tea purveyors who wanted to develop their potential customer base. All offered tastings of their wares, and most also offered on-the-spot retail sales. I entered one of these spacious pavilions, where about 15 tea tables were laid out, each staffed by a professional 茶艺师 (tea master) who was brewing and serving, plus telling guests about the virtues of their wares in a non-pushy way. I turned in to one of these "company stores" and a host asked me what I was most interested in sampling. I told him 熟普洱 (ripe) since it was still kind of early in the day for 生普洱 (raw) -- about 10 o'clock in the morning. I thought it was an interesting footnote on the tastes of most local people that he had to walk me around to about ten tables before finding one that was offering 熟普洱。All the others were presenting 生普洱。 The table was full, but a middle-aged man and his wife scooted over and gave me a chair. Turned out he was an exporter, visiting from Shanghai to make some sizeable purchases. Friendly and welcoming. His brother and their 80-year-old mother were in two of the other chairs. Shook hands all round. He was a keen businessman and had negotiated a special deal with the company hosts whereby we would all get two free teacups instead of just one if we gave them our contact information and added the company on WeiXin. He laughingly cut me in on his bounty. I did it without hesitation, though I may come to regret it if I get too much of their advertising. Two free white ceramic teacups bearing the company logo might not be worth it. The tea the young man was serving there was excellent, but out of my price range at over ¥1,000 per cake. None-the-less, I really enjoyed the free samples. Smooth, full and balanced. Each small pot could be brewed a dozen times he said. This is called 耐泡, a virtue which marks better Pu'er tea. I wandered around, stopping at a store giving demonstrations of how Pu'er tea cakes 茶饼 were compressed and then wrapped. They first steamed the tea leaves to make them pliable, then gathered them into muslin sacks, twisting the tails of the fabric in the center. This fabric bulge eventually produced the typical central "dimple" that all round Pu'er tea cakes feature. A second young workman centered this bag of tea under a heavy stone, lowered the stone and rocked it around to provide many pounds of compression. In smaller production facilities, they typically put a small stone on top of the tea disk and then stand on it, letting body weight do most of the work. A young man at another station hand wrapped the now-compressed tea cakes. The technique looks simple, but it's easy to get it wrong. I learned how in tea school, but now struggle with it every time I unwrap a cake of Pu'er at home in order to use it and then re-wrap it afterwards. There was a full schedule of lectures, most of them 30 to 45 minutes long. Most were on professional topics that were over my head and the few that might have been of interest to me were not happening at a convenient time. So I didn't sit down there, but kept moving instead. Near the lecture area, I found a display dedicated to how Chinese astronauts had enjoyed Pu'er tea on one or another space mission. I had not known, but am not surprised. Found one booth that was featuring (and selling) tea-related art. Paintings and large photos of people enjoying tea in different settings, some wearing minority garb. It was fun to just see so much good 功夫 tea brewing technique. That in itself was a treat. Foreigners who visit Beijing on their "See all of China in 6 Days and 7 Nights" whirlwind tours often are treated to a "tea ceremony." Sometimes it's planned by the guide and sometimes it's an expensive scam that they are invited to by a "friendly local" when walking around on their own in a Hutong 胡同。 What none of them seem to realize is that these "tea ceremonies" are just the normal way that Chinese tea is brewed and served, even when you are doing it at home for one or two friends. Of course you hot rinse the small cups, of course you strain the tea as you pour it out of the small teapot into the distribution pitcher, and so on. There is a good reason for every step; the traditions make sense. They weren't invented in order to dazzle or impress. No flashing lights; no trumpet fanfare, no Lawrence Welk "bubble machine." I enjoyed watching people who were good at doing these things. One young woman was particularly handy with the tea knife 茶针 and could flake off Pu'er very efficiently. When i do it at home, even though I should know better, I often take a less sensible approach. She worked from the "dimple" outwards, instead of cutting in from the edge of the cake. This allowed her to tilt it, and not make such a big mess. She could catch all the flakes on the wrapper. Pretty slick, I thought, and I plan to imitate her approach next time I'm doing it on my own. Must admit that after two or three hours it got a little repetitious and I was swimming in tea. The old kidneys got a huge workout. Had hoped to find more displays of teapots and teacups and other 茶具, but maybe I just missed them since the place was huge and there were a couple of rooms I didn't cover too well. I didn't buy much, only a few teabags of Pu'er to give to an American friend back in Texas. (Someone who won't go to the trouble to brew it the right way.) Admission was free, but you had to register and give them your phone number in order to get an electronic entry badge with a scanable barcode. Today is the last day (four days.) But if it sounds interesting, mark it on your calendar for 2018. It has been running 12 years, and preliminary counts of this year's attendance showed it broke previous records by a wide margin. (Note: You can click the photos to enlarge them.)
  12. These lovely beans are found all over China, but this particular variety is mostly found in Yunnan and neighboring Guizhou. Their local nickname is 猫眼豆, and they are actually the immature version of a type of soybeans 大豆。When boiled with seasonings they become a terrific summer appetizer or snack. Hadn't really planned to make them, but when I went to the wet market for other things yesterday, these were unavoidable, plentiful, and cheap. This is another of those vegetables that's very seasonal, with short availability: the young pods are ready to be picked 5 or 6 weeks after the plants flower. After that, it's too late. These were so fresh that some vendors even offered them with leaves and roots still attached. A far cry from what's available in the frozen food aisle of the supermarkets in my home town back in Texas. Let me show you one good way to cook them up at home. Not much trouble and tons of flavor. This was a little over two big handfuls of beans; the cost was 4 Yuan. Wash them well and even scrub the bean pods a bit with your fingers, a vegetable brush or a clean dishcloth. Let them soak a while in salted water while you get your spices ready. 洗干净,浸泡盐水。 Fennel seeds are at 6 o'clock on this spice palette, with dry red chilies at 7. Star anise at 10 o'clock and cassia bark at noon. Bay leaves at 2 and Sichuan peppercorns at 5. You can use a little more or less of any of them as desired. Put the spices into a pot of water and let them boil to release the flavors while you cut off both ends of the beans with a pair of scissors. This will let the seasonings enter the pod as they cook. Add a couple teaspoons of salt, a tablespoon of light soy sauce, and several drops of salad oil into the pot. (I used olive oil.) Put the beans in and turn the flame down to medium-low. Let them cook, uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes. Towards the end of that time, you will notice that some of the pods begin opening. Turn them off and let them cool down in the pot for another 10 to 15 minutes. Cooking time can be shorter if you like yours crunchy. Dredge them out and put them in a serving bowl. In restaurants they let them cool to room temperature or they even chill them. I never manage to wait that long, and actually prefer them warm. When you eat these 毛豆, don't eat the husk, just work the beans out with your fingers and teeth. It's not difficult. They go great with beer, especially if shared with friends at a wooden table outdoors in the evening.
  13. We've been having hot days of early summer here in Kunming, interspersed with seasonal rains. The combination induces a case of the kitchen lazies, and I've turned to things that don't require much effort for my evening meals. Here's an example of something I've made (with variations) over and over using nothing but a rice cooker to supply the steam heat. Rice cookers generally come with a steamer basket that simplifies the process. Here's what mine looks like. It sits in the upper part of the rice cooker, allowing vegetables to steam while the rice below it is cooking to perfection. In Yunnan we call this long, pale green vegetable xiaogua 小瓜,but it goes by other names as well and closely resembles zucchini. Both it and red bell peppers 红椒 are easy to find, inexpensive, and stay fresh several days in the refrigerator if need be. I sometimes make this with xiaogua and carrots 胡萝卜。And I'm going to thinly slice these items with my sharp and trusty Hong Kong knife 菜刀。 Also coarsely chop some garlic 独蒜 and fresh ginger 生姜。The single clove garlic, as shown here, has a milder flavor than the usual kind that has multiple cloves. Same is true of fresh ginger; it has a lighter taste than the aged kind 老姜。Toss these condiments together with the sliced vegetables and a couple pinches of salt. I usually shake them in a plastic bag to mix them well instead of just stirring them in a bowl. Thinly slice some sausage 腊肠 or cured meat 腊肉。I'm using cured Yunnan Xuanwei ham today 云南宣威火腿。 As usual, wash the rice gently three times with tap water, then let it soak for 15 or 20 minutes. Add the meat slices right into the rice pot, and start it cooking on your usual steamed rice program. Since mine takes 30 minutes to complete and the vegetables take 10 minutes to cook, I add them in the steamer basket at the 20 minute point. Don't disturb the rice; don't stir it; just insert the steamer basket quickly and close the lid again before too much heat escapes. In about 10 minutes, take a look. Check the vegetables to see if they are tender. If so take the steamer basket out, and put the vegetables into a serving dish 装盘。Fluff the rice with your chopsticks. Serve it directly into your eating bowl from the rice cooker's pot. Can add the vegetables on top of the rice and meat instead of eating them separately. You're done. If you'd like, you can serve it with a dipping sauce of half light soy sauce 生抽 and half aged vinegar 老陈醋。Easy prep, easy clean up. Another nutritious and tasty meal.
  14. Tofu made in Shiping town 石屏县城 in south Yunnan is something special, famous throughout China's southwest. We get lots of it fresh here in Kunming, but I've also had the privilege of enjoying it at its source, in the green mountains of Honghe Prefecture 红河州,not far from ancient Jianshui 建水 and scenic Yuanyang 元阳。They say the difference is mainly in the water, and verbal battles are still fought about which deep well has the sweetest tofu-making nectar; but since it has been around over 400 years, it's not surprising that supernatural claims also exist, the main one having to do with a fiery dragon and three wise tribal kings or chiefs. Here's what it looks like in the market. The difference in appearance of these two forms gives a clue as to how it is usually cooked and served. The kind in sheets, upper left, can be steamed, boiled, roasted or pan-fried. The small packets, upper right, are usually slowly toasted on a grate over coals. Both provide a serious taste treat for visitors to Yunnan and residents alike. The kind I bought this morning at my neighborhood wet market was the kind that comes in sheets, I bought one piece and it cost 3.5 Yuan about half a dollar (US.) It comes in two styles: a drier one, called 老豆腐,which is what I got today, and a very moist and somewhat fragile one that is mainly used for making a delicious snack called 包奖豆腐, in which the tofu is lightly sautéed on a sheet pan or griddle and served with a spicy sauce. This latter has a runny center. I love it dearly and will prepare it for you another day. I cut my single piece crosswise in half, and then in half again, so you could see the edge. The sheet is about 2 and a half centimeters thick. It can be cooked up as a snack 小吃 or as a side dish for a meal. In Jianshui, where I have enjoyed it often, it is frequently sold in street stalls that just grill it to order for you over coals and serve it beside a dish of dipping sauce. These places usually also sell roast duck and beer, sometimes noodle soup. It's not at all uncommon to sit down near dusk on one of the low stools around the fire mainly to give your feet a rest, still a bit too early to properly consider supper, and just munch few pieces of tofu kind of as a warm-up. But after a beer or two you decide those crispy, lean roast ducks hanging overhead on hooks really do look great, so why not. Then someone suggests a bowl of rice noodles in savory broth 米线, and before you know it, the clock is striking midnight and you walk home to your hotel in the company of three or four new friends. I speak from first-hand experience; it's the Jianshui magic. You have been warned. Back now in my Kunming kitchen, lets chop the extra ingredients 配料 before dealing with the tofu. If you like things really hot, use the tiny red peppers, bird's eye chilies 小米辣椒。If you prefer a mild to moderate approach, use the larger ones and remove most of the seeds. Also mince some ginger and a clove of garlic. Set out some Haixian Jiang 海鲜酱 (aka Hoisin) and about a teaspoon of sesame seeds, toasted 黑 or plain 白。 Reserve 备用 the cut up garlic 蒜, pepper 红椒, and ginger 酱。 Cut the tofu into bite sized rectangles or squares, put them into a preheated flat-bottom skillet 平底锅 with a little oil. The one I'm using here is non-stick, and works well for this application since only medium temperatures are required. When the first side starts to brown 金黄,turn the tofu and cook the other side the same way, never letting the skillet get too hot. You do not want it to burn or get dried out and tough. When side two is also golden, take the tofu out. Saute the pepper, ginger, and garlic in a little oil, then add two or three large tablespoons of Haixian Jiang diluted half and half with water. After a minute or so of stirring this sauce mixture, add back the cooked tofu and gently flip it over a few times with your spatula to coat it well with these complimentary flavors. Plate it up and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. You now either have a very nice snack or you have part of a meal. I think it goes real well with a bowl of soup and a cucumber salad 拍黄瓜。Those three things together do the job for me just fine on a summer evening. And I even usually have room for a piece of fruit afterwards. Be sure to seek out Shiping tofu 石屏豆腐 next time you find yourself down this way.
  15. When you read about Pu'er tea in the news or in general-purpose reference articles, you usually find discussion of its compressed forms, such as cakes, blocks and so on, with little or no mention of these teas in their loose-leaf form. So I thought it might be fun to remedy that oversight and introduce you to loose-leaf Pu'er; it has lots to recommend it. The two main kinds of Pu'er tea from a flavor standpoint are the fully-fermented ripe 熟茶 ones and the un-fermented raw ones 生茶。Both types can be found compressed into cakes 饼茶,bricks 砖茶,bowls/bird's nests 沱茶 as well as a few other forms, such as balls 丸子 and even gourds or melons 瓜子。Here's a cake 饼 of ripe Pu'er 熟茶 from my tea cupboard. It's easy to see how dense it is. Similarly, this brick 砖 of raw Pu'er 生茶 shows the same tightly-compressed structure. Tea which is compact, like these, is easier to transport, especially if one were moving it hundreds of miles over rugged mountains along a narrow "tea-horse" trail, 茶马古道 from South Yunnan all the way to high Tibet. It's also easier to store for prolonged, controlled ageing. I didn't have much loose-leaf Pu'er on hand, so before being able to present this topic adequately, I needed to make a trip to the wholesale tea market for supplies. That is definitely no hardship, and I always welcome any excuse to go there. Just ride city bus #25 for 25 or 30 minutes, arriving where 二环北路 enters 金买小区。 Kunming is one of China's three main "tea capitals" or tea trading hubs, alongside Shanghai and Guangzhou. We have two main wholesale tea markets, one in the north and another in the south. I visit both, but prefer the north one mainly for ease of access. This market has between 500 and 1,000 tea stores clustered together in two blocks of medium-rise buildings on both sides of the street. Most stores there have a three-tier business model: most income derives from selling large lots of tea in bulk by freight or by mail. This tea goes to other smaller wholesaler distributors as well as to some large chain retailers. Some of their sales are direct, to regional retailers who visit every so often and carry their goods back to their shops in bulk and sell them there at a mark up, often packaging the tea nicely. And last of all, there are the small-scale walk-in buyers, such as me. We are only one step above beggars in the overall scheme of things, but Chinese hospitality prevails, and the merchants welcome us, sit us down and brew us cups and cups of their best tea. And what's more, they typically regale us with tales. That's the best part. Before long, they are flipping through photos on their phone that show them posing in front of huge ancient tea trees way back in semi-secret mountains. "When the rain cleared, we found ourselves just beside this one, which was 1,200 years old, and has been in the family since ..." The white elephants flanking the market gate above are a reference to the (diminishing) wild herds in the hills of Xishuangbanna, where lots of great Yunnan tea originates. One enters any one of several such gates, and winds around inside, where steep warrens of tea stores are stacked three-stories tall. Photo above right, shows "melon/gourd-pagoda tea," stacked as an entry-way decoration to one of the many shops. The large cartons of tea behind it are stacked everywhere. These shops seldom have a polished feel, and serve mainly as storage space for bulk tea. Some stores mainly sell Pu'er and some mainly sell red tea 滇红茶,while others specialize in Yunnan's green teas and others feature Yunnan's little-known white teas. Most, however, have some overlap. It's delightful to wander from one to another, tasting this and that. You can usually depend on these sellers to know the best way to brew these teas, absent any hokey showmanship or flourish. They are not "performing a tea ceremony" for unwary tourists in Beijing's scam alleys, but they are still using kung-fu methods and utensils. These shopkeepers are not playing games with tourists, they just want to let you share their appreciation of their wares and hopefully buy some at the end. But there is never any pressure. After visiting one store where I could not understand the heavy dialect of the boss man, I wandered around several other venues and eventually found a top-notch, mellow loose leaf ripe Pu'er 熟普洱散茶, bought 150 grams of it; and likewise settled on a bright and balanced raw loose leaf Pu'er 生普洱散茶,bought the same amount of it. These two large bags of tea are enough to last me several years unless I wind up giving some away (which often happens.) Cost was 230 Yuan together, and the seller threw in a handful of balls of red tea 滇红茶 to lure me back another time. And I probably will return; could not have been more pleased with these purchases and the overall experience. Thus equipped, I rode the bus back to my apartment. Looking forward to showing you how the shopping expedition worked out, but am afraid of loosing what's here already, so I'm going to post as is and then add to it. (Sometimes the forum software fails and the browser swallows it all without a trace. This can cause a grown man to cry, which is not a pretty sight.)
  16. It hit me like a bolt of lightning yesterday at the neighborhood wet market: Maybe I should try a different kind of eggs. Have recently been looking for a way to make more flavorful tea eggs, and maybe these small quail eggs are the answer. And I'd heard that quail eggs make great bite-sized tea eggs. Decided on the spot to try it out. Most of the egg vendors from whom I buy there not only sell free-range chicken eggs 土蛋 and an assortment of duck eggs, they also offer quail eggs plus smaller batches of exotics (pheasant eggs, guinea fowl eggs, bantam hen eggs and others.) The lady next to the stall where I buy my hand-ground sesame oil, not only had two large crates of them, she also had a deep pot of tea eggs that she was making herself, mixed quail and chicken. She sold me half a kilo of fresh quail eggs for 6.5 Yuan and threw in a couple of the already-cooked ones just so I could have a taste. The brine in which they were soaking was room temperature, but it had boiled a couple hours previously, she said. Her eggs were tasty; I peeled and ate them right there to see. Asked if she had any tips; told her I had been struggling with them at home. She said to use plenty of soy sauce and plenty of salt. She laughingly added that a hit of dark vinegar 老陈醋 was her secret weapon. "Balance it with a little sugar so as not to make them sour." She explained how the vinegar drove the other flavors through the shell and into the body of the egg. I have no idea about the science involved in that, but I never argue with success. When I got them home, I washed the eggs well in clear, cool water, removing any broken ones. I had been gently sideswiped by a guy on a motor scooter in a traffic jam, and my egg bag took a hit. I had 4 broken ones, which I threw away. Counted them just for fun, and found that my half a kilo (500 grams) had 54 eggs, pretty uniform in size. Let them soak while setting out my other ingredients. Top, in the spoon at 12 o'clock, are fennel seeds 茴香,dried chili peppers 干辣椒 at 1 o'clock,star anise 八角 next at 3, followed by caoguo 草果,a type of savory seed pod related to coriander, at 5 o'clock a spoon of Sichuan peppercorns 花椒,sliced ginger 老姜 next, followed by cinnamon bark 桂皮,and orange peel 橙皮 at 9 o'clock. Bay leaves 香叶 at 11 complete the circle. Pu'er tea is in the middle; the Pu'er I used was from a decent, utility-grade ripe 熟茶 Menghai cake 孟海茶饼。 If you aren't familiar with using 草果, it's a good idea to bust it up a bit with the back edge of your knife to make the good parts more accessible. I put all these flavoring ingredients 调料 into my rice cooker, which has a heavy, cast iron pot. Added water about half way up the side and put in half a cup of ordinary soy sauce 生抽,a big tablespoon of vinegar 老陈醋,a big tablespoon of old soy sauce 老抽,plus a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Plugged it in and let these spices and seasonings boil for about 10 minutes before adding the eggs. This lets them develop their flavor and blend. I tasted this potent solution to see if it needed adjusting with more of anything, but it didn't. I let it cool to nearly room temperature before adding the eggs (also at room temperature) to prevent them cracking from the heat. Boiled them 10 minutes then scooped the eggs out. Let them cool enough to be able to handle them, then cracked each one gently with the back of a spoon. Returned them to the brine and brought them to a boil again, then turned the power down to the barest simmer and maintained that for one hour. The way you do that with a rice cooker is to first select a program that uses high heat, such as the one for zhou (marked 粥 or 稀饭) and then pressing the "keep warm" button (marked 保温)after the contents have been brought to a boil. A rice cooker allows better control of the heat than most stove-tops could supply. Take the eggs out, strain the cooking liquid, removing all the solids. Then keep the eggs in this while you refrigerate them overnight. I previewed a couple last night, but had a more generous serving this morning. Slip off the peel and pop one straight into your mouth. Bursting with flavor and tender to boot. These are now my favorite kind of tea eggs, at least as long as I'm in China. I owe a debt of gratitude to the intrepid Tea Egg Task Force, senior members being @Jellyfish and @Alex_Hart for keeping this project alive and ever striving, moving boldly towards better and better tea eggs, both for the ordinary citizens 老百姓 and the elite troops of the realm. Here's the post that started the tea egg discussion: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53701-tea-eggs-yunnan-style-茶叶蛋/?page=3#comment-417281
  17. Now is the time to look for some of this year's crop if you like Chinese green 绿茶 and white tea 白茶。 The best of the best is picked right before Qingming Festival 清明节, which this year fell on the 4th of April, only two weeks ago. The slightly less expensive second picking is on the shelves and in the markets now. I bought a bag of real tasty Yunnan Biluochun 碧螺春 and a bag of Yunnan White Peony or Bai Mudan 白牡丹 from a bulk dealer nearby. She scooped me out about a hundred grams of each. These are teas that need to be enjoyed now; they won't be much good after about a year, so it's best not to overbuy. I've told you about Yunnan Biluochun before, so today I'll give you a look at Bai Mudan. (Link to biluochun: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48546-how-to-brew-green-tea-with-a-gaiwan-盖碗/ ) The most famous White Peony tea comes from eastern and northern Fujian; ours today comes from Simao 思茅区, the district in south-central Yunnan that also goes by the better-known name Pu'er 普洱。It is plucked early in the year, one long silver bud and usually two tender leaves. After being harvested (by hand) it is air dried and withered 萎凋 in thin layers under indirect sun for a day or two. Then it is raked into small piles 堆 and left that way to partly ferment for only a couple of hours. Last of all, it is carefully baked 烘焙 just enough to dry it and retard spoilage, usually only a matter of minutes. The leaves are handled gently, they don't go through the rough "rolling" operation 揉捻 or wok drying 杀青 to which some other teas are subjected. This preserves the gentle flavor of the leaf, but means that it is a perishable commodity. Unlike green tea, it is lightly oxidized. Here's what it looks like. If you enlarge the first picture and look closely, you can see that the long silver buds/shoots are covered in a fine, almost fluffy white down. This bag contains about 100 grams, the tomatoes and the textbook are for scale. Cost me 75 Yuan. Would have been cheaper per unit had I bought a larger amount or bargained more aggressively. I store it in a cool, dry living-room cabinet out of the sun and away from the stove, but I won't put it in the refrigerator. Let me show you my favorite way to brew it. You can use a teapot 茶壶 or gaiwan 盖碗 (covered tea bowl) of course, but the simplest way it to just make it in a tall glass. This glass method is especially good if you are just brewing for yourself or yourself and a friend. The one I'm using today holds 240 ml. The smaller glass beside it holds 200 ml, and is also OK. (Pencils and chopsticks for scale.) Don't use boiling water; it will "kill" the tea and make it taste somewhat sour and faintly bitter. Instead, use water that has been brought to the boil and allowed to cool down to 80 or 85 degrees Celsius. If you are in China and using water from your home water dispenser 饮水机,you can get the temperature about right by drawing water from the "hot" side of your dispenser in one pre-warmed drinking glass, and simply pouring it directly into your pre-warmed tea-making glass. No thermometer needed. Drop two or three generously large pinches of tea leaves right on top of the water. If you have a small digital tea scale and like to measure things, then use 5 grams. But with a little practice it isn't difficult to "eyeball" the quantity. Rule of thumb: if in doubt, use more leaves. Rule of thumb for the water: if in doubt, use cooler water. The water, however, needs to be of good quality. If it tastes nasty from chemicals or rust, the tea will not overcome that flaw. Tea leaves are said to be the father of a good cup; but water is the mother. After a couple of minutes, when leaves are starting to drift to the bottom, you can strain it into a small pitcher 公道杯 if you have one, or perhaps into a coffee cup. (This vessel needs to be warmed.) Then redistribute it to small drinking cups 品茗杯 for yourself and your guests. The leaves can be brewed 3 or 4 times. For best results don't let the brewing glass get empty; replenish it's level with more hot water when it gets down to a third or a quarter. Brewing tea this way, by dropping the leaves on top of the hot water, is referred to in tea lingo as 上头发。 This tea has a gentle flavor and a pale green-gold color; not a lot of caffeine; about a tenth as much as a cup of medium coffee. Most batches, if made right, will have a faintly floral note and a slightly sweet aftertaste. It isn't really made with peony flowers 牡丹花, despite the picturesque name. It isn't a tea which is actually scented with flower blossoms such as jasmine tea. Over the years it has become one of my favorite Chinese teas. Easy to make; easy to enjoy. Not overly rare or expensive. The experts tell me that the best time to drink it is in the middle of the day, late morning and early afternoon. Chinese tea lore suggests having it after you have eaten a light snack instead of on an empty stomach. Best enjoyed in spring and early summer. After you have finished brewing and drinking, take a minute to examine a few of the leaves. One long, thin bud 嫩芽 and a couple of small leaves in each complex: 一芽两叶。 If you have a gaiwan 盖碗 and a set of tea tools, it is fine to use them to make your White Peony tea. Again, use plenty of dry tea. These leaves are bulky, not compressed. This isn't Lipton's, cut up and crushed into tiny pieces. Suggest filling the gaiwan about a third full; loose leaf tea of this sort does not lend itself to measuring with a teaspoon. I would refer you to an earlier post for details of how to do the actual brewing. (Link to using gaiwan: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48546-how-to-brew-green-tea-with-a-gaiwan-盖碗/ ) Hope you will try out some of this year's spring tea now while it's at its best, in peak season. If in doubt about what kind to select, consider Bai Mudan, aka White Peony.
  18. This is another wildly popular Yunnan favorite that has gradually migrated to other parts of China. Yunnan cuisine has a knack for using unlikely ingredients in imaginative ways which sets it apart from many other better known food styles. Yunnan cooks embrace boldly fragrant herbs, such as fennel and mint, and they marry them to our famous hot peppers without batting an eye. Today we will see how that works with Grandma's Fennel Potatoes 茴香老奶洋芋。The potato 土豆 is called "foreign tuber" 洋芋 here for reasons that go back to the days when Yunnan was a remote backwater province, populated by proud minorities, rebels and outlaws. Things like potatoes, introduced from other parts of China, were foreign indeed. Most of China's potatoes are produced in the northeast 东北 and northwest 西北, but Yunnan also produces an abundance of good ones, especially in its high, rocky northeast, specifically Qujing 曲靖 and Zhaotong 昭通。This part of the province is as proud of its potatoes as Honghe Prefecture 红河州 is of it's paddy rice, grown in the famous terraced fields 哈尼梯田 of Yuanyang County 元阳县,which crown the Ailao mountain range 哀牢山 in the southeast of the province. But Yunnan's best potato fields are not as photogenic as its rice paddies 水稻。 I bought some of these potatoes today at the big Sunday wet market 菜市场 from a vendor who had a mountain of them stacked six feet high. It was a struggle to only buy a few; he kept trying to stuff more and more in my bag. Wound up with about 1 斤,roughly 500 grams for 3 Yuan. Larger potatoes, with a more uniform shape and fewer blemishes cost 4 Yuan. Those big pretty ones might have been better for "French frying" or other dishes where they remained more intact. Also bought a bunch of small scallions 小葱。 The fennel 茴香 here is gorgeous, picked young and sold complete with the slim roots, for only 2 Yuan per bunch. Fennel is a relative of carrots, and western varieties have a large bulb on one end. But this Chinese fennel is grown for its delicate lacy fronds, which are aromatic and full of flavor. Scrub the potatoes and chop them into thick slices. Steam them until they are done 蒸熟; check them with a fork or the point of a knife. You can cook them in the steamer basket of your rice cooker just as well, but I wanted to use a stove-top steamer pot today because that way I could use the boiling water to strip the skin off a ripe tomato. (Dunk it for 30 seconds, then peel under cool running water.) We saw this tomato technique recently in the recipe for scrambled eggs with tomato. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53734-the-basics-tomatoes-and-eggs-番茄炒鸡蛋/ While the potatoes are cooking, prep the other ingredients, scallions, dry red peppers 干辣椒, garlic 独蒜, ginger 老姜。 Take a moment to make sure everything is lined up, ready to go. When the potatoes are done, let them cool enough to be able to handle, then skin them and break them up. You can use a tool or put a glove on one hand and break them up that way. They do not need to be totally mashed and smooth; just soft enough for your old toothless Granny to be able to gum them down. Oil your wok; use high heat at first. Begin cooking the aromatics until they release their aroma 爆香。 When you add the potatoes, turn the flame way down because they are easy to burn. As you stir them up, add a half teaspoon or so of salt. TIP: Sprinkle the salt in with your fingers, because it is difficult to distribute it evenly if you rely on stirring alone. The last thing to go in is the finely-chopped fennel. Toss it around 翻炒 for a minute or so, and then you are done. Serve it up. Works well in place of rice, alongside a meat dish 荤菜, a green leafy vegetable 青菜 and a simple soup 汤。 I should point out that you can easily make this without the fennel. You can also omit the tomato. Like many popular dishes, this one has endless variations. Every restaurant will have its own individual take on it. But it's also definitely "make at home," family-style food 家常菜 of the highest order.
  19. I've enjoyed this delicious side dish for several years, but have only recently begun making it at home. That might have been a big "waistline mistake" because it isn't low calorie and it is definitely addictive. But I'll show you how it's done nonetheless and let you wrestle with the weighty moral implications on your own dime. It's a strange fact of Yunnan life that we call potatoes 洋芋 ("foreign tuber") instead of 土豆 ("earth bean") like most of China. People with 3-wheeled bicycle carts 三轮车 drive slowly by my old housing complex two or three times a week shouting "买洋芋", emphasizing the rising second tone of the 样, the hard downward fourth tone of the 芋 and the scooped-out third of 买 until it sounds like a type of regional music. Hard to resist getting some at the bargain rate of only 3 Yuan per kilo, especially when delivered to my door. Scrub and peel two medium sized ones. And now you have a prime chance to practice your 刀法,to polish up your knife skills. Young Chinese chefs spend days upon days doing things like making accordion cuts in cucumbers that allow them to be stretched to three feet without breaking. Accomplished master chefs can do things like boning a small snake blindfolded at high speed without any of the tiny bones winding up in the meat. You want the match-stick slivers to be fairly uniform in size. Doing this with a sharp knife 菜刀 works better from a texture 口感 standpoint than using a grater. It also makes the potatoes less likely to dry out with cooking. Adopt a mindful zen-type focus and visualize yourself as a human Cuisinart or Robot-coupe machine. Suspend all considerations of time and don't be in a hurry. Don't rinse the sliced potatoes because that would remove some of their natural amylose and make them less adherent; it would make them stick together less well. Sprinkle in a large teaspoon of flour; mix well with your chopsitcks, breaking up any clumps. Thinly slice a small segment of red bell pepper 红椒 and scallion 大葱,using only the white part of the latter. Set them aside to use later 备用 as a raw fresh garnish. Actually, I prefer to prepare these before starting the potato. If cut potato stands too long, it can discolor. And now you have a chance to test your trusty iron wok, to see if it has been well cured and find out whether its carefully-acquired patina will provide non-stick cooking for about 10 minutes. Bring the wok up to about three fourths of its maximum heat (tested with a drop of water) and add a bit more oil than you would normally use for a vegetable stir fry. The recipes I've read all say that a flat bottom fry pan 平底锅 actually works better, but I don't have one. Add the slivered potatoes 土豆丝 and stir them around quickly with chopsticks 筷子 to distribute them evenly. Smooth them out with your spatula 锅铲。Now shake on another teaspoon or two of oil onto the surface; it will soak right through. I use sesame oil for that 香油。 Now turn the heat to medium-low and don't disturb them until they set, one or two minutes. Then I press them down with my spatula to be sure there are no thick spots or bubbles, at which point I cover them with a pot lid that is slightly smaller than the wok. Shake the wok from time to time to slide the pancake around inside while three or four long minutes tick by. Use your chopsticks and a corner of the spatula to gently lift an edge to peek and see if the underside is nicely browned 金黄。If so, you are ready to turn the whole works over. If you are supremely confident, you can toss it in the air as though you were a TV celebrity chef. I usually opt for flipping it with the aid of two spatulas or a plate. It's the conservative approach, and as such flirts less with disaster, albeit sacrificing a degree of flair. Continue cooking the other side another 5 minutes or so on low. When the whole thing is done, turn it out onto a large plate and dust it with dried red pepper flakes 干辣椒, Sichuan prickly ash 花椒粉,and salt 食盐。I like to do that with my fingers so as not to get too much. Garnish the finished product with the bell pepper and scallion. Serve it with a smile. You can consider it a success if the outside is crisp and golden while the inside is still white and tender 脆嫩。If you are eating this fine dish communally, Chinese-style, you tear off a bite-sized piece of the cake with your chopsticks, trying to include a sliver or two of the red pepper and scallion. This is Chinese food, Yunnan style, that you can make in the West without any rare or hard to find ingredients. By all means give it a try, but don't say I didn't warn you about it being habit forming.
  20. This bold-flavored air-cured beef 牛肉干巴 originated with Yunnan's Muslim 回族 population hundreds and hundreds of years ago, but soon took the entire province by storm. Yunnan's Han 汉族 population prides itself on making succulent salt-cured huotui ham 火腿, and I've told you about that in an earlier post. These two meats are Yunnan's pride and joy, with our special Yiliang roast duck 宜良烤鸭 being a definite contender as well. The best of Yunnan's 牛肉干巴 comes from steep, rocky Zhaotong Prefecture 昭通州, up in the northeast of the province. This is a poor area, where once there was mining until it pretty much played out; and it's not a place tourists go unless they are very adventurous or are lost. Zhaotong now survives by subsistence farming and by raising sheep, goats and lean, rugged cattle. If you have been above Lijiang and Shangri-La, far up in Yunnan's popular northwest, you might have run into the delicious dried beef made from the huge hairy yak 毛牛 which thrive in the high mountains there. This is sold in small strips, mainly for snack chewing much like western jerky. It costs three or four times as much as the sort of more standard Zhaotong niu ganba 昭通牛干巴 we are discussing today. It's typically made from lean beef hindquarter meat, which is butchered into long pieces that follow the grain of the muscle. These are rubbed with salt and an assortment of spices, then hung on racks out of direct sun and allowed to air dry for several weeks. As the curing proceeds, the meat is cut into smaller strips and rubbed repeatedly with a combination of salt 食盐, hot pepper 辣椒,prickly ash 花椒,fennel 茴香 and perhaps some others, such as crushed star anise 八角。 At this point the meat can be shredded into floss for use in manufactured snack food or pounded into thin strips to make jerky. But the best of it is left as is and just cut to order across the grain and sold by weight in specialty stores, such as the one I visited yesterday in my neighborhood market. This popular stall is near the entrance to the market and they always draw a crowd. They sell a similar cured meat made from goats, but it is not as popular. I usually buy a piece of this cured beef, take it home and slice it myself to use in a stir fry. These guys are the same ones from whom I usually buy my tasty rubing 乳饼 (Yunnan goat cheese, pictured above) and they had been urging me to go "all the way" with their ganba for the best part of a year. So yesterday I finally gave in and decided to try it the more authentic 地道 and more popular way: deep fried with handfuls of dried chilies 干辣椒 and Sichuan Peppercorns 花椒。I wanted to experiment with just a trial-size piece, but 40 Yuan was the smallest order they would accept when cooking it for me there on the premises. A young woman carefully shook the thinly sliced meat into a deep wok of boiling oil after dumping in a generous handful of spices. The oil was already quite fragrant, since she uses the same batch over and over for each customer's order. She stirs it with a large perforated ladle 汤勺, carefully cooking it until well done. Then she scoops it into a paper carton 桶, which is placed in an open top plastic bag. The young man in the white butcher smock who was advising me said I could eat it just as is, letting it be part of a larger meal alongside vegetables dishes and rice. He said it could be warmed in the microwave for a few seconds if desired. I told him I would prefer to use it in a stir fry, and he said that was OK, but kind of wasteful 浪费 because cheaper meat would be adequate for that application. When I got home I nibbled a few pieces of it plain just to get an idea of its potency. Wow, it explodes in your mouth! Incredibly rich: concentrated flavor of cured beef plus all those aggressive spices and dripping with now-scented oil. But it was too much for my palate, and I had to mix it with some vegetables to dilute the strong kick a little bit. Cut up some crinkly Yunnan green peppers 虎皮椒 along with a scallion 葱,and a tomato 番茄。 And of course my fine cured and fried beef, bursting with Soutwest China flavor. (Even though it originated here, it is popular today in Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi as well.) Made a quick stir-fry, giving the vegetables a head start since the meat was already fully cooked. The resulting dish was monumentally loaded with flavor. Definitely not bland or boring. It would never remotely be mistaken for 清淡 Guangdong fare 粤菜 and it is admittedly not something everyone would enjoy. Served it with steamed rice 米饭 as a 盖饭。I was eating alone, and much prefer to make a one-dish supper when it's feasible. With guests, I take a different approach to meal planning. But I'd have to say it was right up there at the top when it comes to exploring adventurous regional cuisine. Being able to discover things that are not readily available elsewhere, like glorious Yunnan ganba 云南牛肉干把, is one of the reasons I like living here. Be sure to try some when you visit Yunnan.
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