Saturday, April 04, 2009

Exploring Chinese Cuisine In China


As a Chinese Food lover and a cook, I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time to taste and explore the real authentic Chinese in the motherland of all Chinese food! I am so giddy with the excitement of tasting original Chinese food.

Even though I had hundreds of Chinese book recipes in my library, they won't mean a thing if I have never taste the real deal !

So I told my love that when we are in China, we have to eat like a Chinese people do ! No McDonald, No pastas, No steaks, No nasi goreng. I will only put authentic Chinese food into my tummy or I will have to fast ! Hmm.... I bet R is very tempted to put me on a strict diet that time....

I imagine in a country as great as China, there must be food vendors everywhere on the streets just like in Taiwan, well.... I was wrong. Believe it or not, I felt hungry several times during that 7 days stays.

My husband told me that in China, unlike Taiwan, as long as you are going to sell food, you need to have a license. Even when you only want sell boiled corn ! Maybe that's why I don't see many food sellers ( I am not even talking about restaurants yet here ! ). Or maybe the people in China, even though now they have grown very prosperous in the past years, their spending mentality is still behind. Maybe they think it is not worth it, or it is a waste of money if you eat something you can cook it at home yourself. Unlike in Taiwan, HK, or Singapore. Eating out is no longer seen as a treat, it is necessity, it is a part of life, just for a little more money you can eat something quick and you don't need to cook and clean afterward. Anyway... that's just my thinking, I can be totally wrong about it.

Since food is not as easy to find as I expected, I started to buy snacks so when we need to skip breakfast or something, we still have something to munch on.

When we were on the way from Guangzhou airport to Shanghai, the stewardess served us with some interesting snacks. Instead of giving us bread or cookies or just peanuts on this 1 hour and 40 minutes trip, they gave us several snacks in small packages, more like a trial size. Sure one of them is the most predictable peanuts, but then the rest is new to me. I had cookies, olive preserved fruit, shredded dried squid, and pressed fresh salted tofu ! I like the tofu the most because it's taste is very simple. Salty .


When we arrived in Shanghai it was already evening. R asked the bell boy where can we eat and he told us there is a mall nearby with a food area. We walked there in this cold weather ( 12C ), but when we saw the restaurants we decided to go back to the hotel because we saw a small restaurant right next to the hotel that may have cheaper food.

I am glad we did. This small restaurant do sell cheaper food, but the most important thing is, even though small, this restaurant has enough choices that can represent Chinese food from different regions. It's like a food tour in a small place. Even better, the waiter who is very young, maybe around 25 years old is probably the most knowledgeable waiter we have ever met. This young man can explain it to us in a very detail every dish, where is it from, what is the characteristic of the dish from that region, with what special ingredients does this dish is made, what will it taste. Amazing ! Because he is so good at describing the food in such a vivid way to us, we dare to order more.

I told R to order things that we never eat . Let's try something new because you never know, they may taste great !


Pic: Shrimp with ginkgo nuts
Pic: Fish with salted black beans

Pic: Duck tongues

Pic: I love this dish, beef with hot peppers that you can eat without burning your mouth.

Pic: Grill bamboo shoots then I guess they sort of pickled it. This is an appetizer dish.

Pic: Pumpkin dessert, it's not sweet enough for my taste.

The next day we ate breakfast in the hotel which is a wrong decision on my part. Then for lunch we ate some local snack in a old town that has a beautiful garden. This is a tourist area. I love this place because it is very very old but they has renovated it to make it very beautiful. You won't believe what I dare to try to eat. I ate this sparrow birds, they are so small about a thumb size. Even though I know I won't be able to eat it all, I force myself to order one portion of it. But I can only eat 2 because I felt so eeewe , I feel so bad eating this tiny birdies !



Pic: How can I refused to eat my favorite dessert, the strawberries on a stick coated with caramel crunchy sugar ! Oh heavenly...... Here in Shanghai they improve the taste by making the caramel taste more intense then they use this edible gelatin paper to wrap the strawberries so the drips won't make your hand sticky.

Pic: Stinky Tofu, the Chinese way. fried yet not crispy like in Taiwan. It taste not bad on this cold day. R prefer the crispy type in Taiwan.

Pic : I am not if I want to eat this cow's head meat balls ....

At night time we went to eat at the best Peking Duck restaurant in Shanghai. There are many president, movie stars photos all around the restaurant.

I was disappointed though when I saw the place. The place is ugly for Shanghai standard. The cool part was the girls who wears old traditional costume. The even wear the high shoes. Boy , and I am whining when I have to wear close shoes to work when these girls has to stand on a cup half a day !

We both so excited to taste the best Peking Duck. When the duck finally came to our table and a cook start slicing it, I saw that the duck was really really hot. The duck still sizzling in it's own fat while being sliced. That makes me think, shouldn't we wait until it is cooler so that all the juice will be sucked back in by the meat? As I expected, the duck just gushing off it's own juice. I felt bad to see it's juice just ran down to the container, wasted.


Video: Slicing the best Peking Duck in Shanghai



When we finally took a bite on the duck skin... my goodness.... it's crispy because it's all fat ! Is like drinking fat. Guilt...guilt...guilt.... just written all over our faces when we eat it. To be honest with you , I do not know what's good about this place. It certainly not that bad, but it's not that great that presidents have to be brought to eat here if you know what I mean. I guess we are to used to eat Hong Kong style Peking duck. This place use northern duck that raised in a very cold weather so they develop a lot of fat in their body to keep themselves warm. This is the original taste. But the more advance country like Hong Kong and Taiwan who already know that those fat is not good for our body has stop using northern ducks a long time ago instead they use leaner duck.

But beside the Peking ducks, we also ordered duck liver that taste great but combine with the Peking ducks, they becomes to heavy to finished. We ordered duck intestine that taste not bad. But the one I like is this appetizer, duck meats with pine nuts on a crispy bowl of noodle served on a crunchy lettuce. To eat it we crushed the rice to make the crumbly smaller and easier to eat inside the lettuce leaf then eat it. Yum !

Oh yeah, the best part again is the duck soup. I don't know how many bones of duck were used to make the soup, it taste so good. The taste is very intensely ducky, hahaha !

Pic: We were suggested to order this pear warm drink to go with the duck. Not bad.

Pic: Duck intestines.
Pic: Duck livers, it taste great and very rich.

The next morning, I did not bother to eat in the hotel anymore. I just snack on what ever snack we bought at that tourist area yesterday. Cheap yet good.

For lunch, we go back again to that tourist area because someone told us to try one of the restaurant that happens to be located in that area. Since it is not too far from our hotel, we decided to take taxi there again.

I can tell that R was very tempted to buy food from this Taiwanese food seller, look at the long line of people who wants to buy Taiwanese food. I know actually that they taste great but, hey come on, we are here not to eat Taiwanese food, but Chinese food, so we better stick to our original plan of exploring authentic Chinese food.


At the suggested restaurant, R ordered all these dishes below:

1. This is probably my most favorite one in this restaurant. These small size shrimp shell is so thin, I wonder is the shrimp just molt. I think the chef deep fried them in a very hot oil because the skin is crisp but the meat is barely cook which is the best way to eat a shrimp then coat them in sweet sauce. I can eat the whole thing without worrying something will stuck on my throat because the shell is very easy to eat.

2. The stalked of lettuce that is too old and become leggy. I cooked this at home too but not this style. Just peel of the skin then either boiled it quick or steam it. Very easy, crunchy, tasty, and fast to cook. If you can find it, try it, it's very good.

3. I am finally can eat this dish. I saw this dish in my recipe books and I have been wanting to try it. It is small size eels stewed with soy sauce and oil. It taste better than it looks.

Pic: I told R that I like to try yellow croaker fish because it is probably one of the most favorite fish in China. But we soon learned quick enough that the wild one price is like 4 times the farm one.

That night we returned again to eat at that small restaurant next to our hotel. This time R craving for spicy food. So he ordered everything spicy. We both loves the spicy dishes of Hunan and Sichuan. Look at how much chili oil they use on these dishes, so gooood.


Pic: I found out that the real mapo tofu doesn't use thickened stock, instead it just use chili oil. So good.....



Pic: ( Left ) Hot and sour soup. ( Right ) This dish is very interesting, it's pickled chicken feet. It is pickled with using these very hot green chilies.... so hot yet so good for appetizer or snacking with beer.

Pic: R loves this new dish the most. The bottom full of soy bean sprouts, then the top is thinly sliced fish, the sauce is full with fresh cut chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and chili oil !

The next day will be our last day to go around Shanghai. For breakfast again, we just eat the snacks. Then for mid morning snack, R bought this food from the street while I decline it because for some reason the snack I ate this morning doesn't go down well in my tummy. But I did give it a try and it taste pretty good. Oh well, maybe next time then when my tummy cooperate better.

On afternoon we went to try a dumpling restaurant that is suggested by the travel book. It's a must try it said. We couldn't be happier with this restaurant. Finally something that truly good. Exactly like what the travel book promised.

There are 2 branches that stand right next to each other. If you can not find a seat, just try the next restaurant.

First, they want you to order and paid first on their outdoor cashier then you give your ticket to the cook. After that it's up to you if you want to bring the dumpling home or if you want to eat them right there. This dumpling is about 4 - 5 cm in diameter so it is impossible to swallow one whole, you need to learn how to eat this dumpling because inside, it has so much tasty soup that you will not want to waste even a drop but it is hard not to spill the soup everywhere ! We tried so many times because we keep on ordering it again and again but we still spill the soup. These dumpling is so good that when we saw someone accidently drop one on the street we both feel so bad.... oh poor little dumpling.... you went away without being eaten by people yet.... so wasted......

That night is our last night, I asked R not to go back to that small restaurant next to the hotel, let's try something new again but actually that night we are still kind of full from the dumpling we ate in the afternoon. So we decided to try this Macaw restaurant, but we only ordered 3 dishes. One very good mushroom soup, then sliced stewed pork and kwetiaw that taste salty instead of a little sweet that we are used to.


Now that I describe all of the food we ate in Shanghai, I can show you some of the food that we ate outside Shanghai, like these food we ate during out stay in Chongsan.


And this food we ate in Guangchao airport, they are very overprice but oh well... that's normal for airport food isn't it?
Pic: Dumpling soup
Pic: Roast Duck noodle with fried egg.

Then there is this advertising on the ferry station at the China site. Can you imagine to eat this pork hock that has been carve like a pyramid?

OR this bento below ....

From Shenchen all we have ever taste is from this bento box, but still I am learning that thin slice pumpking on the top left corner taste great. Now I am eager to stir-fry pumpkin. I didn't know that stir-fry pumpkin can taste this good!
Pic: My kids love these marshmallow cute candies.




Video: Roasting fresh tea leaves to make ready to drink tea.

COMPARISON BETWEEN TAIWANESE, HONG KONG RECIPE BOOKS WITH CHINESE RECIPE BOOK.

Every time I traveled, I always tried to buy the local recipe book that is in English or if I am in Mandarin speaking country then if there is no other choice then I don't mind to buy the book in Mandarin only because I can ask my husband to translated it to me.

One time we went in into a book store and I was so happy I found a recipe book that after a glance I Saw some of the food we have eaten these past view days were in that book. The book is in Mandarin but I can tell from the photos that those food are the same with the food we ate.

Only now when I am relaxing at home, I just asked my husband to translate some of the recipes into English for me so I can post them here. What we both found out is that none of the recipes in that book comes with measurement at all ! I mean none, really none ! In Indonesia for example, sometime if you buy a recipe book sometimes the measurement is not exactly right for example when you try cooking it with 1 tsp of salt, it turn out to be not salty at all or the opposite. But this book that I have only tells me they use Chicken feet, garlic, green onion, oil, salt, chicken essence, etc. But they do not tell me how much is needed to cook this dish. Then they just describe the step by step proses on how to cook it.

Let me show you two or the recipes that I was planning to give to you ...

Pic: The stir-fry pumpkin I ate in the bento box

Pic: Pickled chicken feet with green chilies.

The reason why I chose these 2 recipes is because if I compare these 2 with the rest of the recipes in the book, I think these 2 are the most healthy one.

Okay, I am not trying to be a hypocrite here. I am not the healthiest person, I ate too much, and I hate exercise, I think I only exercise when I am chasing after a great food or sale. But I am not kidding when I said that these 2 are the healthiest. Most of the food we ate in China are very oily. Most of them a tad too salty for me.

Looking after the recipes in that book makes me become curious. 50% of Chinese recipe books in my library are from Taiwanese authors. 30 % are from American-Chinese, Canadian Chinese or British authors. 20% are from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore authors. This book most likely the first one I have that is from Chinese author. I believe I have Hunan, Sichuan, Shanghai, Beijing cuisines in my library but none of them probably written by a Chinese. So I started to do a little research. I know most of the popular, well known recipes from those regions, but I need to know how different are they? How different is the same dish if it is written by a Chinese or by an author that is not from mainland China? After half an hour I am convinced that none of the recipes that I have actually reflects the real, authentice Chinese food that I saw and or ate in China. The smell, the taste, the amount of salt and oil are always different. Sometimes by a little, but they can be by much.

It is very strange that after 12 years of cooking I thought authentic Chinese dishes I just found out that actually I did not.

So the question is, do I want to learn the authentic way, the real way of cooking Chinese dishes? I am a person who like everything authentic. I don't like fusion style. But this time I have to say that at the end, I will still cook Chinese cuisine the foreigner way. Not the authentic way. I am afraid if I cook it the authentic way , I will be dead of a heart disease when I am 50 if not less. Scary thought.

One of my Taiwanese friend told me that since his father diagnosed with a heart disease, now when they cook Taiwanese/Chinese dish, when they need to stir-fry the garlic, onion, or ginger first, they will only use 1 tsp of oil. They will blanch the vegetables separately when they want to stir-fry them. Then mix the vegetables with that 1 tsp oil and garlic, ginger, etc and a little of salt. That's the healthiest way off course.

I am not that healthy yet. I will probably use 1 - 2 Tbs of oil to stir fry garlic, ginger, onion .

But the Chinese way that I saw is like using 1 Cup of oil , so it IS a big different, isn't it?