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Across China with the vermin

Peter Green

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(Waiting with bated breath for the next installment...)

"baited breath" Is that the result of eating small raw fish? (ducks and runs very far away... :biggrin:

Hey, I like my sashimi. Don't knock it. :wink:

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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Day 11 – part 2 – Beer Streeting

But, before we get to the really fun part, a bit of tourism.

Right after lunch, we were going to go look at pets. Not that we could buy them (conveniently, Yoonhi is allergic to anything alive….at least that’s what we would tell the kids), but we wanted to see the bird and flower market.

This was a pretty abbreviated version, but it was a lot of fun for Serena. She raced from fish shop to fish shop, and then found the dog stores, and then plenty of birds, more dogs, turtles, and even some cats.

For our part, we learned how to spot the dog stores. Look for the little knitted clothes. In China, the dogs dress for success.

Another popular pet was a small mouselike thing. These were kept in crowded cages where they would cannibalize their brethren’s carcasses. Serena found this particularly intriguing. Yoonhi pointed this out to the shopkeeper, and she was kind enough to remove the corpse and toss it into the street. Yoonhi stopped pointing things out after this.

In amongst all this was a small complex of furniture and art shops. That was where I found the tea tables.


Now, when someone mentions “tea table” to me, I think of some rickety little thing to be found in my aunt’s sitting room, just the size of the lace doily that’ll go on top of it. Not here. There were a variety of tables, all carved from gnarled bits of wood, each with several layers, all fitted with drains. I want one, but where would I put it? And they had these beautiful brush holders carved from branches, small knobs to hang your drying brushes from……

Overcome with the lust of acqisition, Yoonhi had to drag me out. To calm down, we went to the River Viewing Pavilion.


This was a nice way to come down from a calligraphy brush rush, as, besides the calming bamboo, the main point for the park is to memorialize the famous Tang poetess, Xue Tao.


An interesting woman. She’d written proliferously, and was the center point for much of the literary movement of the time (7th century), the friend of most everyone of education, and building poetry reading pavilions. She’d loved bamboo, and so the area was covered in pretty little stands as a tribute to her. There’s a small museum with copies of her poems transcribed by many of the more famous calligraphers, and also full of tributes to her. If you like calligraphy (I shouldn’t be making assumptions here about peoples’ tastes) then this is also a fun place to compare the different styles, especially now that the government has disemboweled much of the art with their program (pogrom?) of simplification.


Oddly, Serena and Yoonhi didn’t seem quite as enthralled, and drifted away to one of the massage sites that seem to be everywhere. This franchise had set up with four masseuses and a handful of chairs right in front of the museum.


While Serena and Yoonhi gave into the tactile pleasure of a massage, I wandered the quiet gardens and took in the Tower of Magnificence, as the river viewing tower is known.


It’s a feng shui thing. The tower was designed such that it’s reflection would stretch across the river and block the fortune leaving the town. Before it was built in 1898, there was an “obsolete Wave Turning Tower”. “….this old and shabby tower might explain the reason why the local young people could not pass the civil examination for many years.”

Perhaps it might rather be the Chengdu habit of extremely long lunches. But that’s another matter.

I’d mentioned the park was quiet. It was only incorporated as a park proper a few years back. Before that, there was no entrance fee, and the area was much livelier, with riverside vendors, crowds of old people, shops, and many more masseurs.


As with many Chinese towers, navigating the upper reaches can be a challenge, but it was a pleasant view up here, looking out on the river.


After all of this, I was relaxed enough to head home and get ready for dinner.

When we arrived home, it was to find, as expected, that Scud was still in his pyjamas, and that our Zhang Fei beef was a thing of the past. We chased him out of our room, and relaxed over internet and a bit of single malt.

We met Java later that evening, towards 7p.m. This is where cell phones are worth their weight in something weighty….I won’t say gold, as gold is too noble to be associated with these electronic leashes we wear. Still, cell phones have their uses. The best of which lies in giving them to a Chinese taxi driver so he can ask Java where to take us. Worked like a charm.

We got off on Ue Ling Lu (I think that’s right) in front of Pen Pen Xia restaurant. The place was packed, so we took a stool out front and waited for some space to open up.


While waiting, some of Java’s friends came by, and used me as an opportunity to practice English. Not a problem for me. I’ll talk to anyone. Of course, it helps if they buy me drinks…..


Soon enough, a group left the restaurant and we were able to shoulder our way through to a couple of small wooden tables and stools. This looked like my kind of place. There were bottles of Harbin Beer piled up everywhere. Most of the customers just kept a box by their table, and put the empties straight in. Harbin’s making a push into the Southern markets, and they were doing a great business here. The beer had good bubbles, reasonable taste, and a fair head that lasted a bit longer than the others I’d been disparaging.


We ordered fried tomato potato first (at least I think that’s what it was (“baozhi yu lin?”) – crispy dollops of potato flour (soft inside) with a big plate of ketsup - and Java plopped a plastic bag of Bon Bon chicken onto the table. We’d driven past a few places offering this, and I was wondering if it was a nice little chicken flavoured candy or what. What it is is a nicely spiced cold chicken dish, typical of Sichuan. Java was calling this Beggar’s Chicken, but I’m not certain if that’s correct, or at least not what I was used to as Beggar’s Chicken, but I’m biased by the Cantonese. Whatever, this had an excellent burn to it.

Soft upon our table did land an interesting little plate of pickles, including soft little beans that we sniped with our chopsticks.



For Serena we ordered Three Flavour Chicken Soup – appropriately mild mannered – which she set to with the proper slurping.


And for us I called in a big bowl of crawfish and some more examination gloves.


At this point, the picture gets a little blurred, given the large amounts of Harbin beer that someone at our table was drinking.


We had another bowl on the go, this one with water cooked fish.


Once that was worked through (and we had some more Harbin) Java ordered vegetables to go into the broth. This included my favourite – lotus root – and slices of potato.


I navigated the little wooden tables to the facilities, admiring the kitchen as I bumped into diners. Flat out, every table full, and the whole thing served by a guy with three woks.


It’s always amazing what you can do when you’re well organized, and have all the important things in place.

Speaking of important things…..


Hmmmm? I wonder if Harbin is also part of the Budweiser drang nach Osten (that’d be a great name for a band – if nothing else I’m reserving that line for my beer review of China later).

Coming back, as I was ordering more beer, I spotted some good looking sausage under the countertop display, and ordered a plate of it for the table. This was softer than I was used to with Chinese sausages, and salted just right for me; it would’ve been a perfect accompaniment for the beer, if Scud hadn’t eaten most of it when my back was turned.


The reason my back was turned was that there was a very nice couple sitting beside us who were visiting from Guangxi, and had a large plate of snails in front of them. Through Java we made a bilateral agreement to share some of our crawfish with them for the taste of a couple of snails.


The snail was piquant, chewy, and, most important, purged. Just like in Laos.

As an aside, I love Fergus Henderson’s description of an outing in the Hebrides purging snails, the ensuing trauma of their ordeal, and their most humane emancipation.

Ah, we were in fine form. There was a free flow of cold Harbin, we were engaged in barter with the tables about us, and I was an open source of English language reference for a subsection of Sichuan University.

But, such enthusiasm cannot, unlike Prometheus, be bound (and I like my liver unpecked by eagles). We set off for distant shores….

Actually, we walked across the street to one of the other places we’d been admiring while we waited for a table at PenPenXia.

This was the right move. The beginning of a night calls for the regal settings of PenPenXia. Wooden benches, rattley stools (the kind you sit on, please), and stark white walls… but classy wooden benches, rattley stools and stark white walls.

This place had all the makings of a proper dive, lacking only sawdust on the floor and a body or two.

Of course, there was no shortage of corpses.


Bunny and duck heads galore. It would’ve gladdened the hearts of many of my Iban friends.


This was eating. The entire front of the store was a study in brown. Heads, bladders, tails. This was almost as good as dinner at St. John (but without the breads or wines, I’m afraid).


Plates of ears, more intestines, stuff just wallowing in puddles of red….I was feeling more and more comfortable.


The snow peas looked like just the touch for Serena (we didn’t tell her about the chilis in with them…what she doesn’t know….)


And then the pig bladders snagged me. These just looked so magnificently Alien. We ordered a plate of these, some bunny heads, and a pig tail for the boy.


I had never had the pleasure of eating a rabbit head, and Java had to explain it to me. You take the head in one hand, the face pointing away from you, and then bit into the soft spot at the back of the head and eat the brain. Then you disengage the jaw, and savage what bits of meat you can find.



The tail, with a cheerful pile of smashed chili pepper on the side, was alright…. but really more of a thing to have on the side of beer, a little too rubbery for active feeding. Scud chewed on them for awhile, but was dissatisfied with the amount of meat yielded up.

While Yoonhi has fond memories of being given a tail to gnaw upon as a child (it’s a Korean cure for excessive drooling), and had similar recollections of raising bunnies for a short period of time, she didn’t seem too eager to join in. Serena was busy with her snow peas, and was working hard at pretending we didn’t exist.


The bladder was the highlight of all of this. They’d fried it lighly, then cut it into ribbons. It gave just enough to make you work a bit on eating it, but yielded easily enough that you didn’t flag.


As with any good composition, there needs to be a balance, and such foods require some liquid accompaniment. I went back to Green Sword and Snow.

What a grand night. I enjoy this wandering and eating and drinking. Our only mistake was in taking the kids. They’re good eaters, but they start to slow down after a couple of hours, and they were getting edgey. It was a little after midnight, and there was a busy day coming up, with cooking school for Scud and I, so we decided to pack it in.

Next: Cooking Class in Mordor

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[...]Soft upon our table did land an interesting little plate of pickles, including soft little beans that we sniped with our chopsticks.




Yet another great report! I look forward to the next one!

Michael aka "Pan"


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[...]Soft upon our table did land an interesting little plate of pickles, including soft little beans that we sniped with our chopsticks.




Yet another great report! I look forward to the next one!

I thought peanuts, too. Maybe it's just that they'd been pickled and had gone soft. But when I wrote this, the flavour that came back was of a semi-hard lentil, for some strange reason.

But, looking at the picture in better definition (and without any Harbin beer on hand), they do look like peanuts.

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Those are peanuts and not beans.

In China you would see a lot of peanuts cooked in a braising sauce until it's soft. I also do it at home. Kinda like boiled peanuts from the South (US south that is.)

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Day 12 – Part 1 - Welcome to Mordor

“I feel a little out of place.”

These were Scud’s words as we arrived at our cooking class.


I’d set this up through Java in advance. Originally, we were looking at the Sichuan Culinary Institute, but this had turned problematical. They’d ended up with a price of around 1800 RMB for a class, which seemed sort of steep. They were also somewhat rigid, demanding the money a week in advance of the class. As we’d been on the road then, it looked like this wasn’t going to work out.

But Java and I turned up an alternative – the Ba-Guo-Bu-Yi (Sichuan common people) Cook Technical College. In contrast to the Culinary Institute, this was laid back. “Bring the money (200 RMB a head) the day before…let us know which dishes you’d like to learn…..oh, and is everyone large enough to do some lifting?”

They have a string of restaurants (eleven, I believe) in Sichuan and further afield in Beijing and Shanghai, and this school handles the issue of providing chefs to stock the kitchens. Reading up on it now, I wish I’d had time to include one of their places in my Chengdu visit, as they have a reputation for satisfying the locals’ demand for burning hot food.

Surfing through Google, there’s also a restaurant in Richmond (the Vancouver Richmond, that is, not Surrey’s Richmond…..wait a minute, that’s London’s Surry’s Richmond….ah, forget it. Just think Vancouver). From what I could find it was unclear if this is part of the group, or just a name grab.

Anyways, where was I?


Oh, yes. School.

We came in from the main street down a side alley into what was once probably a parking lot. It had been built over into a compound of classrooms and offices, with a central courtyard which, when we arrived, was full of young men in chef whites smoking furiously.

At this point, Scud felt that, perhaps, he might just be a tad uncomfortable.

Java popped into the office, and was right back out again with an older gentleman who walked us over to our kitchen. As we went by one of the formal classrooms (stadium seating for about forty) I noticed the demographics of cooking schools here are heavily weighted to the masculine side. That’s a long winded way of saying that I only saw one female among all the students.

Java’d touched on this before. At least in Sichuan, men like to cook. Her father cooked at home, as did her friends’ fathers.

Our instructor was a thin straight blade of a man – Mr. Jun. Deft with his instruments, and happy with his class. He’s been at the school since it opened up in 1996, coming straight here from the restaurant.

And we had a class. There were about eight others working in the kitchen. It appeared that we were going to be used as an opportunity to review the basics with the group, and his senior two students teamed up with Scud and I.

Java was essential, as nobody there was going to be leaving the chef business to work as a translator at the UN. She kept up a fairly solid interpretation as we went, managing the kitchen terminology fairly well.

On the menu for today were four dishes. Gung Bao Chicken, Water Cooked Pork, Flower Cut Eggplant, and Sweet and Sour Pork.

We were standing around the prep area, a big open metal table top, with Chinese cutting boards spread out on the surface, and plenty of bowls for the meez. Looking nervously beyond that, I could see the barbaric splendor of the stoves; two rows of them separated by a narrow divider for keeping seasonings and for water. Open flames, slick tiled floors, and sharp instruments. This was going to be fun.


We had a quick review of the ingredients, touching upon a few key items such as the pickled chilis, the Sichuan sauce (which I’d bought a couple of bags of earlier in the market), and bean flour.


All of the cookbooks I have use copious quantities of corn flour in everything. This was the first time I’d come across bean starch, but it made sense. I asked Mr. Jun what could be substituted for this and his answer was “don’t substitute”.


There was also this ubiquitous item – “Gourmet Powder”, spoonfuls of which were tossed into all the dishes. I’m going out on a limb, but I suspect this is MSG. I’ll be happy to be corrected, though. (It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I recommend Steingarten on this topic).

The lads were busy pearling some peanuts they’d roasted up with salt. The salt wasn’t for flavour so much as it was to keep the colour of the peanuts so they’d look good. They banged the hot pan on the countertop and most of the skins dropped off.

Gung Bao was a fairly easy prep. Cut everything, the chicken, the green onion whites, the garlic, and ginger to a size to match the peanuts. At first I was told to cut to the size of my thumb, and then they realized that it’d be better for me to use the first joint of my little finger, instead.


Now, I am not a cleaver man. Heck, I can barely remember which end of a knife to hold, so I was having some issues with the proper use of the noble cleaver. After a little work with the guys, I could start to appreciate the supple wrist and forearm motion that’s needed. I could also appreciate that I was a source of general amusement.

I had the cleaver to the point where I could tackle the paper thin cuts for the pork tenderloin. We needed this for the water cooked pork. And from there I could handle the celery that would go with it.


What I couldn’t get down was the mincing. I’d hoped to get the trick of the double cleaver mince, as that always looks way cool, but I think that’s something I’m going to have to practice. Scud was doing a bit better with this, although there was general concern that he’d end up a finger short at some point.

I watched the lads doing the detailed mincing, stopping occasionally to sharpen their cleavers on the lip of a porcelain bowl. The double chop was in action on one board, while on the other they were flat scraping the seeds out of the chilis.


The flower cut was relatively simple, and made good sense. Deep, diagonal scoring on the eggplant, increasing the surface area so it could pick up more sauce (and faster to cook in oil). This could be either cut to bite sized pieces, or left whole to give the illusion of a fish in the finished dish.


The fish look would move the dish into the “banquet” category. The main differentiator in high end dining and regular eating isn’t really an issue of ingredients in China (beyond the mandatory abalone for expensive meals) but of presentation. Most of the time, the dishes are pretty utilitarian, taking adornment through colour combinations, rather than any fancy carving. Contrast this with the Thai, who’ll toss in a flowery chili pepper or a crenellated eggplant without even thinking about it.

One of the “fanciest” restaurants in town is probably Gingko. When I asked about the food, the answer I got was that everything looked beautiful. I tried asking about the flavours, and drew a blank. You go to those sorts of restaurants for things to look good, not because the tastes will be different.



Everything chopped and prepped, we approached the fires of Mt. Doom.


We’d followed a fairly solid teaching pattern in the first part. Mr. Jun told us what he was going to do, then he showed us how he does it, then he had us do it. This was the same for the execution.


There was a good variety of meez laid out. Mouth numbing pepper corns, smashed chilis, chili powder, spring onion, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, Sichuan sauce (what is the proper name for that stuff?), sesame oil, soys, “gourmet powder”, bean starch, white pepper, and probably some other stuff I can’t recall.


Like this bottle. What is this? I know, I should’ve asked when I was there, but there’s a lot going on.

One of the things that’s going on is the measuring. I’d been warned about these classes, not to expect to hear about “a tablespoon of this” and “50 cl of that”. Everything went in on the basis of an eyeball judge of how much was in the spatula.

The eggplant went quickly. As I’d noted, the flower cut lets the oil invade the flesh and quickly cook the material. Then it was set on the side, and the sauce was worked up with the minced pork, pickled peppers (a peck), ginger, garlic, and water (I would’ve used stock, but they go with water). The sugar and salt went in after a taste, and the dark soy was used at the end for colour, and then the starch to thicken. Vinegar after the thickening, and a topping of spring onion and oil.


Most of the dishes took a final shot of fresh oil after the cooking. As I was told (and as Yoonhi commented) “Sichuan people like oil”.


We’d marinaded the chicken for the Gung Bao. Egg white, salt, and soy sauce had been worked into the meat, and then sugar and ground pepper, and lots of starch. A touch of the dark soy for colour, and some vinegar.


This was a more active fry. He’d work the wok forward and back on and off the flame to control the heat, using new oil to drop the temperature as well. All the ingredients went in one after the other, the peanuts last, and after a few deft moves with the metal spatula, it was done. Just a dollop of new oil, and the second dish was out of the way.


Then came the one I was really keen on. The water cooked pork.

First, in a small bit of oil (by Sichuan standards) we flashed the celery with a taste of salt.

Then, in a bigger puddle of oil, we cooked up the ginger and smashed chilis with soy and pepper, and then added water to work up a soup.

The pork had had some wine put onto it earlier, along with lots of bean starch. Mr. Jun said that the bean starch would make the pork more tender. I’ve mentioned this to Yoonhi, and she concedes that while starch won’t tenderize, there could be an enzyme at play here, which would be part of the reason Mr. Jun was saying not to substitute. So, if I have it right and this is bean starch/flour, what kind of bean is it? Mung? Soy?

Back to work, we put the pork in the soup, along with some “gourmet powder’ and sugar, and a dash of the dark soy. The pork cooked almost instantly, and we removed this to the vegetables. On top we put some prefried chilis, and a handful of the crushed peppercorns. A bit of garlic, and some spring onion.

Then we hit it with sizzling hot oil, and we were there.


This left the deep frying.

The issue here is getting the temperatures right. It has to start off not too hot, getting a good colour on the outside, then the middle passage has to increase to cook through, and the finale has to come back down again, working to the proper golden colour.

Once that’s done, the pork went off to drain while we put in some new oil. Sauces have to have clean oil. On low heat, the tomato sauce (puree) went into the oil, and some water was added, along with sugar, salt, and the ever-present bean starch. The bean starch was just kept in a big bowl throughout all of the cooking. This was worked up to a good thick level, and then the vinegar was added, along with (you guessed it) some fresh oil. Gotta have oil.


That was the end of the demonstration period. We’d been okay with talking the talk, but now we had to wok the wok (sorry).

We’d been here for about two and a half hours by this time, so it was time for a bathroom break. Scud went first, and I waited for him to come back (this way I don’t have to find things myself).

Scud was a little shaken by the experience.

I had to see how bad it was. It was pretty bad. It had been awhile since the flush had worked. The lack of soap, towels, and running water was also a concern. This is one of those aspects of eating abroad that it may be better not to think too much about. (And, no, I didn’t take any pictures. I have my limits).

Traumatized by that, we now faced the prospect of working around raging blast furnaces, with hot metal pots and spatulas, while gliding about on wet tiles.

The woks are traditional, which means they’re big, and the handles are just bits of metal. To manage it, you get an old rag which now becomes your best friend.


I understand that the regular students are drilled daily in wok handling, working with a cold wok half filled with sand, spending a couple of hours flipping, moving, and stirring. What we had to do was keep control of the pot with our left hand and the rag, while using the spatula to hook the other handle when needed to move things about.


I had a vision of Scud and I both flying face first into one of the blast furnaces.


But, we worked our way through things. There were some slightly tense moments when Scud started flambéing, and I relied heavily on my minder – Liu Chong Fei (Little Fight) – to keep me in line and get my stuff on or off of the fire as needed. Mr. Jun hitched up his pants and watched us from the side with general amusement, passing comments to Java from time to time such as “Watch out!” and “No! No! No!”


We survived.


The food actually tasted good, too. But by this time both Scud and I were so tired that our hearts weren’t in the eating. Between the tension of keeping our feet underneath us, avoiding major burns, stooping over to work at the stations (we’re a little bigger than the averaged students), and trying not to screw up too bad – we were bagged. We cross checked our dishes, and cleaned up as best we could.

I was curious on a couple of topics, and Java relayed my questions to Mr. Jun. One, we’re not that much of an oddity. They get about one group of foreigners in every week, ranging from lone travelers to medium sized groups. He was wondering why I’d come. If I had a restaurant back home, or if I was in the business, as this is commonly what they see in the visiting students. I told him I was strictly an amateur, and he had not trouble believing that.

My other question was why he’d chosen to be a chef. That was easy, he said. It was “the hobby of his life”. He’d always cooked, from being a child, through his first job in a restaurant, to today. It’s not the easiest life, but he likes it.

And that was the cooking class. The good news is, based on last night’s efforts, some of the class stuck with me, I’m just going to have to do a lot more practicing.

I wonder what Yoonhi’ll do when she finds me with one of her woks full of sand?

Next: Big surprise! Peter has a beer

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Great pics Peter!

I hate to do this to you but the "gourmet powder" has the real name underneath it in Chinese "Wei Jing" which means MSG! TA-DA!

I noticed that Sichuan natives (this applies to Wuhan too) love MSG. I remember eating a hot pot with some natives and the dipping sauce they made for me consisted of a spoonful of MSG, tablespoon full of sesame oil, and a dash of soy. It was actually very good and extremely tasty (can't imagine why.)

Adn the bottle that you were asking about is "Liao Jiu" which is rice cooking wine.

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Great pics Peter!

I hate to do this to you but the "gourmet powder" has the real name underneath it in Chinese "Wei Jing" which means MSG! TA-DA! 

I noticed that Sichuan natives (this applies to Wuhan too) love MSG.  I remember eating a hot pot with some natives and the dipping sauce they made for me consisted of a spoonful of MSG, tablespoon full of sesame oil, and a dash of soy.  It was actually very good and extremely tasty (can't imagine why.)

Adn the bottle that you were asking about is "Liao Jiu" which is rice cooking wine.

Thanks, XiaoLing!

Like I said, I was pretty sure it was MSG. Steingarten, in his collection It Must've Been Something I Ate has a short piece titled Why Doesn't Everyone In China Have A Headache? wherein he looks at the research that's been going into CRS (Chinese Restaurant Syndrome). MSG can have some issues, but there may be more to how its ingested than just a straightforward reaction.

"Liao Jiu" makes sense, I think I heard them refer to "Liao" during the work.

Now, what can someone tell me about what I think is the bean flour? Is that the correct assessment, and, if so, what type of bean is used?



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Now, what can someone tell me about what I think is the bean flour?  Is that the correct assessment, and, if so, what type of bean is used?



Yes, it is bean flour or starch. The bean flour is most likely made from mung beans. It can be used the same way as corn starch. In all honesty, just use corn starch. It's just as good.

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Now, what can someone tell me about what I think is the bean flour?  Is that the correct assessment, and, if so, what type of bean is used?



Yes, it is bean flour or starch. The bean flour is most likely made from mung beans. It can be used the same way as corn starch. In all honesty, just use corn starch. It's just as good.

I'm intrigued, though, by the Mr. Jun's comment that it'll help tenderize the meat. I'm putting Yoonhi, my resident food scientist, onto the enzyme hunt.

Now, I'd better get back to writing up the last Chengdu meal.

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Day 12 – part 2 – In the Tibetan Side of Town (with a nod to Bruce Cockburn)

I returned with a craving for a beer. I felt it was deserved. Scud had a craving for a shower. A long one.


What I had was a Kingway beer. This was a creation of the SS group who earlier brought us the sinisterly named Wahaha bottled water. It had an incredibly noisy head, one you could hear crinkle, like Coke. And, like Coke, the head disappeared almost immediately. But the flavour wasn’t bad, and I needed to write some stuff. Here’s what the SS has to say about their beer: ”This is the most high quality product. Limpid and yellowish, mild and refreshing.”

The ladies had had a quiet day. They’d gone first to Tianfu Square to fly kites, but were turned away by Public Security, being told off that kite flying was not allowed there. Then Yoonhi had a brilliant idea, and took Serena to the empty pool at our hotel. That turned out to be a good safe place, although the lifeguard was somewhat confused.

Yoonhi gave Serena a choice for brunch, so the little vermin went for the obvious.


Cheeseburger happy meal.

She was hungry later for lunch. Two guesses what she had next?


Yup. Exact same thing.

It could drive a man to drink….. Or at least inspire him to take a bus there.


This time I tried a Blue Sword Genuine Draft Beer ”for fresher crisper pure beer taste.”

As I enjoyed my refreshing beverage, Yoonhi pointed out some of the hotel’s official rules for guests:

No cooking

No gas bottles

No firecrackers

No radioactive devices

I guess the last one covers any visiting North Koreans.

This was our last night in Chengdu, so we decided to make it a happy family affair. We were leaving the kids behind. I suggested just duct taping them in the closet with the Happy Meal toys, but Yoonhi won out, and brought food back to the room for them.

Still shaken (not stirred) by the cooking school experience, we asked Scud what he’d want for dinner. Pizza. Okay, he’s done a fair bit of work today, he could have a pizza.


Pizza Hut was just across the street. Very upscale looking. Not very quick. Awful, awful, awful pizza. Even Scud had to admit that this wasn’t very good. I suppose it’s never a good idea to order cheese based foods in Asia. This had these dollopy, yellow, greasy things that I think were supposed to be cheese. I’ve had better cheese in Mongolia. At least there I knew it came from a quadruped. This felt like it’d been extruded from I don’t know what…..

And as for Serena? What do you think she wanted for dinner?


At times I despair.

We abandoned the children to the internet, with instructions to the boy to let Serena watch her movie on the laptop (to which he grudgingly complied), and we went downstairs to get a taxi.

Taxis can be tough to find in Chengdu, depending on the time. At around 5:30, when we were on the move, most of them are either on a shift change, or are packed out with the close of the offices. At around $1 a ride, they’re not priced out of the market.

We were off to the Tibetan side of town.

We’d mentioned earlier that one of the main reasons people visit Chengdu is to get their papers for Tibet. The office where they need to go is in this part of town. We started seeing a lot of Buddhist stores, and monks moving about the streets.


This was fun. It wasn’t just one or two or three monks, there were dozens of them about. And lots of shops with neat stuff. I was wishing for another day in Chengdu.

Java met us at Wei Zhi Jue on Xiao Jia Hezhong Lu. The cell phone thrown at the driver worked like a charm again. This place translates out as The Wonder of Flavour, and they’re famous for their frogs. Checking out the plaques, they’ve got one up for the 1st Chengdu Fish Cultural Festival. Has there been a second Chengdu Fish Cultural Festival?


And that brings up a question I was wondering about. How do the Chinese classify their foods? Fish, poultry, mammals? Or is there a different structure corresponding to Chinese medicine dictating the grouping of foods on yin and yang?

If so, are frogs and eels grouped with fish? Are snakes grouped with poultry? Do lamb and beef and pork go together? Where do the insects fit in? If someone wants to pipe up, I’m very interested. (Maybe I need a separate thread for this?)


Anyways, frog is what we’re eating here. But we’re going to have snails, too, as well as duck heads. And did I see a nice bucket of eels outside?


Yes…. yes I did.


They had a Snow girl there, so of course we had to drink that. There were two varieties, differentiated by the proof. The proof (or degree) is a big thing it would seem with Chinese beers. On many (particularly in Xi’an with Hans) the label is almost all taken up by the 90 or 100. You’ve gotta squint (okay, I’ve gotta squint. I’m old) to make out the brand.


While we were waiting for our food, an itinerant food stand rolled up outside. One of many things I like about restaurants in China is that they’re not fussy about having proprietary rights on their customers. As long as you’re spending some money inside, they’re okay with drive by sales. So, just as Java had brought in a bag of bon bon chicken the night before, we were out the door to pick up some Gui ling gao (correct me if I’m wrong) and ee’nas.


First he poured out a hot cup of what seemed to be white fungus.


After that was done, he had another pot full of gelatin, and something in a Sprite bottle that was just waaaay the wrong colour for Sprite.


These both got capped, and we drank them down over dinner with straws as thick as my index finger (short and stubby, too). The dark one was cool, and I found it quite refreshing. The white, hot fungus one was a pleasant taste as well, although the texture made you think you were drinking out of a spittoon.

The frogs here were really good. Lots of meat, and, as I’d noted in Cambodia, probably taste more like chicken than a Cambodian chicken does (but not the Chinese chickens. These were good).


I liked this pose on the frog. For some reason it makes me think of DaVinci.


Java showed me how to eat the duck heads, breaking the bill and then taking the tongue (which tasted a lot better with the oil and chilis than it did in Beijing), and then ravaging the meat on the insides of the jaws.


The eels we’d chosen arrived at the table, and again it was a study in crimson. Good flesh on these, and the bones crunched down well.

The snails were tasty, although not as good as the ones at PenPenXia, lacking a little of the definition we’d had in the others (and perhaps not so well purged).

As always, the finishing of one dish meant it was time to order more stuff to go into the bowl. We ordered up a serving of duck blood to go in.


And some of the local mushrooms (once I saw the colours on them, it was a foregone conclusion I’d be eating them).


And, of course, lotus root. Now that I can’t get it, I’m going into withdrawal.


We lingered over this for awhile, and engaged in idle chit chat. I was curious as to the Chengdu perspective on the Olympics. Java’s opinion was “it’s not really our business”. This in contrast to Xi’an, where Li Zhi was very upbeat. But Xi’an is going to get a lot of tourist spillover as a result of the games, and was building up in anticipation. Chengdu, well, outside of the Koreans, there aren’t a lot of people spending a lot of time in Chengdu.


Stuffed, we wandered outside, looking for a cab. After a bit of work we found one willing to go back to the centre of town, and we said goodbye to Java. She’d been an enthusiastic diner once she realized that we didn’t need tourist food, and I know, without her, we wouldn’t have eaten nearly as well. If anyone’s interested in eating Chengdu, I’d be happy to recommend her.

Next: Down South

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OMG!! I am soooooooo looking forward to my trip to China this fall. I think my family and I are settling on visitin Yunnan, but knowing them, it'll change last minute.

As for me? I'm not even thinking about that because I'm going to Taiwan (I'm already drooling in anticipation for the food) and possibly Kyoto or Seoul. Not sure with one yet.

Ok, back to your post:

I LOVE frogs cooked this way or sauteed with chilis, garlic, and ginger. But you have to find the wild variety. Ten years back all they sold were the wild varieties but now alot of them are farmed. Looks like the one you got is the farmed variety because of it's size. The wild variety is smaller and much more tender. I remember killing them fresh myself and well...gutting them too. I am a fearless cook. :blink:

I think to answer your question, we separate items in China by "Meat", "Seafood", and "Vegetables." Eels would definitely fall into the seafood catagory. Eels in Mandarin would be called "San Yu." As you noticed it's a "Yu" which means fish.

The white fungus soup you had with the outside vendor is called (written on his cart) "Bing Tang Ying Er Tong" which translates to "ice candy silver ear soup." And the black gelatin stuff he pour out of the sprite bottle is "Gui ling gao."

Wow, I'm so jealous of your meals and its really making me anxious to start my trip!

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Yes, it is bean flour or starch. The bean flour is most likely made from mung beans. It can be used the same way as corn starch. In all honesty, just use corn starch. It's just as good.

I'm intrigued, though, by the Mr. Jun's comment that it'll help tenderize the meat. I'm putting Yoonhi, my resident food scientist, onto the enzyme hunt.

Now, I'd better get back to writing up the last Chengdu meal.

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Day 13 – Interlude - Music For Airports

Some airports are just shells. No character, no real feel. Others have – perhaps – a little too much character, like Cairo and its general squalor, or Dubai when the sub Saharan flights are coming through.

But I liked the character of Chengdu Airport.

As we arrived at the airport, brought in by the garrulous Mr. Yang and his driver, Mr. Li, we passed a great sign.

“Collecting the distillates of the whole world”

Now there’s a motto for dipsophiles everywhere.

Once we were inside and Mr. Yang had delivered us safely to the China Southern desk, we found that the airport floor had a farmers’ market. None of this packaged nonsense, they had fresh fruit to buy by the sack, and lots of good looking berries and mushrooms.


In particular, they had some flats of what looked like raspberries (but black, and elongated) that I decided we needed for snacks. They tasted a little like raspberries in the texture, but were far sweeter and really tasty (anybody want to jump in and identify these?).

After that we were through security and into the departure hall. Lots of shops with stuff that wasn't too outrageously priced. And like Chengdu, there were massage spots everywhere. If you need a vibrating pin stuck in your ear before a flight, you'd love this airport.

Now, I thought this would be a good moment to get a little sit-down and write up a few things. I wanted to get something down on how the waitresses in the hotel bar were grossed out by the idea of eating scorpions. I thought everybody in this country ate everything! But there are regional biases, after all.

So, I needed a table so I could open up the laptop.

Generally, if I’m going to take advantage of a café’s tables, I’ll order something. So we strolled the hall down to the end and figured, all things being equal, we’d just sit down in the UBC café and have some coffee and ice cream.

All things are not equal.

The UBC café has some nice coffee. Jamaican Blue Mountain, in fact. I like this coffee. I do not, however, like it enough to justify 95 RMB for a cup while I wait for a plane. And the ice cream that Serena picked out was 108 RMB. It’s Haagen-Daaz, but I don’t care. Generally I won’t bail in the face of outrageous prices, but this was a little too much.

We fled.

Down the hall I bought both the kids some ice cream or 10 RMB, and grabbed a beer for myself. I could write later. For the moment I’d play go with Serena.

Next: Guilin

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This is amazing... street food vendors in suits? :biggrin: Wow! But perhaps that's the common dress code over there, seeing another person wearing suits while walking a bicycle.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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This is amazing...  street food vendors in suits?  :biggrin:  Wow!  But perhaps that's the common dress code over there, seeing another person wearing suits while walking a bicycle.

They come runnin' just as fast as they can

'Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Hey, what can I do beyond quoting ZZ Top?

(Actually, it's nice to see people taking pride in what they do. You get a good feel of China from this.....but I do like ZZ Top, too)

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Day 13 – The Beautiful South (or Here Comes Old Red Eyes)

Out the starboard window, the scenery was excellent.

It’s like Halong Bay, or maybe more like Hua Lu, except this is the more famous of them, the one that’s in every Chinese scroll painting you’ve ever seen. The one you admire as a kid when your parents put the clip-on tie on you, dress you up, and take you to the Varsity Grill for chow mein.

You get the idea.

This was pretty.

And what a difference the distance made. Beijing had been freezing and dead. Xi’an was crisp, but budding. Chengdu was comfortable and covered in flowers and cherry blossoms. And Guilin was lush and hot, running about 30 degrees centigrade and moist.

Guilin, the forest of Osmanthus trees. Gui sounds a lot better than Osmanthus.

Our guide here was Pam, and his driver was Mr. Li. They’d fill us in a bit on the culture here, then leave us on our own for a day, then get us to Yangshuo, where they’d leave us on our own for a day, and then get us back to the airport. This worked for me. (But don’t get me wrong. Pam was pretty good. He worked well with the kids, knew the answers to the questions we asked, and was a keen photographer, posting his stuff up on the internet.)

We were staying at the Guilin Bravo, which has a good location beside Banyan lake. Plus, it’s right next to the “Special Food Supermarket”, which sells “Famous Tobacco”, “Famous Wine”, and “Famous Tea”. And there’re a couple of bars outside, but more on them later.


In the elevator going up, we admired the first of several bizarre menus in the hotel elevator. This one advertised their special menu of:

Malaysian Chili Prawn

Gently Simmered Prawn in a garlic and ginger flavoured

Chilli Sauce with Rice

Orange Coookie

Chocolate Brawnie

Thai Lamb Salad

We ditched our bags and changed our clothes. This was shorts weather, the first we’d had. We eyed the pool off of the lobby as we zoomed through on our way to meet Pam for our bit of culture.

I already mentioned that this place is pretty, didn’t I?

Our first stop was Decai (Folded Brocade) Hill, one of the several hills in town that were good for taking in the view. We hiked up to the top of this (as opposed to those that were getting palanquins to take them up) and took the opportunity to admire the scenery.


I had to admire the guys taking the palanquins up, too. It was hot and steamy, and these poor guys were hauling fat tourists up those stairs for a couple of bucks. And these were fat Chinese tourists. I’d hate to think how they’d do if they had to move me up those stairs.


Pretty, pretty, pretty.

But, we tire soon enough of pretty. We were down the stairs again, stopping off at the gallery where we watched a man blow a painting. He would breathe on the ink and spread it to where he wanted it to go. Serena did her mandatory pictures with the models (we have a large collection of Serena getting tourist pictures taken….I’ll spare you), and then we were down.

If we had climbed to heights of Guilin, we needed to plumb the depths. Now, normally this would have certain connotations, but we had the kids along. So we headed for the Reed Flute Cave.

We’d asked about this earlier, and had had the impression that it would be a long walk from the hotel. It was somewhat more than a long walk, and I was glad enough that we had Pam to get us there. A nice drive in the country, with more stunning scenery, and hordes of people out in the rice paddies getting their pictures taken in front of the stunning scenery.

The Reed Flute Cave was worth the drive. Okay, some people will complain that it’s all fairy lights and such….big deal! It looks pretty. And this cave – with or without the tarting up – has fantastic (and I mean the fantastic) detail in the way the lime as accreted on the surfaces.


Colour it blue and green and red, it looks good.

And this place is huge. We’d been at the Pak Ou cave outside of Luang Prabang a few weeks earlier. That didn’t compare to even the smallest room in here. Yoonhi said the only thing that came close were the caves in Mexico she visited back in the 80’s.


To borrow a term from some of my friends across the Atlantic, I was “gobsmacked”.

Happy with what we’d seen, Pam and Mr. Li dumped us off back at the Bravo, with arrangements to meet the morning after to get the boat to Yangshuo.

And we were on our own.

First problem, and I’d written of this before, the hotel couldn’t come up with the info for me to get on the internet. What seemed like a crisis back then is a mere bagatelle now.

Second problem. It was hot and humid enough that I could wring the bottom of my shirt out and get most of a pint mug back. This meant that (a) I obviously needed a beer, and (b) that this would be a good time for a swim.

Yoonhi headed down to the pool with the kids, and tried to figure out how to get into the pool. Finally, after no success, she asked the gym attendants. What she got from them was “No!”

After a little probing with the front desk, and someone with a wider English vocabulary, what she got instead was “It is winter still. We don’t open the pool until summer.”

Can’t argue with that. At least not without learning some Mandarin.

So, with no competition for our time beyond idling, I set us out on a death march!

This one wasn’t so bad, as death marches go. We idled up the lake side, and then curved into town. I was getting sort of nervous about how long Yoonhi had been without food, and had a weather eye open to anyplace that looked halfways reasonable.

I found it. Just past Zhong Shan road I found a high-class spot for the family.



It was the snow peas with duck parts that had caught my eye, but there was a lot of fun stuff here in the trays.


The soft tofu looked delicious, and we had to order some of it just because it was red.


And how could I not indulge in the intestines? Stewed to softness, and with a mild, almost tomatoey sauce which reminded me of trippa Florentine…..


We ordered some of the really soggy looking dumplings they had, too. These were meat filled, and wading in a brown sauce that was really good.

And, as a note, the rice was better in Guilin. We were never thrilled with rice in China (I know, I’m a heathen, but I’m used to eating with Koreans), but this was a slight improvement.

After this brief repast, which cost us all of 20 Yuan, we wandered a bit more. We were looking for the Central Square, which we were told would be where we’d find the Walking Street.

We were nowhere near.

Somehow we’d gotten onto Ronghu Road, and we were being curved down and away from the Central Square.

But, this did cause us to find a fun little alley way market, which we set out to explore.

First up was a crowd. Anytime there’s a crowd around someone selling food, I figure this is a good thing. I had Yoonhi muscle her way in while I took video, and she found some really good looking fried breads.


These were sold plain, and stuffed with stuff. We had some, and it was magnificently greasy, leaving marks on everything.


I came across some of the snails we’d been eating, sitting out for the afternoon sun.


And we even found some cute little birds for Serena to ooh and ah over.


But she quickly lost her interest in those once she found some pears. We love pears. Especially nice crispy ones. Especially when Yoonhi peels them for us….okay, Yoonhi’s not so keen on pears.


I was keen on the dried goods, as they don’t use up a lot of my weight allowance in the luggage.


These dried tomatoes caught my eye. And, trying one, I found them to still have a moistness, chewiness to them……so I bought a bag.


And then I found the star anise. I figure I can always use this for something. There was another round thing of what looked like seaweed behind it, so I bought that, too. Yoonhi stopped me from buying the dried pod-things beside the anise, as she challenged me to give a purpose for it. I hate it when she goes all practical.

Coming out of the market, we ambled a bit more. Then I looked at the map I had from the hotel. It was useless. I checked out my 1994 copy of Lonely Planet China. It didn’t help. Then I did something no self-respecting man should ever do.

I took directions from someone.

That hurt.

However, we did now know where we were. We were by the river. And it was dark, we were getting hungry, and there were restaurants at hand.

Restaurants with cages.

Next: Where The Wild Things Are

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I just loooove your sense of humor, Peter.

Also, Scud sounds like a pretty nice older brother. Okay, so compared to me, anybody would be a nice older sibling, LOL.

About the cornstarch tenderizing meat... My mother adds cornstarch to her meatballs as well, and they really are noticeably softer when she adds cornstarch versus when she does not.


Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Sorry...I can't help you here. 

I try not to eat any fruit when I'm in China because it takes up unneccessary room in my tummy that can be used for more frogs, eels, ducks, and fish.  :laugh:

XiaoLing - that's my kinda tummy!!!!

To quote Peter (Quote:) Serena did her mandatory pictures with the models (we have a large collection of Serena getting tourist pictures taken….I’ll spare you) (Unquote).

We want more Serena pics too! :rolleyes:

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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I found it.  Just past Zhong Shan road I found a high-class spot for the family.


In Chinese, the banner said "self-selected quick meal". It gives a whole new meaning to the term "fast food"! :laugh:


And then I found the star anise.  I figure I can always use this for something.  There was another round thing of what looked like seaweed behind it, so I bought that, too.  Yoonhi stopped me from buying the dried pod-things beside the anise, as she challenged me to give a purpose for it.  I hate it when she goes all practical.

The name of it escaped me. This round thing can be broken up (or chopped open with a cleaver) and cooked for Sichuan style dishes, such as the "water-boiled pork" that you made. Or use it to in braising lamb/muttons.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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