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I'm a Brit. I'm also a closet Frenchman. To cap it all, I'm happily retired in Bangkok, the city of a street food culture that's second to none. The Thais are healthy and slim. I'm just this side of alive and far from slim. Lockdown has me fantasizing about my days working in London, Paris and New York, an existence, if one could call it that, revolving around gastronomy of one kind or another. They paid me, not so very much as it happens, to do what I enjoy doing most in life. We all get to do it, but I was one of a fortunate few who made it his metier. Well all that's in the past now, but I still dream of my time in Paris when lunch was a tad short of 2-hours, little-known local bistros remained affordable until the day they were discovered by La Bible (Michelin Guide) and the students were revolting - this was the summer of '68, for heaven's sake. Someone should open bistro here in Bangkok with a table d'hote of Soupe a l'Oignon gratinee, Blanquette de Veau, a stinky Epoisses and Tarte Tatin to finsih with creme fraiche. Ah, it's back to lockdown and pad Thai.
For the last several years Cindy's* job has been to look after me. She takes care of my residence papers, my health insurance, my travel, my housing and associated repairs. She makes sure that I am supplied with sufficient cold beer at official banquets. And she does it all with terrific efficiency and great humour.
This weekend she held her wedding banquet.
Unlike in the west, this isn't held immediately after the marriage is formalised. In fact, she was legally married months ago. But the banquet is the symbolic, public declaration and not the soul-less civil servant stamping of papers that the legal part entails.
So tonight, along with a few hundred other people, I rolled up to a local hotel at the appointed time. In my pocket was my 'hong bao' or red envelope in which I had deposited a suitable cash gift. That is the Chinese wedding gift protocol. You don't get 12 pop-up toasters here.
I handed it over, then settled down, at a table with colleagues, to a 17 or 18 course dinner.
Before we started, I spotted this red bedecked jar. Shaking, poking and sniffing revealed nothing.
A few minutes later, a waitress turned up and opened and emptied the jar into a serving dish. Spicy pickled vegetables. Very vinegary, very hot, and very addictive. Allegedly pickled on the premises, this was just to amuse us as we waited for the real stuff to arrive.
Then the serious stuff arrived. When I said 17 courses, I really meant 17 dishes. Chinese cuisine doesn't really do courses. Every thing is served at roughly the same time. But we had:
Quail soup which I neglected to photograph.
Sticky rice with beef (the beef is lurking underneath)
Spicy, crispy shell-on prawns.
Steamed pork belly slices with sliced taro
Chinese Charcuterie (including ducks jaws (left) and duck hearts (right))
Fertility soup! This allegedly increases your fertility and ensures the first born (in China, only born) is a son. Why they are serving to me is anyone's guess. It would make more sense for the happy couple to drink the lot.
There was a final serving of quartered oranges, but I guess you have seen pictures of oranges before.
The happy couple. I wish them well.
*Cindy is the English name she has adopted. Her Chinese name is more than usually difficult to pronounce. Many Chinese friends consider it a real tongue-twister.
I was thinking of doing a food blog of my recent trip through parts of New Zealand's south island. Most of the food we had was nothing spectacular, but the experiences and various scenery we had over the trip were amazing. Is there any interest in this?
It's one o'clock on a warm summer's day in Florence, I'm on my way to get ingredients for lunch. The sun is high in the sky, the cobblestones are warm under my feet and the aroma of something delicious is in the air. My mind starts to drift to the onions, celery and tomatoes I need for my pasta sauce, oh and don't forget something sweet for dessert...this truly is la dolce vita.
My thoughts are soon interrupted by an unwelcome "chiuso" sign on the door of my new favorite deli. The blinds are closed and the friendly owners are nowhere in sight. The reality of having my favorite pasta dish for lunch was slipping further and further away.
What a nightmare! How can this be?
A local passing by must have noticed my frustration. "Signorina, è riposo. Tutto è chiuso!"
Of course! How could I forget about the sacred Italian siesta?
A siesta or riposo, as most Italians call it, is a time of rest. This time is usually around midday, or the hottest part of the day (very inconvenient if you're craving a bowl of pasta.) No one can really say where the tradition of the siesta originates, but many say it's all about food (no surprises there really).
For many Italian families the main meal of the day is lunch. This heavy meal in the middle of the day is attributed to the standard Mediterranean diet: A minuscule breakfast of a coffee and pastry , a heavy lunch and an evening meal around 10 o'clock. The logic is that after such a heavy meal one would surely be drowsy and need to rest, no one can work efficiently on a full stomach!
Post offices, car rentals, supermarkets and even coffee shops (in some smaller towns police stations too) all close their doors for a riposo. Everything comes to a standstill as every Italian goes home to kick of their shoes, enjoy a homemade lunch with family and bask in the Italian sunshine for three to four hours. This is serious business. One would not dare work for 8 hours straight. After their riposo most businesses open again around 4 o'clock and stay open till 7pm. Its the perfect balance between work and play and does wonders for your digestive system!
"Grazie!" I thanked her for the reminder. The midday sun started to become unbearable. The streets had cleared with only a few tourists braving the midday heat still around. I thought about the strawberries I bought from the market earlier that week. Strawberries for lunch on my shaded balcony and maybe a nap afterwards sounded like my perfect riposo. The pasta will have to wait till 4.
By Burmese Days
This is my first post, so please tell me if I've made any mistakes. I'd like to learn the ropes as soon as possible.
I first learned of this cookbook from The Mala Market, easily the best online source of high-quality Chinese ingredients in the west. In the About Us page, Taylor Holiday (the founder of Mala Market) talks about the cookbooks that inspired her.
This piqued my interest and sent me down a long rabbit hole. I'm attempting to categorically share everything I've found about this book so far.
Reading it online
Early in my search, I found an online preview (Adobe Flash required). It shows you the first 29 pages. I've found people reference an online version you can pay for on the Chinese side of the internet. But to my skills, it's been unattainable.
Because this book was never sold in the west, the cover, and thus title, were never translated to English. Because of this, when you search for this book, it'll have several different names. These are just some versions I've found online - typos included.
Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English Si Chuan(China) Cuisinein (In English & Chinese) China Sichuan Cuisine (in Chinese and English) Chengdu China: Si Chuan Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She Si Chuan(China) Cuisinein (Chinese and English bilingual) 中国川菜：中英文标准对照版 For the sake of convenience, I'll be referring to the cookbook as Sichuan Cuisine from now on.
There are two versions of Sichuan Cuisine. The first came out in 2010 and the second in 2014. In an interview from Flavor & Fortune, a (now defunct) Chinese cooking
magazine, the author clarifies the differences.
That is all of the information I could find on the differences. Nothing besides that offhanded remark. The 2014 edition seems to be harder to source and, when available, more expensive.
In the last section, I mentioned an interview with the author. That was somewhat incorrect. There are two authors!
Lu Yi (卢一) President of Sichuan Tourism College, Vice Chairman of Sichuan Nutrition Society, Chairman of Sichuan Food Fermentation Society, Chairman of Sichuan Leisure Sports Management Society Du Li (杜莉) Master of Arts, Professor of Sichuan Institute of Tourism, Director of Sichuan Cultural Development Research Center, Sichuan Humanities and Social Sciences Key Research Base, Sichuan Provincial Department of Education, and member of the International Food Culture Research Association of the World Chinese Culinary Federation Along with the principal authors, two famous chefs checked the English translations.
Fuchsia Dunlop - of Land of Plenty fame Professor Shirley Cheng - of Hyde Park New York's Culinary Institute of America Fuchsia Dunlop was actually the first (and to my knowledge, only) Western graduate from the school that produced the book.
Here are screenshots of the table of contents. It has some recipes I'm a big fan of.
ISBN 10: 7536469640 ISBN 13: 9787536469648 As far as I can tell, the first and second edition have the same ISBN #'s. I'm no librarian, so if anyone knows more about how ISBN #'s relate to re-releases and editions, feel free to chime in.
Sichuan Science and Technology Press 四川科学技术出版社
Okay... so this book has a lot of covers.
The common cover A red cover A white cover A white version of the common cover An ornate and shiny cover There may or may not be a "Box set." At first, I thought this was a difference in book editions, but that doesn't seem to be the case. As far as covers go, I'm at a loss. If anybody has more info, I'm all ears.
Buying the book
Alright, so I've hunted down many sites that used to sell it and a few who still have it in stock. Most of them are priced exorbitantly.
AbeBooks.com ($160 + $15 shipping) Ebay.com - used ($140 + $4 shipping) PurpleCulture.net ($50 + $22 shipping) Amazon.com ($300 + $5 shipping + $19 tax) A few other sites in Chinese
I bought a copy off of PurpleCuture.net on April 14th. When I purchased Sichuan Cuisine, it said there was only one copy left. That seems to be a lie to create false urgency for the buyer. My order never updated past processing, but after emailing them, I was given a tracking code. It has since landed in America and is in customs. I'll try to update this thread when (if) it is delivered.
This book is probably not worth all the effort that I've put into finding it. But what is worth effort, is preserving knowledge. It turns my gut to think that this book will never be accessible to chefs that have a passion for learning real Sichuan food. As we get inundated with awful recipes from Simple and quick blogs, it becomes vital to keep these authentic sources available. As the internet chugs along, more and more recipes like these will be lost.
You'd expect the internet to keep information alive, but in many ways, it does the opposite. In societies search for quick and easy recipes, a type of evolutionary pressure is forming. It's a pressure that mutates recipes to simpler and simpler versions of themselves. They warp and change under consumer pressure till they're a bastardized copy of the original that anyone can cook in 15 minutes. The worse part is that these new, worse recipes wear the same name as the original recipe. Before long, it becomes harder to find the original recipe than the new one.
In this sense, the internet hides information.
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