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I'm thinking about starting a blog featuring the recipes of antoine Carême that I've translated from 1700s French? No English versions of his works exist and his work is hard to find, even though he is the greatest chef who ever lived. After I get through his works I'd add menon, la Varenne, and other hard to find, but historically important masters of French cuisine.
Originally, we intended to spend this Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. We have travelled a lot last year and will need to attend a wedding already next month in Germany, so I was happy to spend some quiet days at home (and keep the spendings a bit under control as well). As a consequence, we had not booked any flights in the busiest travel time of the year in this region …
But – despite all good intentions – I found myself two weeks ago calling the hotline of my favourite airline in the region, essentially cashing in on three years of extensive business travel and checking where I could get on short notice over CNY on miles. I was expecting a laughter on the other side of the line but this is the one time my status in their loyalty reward program paid out big time: three seats for either Seoul or Kansai International (earliest morning flights, of course). No need to choose, really – Kyoto, here we come !
Hello all, I need help figuring out which part of the sichuan peppercorns I bought to use. From what I've read, I think I'm supposed to use the hulls rather than the black seeds. Toast the hulls and grind them up, correct? This is for use in my fave dish, mapo tofu. Thanks for your help!
(Well, that didn't work. I guess I don't know how to upload a photo. Nuts. Maybe I don't need a photo? Maybe just tell me whether to use the hulls or the black seeds, or both?)
While there have been other Chinese vegetable topics in the past, few of them were illustrated And some which were have lost those images in various "upgrades".
What I plan to do is photograph every vegetable I see and say what it is, if I know. However, this is a formidable task so it'll take time. The problem is that so many vegetables go under many different Chinese names and English names adopted from one or other Chinese language, too. For example, I know four different words for 'potato' and know there are more. And there are multiple regional preference in nomenclature. Most of what you will see will be vegetables from supermarkets, where I can see the Chinese labelling. In "farmer's" or wet markets, there is no labelling and although, If I ask, different traders will have different names for the same vegetable. Many a time I've been supplied a name, but been unable to find any reference to it from Mr Google or his Chinese counterparts. Or if I find the Chinese, can't find an accepted translation so have to translate literally.
Also, there is the problem that most of the names which are used in the English speaking countries have, for historical reasons, been adopted from Cantonese, whereas 90% of Chinese speak Mandarin (普通话 pǔ tōng huà). But I will do my best to supply as many alternative names as I can find. I shall also attempt to give Chinese names in simplified Chinese characters as used throughout mainland China and then in traditional Chinese characters, now mainly only used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and among much of the Chinese diaspora. If I only give one version, that means they are the same in Simp and Trad.
I'll try to do at least one a day. Until I collapse under the weight of vegetation.
Please, if you know any other names for any of these, chip in. Also, please point out any errors of mine.
I'll start with bok choy/choy. This is and alternatives such as pak choi or pok choi are Anglicised attempts at the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin! However in Cantonese it is more often 紹菜; Jyutping: siu6 coi3. In Chinese it is 白菜. Mandarin Pinyin 'bái cài'. This literally means 'white vegetable' but really just means 'cabbage' and of course there are many forms of cabbage. Merely asking for bái cài in many a Chinese store or restaurant will be met with blank stares and requests to clarify. From here on I'm just going to translate 白菜 as 'cabbage'.
So, here we go.
Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis
This is what you may be served if you just ask for baicai. Or maybe not. In much of China it is 大白菜 dà bái cài meaning 'big cabbage'. In English, usually known as Napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery cabbage, Chinese leaf, etc. In Chinese, alternative names include 结球白菜 / 結球白菜 ( jié qiú bái cài ), literally knotted ball cabbage, but there are many more.
This cabbage is also frequently pickled and becomes known as 酸菜 (Mand: suān cài; Cant: syun1 coi3) meaning 'sour vegetable', although this term is also used to refer to pickled mustard greens.
Perhaps the food-related question I get asked most through my blog is “What's it like for vegetarians and vegans in China. The same question came up recently on another thread, so I put this together. Hope it's useful. It would also, be great to hear other people's experience and solutions.
For the sake of typing convenience I’m going to conflate 'vegetarians and vegan' into just 'vegetarian' except where strictly relevant.
First a declaration of non-interest. I am very carnivorous, but I have known vegetarians who have passed through China, some staying only a few weeks, others staying for years.
Being vegetarian in China is a complicated issue. In some ways, China is probably one of the best countries in which to be vegetarian. In other ways, it is one of the worst.
I spent a couple of years in Gorbachev-era Russia and saw the empty supermarkets and markets. I saw people line up for hours to buy a bit of bread.. So, when I first came to China, I kind of expected the same. Instead, the first market I visited astounded me. The place was piled high with food, including around 30 different types of tofu, countless varieties of steamed buns and flat breads and scores of different vegetables, both fresh and preserved, most of which I didn't recognise. And so cheap I could hardly convert into any western currency.
If you are able to self-cater then China is heaven for vegetarians. For short term visitors dependent on restaurants or street food, the story is very different.
Despite the perception of a Buddhist tradition (not that strong, actually), very few Chinese are vegetarian and many just do not understand the concept. Explaining in a restaurant that you don't eat meat is no guarantee that you won't be served meat.
Meat is seen in China as a status symbol. If you are rich, you eat more meat.And everyone knows all foreigners are rich, so of course they eat meat! Meat eating is very much on the rise as China gets more rich - even to the extent of worrying many economists, food scientists etc. who fear the demand is pushing up prices and is environmentally dangerous. But that's another issue. Obesity is also more and more of a problem.
Banquet meals as served in large hotels and banquet dedicated restaurants will typically have a lot more meat dishes than a smaller family restaurant. Also the amount of meat in any dish will be greater in the banquet style places.
Traditional Chinese cooking is/was very vegetable orientated. I still see my neighbours come home from the market with their catch of greenery every morning. However, whereas meat wasn't the central component of dinner, it was used almost as a condiment or seasoning. Your stir fried tofu dish may come with a scattering of ground pork on top, for example. This will not usually be mentioned on the menu.
Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to 'improve' the flavour.
Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (肉), when used on its own refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg (beef) is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don't eat meat, they often think you mean you don't eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken! I've actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn't meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have also had a waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn't meat.
Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given have really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers have to ask. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother's Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!
Away from the tourist places, where you probably don't want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places' translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn't know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. It was gibberish.
To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
To be continued
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