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Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.
This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
The children don't get spared either
This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
On a nearby table is this
Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
This is 油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
Let the eating, finally, begin.
In no particular order:
Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
Stir fried pork and beans
Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs.
We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
Stir fried Greens
Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
Roll on dinner time.
On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
These have been mentioned a couple of times recently on different threads and I felt they deserved one of their own. After all, they did keep me alive when I lived in Xi'an.
Rou jia mo (ròu jiá mò; literally "Meat Sandwich") are Chinese sandwiches which originated in Shaanxi Province, but can be found all over China. Away from their point of origin, they tend to be made with long stewed pork belly. However in Xi'an (capital of Shaanxi), there is a large Muslim population so the meat of choice is more usually beef. In nearby Gansu Province, lamb or mutton is more likely.
When I was living in Xi'an in 1996-1997, I lived on these. I was living on campus in North-West University (西北大学) and right outside the school gate was a street lined with cheap food joints, most of which would serve you one. I had one favourite place which I still head to when I visit. First thing I do when I get off the train.
What I eat is Cumin Beef Jia Mo (孜然牛肉夹馍 zī rán niú ròu jiá mò). The beef is stir fried or BBQd with cumin and mild green peppers. It is also given a bit of a kick with red chill flakes.
Here is a recipe wrested from the owner of my Xi'an favourite. So simple, yet so delicious.
Fairly lean beef is cut into slivers
Chopped Beef (sorry about the picture quality - I don't know what happened)
I use this single clove garlic from Sichuan, but regular garlic does just fine.
The beef and garlic are mixed in a bowl and generously sprinkled with ground cumin. This is then moistened with a little light soy sauce. You don't want to flood it. Set aside for as long as you can.
Mild Green Chilli Pepper
Take one or two mild green peppers and crush with the back of a knife, then slice roughly. You could de-seed if you prefer. I don't bother.
Chopped Green Pepper
Fire up the wok, add oil (I use rice bran oil) and stir fry the meat mixture until the meat is just done.
Then add the green peppers and fry until they are as you prefer them. I tend to like them still with a bit of crunch, so slightly under-cook them
In with the peppers
You will, of course, have prepared the bread. The sandwiches are made with a type of flat bread known as 白吉饼 (bái jí bǐng; literally "white lucky cake-shape"). The ones here are store bought but I often make them. Recipe below.
Bai Ji Bing
Take one and split it. Test the seasoning of the filling, adding salt if necessary. It may not need it because of the soy sauce.
Cover to make a sandwich and enjoy. You will see that I have used a bunch of kitchen paper to hold the sandwich and to soak up any escaping juices. But it should be fairly dry.
The final product.
Note: I usually cook the meat and pepper in batches. Enough for one sandwich per person at a time. If we need another (and we usually do) I start the next batch.
350g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
Mix the yeast with the flour and stir in the water. Continue stirring until a dough forms. Knead until smooth. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise by about one third. (maybe 30-40 minutes).
Knead again to remove any air then roll the dough into a log shape around 5cm in diameter, then cut into six portions. Press these into a circle shape using a rolling pin. You want to end up with 1.5cm thick buns.
Preheat oven to 190C/370F.
Dry fry the buns in a skillet until they take on some colour about a minute or less on each side, then finish in the oven for ten minutes. Allow to cool before using.
By Chris Hennes
I just got a copy of Grace Young's "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge"—I enjoyed cooking from "Breath of a Wok" and wanted to continue on that path. Does anyone else have this book? Have you cooked anything from it?
Here was dinner tonight:
Spicy Dry-Fried Beef (p. 70)
I undercooked the beef just a bit due to a waning propane supply (I use an outdoor propane-powered wok burner), but there's nothing to complain about here. It's a relatively mild dish that lets the flavors of the ingredients (and the wok) speak. Overall I liked it, at will probably make it again (hopefully with a full tank of gas).
I’m an idiot. It’s official.
A couple of weeks back, on another thread, the subject of celtuce and its leafing tops came up (somewhat off-topic). Someone said that the tops are difficult to find in Asian markets and I replied that I also find the tops difficult to find here in China. Nonsense. They are very easy to find. They just go under a completely different name from the stems – something which had slipped my very slippery mind.
So, here on-topic is some celtuce space.
First, for those who don’t know what celtuce is, let me say it is a variety of lettuce which looks nothing like a lettuce. It is very popular in southern mainland China and Taiwan. It is also known in English as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce. In Chinese it is 莴笋 wō sǔn or 莴苣 wō jù, although the latter can simply mean lettuce of any variety.
Lactuca sativa var. asparagina is 'celtuce' for the technically minded.
Those in the picture are about 40 cm (15.7 inches) long and have a maximum diameter of 5 cm (2 inches). The stems are usually peeled, sliced and used in various stir fries, although they can also be braised, roasted etc. The taste is somewhere between lettuce and celery, hence the name. The texture is more like the latter.
The leafing tops are, as I said, sold separately and under a completely different name. They are 油麦菜 yóu mài cài.
These taste similar to Romaine lettuce and can be eaten raw in salads. In Chinese cuisine, they are usually briefly stir fried with garlic until they wilt and served as a green vegetable – sometimes with oyster sauce.
If you can find either the stems or leaves in your Asian market, I strongly recommend giving them a try.
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