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All the Tea in China


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This arose from this topic, where initially @Anna N asked about tea not being served at the celebratory meal I attended. I answered that it is uncommon for tea to be served with meals (with one major exception). I was then asked for further elucidation by @Smithy. I did start replying on the topic but the answer got longer than I anticipated and was getting away from the originally intended topic about one specific meal. So here were are..

 

I'd say there are four components to tea drinking in China.


a) When you arrive at a restaurant, you are often given a pot of tea which people will sip while contemplating the menu and waiting for other  guests to arrive. Dining out is very much a group activity, in the main. When everyone is there and the food dishes start to arrive the tea is nearly always forgotten about. The tea served like this will often be a fairly cheap, common brand - usually green.

 

You also may be given a cup of tea in a shop if your purchase is a complicated one. I recently bought a new lap top and the shop assistant handed me tea to sip as she took down the details of my requirements. Also, I recently had my eyes re-tested in order to get new spectacles. Again, a cup of tea was provided. Visit someone in an office or have a formal meeting and tea or water will be provided.

 

b) You see people walking about with large flasks (not necessarily vacuum flasks) of tea which they sip during the day to rehydrate themselves. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, shop keepers etc all have their tea flask.  Of course, the tea goes cold. I have a vacuum flask, but seldom use it - not a big tea fan. There are shops just dedicated to selling the drinks flasks.

 

c) There has been a recent fashion for milk tea and bubble tea here, two trends imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively. It is sold from kiosks and mainly attracts younger customers. McDonald's and KFC both do milk and bubble teas.

 

3D4A3475.thumb.jpg.2f393792b483128f94961d7606d23233.jpg

Bubble and Milk Tea Stall

 

3D4A3469.thumb.jpg.1de75b735a2de5fa2d47091a09fc17c0.jpg

And Another

 

3D4A3453.thumb.jpg.ac81c83da1085ce33437a229745c4711.jpg

And another - there are hundreds of them around!

 

3D4A3456.thumb.jpg.68e1228a2fa09064ef0746f85235013f.jpg

McDonald's Ice Cream and Drinks Kiosk.

3D4A3455.thumb.jpg.ea1278578a92efdfc54ebec7dcff44ab.jpg

McDonald's Milk Tea Ad

 

d) There are very formal tea tastings and tea ceremonies, similar in many ways to western wine tastings. These usually take place in tea houses where you can sample teas and purchase the tea for home use. These places can be expensive and some rare teas attract staggering prices. The places doing this pride themselves on preparing the tea perfectly and have their special rituals. I've been a few times, usually with friends, but it's not really my thing. Below is one of the oldest serious tea houses in the city. As you can see, they don't go out of their way to attract custom. Their name implies they are an educational service as much as anything else. Very expensive!

 

3D4A3447.thumb.jpg.9b93e9e9c08404c2b904425e4189f92f.jpg

Tea House


Supermarkets and corner shops carry very little tea. This is the entire tea shelving in my local supermarket. Mostly locally grown green tea.

 

3D4A3489.thumb.jpg.472355bc263c1593eb71b8e6219f8869.jpg

 

3D4A3497.thumb.jpg.e3f8d6e70486935e06cd8f1054c85ec6.jpg

Local Guangxi Tea

 

The most expensive in the supermarket was this Pu-er Tea (普洱茶 pǔ ěr chá) from Yunnan province. It works out at ¥0.32per gram as opposed to ¥0.08 for the local stuff. However, in the tea houses, prices can go much, much higher!

 

3D4A3492.thumb.jpg.49ce178a5fbedefac09205462edaa1c0.jpg

 

 

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What supermarkets and corner shops tend to sell more of is these tea based soft drinks, usually flavoured with fruit or flowers. And horribly sweet. Again, I only normally see young people drink them!

 

20191110_114416.thumb.jpg.b2432ec5d1fdcf9a526d2a4e8e392c07.jpg

Left is rose and lychee flavoured black tea (red tea in Chinese) and right is pomelo flavoured green tea.

 

1821865529_Blueberrygreentea.thumb.jpg.00bc31aa0c54399be0091c056ac8cfed.jpg

Blueberry Green Tea

 

20191110_112518.thumb.jpg.5651faaf3349d7bad8675f7a0c54280c.jpg

Chrysanthemum Tea

 

It seems when true tea lovers want tea, they go to tea houses or markets to buy the necessary.

 

tea.thumb.JPG.eac8129e85aa50e44ec67aaae08aa966.JPG

Tea on sale in the market.
 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thanks, @liuzhou, for taking the time to explain Chinese tea culture. Despite being a Brit and raised on tea, I still remember my 1st cup of coffee in Canada. By anybody’s standards it was quite disgusting but I’ve been a convert ever since. 
 

Just wondering what happens if you visit someone outside of meal time. Do they offer you tea?  What beverage would be served at home with meals if there were no visitors but just the family eating?

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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54 minutes ago, Anna N said:

Thanks, @liuzhou, for taking the time to explain Chinese tea culture. Despite being a Brit and raised on tea, I still remember my 1st cup of coffee in Canada. By anybody’s standards it was quite disgusting but I’ve been a convert ever since. 
 

Just wondering what happens if you visit someone outside of meal time. Do they offer you tea?  What beverage would be served at home with meals if there were no visitors but just the family eating?

 

You are welcome! I've rarely been offered tea in anyone's home. In fact, I am not sure I have ever been. Most times, at homes, I'd be offered water (either hot or cold), if anything. At meals, nothing other than maybe beer or rice wine (which isn't wine in any sense, but hard liquor). At restaurant meals or festive home meals, I see most people drink the same, although the non-drinkers may opt for Lilt or a local equivalent. Some sort of poisonous c*rn-based compound is often consumed by the ladies!

 

After writing what I posted, I was talking with a Chinese friend and mentioned all of this. She concurred entirely. "No, we don't drink with dinner." She also said she very seldom drinks tea, and when she does it isn't at home.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thanks!

I have some questions.

 

 

 

7 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The most expensive in the supermarket was this Pu-er Tea (普洱茶 pǔ ěr chá) from Yunnan province. It works out at ¥0.32per gram as opposed to

¥0.08 for the local stuff. However, in the tea houses, prices can go much, much higher!

 

3D4A3492.thumb.jpg.49ce178a5fbedefac09205462edaa1c0.jpg

 

Can you give the price range for some other teas like tie guan yin please? There are a handful of importers here, the cheapest pu-er I can find is sold for 50 euro/kg and it's loose leaf, so I think it's safe to say it's lower quality than the pressed one in your picture, which is sold at the equivalent of 2.70 euro/kg. This price difference seems astronomical, even considering shipping costs and import duties.

 

 

 

6 hours ago, liuzhou said:

What supermarkets and corner shops tend to sell more of is these tea based soft drinks, usually flavoured with fruit or flowers. And horribly sweet. Again, I only normally see you people drink them!

 

How is tea viewed by the millennials? Are they interested in the traditional ceremony, or do they only care about modern fads?

 

 

 

6 hours ago, liuzhou said:

20191110_114416.thumb.jpg.b2432ec5d1fdcf9a526d2a4e8e392c07.jpg

Left is rose and lychee flavoured black tea (red tea in Chinese) and right is pomelo flavoured green tea.

 

Is rose + lychee a common pairing in China, or is it just a recent flavor? I'm curious about this because Pierre Hermé (now considered the best pastry chef in the world) made his big breakthrough with his Ispahan cake, which flavors are rose + lychee + raspberry. It seemed like an alien combo here, so it would be fun if he just copied something traditional that no one here knew about.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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13 minutes ago, teonzo said:

Can you give the price range for some other teas like tie guan yin please?

 

I will, but have to find out first. As I said, I'm not much of a tea drinker. Will get back to you!

 

13 minutes ago, teonzo said:

How is tea viewed by the millennials? Are they interested in the traditional ceremony, or do they only care about modern fads?

 

From what an old man can gather about millennials, few are in the least interested in the traditional anything. Anywhere. Not only China. They are interested in the bubble tea and sweet vaguely tea-based soft drinks.

 

13 minutes ago, teonzo said:

Is rose + lychee a common pairing in China, or is it just a recent flavor?

 

I've only ever come across it in the context I gave. Recent, yes.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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Talking about flower teas, here are a few of the dried flowers and other plant bits used to flavour teas, as stocked by my local supermarket. It isn't only Jasmine and Chrysanthemum!

 

Apple  苹果花 (Medium).jpg

 

Baby Chrysanthemum - 胎菊 (Medium).jpg

 

Carnation  康乃馨 (Medium).jpg

 

Chinese Herbaceous Peony  芍药花 (Medium).jpg

 

Chinese Tree Peony 牡丹花 (Medium).jpg

 

Cordyceps  虫草花 (Medium).jpg

 

Dill Flowers  雪中情 1 (Medium).jpg

 

Forget-Me-Not  勿忘我 1 (Medium).jpg

 

Gentian  玉美人 (Medium).jpg

 

Globe Amaranth 千日红 (Medium).jpg

 

Hawthorn  山楂 (Medium).jpg

 

Honeysuckle  金银花 (Medium).jpg

 

Jasmine 茉莉花茶 (Medium).jpg

 

Kudiong Tea  苦丁茶 (Medium).jpg

 

Kunlun Snow Chrysanthemum  昆仑雪菊花茶 2 (Medium).jpg

 

Lily  百合花 (Medium).jpg

 

Loquat  枇杷花 (Medium).jpg

 

Lotus Heart  莲米心 (Medium).jpg

 

Monk Fruit  罗汉果花.jpg

 

Peach  桃花 (Medium).jpg

 

Pink Rose  粉红玫瑰 (Medium).jpg

 

Pitaya  剑花 (Medium).jpg

 

Rose 玫瑰花 (Medium).jpg

 

Sanchi  田七花 (Medium).jpg

 

Tribute Chrysanthemum  贡菊 (Medium).jpg

 

Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata)  玉兰花 (Medium).jpg

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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That's quite a selection of drink flasks! I think we'd have to go to a specialty store: sporting goods, or possibly a Starbucks, to see such a variety.

 

The tea flowers are beautiful. I love the intense colors some of them have. I had no idea that peony flowers were edible. With such a variety, do you think people choose teas more for their aesthetic appeal (flavor, color) or for their supposed benefits? For instance, in the USA I see chamomile packaged in "calming" teas.

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31 minutes ago, Smithy said:

That's quite a selection of drink flasks! I think we'd have to go to a specialty store: sporting goods, or possibly a Starbucks, to see such a variety.

 

The tea flowers are beautiful. I love the intense colors some of them have. I had no idea that peony flowers were edible. With such a variety, do you think people choose teas more for their aesthetic appeal (flavor, color) or for their supposed benefits? For instance, in the USA I see chamomile packaged in "calming" teas.

 

That selection of drink flasks is one of the smaller ones I've seen!

 

The flowers are mainly appreciated for their supposed medical benefits. Most have little detectable flavour. I bought that lot just to photograph them, then gave them to my dear friend, J. She was delighted!

 

Edited by liuzhou
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2 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

I bought that lot just to photograph them, then gave them to my dear friend, J. She was delighted!

Now that is really taking one for the team. Thank you!

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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9 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Talking about flower teas, here are a few of the dried flowers and other plant bits used to flavour teas, as stocked by my local supermarket. It isn't only Jasmine and Chrysanthemum!

Those are beautiful. Even if they don't taste like anything much, I bet it's fun to watch them unfurl, if you have a transparent teapot.

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Another place to get both real teas and flower or other teas, which I prefer to call tisanes, are these outlets. This one is very near my home, but I've never bought anything, despite its obvious popularity. It is called 瑶山凉茶 (yáo shān liáng chá) which literally means 'Jade Mountain Cold Tea'.  This does not mean it is iced teas; just room temperature. Her selection includes some real tea, but most are tisanes.

 

3D4A3500.thumb.jpg.3591c32d2e7751ca1dbce63e2e372e3d.jpg

 

3D4A3504.thumb.jpg.9c322dc746f84caf8c307a3118ec12a2.jpg

 

Her shop is at the entrance to the local market, a busy place, so she does just fine, I guess. She stays open from early morning, well into the evening.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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16 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Another place to get both real teas and flower or other teas, which I prefer to call tisanes, are these outlets. This one is very near my home, but I've never bought anything, despite its obvious popularity. It is called 瑶山凉茶 (yáo shān liáng chá) which literally means 'Jade Mountain Cold Tea'.  This does not mean it is iced teas; just room temperature. Her selection includes some real tea, but most are tisanes.

 

3D4A3500.thumb.jpg.3591c32d2e7751ca1dbce63e2e372e3d.jpg

 

3D4A3504.thumb.jpg.9c322dc746f84caf8c307a3118ec12a2.jpg

 

Her shop is at the entrance to the local market, a busy place, so she does just fine, I guess. She stays open from early morning, well into the evening.

 

 

 

thanks for sharing. what does the photo of the man with the turban and beard mean? I wonder if the clothes means he's from the Muslim western region of China? 

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2 hours ago, eugenep said:

what does the photo of the man with the turban and beard mean? I wonder if the clothes means he's from the Muslim western region of China? 

 

The writing below  the picture implies it is one of her ancestors, whose "secret recipes" she uses. Could be Muslim, yes. There has been a small Muslim community here for centuries.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I have posted this before, but not in a dedicated tea topic.

 

20171201_140311 (Large).jpg

 

虫宝茶 (chóng bǎo chá) literally means 'insect treasure tea'. The caterpillars of a certain type of moth feed on the baby tea leaves in the plantations. Their droppings are then collected by the farmers and dried. They are then used to make a refreshing cup of tea! They are mixed with regular undigested tea. It is considered medicinal and effective against stomach complaints. I tried a cup before buying this jar. It tasted like tea but with a sort of fungal taste in the background. Not bad.

 

3D4A3546.thumb.jpg.027aba86dae0cd7fac2fc1b5c121b85b.jpg

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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7 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I tried a cup before buying this jar. It tasted like tea but with a sort of fungal taste in the background. Not bad.

Keep the tea.  But I’ll take the dish!

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I just got back from a short trip to Chengdu (and a day trip to Leshan) and was pretty underwhelmed by the "standard" tea. We went to a fancy tea shop and they did a full gong fu tasting for us and that was quite nice (and of course guilts one into buying tea, though I wanted to anyway), but most restaurants just unceremoniously plopped a large metal pot of barely lukewarm, preposterously weak tea down on our table, and at the famous and quite busy He Ming teahouse in central Chengdu, there were several choices of decent-sounding teas, and fair enough, the water provided was quite hot, but the amount of tea given in the gaiwan was fairly stingy for the 20 kuai they were charging. 

 

I actually got one of those 茶π teas, the rose and lychee, from what looked like a fridge, but was heated to 38ºC. Not hot. Literally body temperature. 

 

As I understood it, the Chinese drink lots of hot things (including lots of plain hot water), but it seemed that "hot" rarely exceeded slightly warm. Is this just a phenomenon in Sichuan?

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We had a tea shop in a local suburb that held weekly tastings. There were enthusiasts but  it could not sustain itself. I am fond of the flowering teas from a visual point of view. - the ones that open up. It was a fad a few years ago to sell special glass brewers so you could watch them unfurl. (Los Angeles Chinatown) I was fond of a peach flowering one and the globe amaranth posted earlier. I grow the latter plant but can't capture the color in my drying efforts. 99 Ranch (a huge chain) also has a great selection). For fun the amaranth at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's estate)  The unfortunately gone local shop  https://www.teamap.com/place/2876/tea-habitat.html

Monticello.JPG

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4 hours ago, Hassouni said:

I just got back from a short trip to Chengdu (and a day trip to Leshan) and was pretty underwhelmed by the "standard" tea. We went to a fancy tea shop and they did a full gong fu tasting for us and that was quite nice (and of course guilts one into buying tea, though I wanted to anyway), but most restaurants just unceremoniously plopped a large metal pot of barely lukewarm, preposterously weak tea down on our table, and at the famous and quite busy He Ming teahouse in central Chengdu, there were several choices of decent-sounding teas, and fair enough, the water provided was quite hot, but the amount of tea given in the gaiwan was fairly stingy for the 20 kuai they were charging. 

 

I actually got one of those 茶π teas, the rose and lychee, from what looked like a fridge, but was heated to 38ºC. Not hot. Literally body temperature. 

 

As I understood it, the Chinese drink lots of hot things (including lots of plain hot water), but it seemed that "hot" rarely exceeded slightly warm. Is this just a phenomenon in Sichuan?

I've haven't been to Sichuan yet, but maybe @liuzhou can weigh in?

 

On another note, when we were in Hong Kong, we went for yum cha several times and each time, the tea was as hot as normal and used a good amount of tea. Most of the time we would get lung ching (cantonese... long jing in mandarin - otherwise called Dragon Well).  We also went to a tea class in a high end tea house where the tea master demonstrated how to make a few different teas - green, gong fu tikuanyin (oolong) and red teas, and all were what I would call perfectly done. The gong fu oolong was poured just off the boil then distributed using a small pitcher.  The green tea was poured into two small cups - one was the smelling cup whcih was tall and narrow, which my wife dubbed the "finger burning cup" and after smelling, it would go into the shorter, wider tasting cup.  Personally I didn't have a problem with the finger burning cup, but I drink a lot of chinese tea and am used to holding the cup by the edges - I think my wife held the cup further down the side where it was much hotter.

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4 hours ago, Hassouni said:

most restaurants just unceremoniously plopped a large metal pot of barely lukewarm, preposterously weak tea down on our table

 

4 hours ago, Hassouni said:

it seemed that "hot" rarely exceeded slightly warm. Is this just a phenomenon in Sichuan?

 

No. It's all over. Tea is often served lukewarm or just room temperature.The exception is in more serious tea tastings, where the tea is central to the event, and it is normally hotter, but never boiling hot.

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      Method

      There are only two ways to cook squid and have it remain edible. Long slow cooking (an hour or more) or very rapid (a few seconds) then served immediately. Anything else and you'll be chewing on rubber. So that is why I am stir frying it. Few restaurants get this right, so I mainly eat it at home.

      Heat your wok and add oil. Have a cup of water to the side. Add the garlic, ginger and chile. Should you think it's about to burn, throw in a little of that water. It will evaporate almost immediately but slow down some of the heat.
       
      As soon as you can smell the fragrance of the garlic and ginger, add the peas and salt and toss until the peas are nearly cooked (Try a piece to see!). Almost finally, add the squid with a tablespoon of the Shaoxing and about the same of oyster sauce. Do not attempt to add the oyster sauce straight from the bottle. The chances of the whole bottle emptying into your dinner is high! Believe me. I've been there!

      The squid will curl up and turn opaque in seconds. It's cooked. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of so of sesame oil (if used) and serve immediately!
       
    • By liuzhou
      An eG member recently asked me by private message about mushrooms in China, so I thought I'd share some information here.
      What follows is basically extracted from my blog and describes what is available in the markets and supermarkets in the winter months - i.e now.
       
      FRESH FUNGI
       
      December sees the arrival of what most westerners deem to be the standard mushroom – the button mushroom (小蘑菇 xiǎo mó gū). Unlike in the west where they are available year round, here they only appear when in season, which is now. The season is relatively short, so I get stuck in.
       

       
      The standard mushroom for the locals is the one known in the west by its Japanese name, shiitake. They are available year round in the dried form, but for much of the year as fresh mushrooms. Known in Chinese as 香菇 (xiāng gū), which literally means “tasty mushroom”, these meaty babies are used in many dishes ranging from stir fries to hot pots.
       

       
      Second most common are the many varieties of oyster mushroom. The name comes from the majority of the species’ supposed resemblance to oysters, but as we are about to see the resemblance ain’t necessarily so.
       

       
      The picture above is of the common oyster mushroom, but the local shops aren’t common, so they have a couple of other similar but different varieties.
       
      Pleurotus geesteranus, 秀珍菇 (xiù zhēn gū) (below) are a particularly delicate version of the oyster mushroom family and usually used in soups and hot pots.
       

       
      凤尾菇 (fèng wěi gū), literally “Phoenix tail mushroom”, is a more robust, meaty variety which is more suitable for stir frying.
       

       
      Another member of the pleurotus family bears little resemblance to its cousins and even less to an oyster. This is pleurotus eryngii, known variously as king oyster mushroom, king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom or, in Chinese 杏鲍菇 (xìng bào gū). It is considerably larger and has little flavour or aroma when raw. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom flavours. This is one for longer cooking in hot pots or stews.
       

       
      One of my favourites, certainly for appearance are the clusters of shimeji mushrooms. Sometimes known in English as “brown beech mushrooms’ and in Chinese as 真姬菇 zhēn jī gū or 玉皇菇 yù huáng gū, these mushrooms should not be eaten raw as they have an unpleasantly bitter taste. This, however, largely disappears when they are cooked. They are used in stir fries and with seafood. Also, they can be used in soups and stews. When cooked alone, shimeji mushrooms can be sautéed whole, including the stem or stalk. There is also a white variety which is sometimes called 白玉 菇 bái yù gū.
       

       

       
      Next up we have the needle mushrooms. Known in Japanese as enoki, these are tiny headed, long stemmed mushrooms which come in two varieties – gold (金針菇 jīn zhēn gū) and silver (银针菇 yín zhēn gū)). They are very delicate, both in appearance and taste, and are usually added to hot pots.
       

       

       
      Then we have these fellows – tea tree mushrooms (茶树菇 chá shù gū). These I like. They take a bit of cooking as the stems are quite tough, so they are mainly used in stews and soups. But their meaty texture and distinct taste is excellent. These are also available dried.
       

       
      Then there are the delightfully named 鸡腿菇 jī tuǐ gū or “chicken leg mushrooms”. These are known in English as "shaggy ink caps". Only the very young, still white mushrooms are eaten, as mature specimens have a tendency to auto-deliquesce very rapidly, turning to black ‘ink’, hence the English name.
       

       
      Not in season now, but while I’m here, let me mention a couple of other mushrooms often found in the supermarkets. First, straw mushrooms (草菇 cǎo gū). Usually only found canned in western countries, they are available here fresh in the summer months. These are another favourite – usually braised with soy sauce – delicious! When out of season, they are also available canned here.
       

       
      Then there are the curiously named Pig Stomach Mushrooms (猪肚菇 zhū dù gū). These are another favourite. They make a lovely mushroom omelette. Also, a summer find.
       

       
      And finally, not a mushroom, but certainly a fungus and available fresh is the wood ear (木耳 mù ěr). It tastes of almost nothing, but is prized in Chinese cuisine for its crunchy texture. More usually sold dried, it is available fresh in the supermarkets now.
       

       
      Please note that where I have given Chinese names, these are the names most commonly around this part of China, but many variations do exist.
       
      Coming up next - the dried varieties available.
    • By liuzhou
      It is possibly not well-known that China has some wonderful hams, up there with the best that Spain can offer. This lack of wide knowledge, at least in the USA, is mainly down to regulations forbidding their importation. However, for travellers to China and those in  places with less restrictive policies, here are some of the best.
       
      This article from the WSJ is a good introduction to one of the best - Xuanwei Ham 宣威火腿  (xuān wēi huǒ tuǐ) from Yunnan province.
      This Ingredient Makes Everything Better
      I can usually obtain Xuanwei ham here around the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, but I also have a good friend who lives in Yunnan who sends me regular supplies. The article compares it very favourably with jamon iberico, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.



      Xuanwei Ham
       

      Xuanwei Ham
       
      more coming soon.
       
       
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