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China Food Myths


liuzhou
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Posted (edited)

20. 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo) contain soup.

 

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Home made Xiaolongbao - no soup!

 

Google the term ‘xiao long bao’, with or without the spaces, and you will be met by hundreds of sites explaining that they are Chinese steamed buns from Shanghai which contain soup. Well, actually, the ones which contain soup, contain soup; the ones which don’t, don’t. Although, when they do contain ‘soup’, what they contain may not really be what you or I would call soup. And they aren’t even from Shanghai!

 

小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo) simply means, literally, ‘small basket buns’. Whether the ‘small’ is modifying ‘basket’, ‘buns’ or both is open to debate. I go with both. This term includes buns containing ‘soup’ which are one type of xiaolongbao, albeit the most famous one (not necessarily the most common one), although Wikipedia nonsensically claims the xiaolongbao are a type of soup dumpling when it’s actually the opposite. To say that ‘xiaolongbao contain soup’ is a bit like saying ‘pasta is spaghetti’ and ignoring the many other pastas.

 

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小笼 (xiǎo lóng) - small basket

 

The soup dumplings are more correctly called 汤包 (tāng bāo), literally ‘soup buns’ and the ‘soup’ is actually gelatin-gelled aspic. Widely accepted to have originated in 常州 (Cháng zhōu), a city in Jiangsu province, although they were in turn hugely influenced by an earlier similar preparation from Henan province’s 开封 (Kāi fēng), capital of China in the Northern Song Dynasty, they became popular in Shanghai, then spread. International recognition came when the Taiwanese franchise chain, 鼎泰豐 (dǐng tài fēng) introduced them expensively across Asia, Australia, the USA and the UK.

 

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Din Tai Fung, London

 

I love xiaolongbao and eat them often for breakfast or a between-meal snack. I’ve eaten them all over China, including Changzhou and Shanghai. Most did not contain ‘soup’. I lived in Xi’an in Shaanxi province for a year, in western Hunan province for two years and then for two decades plus in Guangxi. All have xiaolongbao places selling non-soup versions. Here in Guangxi, I only know one small restaurant selling 'Shanghai-style'  汤包 (tāng bāo), soup dumplings, but many selling the soup-free version.

 

The non-soup versions follow the same basic recipe, only missing out the aspic.

 

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汤包 (tāng bāo) restaurant in Liuzhou, Guangxi

 

Xiaolongbao are most commonly served in small restaurants, either to be taken away or to be consumed in one of the few seats most places have. They are also sold in some supermarkets. I do also make them myself sometimes - they are easy to do, although the pleating takes practice.

 

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My local xiaolongbao restaurant. Typically, only one table inside and a couple on the street outside.

 

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Xiaolongbao steaming

 

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The contents of the baskets above. No soup! I just noticed there are nine in the basket. The normal serving is eight, Chinese culture's luckiest number.

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Another popular xiaolongbao restaurant here in town. Two tables inside. There is also one outside to the right of shot.

 

These restaurant pictures were taken between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning before the rush descended. They get very busy. I ate a soup-free xiaolongbao breakfast at the one just above. I sat outside.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I think that the perception of most of us in the western world is of the Chinese home cook crouched over a wok on a brazier fed with twigs and cow chips. With the advances that China has made I suppose that many home cooks have kitchens that resemble those in the West.

Just as their style of cooking has to have changed, has the type of food that they are cooking changed? With the transport and availability of food from other regions, has it caused them to be less regional in their home cooking?

Edited by Tropicalsenior (log)
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36 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

I think that the perception of most of us in the western world is of the Chinese home cook crouched over a wok on a brazier fed with twigs and cow chips. With the advances that China has made I suppose that many home cooks have kitchens that resemble those in the West.

Just as their style of cooking has to have changed, has the type of food that they are cooking changed? With the transport and availability of food from other regions, has it caused them to be less regional in their home cooking?

 

Good question which merits a good answer.  It's complicated.  I'll try to answer fully in the morning.  Bedtime here in the land of the rice eaters. 

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Posted (edited)

21. "the Chinese home cook crouched over a wok on a brazier fed with twigs and cow chips"

 

On 8/4/2021 at 10:37 PM, Tropicalsenior said:

I think that the perception of most of us in the western world is of the Chinese home cook crouched over a wok on a brazier fed with twigs and cow chips. With the advances that China has made I suppose that many home cooks have kitchens that resemble those in the West.

Just as their style of cooking has to have changed, has the type of food that they are cooking changed? With the transport and availability of food from other regions, has it caused them to be less regional in their home cooking?

 

When I first came to live in China in 1996, it was said that 80% of the population was rural and 20% lived in cities. Today, we are told it’s the opposite, but while certainly many people, especially the younger generations, have moved to cities, it is often only temporarily. Many have become migratory workers, travelling to wherever the work is and moving on when the work moves on. Most of these end up working in the coastal areas in the east and south-east of the country. Also, many of these, men and women, have children whom they leave behind with the grandparents while sending money back. Many of these people fully intend returning home; many already have.

 

As China’s economy has grown incredibly over the last couple of decades, its reputation as a source of cheap labour has correspondingly diminished and the large foreign companies are looking for other places to exploit instead. The Chinese government has thrown billions of hard cash into developing the interior and western regions, so reducing people’s dependence on migratory work.

 

But for sure the number of city dwellers has risen considerably and, in general, people are more affluent. This new affluence has, of course, led to a rise in living standards and a new middle class. They demand everything new. There is very little demand for second-hand cars and I have never seen the type of second-hand shops which are common elsewhere. I can only think of one second-hand store here in town and that is a second-hand cell phone outlet. And it’s the same with housing. The new middle class only want newly built homes. These they buy unfinished and then arrange to have builders in to finish the interior layout to their own specifications. Even those who do buy pre-owned homes do the same, ripping out interior walls, plumbing etc and rebuilding the interior. They call this ‘decorating’.


And of course, this extends to the kitchens. Chinese domestic kitchens tend to be on the small side and have little storage space compared to western kitchens. Most people cook on one of these. So, do I. I’ve never seen anything resembling a western stove.

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They may have a microwave, but that is mostly used for heating up dishes that have cooled down a bit. A rice cooker, for sure. And often a pressure cooker. No oven.


This is my kitchen as it was on the day I moved in. There is another counter and more storage space on the other wall, too. I didn't rebuild anything.
 

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The thing on the left of the counter near the window is an infra-red steriliser for bowls and plates etc. I moved it. This is not the most luxurious, but better than many.

 

So, although the kitchens may be more modern looking, they still generally contain the same limited equipment. Not that the Chinese consider there to be any limitations. They have what they need.

Out in the countryside, in many places, the “wok on a brazier fed with twigs and cow chips” tradition lingers but is becoming rarer and rarer. Except it wouldn’t just be twigs. And no cow chips. There aren’t that many cows in China. (I had to look up ‘cow chips’; not an expression I’ve heard, though I did guess the meaning.) That said, yak dung is used for fuel in Tibetan areas. Most of these home cooks would use wood, which they gather throughout the year and store for future use.

 

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Firewood stack

 

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The hut is firewood too I think!

 

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This old lady was cooking her lunch over a pile of firewood in a metal bucket in a sort of outhouse.

 

As to what people cook, I don't think the new-found affluence has changed much, other than people eat more of the same. More meat, for sure, but still prepared in the traditional ways. Despite the oft-repeated claims that the Chinese eat everything (another myth), I find most people to be rather on the conservative side in terms of what they will eat and, especially, cook. I’d estimate that 90% of the restaurants here in Liuzhou are serving either local cuisine or dishes which have been well-known all over China for a very long time. When I lived in Hunan, it was the same. Restaurants did Hunan food. We do have a few restaurants serving other region’s cuisines in town, but I don’t think many people would be cooking those dishes at home. I know my friends never do. Even in places like Beijing and, even more so, Shanghai, which have restaurants serving food from all over China and the world, few people will be making that at home.

 

For a general idea of what people cook at home I can recommend Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (eG-friendly Amazon.com link), which covers many of the dishes cooked regularly across China. Regional cookbooks are hard to find, even in Chinese. I have a couple on Sichuan cuisine, but that’s it.

I suspect this reply to @Tropicalsenior's question may raise even more questions. If so, please fire away!

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

please fire away!

Thank you. That does answer my previous question very well but I do have another. I have always heard that the reason for cutting food into bite-size pieces before cooking was because of a shortage of cooking fuel. But I have also heard that it is because it is considered discourteous to expect a guest to have to cut up anything. Is there any truth to either of these?

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1 hour ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Thank you. That does answer my previous question very well but I do have another. I have always heard that the reason for cutting food into bite-size pieces before cooking was because of a shortage of cooking fuel. But I have also heard that it is because it is considered discourteous to expect a guest to have to cut up anything. Is there any truth to either of these?

 

I'd say both are true.

 

It is widely accepted that the fuel theory is behind the invention of stir-frying as the main cooking technique to this day. It requires that the food be cut into small pieces by the cook in order for it to cook rapidly. (It also has the side effect of being easier to eat with chopsticks.)

At the same there is also still a strong taboo about knives being brought to the table. Doing so is seen as an aggressive, potentially treacherous act. I've seen people visibly anxious in western retaurants in China.

 

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18 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I suspect this reply to @Tropicalsenior's question may raise even more questions. If so, please fire away!

Why do you need an infrared sterilizer?

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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Posted (edited)

 

On 8/6/2021 at 7:27 AM, Anna N said:

Why do you need an infrared sterilizer?

 

I don't. It's not mine. The apartment is rented and it was there when I arrived.

 

That said, many people here have them. I think they are a  hangover from a time when few kitchens had a hot water supply. Many still don't. People washed dishes in cold water, then sterilized them in these.

I have hot water. Most  restaurantsstill have  these.

 

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Edited by liuzhou (log)
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13 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

That said, many people here have them. I think they are a  hangover from a t ime when few kitchens had a hot water supply. Many still don't. People washed dishes in cold water, then sterilized them in these.

Thanks. Very interesting. I did try to find the answer myself but I was not really satisfied with what was showing up. 
edited to add :

Must be quite a challenge to get greasy/oily dishes clean for those who only have cold water!

Edited by Anna N (log)
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...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Anna N said:

Must be quite a challenge to get greasy/oily dishes clean for those who only have cold water!

 

8 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

The dishwashing soap here is formulated for cold water.

 

Yes. Same here. The washing up liquid is soapier. Detergent for clothes washing is also a different formulation. Washing machines are all cold water.

Automatic dishwashers are very rare. I only know one person who has one and she is a returnee from America with new American husband in tow.

Most dishwashers, including mine, look like this.

 

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

(It also has the side effect of being easier to eat with chopsticks.)

Speaking of chopsticks, did they originate in China or other parts of the East. Although they make perfect sense it's strange that no type of Western cutlery has ever become popular. Is there any reason for the different shapes of chopsticks? For example some are square and some are round. How far back into history can they trace the chopstick?

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35 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Speaking of chopsticks, did they originate in China or other parts of the East. Although they make perfect sense it's strange that no type of Western cutlery has ever become popular. Is there any reason for the different shapes of chopsticks? For example some are square and some are round. How far back into history can they trace the chopstick?

 

The earliest archaeological evidence dates to around 1200 BCE, yes in China. They were originally longer and used in cooking rather than for eating. Spoons were used for eating. Eating chopsticks seem to have come in during the Han Dynasty (206 BCe to 220 AD). The quickly spread throughout eastern and south-eastern Asia, where they are used to this day. It is worth noticing that most, if not all, of those cultures favour family style eating, in which chopsticks are much more practical.

 

Spoons are still used for some dishes in China (see fried rice above). In Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore and some other countries most dishes are eaten with a fork and spoon, except noodles for which chopsticks are used. Forks are rarely used in China.

Cooking chopsticks are also still used. I use mine almost every day – at least once.

Square or round? Just style. No functional difference. Just like there are many variations in western cutlery. One real difference is that Chinese chopsticks are nearly always blunt ended; whereas Japanese and Korean tend to be pointed. I have both.


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Top left to bottom right: Japanese eating chopsticks; Chinese cooking chopsticks; Chinese eating chopsticks. The cooking chopsticks are 42 cm / 16½ inches long; the Japanese 23 cm / 9 inches; and the Chinese 25 cm / 9¾ inches.

 

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Can you address the myths, superstitions and etiquette surrounding chopsticks, please. 
 

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Anna N said:

Can you address the myths, superstitions and etiquette surrounding chopsticks, please. 
 

 

Sure, although I can only think of one myth that may not be a myth at all. I'll deal with that first.

 

Most etymologies will tell you that the 'chop' in 'chopsticks' means 'quick', as in the expression 'chop-chop' and came into being through a Pidgin English spoken in China in colonial times.

 

I'm not so sure. (kuài) means quick and 筷子 (kuài zi) means 'chopsticks'. The kuài  pronunciation in both are the same but not the characters. They are homophones, but have different meanings as well as being written differently, a common feature of Chinese. There are thousands of such examples.

 

Also, I can't find any evidence of any Chinese dialect or other source pronouncing kuài anything like 'chop'. Nor can I think of any reason why the pronunciation would have changed so dramatically

It may be possible that the character used in chopsticks was introduced later, but again I can find no evidence of that in any of my Chinese sources.

I'll leave that one open until I can delve further, but even my favourite source, the OED, gets in a complete tangle with this.

Note: this meaning of chop is unrelated to that in 'chop-suey'.

As to superstitions and etiquette, I'd say they overlap.

 

The most serious chopstick faux pas is to plant your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl and leave them there. This is a symbol of death as it resembles incense being burned in honour of the departed.

If you need to put your chopsticks down, use the chopstick rests supplied, if any. If not, lay them flat across the rim of your bowl, but not pointing at anyone (see below).

Dropping a chopstick is also considered unlucky, but happens all the time. Not serious at all.

 

Stabbing or piercing food to pick it up is a no-no. If it's difficult to catch hold something, use a your chopsticks to slide the food into a spoon, then convey that to your bowl.

Using your chopsticks as drum sticks is very rude, as is pointing at anyone with them. Playing with them is strongly discouraged in children; unthinkable for adults.

Don't dig around in a plate of food to find the choice bits. This is referred to as 'grave digging' and again bad luck (as well as bad manners).

Don't lick your chopsticks.

I'm sure there are more, but those are what come to mind immediately.

 

Neither taboo or superstition, but the mistake most chopstick neophytes make is to hold the chopsticks too near the points. They should be held near the top. It seems counter-intuitive to many people, but they are much easier to control that way.

 

You will see guides on how to hold chopsticks 'correctly'. Ignore most of them. I've seen Chinese people hold them in many different ways. The trick is to hold to hold one steady and move the other one. If you try to move both, you will go hungry!

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thanks. In my Western experience the kids pick it up right away because they do not overthink chopstick technique.  When I lost the use of my dominant hand for months my goal was to pick up something small with chopsticks. Doctor laughed but I got there ;) 

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23 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

Stabbing or piercing food to pick it up is a no-no. If it's difficult to catch hold something, use a your chopsticks to slide the food into a spoon, then convey that to your bowl.

This is very helpful, however, at least in the restaurants over here (Canada), one is provided either  chopsticks  or western cutlery. I cannot recall ever being offered chopsticks and a spoon except in Korean restaurants.

So, on a properly set table at home or at a restaurant, does a placesetting include chopsticks and a spoon? Or is the spoon automatic since soup seems to be a component of most meals?

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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7 minutes ago, Anna N said:

So, on a properly set table at home or at a restaurant, does a placesetting include chopsticks and a spoon? Or is the spoon automatic since soup seems to be a component of most meals?

 

Spoons are nearly always supplied automatically; if not it's perfectly acceptable to request one.

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Another of the myths that I wish that you would address for us is the idea of many in the West that China and the Chinese people are primitive, dirty, and unsanitary. Your home style infrared sanitizer is just one example that proves the contrary. I've never even heard of one in the West.

Our Chinese supermarket, 100 meters from my house, is probably the cleanest supermarket in Costa Rica

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  • 1 month later...

22. Meat, Rice, then Soup

 

This morning, I had the misfortune to read this appallingly error-ridden article from Atlas Obscura on the interwebs. Among the many downright errors is this.
 

Quote

In China, explains Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, rice is served after the main and before the soup, making the American-Chinese tradition of serving white rice alongside the main seem as odd to Chinese diners as an English-speaker hearing a foreigner say “old silly fool” instead of “silly old fool.”

 

In China, ... rice is served after meat and before the soup? In her deluded dreams. (Who has '8' for a name?)

 

Rice and main dishes are nearly always served together, so no one would find it in the slightest bit odd. The only time food is served the way she describes is at highly formal banquets, but most often not even then. I have been to uncountable banquets in China and never once has soup been served last. Nearly always first, just as in western cuisines. Always early in the parade of dishes.  The habit of serving the soup last is traditionally Cantonese, but that only applies to less than 4% of the population and is not universally applied.

 

I won't get into all the other errors here.

 

Grrr!

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4 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Who has '8' for a name?

I think, Liuzhou, we are able to call ourselves whatever we want without ridicule. A point off there for uncharacteristic playing-the-man crankiness.

 

I read the Fortune Cookie Chronicles. It was OK. Lightweight and eminently forgettable. I expect that the idiocy ascribed to Jennifer 8 in that article is not her's but the author's. It is an extended tortuous attempt to take the metaphor of grammar into realms in which it does not belong. The writer who can't write is quite capable of making others look like fools.

 

as odd to Chinese diners as an English-speaker hearing a foreigner say “old silly fool” instead of “silly old fool" is just a crap simile by an author out of depth.

 

Relax. I've been much enjoying your series.

 

Best regards,

 

Jack

 

 

 

 

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37 minutes ago, FlashJack said:

I think, Liuzhou, we are able to call ourselves whatever we want without ridicule.

 

I totally agree. It was not my intention to ridicule. I just thought that it was unusual. My real name is 🥢.

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      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.
       
      First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.
       
      I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.
       
      1. Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.
      The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is reversed in translation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!
       
      The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

      Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.
       

      Red Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zanthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state, but not often outside Sichuan.
       

      Green Sichuan Peppercorns
       

      Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns

      I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

      I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

      Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).
       

       
      The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.
       
      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
    • By liuzhou
      An eG member recently asked me by private message about mushrooms in China, so I thought I'd share some information here.

      This is what available in the markets and supermarkets in the winter months - i.e now. I'll update as the year goes by.
       
      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, Infundibulicybe gibba. 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
      According to the 2010 census, there were officially 1,830,929 ethnic Koreans living in China and recognised as one of China’s 56 ethnic groups. The largest concentration is in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, in the north-east bordering - guess where – North Korea. They have been there for centuries. The actual number today is widely believed to be higher, with some 4 to 5 thousand recent refugees living there illegally.
       
      Anyway, what I have just taken delivery of is this Korean blood and glutinous rice sausage from Yanbian. I am an inveterate blood sausage fiend and always eager to try new examples from as many places as possible. I'll cook some tomorrow morning for breakfast and report back.
       

       

    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
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