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Chinese Herbs and Spices


liuzhou
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35. 箬叶 (ruò yè) – Bamboo Leaf and 芭蕉叶 (bā jiāo yè) – Banana Leaf

 

314753662_bambooleaves2.thumb.jpg.62aa1beefdb1d889f8e99a98dcc9c649.jpg

Bamboo Leaves

Bamboo (zhú) is wonderful! It is used in so many ways. We eat it; we cook in it; we serve food in it; we eat with it (bamboo chopsticks); we make clothes with it; we make houses with it; we use it as scaffolding and props in building houses; I have seen bamboo keyboard and mouse sets which I could use to type and post this; and much more. It is also a beautiful plant.

 

And yet, it is a type of grass in the Bambusoideae family. Not all types of bamboo are edible though and even those that are require special treatment to make them safe as many contain toxic taxiphyllin which turns to cyanide in the gut.

But it is one herbal use that I am thinking about here. Bamboo leaf - 箬叶 (ruò yè).

 

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Bamboo Leaves

The leaves are regularly used to wrap dumplings, especially 粽子 (zòng zi), the glutinous rice dumpling favourite which is mainly eaten around the Dragon Boat Festival which usually takes place in June by our calendar. It falls on the 5th day of the 5th month by the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. In fact, so associated with the festival are they, that they are often just called 粽叶 (zòng yè), meaning ‘zongzi leaves’.

 

1085167403_bambooleaf2.thumb.jpg.a64117e13d597707fe6bcc2ce120b67c.jpg

"Zongzi Leaves"

The sticky rice and flavourings are wrapped in the leaves and then steamed. The leaves, of course, hold the dumpling together while the are cooked, but also impart a delicate bamboo flavour and aroma to the contents. The leaves are not eaten.

 

zongzi5.thumb.jpg.122726a0c15d0918319445d909f0f07a.jpg

Zongzi

 

zongzi4.thumb.jpg.4771fcb35c051e460ea8d605d923cab4.jpg

Zongzi

 

Bamboo leaf is available in every supermarket year round, but especially June.

 

Bamboo stems are also attractive fodder for Omphisa fuscidentalis, the bamboo worm, known in Chinese as 竹虫 (zhú chóng). They eat their way into the stem, then are harvested by people in SE Asia and China’s Yunnan province as a delicacy! They too take on the bamboo flavour. Yes I’ve tried them! I'll spare you the pictues!

 

Banana leaves (蕉叶 - jiāo yè) from the herbaceous species Musa are used in the same way but, of course, impart a different flavour and fragrance. They are also used as serving dishes in places.

 

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36. 当归 (dāng guī) – Chinese Angelica – Angelica Sinensis

1255231882_AngelicaRoot.jpg.80e0c15c40df51a4c8a441bad2c34f13.jpg

Angelica Sinensis Root

 

 

There are over 60 types of angelica, which is a tall herbaceous plant that grows at high altitudes across the northern hemisphere, even being found in Northern Greenland and Iceland. Most, however, is to be found in China.

 

The plants are noted for their floral fragrance, but that varies from species to species. Most angelica is used in medicines. The species that most people are familiar with is Angelica archangelica which is used in many alcoholic drinks, such as gin, absinthe, Chartreuse and Bénédictine etc. while the stems are often candied and dyed to decorate cakes etc.

 

But it is Chinese angelica which concerns us today. This is 当归 (dāng guī) or Angelica Sinensis. Less fragrant than A. archangelica, this is again mainly used in TCM, but the dried roots are also used in Chinese cuisine by being ground and used in some spice mixes such as the 13-spice mixture I mentioned before.

 

The roots are also dried and served in slices or small pieces to be added to hotpots and soups etc. It has a slightly floral, but bitter flavour and is reminiscent of juniper berries.

 

1229030168_angelicasinensis.thumb.jpg.b9cbdf03fdb98426560609d62edb884c.jpg

Dried sliced Angelica sinensis root

 

It is important for me to note that Angelica sinensis should not be eaten during pregnancy or by anyone planning to become pregnant as, according to this 2020 report from the US Library of Medicine, there is evidence that it can affect the muscles of the uterus, so inducing miscarriage.

 

Another species used in China is 白芷 (bái zhǐ), Angelica dahurica. This is also aromatic but bitter. It has a nettle-like smell and is mainly used in distilled liquors. I know of no kitchen uses nor do I see it very often. Many other species are used only in TCM.

 

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37. 黄芪 (huáng qí) – Milk vetch – Astragalus membranaceus

 

1242152324_Astragalus-MilkVetch.thumb.jpg.62acbc596a2517f16d596724271a66c0.jpg

 

This is more of a warning than a recommendation.

 

Astralagus is another plant common to the northern hemisphere, but found in the temperate zone. There are over 3,000 species in the family. Not all are edible and some are downright dangerous. As with wild mushrooms, never consume any anything unless you are 110% sure what species it really is.

 

In China and Mongolia, 黄芪 (huáng qí) or 北芪 (běi qí) refers to the root of Astragalus membranaceus aka Astragalus propinquus. It has been used in traditional Mongolian and Chinese medicine (TCM) for over 2,000 years, but there is no scientific evidence it does any good for anything. In fact, most scientific evidence points away from that.

 

The dried root is sliced and sold in my local supermarkets to be added to soups and hot pots, but it is most commonly used here in so-called food supplements such as Lectranal, popular with shamans, food faddists and ‘wellness’ experts idiots who believe it can ‘cure’ hay fever’ a form of allergic rhinitis. The only wellness those people are interested in is the wellness of their bank balances. /endrant

 

Quote

What Do We Know About Safety?

 

Astragalus may be safe when used orally and appropriately. (Doses up to 60 grams daily for up to 4 months have been used without reported adverse effects.) Some possible side effects with oral use include rash, itching, nasal symptoms, or stomach discomfort, but these are uncommon.

 

Astragalus may interact with medications that suppress the immune system.

 

Some astragalus species, usually not found in dietary supplements, can be toxic to livestock. Several species that grow in the United States contain the neurotoxin swainsonine and have caused “locoweed” poisoning in animals. Other species contain potentially toxic levels of selenium. Too much selenium can lead to diarrhea, irritability, nausea, skin rashes, and nervous system problems.

 

Little is known about whether it’s safe to use astragalus during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Some research in animals suggests that astragalus can be toxic to the mother and fetus.

.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

 

So my sincere advice is to have nothing to do with it. Try horse de-wormer instead!

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I've covered most of the important herbs and spices (and a few obscure ones), but there are hundreds more. I have some non -eG stuff I need to work on over the next few days, so I'm going to pause my new posts in this topic for a bit, although I'll still be popping in and will happily answer any questions or respond to any comments.

 

In the meantime, I leave you with this image of a typical herb shop round these parts. This one is in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, where I live. Most of the herbs inside are dried foraged examples. The fresh stuff, equally wild picked, is out on the sidewalk. Also, most are for medicinal rather than culinary use, but there are exceptions. Nothing is labelled in any language! All great fun!

 

686230890_HerbShop-Nanning.thumb.jpg.0eb0a19cd03b07b1fa75ba87519612c5.jpg

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But.

 

Before I go, let me say that I bought some banana leaves today after being inspired by writing about them a few days ago and steaming a fish yesterday. Here they are.

 

They are sold rolled up and covered in plastic wrap.

 

519091688_bananaroll.thumb.jpg.6bd129369beba9c6977bf9cf42640ec2.jpg

 

Unrolling them reveals these

 

1270526327_Bananaleaf.thumb.jpg.0638d3cf31a0b2129db8df3f636d7ee1.jpg

 

The longest segment of leaf is 107 cm / 42 inches long. The floor tiles are 30 cm / 1 foot square.

 

longest.thumb.jpg.bd3805fda42f1bff904ec15c644a1cde.jpg

 

I'll be steaming more fish soon in some of them. Thai style, probably, but could be Chinese, too.

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38. 草鞋板 (cǎo xié bǎn) / 球兰 (qiú lán) - porcelainflower or wax plant - Hoya carnosa

 

Hoya_FR_2013.thumb.jpg.981b8418cc90355f2f1e0a39d406176b.jpg

 

球兰 (qiú lán) is a real outlier, even here. Hoya carnosa is native to East Asia and Australia and is a popular house plant around the world, noted for its fragrant flowers and waxy leaves. In the UK it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Here it is more or less a weed, albeit it pretty one.

 

It also has succulent shoots, 草鞋板 (cǎo xié bǎn), which are what we are interested in here. These are foraged then dried and used both medicinally and, in some places, cooking. I have only ever seen or eaten it once in a village just north of Liuzhou city. It was used in a chicken soup made in a bamboo pipe. That meal is documented in detail here.


182623160_.thumb.jpg.91bdada08b71d54a528db1ae449025b7.jpg

 

Although Google shows many sites discussing the plant, none seem to know it is used either medicinally or in cooking. One site did lead me to the information that it is not considered to be toxic to humans or pets. Oh good!


Hoya flower image by JLPC, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

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On 9/2/2021 at 10:59 PM, liuzhou said:

 

It has that reputation worldwide. Unfortunately perhaps, there are no studies that back up that reputation.

 

For turmeric itself, perhaps, but in vivo studies on curcumin supplements for humans have demonstrated significant effects in several areas, including as an anti-inflammatory and as an adjunct treatment for Type 2 diabetes.

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Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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1 hour ago, Alex said:

 

For turmeric itself, perhaps, but in vivo studies on curcumin supplements for humans have demonstrated significant effects in several areas, including as an anti-inflammatory and as an adjunct treatment for Type 2 diabetes.

 

Cite one that actually comes from a peer reviewed academic source.

 

 

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8 hours ago, heidih said:

Of interest to scientists. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535097/ I have it around for the kitchen uses.

 

That article does not prove anything. It merely demonstrates that curcumin may do something or has the potential to do something. It uses the word may 18 times and potential 28 times, then concudes by saying it is worth investigating. That's all.

 

It is not peer reviewed evidence.

 

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9 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

Cite one that actually comes from a peer reviewed academic source.

 

 

Here are a couple for you; there are more: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5637251/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22773702/

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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39. 胡芦巴 (hú lú bā) – Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum-graecum

 

 

1101685732_FenugreekSeeds.thumb.jpg.aeea803930123f09ea58a4d3a08686b8.jpg

 

I’m posting this as an example of one of the problems I am up against. The same story applies to many spices and herbs.

Fenugreek, as I’m sure everyone here will be aware is most associated with Indian cuisine. India and China have had a fractured relationship for decades – this mainly manifests itself in the ongoing border disputes played out on top of bleak, barely accessible mountain tops in the Himalayas. It frequently breaks into actual shooting at each other.

 

It also results in there being very little chance of me sourcing ingredients associated with India. I have, for example, never seen basmati rice in any store, supermarket or market. I can but it online but it comes from Pakistan. So, the choice of spices is also limited.

 

Fenugreek, known as methi in India, is one of my favourites, either the leaves as a herb or the seeds as a spice. But it is unavailable here – or so I thought.

 

I was in a local traditional pharmacy yesterday (looking for something non-eG related) and spotted something I thought I recognised. Yes, turmeric seeds! And they are grown in China’s Anhui Province. It turns out they are used in TCM to cure everything except gullibility!

 

The only problem is that I can only buy them in loads of 500 grams. So, I broke my usual rule of only ever buying spices in small amounts and grabbed a bag (it was only $2.30 USD equivalent). I have planted a few to see if they germinate, but I’m not confident. Still, I’m happy with the seeds.

 

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

39. 胡芦巴 (hú lú bā) – Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum-graecum


655915457_fenugreekseeds.thumb.jpg.ac204c706515416d19ce828b97e3456a.jpg

 

I’m posting this as an example of one of the problems I am up against. The same story applies to many spices and herbs.

Fenugreek, as I’m sure everyone here will be aware is most associated with Indian cuisine. India and China have had a fractured relationship for decades – this mainly manifests itself in the ongoing border disputes played out on top of bleak, barely accessible mountain tops in the Himalayas. It frequently breaks into actual shooting at each other.

 

It also results in there being very little chance of me sourcing ingredients associated with India. I have, for example, never seen basmati rice in any store, supermarket or market. I can but it online but it comes from Pakistan. So, the choice of spices is also limited.

 

Fenugreek, known as methi in India, is one of my favourites, either the leaves as a herb or the seeds as a spice. But it is unavailable here – or so I thought.

 

I was in a local traditional pharmacy yesterday (looking for something non-eG related) and spotted something I thought I recognised. Yes, turmeric seeds! And they are grown in China’s Anhui Province. It turns out they are used in TCM to cure everything except gullibility!

 

The only problem is that I can only buy them in loads of 500 grams. So, I broke my usual rule of only ever buying spices in small amounts and grabbed a bag (It w as only $2.30 USD equivalent). I have planted a few to see if they can be germinated, but I’m not confident. Still, I’m happy with the seeds.

 

 

I have fenugreek seeds that I bought a couple of years ago but have never known what to do with them. Of course, I've never actually looked up what to do with them either.  : )
But they look exactly like these in your photo. 

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8 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The only problem is that I can only buy them in loads of 500 grams. So, I broke my usual rule of only ever buying spices in small amounts and grabbed a bag (It w as only $2.30 USD equivalent). I have planted a few to see if they can be germinated, but I’m not confident. Still, I’m happy with the seeds.

 

 

 I had good luck with growing fenugreek, and the bonus is that you get leaves to cook with.

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I've grown it successfully from seeds purchased at the bulk-food store, so it's not out of the question. I got about 50 percent germination, which isn't great but I considered it acceptable in the context.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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10 hours ago, liuzhou said:

It is fairly clear that these studies involve much larger dosages than is ever likely to be ingested by throwing some turmeric into your curries or whatever.

 

 

 

True, but as I said in my first post about this, which agreed with your statement above,

Quote

For turmeric itself, perhaps, but in vivo studies on curcumin supplements for humans have demonstrated significant effects in several areas, including as an anti-inflammatory and as an adjunct treatment for Type 2 diabetes.

 

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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For sprouting, fenugreek likes a good drink of water to soften the seed case. Not a full soak covered, but a rinse in a mesh colander, rinse again a couple hours later. A tsp of peroxide in a 1/2 cup of water for the final rinse. Pea and sunflower like a full overnight soak. Sunflower benefits from a peroxide soak as well. (the shells can often harbor some bacterial molds). 

I get about 95% germination in all seed as long as it is relatively fresh...2-3 years stored properly. A few like to be grown in darkness. Keeps them tender...like corn, 😂

 

sweet corn microgreens.jpeg

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15 hours ago, liuzhou said:

It is fairly clear that these studies involve much larger dosages than is ever likely to be ingested by throwing some turmeric into your curries or whatever.

 

 

 

There are simple, and possibly common, additions to a dish/meal that can significantly enhance the bioavailability. From the paper cited above:

Quote

 

Despite its reported benefits via inflammatory and antioxidant mechanisms, one of the major problems with ingesting curcumin by itself is its poor bioavailability [15], which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination. Several agents have been tested to improve curcumin’s bioavailability by addressing these various mechanisms. 

[...]

For example, piperine, a known bioavailability enhancer, is the major active component of black pepper [16] and is associated with an increase of 2000% in the bioavailability of curcumin [17]. Therefore, the issue of poor bioavailability appears to be resolved by adding agents such as piperine that enhance bioavailability, thus creating a curcumin complex.

 

 

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40. 罗勒 (luó lè) – Sweet Basil – Ocimum basilicum

 

997379417_basil2019.thumb.jpg.8e1eb6f4b33799091b8b2809e6ab1e49.jpg

Balcony Basil

 

Native to SE Asia and parts of Central Africa, basil is actually a group of closely related plants and cultivars, the most commonly used worldwide being 罗勒 (luó lè) or “sweet basil”. Others include but are not limited to “Thai basil - Ocimum basilicum thyrsifolium” and “holy basil - Ocimum tenuiflorum ”. The only one I’ve ever encountered in China, unfortunately, is the sweet basil, and that rarely. With Vietnam just next door and Thailand only three hours away, it is very frustrating.

 

The seeds can occasionally be found in a couple of local supermarkets. However it is not being sold for culinary reasons, but as an insect repellent! That said, I ignore that advice and grow several pots of the herb on my balcony. I also smuggled in a load of seeds from England in 2019.

 

The only time I’ve seen it in any culinary setting or product was in these bizarre beef sausages in the supermarket! Still, they justify it being used here as a Chinese herb. I didn't buy the sausages.

 

1792748507_beefsausageswbasil.thumb.jpg.49b1f8756788e3089e47e94673b40c59.jpg

 

By the way if your basil goes to seed as you grow it, don’t worry. Leave it alone and you get these rather pretty flowers! They are also edible.

 

1448194945_basilflower.thumb.jpg.b7c5ee5ce22c545c3d875a1fa5a13215.jpg

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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41. 淫羊藿 (yín yáng huò) – Barrenwort – Epimedium

 

1024px-Epimedium_versicolor01.thumb.jpg.78e6cb7c9ea0bed618f50ce94fe1e9a0.jpg

Epimediom versicolor  - Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

 

I think I’m pretty much done in this topic, unless something unexpected turns up, but I feel I couldn’t leave you without this.

 

Epidemium is a group of flowering herbaceous perennials growing from a ginger-like rhizome. There are over 60 species in the group, most of which are native to China. It is not, I am happy to say, a herb that I have ever personally encountered or sought out.

I have however heard of it. The Chinese name, 淫羊藿 (yín yáng huò), is what first drew my attention out of linguistic interest. That first character (yín) appears in many words, nearly all referring to licentiousness, particularly derogatorily towards women. The second character (yáng) means ‘sheep’ or ‘goat’ and last, (huò) means ‘weed’.

 

English names include the above mentioned ‘barrenwort’ along with bishop's hat, fairy wings, and the delightful ‘horny goat weed’.

 

I’m told that the leaves are much appreciated as an aphrodisiac, not something I have any use for. The last English name mentioned comes from its flowers supposed resemblance to crushed goat testicles. Never having knowingly seen such things, I can’t attest to the accuracy of the nomenclature.

Thanks to @Tropicalseniorfor prompting me to start this whole spicy and herbal topic in the first place. It has been fun for me to explore and hopefully the same for some you out there, too.
 

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    • By liuzhou
      Chinese food must be among the most famous in the world. Yet, at the same time, the most misunderstood.

      I feel sure (hope) that most people here know that American-Chinese cuisine, British-Chinese cuisine, Indian-Chinese cuisine etc are, in huge ways, very different from Chinese-Chinese cuisine and each other. That's not what I want to discuss.

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    • By liuzhou
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      FRESH FUNGI
       
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      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.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      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, including her, 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
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      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)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      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.
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