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I’m an idiot. It’s official.
A couple of weeks back, on another thread, the subject of celtuce and its leafing tops came up (somewhat off-topic). Someone said that the tops are difficult to find in Asian markets and I replied that I also find the tops difficult to find here in China. Nonsense. They are very easy to find. They just go under a completely different name from the stems – something which had slipped my very slippery mind.
So, here on-topic is some celtuce space.
First, for those who don’t know what celtuce is, let me say it is a variety of lettuce which looks nothing like a lettuce. It is very popular in southern mainland China and Taiwan. It is also known in English as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce. In Chinese it is 莴笋 wō sǔn or 莴苣 wō jù, although the latter can simply mean lettuce of any variety.
Lactuca sativa var. asparagina is 'celtuce' for the technically minded.
Those in the picture are about 40 cm (15.7 inches) long and have a maximum diameter of 5 cm (2 inches). The stems are usually peeled, sliced and used in various stir fries, although they can also be braised, roasted etc. The taste is somewhere between lettuce and celery, hence the name. The texture is more like the latter.
The leafing tops are, as I said, sold separately and under a completely different name. They are 油麦菜 yóu mài cài.
These taste similar to Romaine lettuce and can be eaten raw in salads. In Chinese cuisine, they are usually briefly stir fried with garlic until they wilt and served as a green vegetable – sometimes with oyster sauce.
If you can find either the stems or leaves in your Asian market, I strongly recommend giving them a try.
“… and so it begins!”
Welcome to “Tales from the Fragrant Harbour”!
In the next couple of days I am hoping to take you to a little excursion to Hong Kong to explore the local food and food culture as well as maybe a little bit more about my personal culinary background. I hope I can give you a good impression of what life is like on this side of the globe and am looking very forward to answering questions, engaging in spirited discussions and just can share a bit of my everyday life with you. Before starting with the regular revealing shots of my fridge’s content and some more information on myself, I’d like to start this blog and a slightly different place.
For today's night, I ‘d like to report back from Chiba city, close to Tokyo, Japan. It’s my last day of a three day business trip and it’s a special day here in Japan: “Doyou no ushi no hi”. The “midsummer day of the ox”, which is actually one of the earlier (successful) attempts of a clever marketing stunt. As sales of the traditional winter dish “Unagi” (grilled eel with sweet soy sauce) plummeted in summer, a clever merchant took advantage of the folk tale that food items starting with the letter “U” (like ume = sour plum and uri = gourd) dispel the summer heat, so he introduced “Unagi” as a new dish best enjoyed on this day. It was successful, and even in the supermarkets the sell Unagi-Don and related foods. Of course, I could not resist to take advantage and requested tonight dinner featuring eel. Thnaks to our kind production plant colleagues, I had what I was craving …
(of course the rest of the food was not half as bad)
Todays suggestion: Unagi (grilled eel) and the fitting Sake !
For starters: Seeweed (upper left), raw baby mackerel with ginger (upper right) and sea snails. I did not care for the algae, but the little fishes were very tasty.
Sahimi: Sea bream, Tuna and clam ...
Tempura: Shrimp, Okra, Cod and Mioga (young pickled ginger sprouts).
Shioyaki Ayu: salt-grilled river fish. I like this one a lot. I particularly enjoy the fixed shape mimicking the swimming motion. The best was the tail fin
Wagyu: "nuff said ...
Gourd. With a kind of jellied Oden stock. Nice !
Unagi with Sansho (mountain pepper)
So, so good. Rich and fat and sweet and smoky. I could eat a looooot of that ...
Chawan Mushi:steamed egg custard. A bit overcooked. My Japanese hosts very surprised when I told them that I find it to be cooked at to high temperatures (causing the custard to loose it's silkiness), but they agreed.
Part of the experience was of course the Sake. I enjoyed it a lot but whether this is the one to augment the taste of the Unagi I could not tell ...
More Unagi (hey it's only twice per year) ...
Miso soup with clams ...
Outside view of the restaurant. Very casual!
On the way home I enjoyed a local IPA. Craft beer is a big thing in Japan at the moment (as probably anywhere else in the world), so at 29 oC in front of the train station I had this. Very fruity …
When I came back to the hotel, the turn down service had made my bed and placed a little Origami crane on my pillow. You just have to love this attention to detail.
One of my local supermarkets recently installed a sesame seed pressing facility and is now producing sesame oil and sesame paste. Their equipment toasts and extracts the oil and the residue is turned into the paste. Of course, I bought some of each.
I have only used the oil so far. It tastes and smells more intensely than any I have bought before. The aroma also seems to last longer in a dish.
These are the white seed versions. They also do black seed oil and paste which I haven't bought yet.
Neither has any brand label - only a bar code on the back so that the check-out staff can deal with it.
I am sorely tempted to try this recipe from Carolyn Philips for celtuce with sesame oil, paste and seeds. I'll let you know how I get on with this or any other recipe. Suggestions welcome, as always.
I think you’ll see in a moment why I didn’t just post this on the Lunch! topic. It was exceptional. An epic and it has been an epic sorting through the 634 photographs I took in about three hours. If I counted correctly, there are only 111 here.
Like so many things, it came out of the blue. I was kind of aware that there was a Chinese holiday this week, but being self-semi-employed I am often a man of leisure and the holidays make little impact on my life. This one is in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duān wǔ jié) and although it features nothing boat-like, it was festive and there is a dragon link.
It started with this invitation which appeared on my WeChat (Chinese social media) account.
Longtan (龙潭 lóng tán) means Dragon’s Pool and is more of a hamlet. It is about an hour’s drive north of Liuzhou city. I’d never heard of it and certainly never been there, but a friend of a friend had decided that a “foreign friend” would add just the right note to the planned event. I’ve seen many pictures of such “Long Table“ lunches and even attended one before – but this one was different and I was delighted to be invited.
So, I was picked up outside my city centre home at 9 am and the adventure began. We arrived at the village at 9:45 to be met by the friend in question. He led me to what appeared to be the head man’s home, outside which was a large courtyard with a few men sitting at a trestle table seemingly finishing a breakfast of hot, meaty rice porridge washed down with beer or rice wine. I was offered a bowl of the porridge, but declined the beer or rice wine in favour of a cup of tea. After downing that and making introductions etc, I was left to wander around on my own watching all the activity.
Here goes. I'm posting these mostly in the order they were taken, in order to give some sense of how the event progressed.
These two men were the undisputed kings of this venture, organising everyone, checking every detail, instructing less experienced volunteers etc. It was obvious these men had been working since the early hours. and their breakfast was a break in their toil. There were piles of still steaming cooked pork belly in containers all over the courtyard.
Some of this had been the meat in the rice porridge, I learned.
This young lad had been set to chopping chicken. Not one chicken! Dozens.
Entrails, insides and fat were all carefully preserved.
In the meantime, the two masters continued boiling their lumps of pork belly. This they refer to as 五花肉 - literally "five flower" pork", the five flowers being layers of skin, fat and meat.
Another man was dealing with fish. Carp from the village pond. He scaled and cleaned them with his cleaver. Dozens of them.
And all around, various preparations are being prepared.
Gizzards and intestines.
More Pork . You can see the five layers here.
to be continued
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