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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.
Yet, every day I still come across utter nonsense on YouTube videos and Facebook about the "real" Chinese cuisine, even from ethnically Chinese people (who have often never been in China). Sorry YouTube "influencers", but sprinkling soy sauce or 5-spice powder on your cornflakes does not make them Chinese!
So what is the "authentic" Chinese food? Well, like any question about China, there are several answers. It is not surprising that a country larger than western Europe should have more than one typical culinary style. Then, we must distinguish between what you may be served in a large hotel dining room, a small local restaurant, a street market stall or in a Chinese family's home.
That said, in this topic, I want to attempt to debunk some of the more prevalent myths. Not trying to start World War III.
When I moved to China from the UK 25 years ago, I had my preconceptions. They were all wrong. Sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice was reported to be the second favourite dish in Britain, and had, of course, to be preceded by a plate of prawn/shrimp crackers. All washed down with a lager or three.
Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.
But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).
When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!
1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.
I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!
Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.
Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
Prawn Balchao is a very famous Goan pickle that has a sweet, spicy and tangy flavor to it.
For the balchao paste you will need:
> 8-10 kashmiri red chillies
> 4-5 Byadagi red chillies
> 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
> 1/2 tsk turmeric powder
> 1 tsp peppercorn
> 6 garlic cloves
> 1/2 tsp cloves
> 1 inch cinnamon stick
First you will need to marinate about 250 grams of prawns in some turmeric powder and salt. After 15 minutes deep fry them in oil till them become golden n crisp. Set them aside and add tsp vinegar to them and let it sit for 1 hour. Now, make a paste of all the ingredients mentioned under the balchao paste and make sure not to add any water. In the same pan used for fryin the prawns, add in some chopped garlic and ginger. Lightly fry them and immediately add one whole chopped onion. Next, add the balchao paste amd let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the prawns and cook until the gravy thickens. Finally add 1 tsp sugar and salt according to your taste. Allow it to cool. This can be stored in a glass jar. Let this mature for 1-3 weeks before its use. Make sure never to use water at any stage. This can be enjoyed with a simple lentil curry and rice.
This is one of my daughter favorite dishes, being mild and less spicy she loves this rice dish. Its super easy to make and goes well with most Indian curries.
Do try this out and I am sure you will be happy with the results.
Prep Time : 5 mins
Cook Time: 5 mins
1 cup rice(basmati), cooked
1/2 cup coconut, shredded or grated
1 green chili, slit
1 dried red chili
1 1/2 tablespoon oil/ghee(clarified butter)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon chana dal(split chickpeas)
1/2 tablespoon urad dal(split black gram)
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
A pinch of hing (asafoetida)
Few curry leaves
Salt to taste
1) Heat oil/ghee(clarified butter) in a pan in medium flame. I used coconut oil here because it tastes best for this dish.
2) Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, chana dal(split chickpeas), urad dal(split black gram), green chili, dried red chili, ginger and curry leaves. Fry this for 30 seconds in medium flame. The trick is to ensure that these are fried but not burned.
3) Add a pinch of hing(asafoetida) and mix well.
4) Now add the cooked rice and coconut. Stir well for about 15 to 20 seconds and switch off the flame.
5) Finally add salt into this and mix well. You could add peanuts or cashew nuts if you prefer. Goes well with most curries.
Wowotou buns ( 窝窝头 wō wō tóu), also known more simply as wō tóu are originally from northern China. The name means "nest" and they come in many forms. These are the ones I use. As you can see, they are usually stuffed with whatever the cook decides. These are stuffed with spicy pork and pickled greens, but I've also served them with a seafood stuffing.
This is the recipe I usually use.
350 grams all-purpose/plain flour
150 grams black soya bean flour
3 grams instant yeast
260 grams milk
Mix the flours well, dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir into the flour until a dough forms. Knead the dough until smooth. Cover with plastic
wrap and leave in a warm place until double in size.
Sprinkle flour on the chopping board, knead the dough, adding more flour if too wet. until all air is expelled and the dough has a smooth surface.
Form the dough into six even-sized balls and rub between the palms until smooth and round. Flatten slightly, then use your thumb to press the dough into a nest shape.
Steam covered for 30-35 minutes.
Note: The flours used vary a lot. Corn or sorghum flours are very popular, but I don't like corn and sorghum isn't the easiest to find here in southern China. Use what you like, but the overall quantity for this recipe should be 500 grams. It has been suggested that pure corn flour is too sticky, so probably best to mix it with regular wheat flour.
They freeze well.
Recipe adapted from 念念不忘的面食 by 刘哲菲 (Unforgettable Wheat Foods by Liu Zhefei). This isn't a direct translation, but retelling of the gist. Any errors are mine. Not Ms. Liu's.
Stir-fried Squid with Snow Peas - 荷兰豆鱿鱼
Another popular restaurant dish that can easily be made at home. The only difficult part (and it's really not that difficult) is preparing the squid. However, your seafood purveyor should be able to do that for you. I have given details below.
Fresh squid. I tend to prefer the smaller squid in which case I allow one or two squid per person, depending on what other dishes I'm serving. You could use whole frozen squid if fresh is unavailable. Certainly not dried squid.
Snow peas aka Mange Tout. Sugar snap peas can also be used. The final dish should be around 50% squid and 50% peas, so an amount roughly equivalent to the squid in bulk is what you are looking for. De-string if necessary and cut in half width-wise.
Cooking oil. I use rice bran oil, but any vegetable cooking oil is fine. Not olive oil, though.
Garlic. I prefer this dish to be rather garlicky so I use one clove or more per squid. Adjust to your preference.
Ginger. An amount equivalent to that of garlic.
Red Chile. One or two small hot red chiles.
Shaoxing wine. See method. Note: Unlike elsewhere, Shaoxing wine sold in N. America is salted. So, cut back on adding salt if using American sourced Shaoxing.
Sesame oil (optional)
Preparing the squid
The squid should be cleaned and the tentacles and innards pulled out and set aside while you deal with the tubular body. Remove the internal cartilage / bone along with any remaining innards. With a sharp knife remove the "wings" then slit open the tube by sliding your knife inside and cutting down one side. Open out the now butterflied body. Remove the reddish skin (It is edible, but removing it makes for a nicer presentation. It peels off easily.) Again, using the sharp knife cut score marks on the inside at 1/8th of an inch intervals being careful not to cut all the way through. Then repeat at right angles to the original scoring, to give a cross-hatch effect. Do the same to the squid wings. Cut the body into rectangles roughly the size of a large postage stamp.
Separate the tentacles from the innards by feeling for the beak, a hard growth just above the tentacles and at the start of the animal's digestive tract. Dispose of all but the tentacles. If they are long, half them.
Wash all the squid meat again.
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!
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