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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
The best Chinese food restaurant I have ever been to is a place called the Imperial Buffet in Aberdeen SD. Their General Tso's is unlike the Tso's anywhere else. The closes comparison I could make is the Orange Chicken at the Panda Garden only 3x better. Their Lo-Mein Noodles are done with the skill of a master Italian pasta chef & perfectly seasoned. They also used to do a mean fried squid. I say used to because they had it when I lived in Aberdeen from 02-04 but didn't when I visited in 15'. One of their other discontinued specialties was a dish advertised as 'Golden Fried Cauliflower'. Note, this was NOT a breaded product. The cauliflower was cooked as though it had been boiled perfectly. It was not greasy as I recall but was a golden orange color as was the sauce it was evidently cooked in. I never could identify the flavors in that sauce. I wish I could describe it better but it has been well over a decade since I had it. Is anyone familiar with it or something similar? I can't seem to find anything like it online & all my searches just bring up links to breaded deep-fried crap.
An old friend from England contacted me yesterday via Facebook with a couple of questions about Five Spice Powder.
Thought there me be some interest here, too.
Is there anything more typically Chinese than five spice powder (五香粉 - wǔ xiāng fěn)?
Well, yes. A lot.
Many years ago, I worked in an office overlooking London’s China town. By around 11 am, the restaurants started getting lunch ready and the smell of FSP blanketed the area for the rest of the day. When I moved to China, I didn’t smell that. Only when I first visited Hong Kong, did I find that smell again.
In fact, FSP is relatively uncommon in most of Chinese cuisine. And if I ever see another internet recipe called “Chinese” whatever, which is actually any random food, but the genius behind it has added FSP, supposedly rendering it Chinese, I’ll scream.
I get all sorts of smells wafting through the neighbourhood. Some mouth-watering; some horrifying. But I don't recall ever that they were FSP.
But what is it anyway? Which five spices?
Today, I bought four samples in four local supermarkets. I would have would have preferred five, but couldn’t find any more. It's not that popular.
First thing to say: none of them had five spices. All had more. That is normal. Numbers in Chinese can often be vague. Every time you hear a number, silently added the word ‘about’ or ‘approximately’. 100 km means “far”, 10,000 means “many”.
Second, while there are some common factors, ingredients can vary quite a bit. Here are my four.
Ingredients – 7
Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Orange Peel, Cassia Bark, Sand Ginger, Dried Ginger, Sichuan Peppercorns.
Ingredients – 6
Cassia Bark, Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Coriander, Sichuan Peppercorn, Licorice Root.
Ingredients – 15
Fennel Seeds, Sichuan Peppercorns, Coriander, Tangerine Peel, Star Anise, Chinese Haw, Cassia Bark, Lesser Galangal, Dahurian Angelica, Nutmeg, Dried Ginger, Black Pepper, Amomum Villosum, Cumin Seeds, Cloves.
Ingredients – 6
Pepper (unspecified – probably black pepper), Sichuan Peppercorns, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds, Nutmeg, Cassia.
So, take your pick. They all taste and smell almost overwhelmingly of the star anise and cassia, although there are subtle differences in taste in the various mixes.
But I don’t expect to find it in many dishes in local restaurants or homes. A quick, unscientific poll of about ten friends today revealed that not one has any at home, nor have they ever used the stuff!
I'm not suggesting that FSP shouldn't be used outside of Chinese food. Please just don't call the results Chinese when you sprinkle it on your fish and chips or whatever. They haven't miraculously become Chinese!
Like my neighbours and friends, I very rarely use it at all.
In fact, I'd be delighted to hear how it is used in other cultures / cuisines.
For the last several years Cindy's* job has been to look after me. She takes care of my residence papers, my health insurance, my travel, my housing and associated repairs. She makes sure that I am supplied with sufficient cold beer at official banquets. And she does it all with terrific efficiency and great humour.
This weekend she held her wedding banquet.
Unlike in the west, this isn't held immediately after the marriage is formalised. In fact, she was legally married months ago. But the banquet is the symbolic, public declaration and not the soul-less civil servant stamping of papers that the legal part entails.
So tonight, along with a few hundred other people, I rolled up to a local hotel at the appointed time. In my pocket was my 'hong bao' or red envelope in which I had deposited a suitable cash gift. That is the Chinese wedding gift protocol. You don't get 12 pop-up toasters here.
I handed it over, then settled down, at a table with colleagues, to a 17 or 18 course dinner.
Before we started, I spotted this red bedecked jar. Shaking, poking and sniffing revealed nothing.
A few minutes later, a waitress turned up and opened and emptied the jar into a serving dish. Spicy pickled vegetables. Very vinegary, very hot, and very addictive. Allegedly pickled on the premises, this was just to amuse us as we waited for the real stuff to arrive.
Then the serious stuff arrived. When I said 17 courses, I really meant 17 dishes. Chinese cuisine doesn't really do courses. Every thing is served at roughly the same time. But we had:
Quail soup which I neglected to photograph.
Sticky rice with beef (the beef is lurking underneath)
Spicy, crispy shell-on prawns.
Steamed pork belly slices with sliced taro
Chinese Charcuterie (including ducks jaws (left) and duck hearts (right))
Fertility soup! This allegedly increases your fertility and ensures the first born (in China, only born) is a son. Why they are serving to me is anyone's guess. It would make more sense for the happy couple to drink the lot.
There was a final serving of quartered oranges, but I guess you have seen pictures of oranges before.
The happy couple. I wish them well.
*Cindy is the English name she has adopted. Her Chinese name is more than usually difficult to pronounce. Many Chinese friends consider it a real tongue-twister.
A few days ago, I was given a lovely gift. A big jar of preserved lemons.
I know Moroccan preserved lemons, but had never met Chinese ones. In fact, apart from in the south, in many parts of China it isn't that easy to find lemons, at all.
These are apparently a speciality of the southern Zhuang minority of Wuming County near Nanning. The Zhuang people are the largest ethnic minority in China and most live in Guangxi. These preserved lemons feature in their diet and are usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). Lemon Duck is a local speciality and they are also served with fish. They can be served as a relish, too. They are related to the Vietnamese Chanh muối.
I'm told that these particular lemons have been soaking in salt and lemon juice for eleven years!
So, of course, you want to know what they taste like. Incredibly lemony. Concentrated lemonness. Sour, but not unpleasantly so. Also a sort of smoky flavour.
The following was provided by my dear friend 马芬洲 (Ma Fen Zhou) who is herself Zhuang. It is posted with her permission.
How to Make Zhuang Preserved Lemons
Zhuang preserved lemons is a kind of common food for the southern Zhuang ethnic minority who live around Nanning Prefecture of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. The Zhuang people like to make it as a relish for eating with congee or congee with corn powder. This relish is a mixture of chopped preserved lemons, red chilli and garlic or ginger slice in soy sauce and peanut oil or sesame oil.
Sometimes the Zhuang people use preserved lemons as an ingredient in cooking. The most famous Zhuang food in Guangxi is Lemon Duck, which is a common home cooked dish in Wuming County, which belongs to Nanning Prefecture.
The following steps show you how to make Zhuang preserved lemons.
Step 1 Shopping
Buy some green lemons.
Step 2 Cleaning
Wash green lemons.
Step 3 Sunning
Leave green lemons under the sunshine till it gets dry.
Step 4 Salting
If you salt 5kg green lemons, mix 0.25kg salt with green lemons. Keep the salted green lemons in a transparent jar. The jar must be well sealed. Leave the jar under the sunshine till the salted green lemons turn yellow. For example, leave it on the balcony. Maybe it will take months to wait for those salted green lemons to turn yellow. Later, get the jar of salted yellow lemons back. Unseal the jar. Then cover 1kg salt over the salted yellow lemons. Seal well the jar again.
Step 5 Preserving
Keep the sealed jar of salted yellow lemons at least 3 years. And the colour of salted yellow lemons will turn brown day by day. It can be dark brown later. The longer you keep preserved lemons, the better taste it is. If you eat it earlier than 2 years, it will taste bitter. After 3 years, it can be unsealed. Please use clean chopsticks to pick it. Don’t use oily chopsticks, or the oil will make preserved lemons go bad. Remember to seal the jar well after picking preserved lemons every time.
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