Last year at this time I was frantically trying to complete the manuscript for my upcoming cookbook. With the deadline looming I did not have the time to cook a family Chinese New Year dinner. But the book, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking, is now finished and will be published this fall, so I am back making a Chinese New Year banquet for the family.
A few years ago I happened to be in Shanghai during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Normally during this time of year families come together for reunion dinners. But a few of my expatriate friends from Singapore and Malaysia, and I were posted in Shanghai without our families. So we gathered up a group and celebrated the festival at a Shanghainese restaurant. As we ordered our meal the waitress suggested we try some pork mooncakes. That was the first time I tasted a savory mooncake.
Beets were introduced into China from Babylonia around the ninth century. However unlike other food items of New World origin such as potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts and chilies, which Portuguese traders brought to China in the seventeenth century, beets have never become a major Chinese cooking ingredient. Given this long history of existence in China why are they not more popular?
If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about durian it’s the odor. Not only is the odor strong and distinct, it permeates through layers of packaging and lingers interminably. Airlines and public transport authorities in Asia ban durian in the aircrafts, subway trains and buses. Hotels in the region similarly prohibit it in their rooms.
To foreigners not familiar with this fruit the odor is so foul that few would attempt to eat it. Durian is the only fruit that the host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, Andrew Zimmern, simply couldn’t swallow. But to many other people the aroma, which becomes more pronounced as the fruit ripens, is the allure of the fruit. Therein lies the conundrum of durian: the stronger the odor the more desirable the fruit.