In spite of the hazy smog that has become the norm in China’s polluted cities, all but one day of my recent trip to Chengdu (成都), the capital of Sichuan province, was clear and bright. I took full advantage of the good weather and explored many of its vibrant neighborhoods on foot. Living up to the city’s reputation as the snacking capital of China, I found a myriad of street vendors selling noodles, dumplings, fried snacks and other local delights. Much of these have been glorified in guidebooks, travel articles and cookbooks. What is not commonly known, however, is the struggle these vendors face in dealing with the authority.
When it comes to serving Thanksgiving dinner in our household there is only one menu: Warren’s mom’s. I’ve made the same New England Thanksgiving dinner for more than twenty years. The celebration always starts with assorted homemade pickles and relishes, and basketful of piping hot Parker House rolls. Then follows roast turkey with oyster stuffing accompanied by mashed potato, creamed peas and onions, and mashed winter squash and turnip. Finally the dinner ends with apple and pumpkin pies served with vanilla ice cream or Vermont cheddar cheese. As always there will be plenty of leftovers. Since Warren forbids me to alter the Thanksgiving feast, I’ve become very creative with leftovers. This year I decided to make Chinese pumpkin pancakes with the leftover pumpkin pulp from making the pie.
Browse through the aquariums at the seafood markets in Lei Yu Mun in Hong Kong, or at seafood restaurants in Guangzhou and Qingdao, you will find a plethora of shellfish display. There are abalones from Dalian, geoduck from Canada, scallops from Japan and oysters from America. All to satisfy the growing appetite for fresh seafood in China as the population becomes more affluent. Fortunately shellfish farming is one industry that is sustainable. Some shellfish farming, like oyster farming can even restore the environment. For this reason I’ve decided to highlight oysters for my rather late post in support of Jacqueline Church’s 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish Sustainable Seafood Event.
There is a mystical allure about the Chinese province of Sichuan (四川) that fascinates me. I’m in awe of its endangered pandas and abundant bamboo forests. The stunning scenery at Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) dazzles me. And I worship the sophisticated, spicy Sichuan cooking. So you can imagine my excitement when I was offered the opportunity to visit Chengdu (成都), the capital of Sichuan, to observe a cooking lesson offered by the Cooking School in China program.
I first encountered sea intestine (海腸) last January while dining at the M & T Restaurant in Flushing, a section of Queens in New York. The owner, James Tang, a native of Qingdao, was not able to articulate exactly what sea intestine is. I’d simply assumed it to be some sort of sea animal and thought it best to leave it at that. Little did I know it was to be such an integral part of modern Qingdao cooking.
My flight arrived late last Wednesday night into Qingdao (青島) over a crisp clear autumn sky. The brightly lit skyline of Qingdao, a city in the northeastern Chinese province of Shandong (山東), appeared over a dark coastline of the Yellow Sea (黃海). I was very glad to be sitting on the right side of the cabin as it offered a full view of Qingdao city through my window. My excitement increased as we descended into Qingdao Liuting International Airport. I was about to visit the hometown of the legendary Tsingtao beer.
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.
Think of sweet potatoes and you probably think of starchy roots candied or French-fried as side dishes. Or may be a dessert such as sweet potato pie to end a hearty meal. For many Chinese, however, sweet potato greens would also come to mind. These leaves are commonly used as a vegetable in Chinese home cooking. Sweet potato greens are just one out of multitude of Asian produce you can get in many Asian markets throughout New York City. On Labor Day (September 6th) you can learn how to identify and to cook this and other Asian vegetables at the first Asian Feastival in Flushing.
Every summer when the weather gets sultry my partner, Warren, who is a “Swamp Yankee” with family directly descended from the Mayflower Pilgrims, gets nostalgic and yearns to get in touch with his roots. This year is no exception and last week we spent an extended weekend in Provincetown to indulge in his nostalgia. Throughout our stay we drove around Southern New England and ate wonderful shore dinners and other scrumptious meals at restaurants all over Cape Cod. We gorged ourselves on fish and chips, lobster rolls, clam cakes, stuffed quahogs and fresh sweet corns. By Sunday I was lusting after the fresh seafood and local farm produce, and decided to make a shore dinner but gave each course an Asian twist.
Today (July 1st, 2010) a law prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins goes into effect in the state of Hawaii. Hailed as a victory, albeit a small one, by conservationists, this law nevertheless is a major step in recognizing the need for government action to help save the shark. Sought after by the Chinese for millenniums, shark fins were a delicacy reserved for the elite, and served at important celebrations and banquets. With the recent rise of the middle class in China the demand for shark fins has skyrocketed. This Chinese fondness for shark fins is threatening the survival of the sharks. Although laws banning consumption of shark fins is a positive step in limiting shark fins trade we, as consumers, must also consciously make a choice not to eat shark fins if we were to succeed in preventing the shark’s extinction.