Across a very narrow strait from the downtown waterfront of Xiamen (廈門) sits the island of Gulangyu (鼓浪嶼), a hilly outcrop smaller than Central Park in New York City and dotted with colonial-era European style buildings. Warren and I took the short five-minute ferry ride to this island last month while we were in Xiamen. Gulangyu occupies a very special place in my heart because my father spent his formative years there attending the Anglo-Chinese Middle School in the 1930’s.
“Why don’t they remove the bones before they serve the fish?” is a common question I hear from friends whenever we go to Chinese restaurants. In fact on one occasion after finishing a steamed striped bass at a popular Cantonese seafood restaurant in Chinatown a fellow diner jested that the remains of our dish looked like Felix the Cat had swallowed the fish whole and pulled out a completely cleaned skeleton with just the head and tail left on. So why do the Chinese like to keep the bones in the dishes they cook?
Once the yearend holidays and New Year craziness are over everyone begins to look to Valentine’s Day. Lovers are not the only ones wooing their partners. Marketers, the media and even bloggers take this opportunity to court their customers and readers. Chocolate companies package their products in red and white, and the media and blogs are full of advices and suggestions on how to charm your lovers. There are articles on how to make your lady or man happy, and how to celebrate the day as a single person. Not to be outdone I’m also going to give you advice on how to create an impressive dish for that Valentine’s Day dinner.
Photography by Ron Boszko
When I order live fish at a restaurant in China it is customary for the kitchen staff to present the live fish tableside for inspection in a basket or plastic bag. (And sometime on an elegant silvery stainless platter in upscale restaurants.) The fish invariably flips and flops, and gasps for its last breath. The Asian and European diners amongst us would nod approvingly except of course for the Americans. They would shake their heads in disbelief. Twenty minutes later a beautifully fried or steamed fish is served, and everyone ooohs and aaahs except for the Americans. By this time they are so completely revolted they’d just sit and smile politely, believing PETA evangelists are about to materialize and surround the table with police tape. The different reactions remind me of what I recently read in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee. She wrote that Americans don’t want their food to look like real animals. Here lies the root of the culinary culture difference.
It is an invaluable tool in a Chinese kitchen: a plate lifter. Steaming is one of the most common techniques in Chinese cooking. A plate or a bowl is often buried deep in a steamer to cook food. This tool can safely lift a hot container out of the steamer without burning your hands.