Sunday, 17 January 2010

Chinese Feast


Last weekend, inspired I guess by a fancy gas stove and now long-glorified reminiscences of China, I decided to attempt a four-dish Chinese dinner. I have previously tried hand-pulled noodles and boiled dumplings, but this meal was all about the wok. Altogether, it took about three hours of washing, chopping, dicing, kneading, marinating, deep frying, boiling, and stir frying. Given that this is the sort of meal people eat in China on a regular basis, I can only hope that the process gets faster once you have the recipes internalized.

My companion through most of this was Yan-kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So, which I once read is the best overall Chinese cookbook out there. It has a very helpful section at the beginning that illustrates all the ingredients, the different ways to chop them, how to stir fry them, and so on.

I decided to try out my new f/1.8 50mm prime lens to capture the results but, as the depth of field was even shallower than I expected, the focus in many of the images just didn't work out. The images here are the few that were passable.

The menu was as follows:

Scallion Cakes (蔥油餅, cōngyóubǐng "scallion oil biscuits") are apparently a common street food across China, though I don't specifically recall seeing them. A simple dough is rolled flat then topped with salt, scallions (green onion), and lard or margarine. The whole thing is rolled up, twisted, and then flattened to form a thick, filled pancake which gets fried in a skillet. The end result was pretty satisfactory, though I would have liked a bit more salt, and they tasted even better out of the fridge the next day. Page 178.

Dry-fried Four-season Beans (干煸四季豆, gānbiān sìjìdòu) is a typical Sichuan dish that really lets the crispy green beans shine. The beans were first deep-fried before being stir-fried with the rest of the ingredients. I left the preserved vegetable out because I didn't have it and the dried shrimp because I was feeding a vegetarian. Still, it was delicious. Most people have a fear of deep-frying, but it's actually pretty straightforward and not too greasy if the oil is hot enough. Page 220.

Kung Pao Tofu (宫爆豆腐, gōngbào dòufu) is a variation on the well-known Sichuan spicy chicken and peanut dish, simply replacing the meat with deep-fried cubes of tofu. We ate this quite often in Beijing and, although I've made it a couple of times, I find the result tastes too strongly of soy sauce. I'm not sure yet if I just don't like the particular recipe, if it's a result of not having quite the right ingredients, or if the tofu simply soaks up a lot more of the marinade than the chicken would. You can buy packaged deep-fried tofu in some stores to save deep-frying it yourself. Page 102.

Di San Xian (地三鲜, dìsānxiān "Earth three fresh")—a mixture of twice-fried potato, eggplant, and green pepper—was one of our favourite dishes in China. The cookbook doesn't have a recipe so I used this one and the result was delicious and very authentic.

For those in Vancouver looking for an easier alternative, I ate last night at the Golden Sichuan Restaurant on No. 3 Road in Richmond. This place was recommended to me years ago by Chinese colleagues but I never made it out there until now. We had the dry-fried beans, a mushroom and pork dish, and some pork and green onion dumplings. All were delicious. The restaurant's Chinese name, 老四川, and its translation are interesting. The last two characters 四 (, four) and 川 (chuān, river) form the name of the Sichuan (or Szechuan) province. The first character 老 (lǎo), means literally "old" or "revered" but can also be used as a prefix to indicate affection, much like you could use "my old man" to refer to your father in English. It's also the first character in, e.g. 老家 (lǎojiā, place of origin), 老师 (lǎoshī, teacher), and 老外 (lǎowài, foreigner). You overhear that last one a lot as you walk around China.

No comments: