Saturday, August 27, 2011

Learning Chinese: 你吃了吗?

Even though I’ve been eating Chinese food all my life, I feel like I barely know anything about it. I’ve spent a few brief weekend getaways in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the past 18 months and I’ve been eating a discovering the larger world of Chinese food.

In fact, the more I eat, the more I realise how much I don’t know. And this is what I’ve been learning …

Perhaps the reason why we can’t taste the range of dishes anymore is s
imply because there are just some ingredients that aren’t available anymore! I remember going to the wet markets as a child and staring wide-eyed at those cubes of coagulated pigs’ blood and not so nasty bits of brain and lung which I haven’t seen in last 10 years or longer!

In Hong Kong, I was introduced to Almond and Pig’s Lung soup. I slurped down on a delicious version at Luk Yu Teahouse, one that has been popular and approved by the locals for many years. The almond soup is delicately flavoured with mandarin peels and is creamy and has a gentle grainy texture from the almond puree that gives it a good richness. The pig lungs were a lot milder than I expected. They looked a little strange but they had an airy and spongy texture that was pleasant to eat.

Shrimp with Longjing tea

fishballs with watershield

I’ve also lea
rn about Zhejiang cuisine at a recent meal at Hongzhou Restaurant and I was surprised at the delicateness. We ordered shrimp with Longjing tea unfortunately was a little lightly flavoured for me. It sounded wonderful but it was a little bland, so I suspect I was just served a poor version of it. The homemade fishballs served with water shield, were very seductive. Pillow soft, they danced around my mouth as I chewed down on them. As for the accompanying water shield, I’ve yet to learn to appreciate.

I was never a fan of Sichuan food and I never quite understood the draw of the mouth numbing experience. But that is starting to change. I think part of the draw and thrill of it is that it is a mild form of extreme eating. It is about eating and being at the edge and not falling over and surrendering to those chillies and peppercorns.

Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, has made me reconsider sweating and it out for a full spicy meal.

The shui zhu yu at San Xi Lou pushed me further in that direction.

The name, “water cooked fish”, evokes images grease-free, health and weight conscious cooking but the actual dish is far from it. In fact, oil is used in cooking the fish. And not just oil, but a lot of it. And don’t be alarmed by the chillies, there are only about...a hundred of them in the bowl? But they will remove most of it before you dive in with your chopsticks, and they are large enough to avoid. What you need to watch out for are those peppercorns. I crunched down on the first one and it really kicked me in the face. I was unprepared. Overwhelmed, I had to put my chopstick down. Then as I was recovering, “crunch”, I bite into the second one, and I had to stop eating again but the sensation of pain and pleasure that started on opposing ends started to inch closer to each other. And before I knew it, I found myself loving and hating those sensational little bastards. Oh, and the fish licked with the fragrant oil was very tender.

So I’ve been exploring and re-discovering a whole new world of Chinese food. Other than that, I’ve also been really fortunately in meeting local foodies whose wealth of knowledge I’ve learnt a lot from. I feel really humbled by this whole experience and in awe of this old and diverse cuisine.

Luk Yu Teahouse
24-26 Stanley St

Tel: +852-25235464

Hong Zhou Restaurant
1/F,Chinachem Johnston Plaza
178-188 Johnston Road
Tel: +852-25911898

San Xi Lou
7/F, Coda Plaza
51 Garden Road
Tel: +852-28388811

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