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Dec 31 2010

Post Christmas physical restoration régime REVIEWED
It is a couple of days now since I started taking care of myself; so how did it go?

The effect of the massage was as expected, all the tension has left my body and I feel good. I am resolved to get massages more often.

As for the diet: I have been eating chicken soup and little else for days (I probably should make it clear that while Chinese call these kind of dishes 'soup,' technically they are more of a stew, in this case a whole chicken is cooked in liquid, and chicken and broth are consumed together). Yesterday, as my wife joined in with her own cold, we cooked another chicken with shiitake mushrooms and ½ a bottle of rice wine, adding vegetables like carrots or spinach to subsequent servings. As I write this I am just using up the last of my kumquats in a tea.

The cold sore has nearly healed over. The cold has taken its own course, as they do, but it has turned out to be reasonably mild and I feel it will be more or less done and dusted in a few days provided I continue to take care of myself. From experience I know when I don't, a mild cold can turn into something far more nasty, either that or it stretches out into weeks rather than days.

Tonight is New Year's Eve – do I do the right thing and stand up heroically against the weight of my own historical behaviour patterns and not drink, or at least drink with moderation? Or do I revert to type, base instinct, and commune passionately with the bottle? It is a real dilemma. A dilemma perhaps best reflected on with a drink in hand?

Whatever happens, there is always chicken soup for lunch tomorrow. HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Dec 29 2010

Post Christmas physical restoration régime

My wife's instructions on Boxing Day (Jan. 26) were unambiguous, "You need a massage, chicken soup, and kumquat tea."

She was right of course, but did I listen? I wasn't a well person. I had tried to ignore the tension building in my neck and shoulders for weeks. December has been a busy month to which I had added a couple of high mountain hikes. Then came the buildup to Christmas and the mandatory excess boozing. By Boxing Day I should have realised how run down I was by the blood-weeping blister of a cold sore on my lower lip. I should have realised too, unless I changed my ways real quick like, a cold was on the way. That arrived yesterday morning when I woke with a scratchy throat.

I finally began heeding that advice, last night (Jan. 28). Here's what I did.

Number 1: Get rid of knots and kinks in body.
I went out for a full body massage, to get my body's qi flowing again, as the Chinese say. There were, I admit, times during that torturous kneading and pummelling that I wanted to scream, but no more than 25 or 30. Although today my body feels like a cheap piece of steak that has been worked over with an oversize meat hammer, I know that it will be feeling good tomorrow.

Number 2: Restore body nutritionally.
Then this morning (Jan. 29) it was time for medicinal chicken soup. For Chinese, no meat is more nutritious than chicken especially in a soup, the great Chinese tonic for no matter what ails you. So I took the leftovers from the crappy roast chicken I cooked on Chrissy day, chucked it in a big pot with water, rice wine fresh potatoes, carrots and some garlic, ginger and herbs, and simmered the thing for 40 minutes, then left it to steep for another 40. I have eaten the meat and the soup three times already, and it tasted better after each reheating.

Number 3: Take something for cold.
With plenty of fruit on my rooftop kumquat bush, this afternoon I made a big pot of hot kumquat tea, added some honey to sooth the throat, and guess what, unlike most traditional cold 'cures,' it tasted great. 

I will continue the same régime tomorrow at least, and I might report back here how I feel then – hopefully all cured and ready for some boozing New years Eve (that last part is a joke, I would never …. youv'e gotta believe me!).

My chicken soup was thrown together, but here is a recipe for a classic tonic soup.
Ginseng Chicken Soup recipe
Recipe for Kumquat Tea recipe


Dec 16 2010

Hunting down the food of rural Sichuan

Evan Kornbluh in Sichaun
Evan Kornbluh

Evan Kornbluh until just recently was working for a microfinance organisation in Sichuan, China. While there he gained some unique insights into the lifestyle and eating habits of rural Sichuanese. I recently I interviewed him by email. 

First, tell me a little about Wokai, and how you became involved.
Wokai is an American microfinance NGO that raises money through an online peer-to-peer lending model. That is, users around the world can visit the Wokai website and read the stories of rural borrowers in China and their plans for the money, and then decide to whom they want to donate. All of Wokai's borrowers are chosen through the organization's partnerships with two grassroots microfinance firms in China, one in Yilong County, Sichuan and one in Inner Mongolia. Both organizations have been operating in the field for over ten years and are staffed entirely by locals, thus ensuring that the money is handled by individuals best equipped to understand the local conditions and to work with local peasants. 

Are you employed by Wokai or a volunteer?
I was living in Beijing last year and teaching a history class at Peking University when I met Zhang Sheng, Wokai's director of field operations, at a cultural exchange event for Chinese and American college students. He informed me that they were looking for a short-term intern, which they call a Wokai Fellow, to represent Wokai at the Association for the Rural Development of Yilong County (ARDY), their field partner in rural Sichuan. I spent about three months in Yilong this fall, arriving at the beginning of September and staying through mid-November. Most of my time was spent blogging for Wokai and helping to translate and edit website content on both Wokai's and ARDY's websites.  

Rural scene Sichuan
Yilong County, Sichuan

What is that like in Yilong County?
Yilong, which has a population of about 975,000 is one of many counties in Western China that has been designated by the government as an especially poor area in need of relief efforts. Because the region is so mountainous only about 20% of its land area is suitable for agriculture, which results in only about 2-3 mu (1 mu 亩 = 1/15 hectare) of farmland per family. This problem of scale is one of the main factors behind persisting poverty in the county. Most families can grow enough food to fulfil most of their own food needs, but cannot produce enough to make sale on the open market economically viable. On the other hand, the continuing abundance of blue-collar jobs in construction, factory production, and other similar industries in urban areas has, as in many parts of China, spurred a migrant labor phenomenon which is rapidly transforming the social and economic fabric of the region. All but a small number of young people leave Yilong to find work in Chengdu, Beijing, Guangzhou, or other big cities as soon as they finish school, often leaving their elderly parents behind to care for grandchildren. 

One of the goals of ARDY and Wokai's microfinance initiative is to slow the massive migrant labor trend by supporting the growth of sustainable local enterprises. Many borrowers take out loans in order to open a small shop in their hometown, or in order to buy more pigs or other supplies to increase the production volume of their family farm, in hopes of creating a sustainable source of income which will replace the need to find work away from the home. 

Many of us are familiar with Sichuan food through restaurants, but that is restaurant food, describe a typical home-cooked dinner in Yilong.
Home-cooked food tends to be simpler than the dishes you find in restaurants. Families make a lot of simple stir-fries with one or two ingredients, though rural homes tend to make a lot of stewed dishes as well. Most meals also include one simple soup, usually made with some garlic, oil, a vegetable, and sometimes an egg or two. Each meal includes either steamed rice or rice porridge "(zhou 粥). 

Rather than saute their food in any of the oils commonly found in a supermarket, most families in Yilong use a locally brewed vegetable oil which I have not seen anywhere else in China. The oil is very dark and color and has a strong, salty flavor, giving local stir-frys a unique taste. 

In general, sauteed and stewed dishes are served first, with the soup and rice saved for last. Since you only get one bowl, you must either finish your soup before taking rice, or else ladle the soup over the rice, which is also common. 

… the reputation of Sichuanese as insatiable spice-addicts is a little bit exaggerated.

When I think of Sichuan food I think of chilli peppers and Sichuan peppercorns as defining the food; is that a fair description or is there much more?
The promise of abundant spicy food was one of the main reasons that I was excited to come to Sichuan in the first place. Spicy food definitely plays a big role in the local cuisine. One of the best things that I had the opportunity to eat on my trip was fresh chili peppers, grown right in the garden of the family that served them to me, which have an incredible flavor that is quite different from that of store-bought peppers. Almost all family cooking is made with at least a little bit of dou ban 豆瓣, a spicy and incredibly salty sauce made from crushed chili peppers and fermented Chinese lima beans. Each family brews a big batch of the stuff themselves each summer and then uses it in their cooking throughout the year.

Nevertheless, I discovered that the reputation of Sichuanese as insatiable spice-addicts is a little bit exaggerated. Like in the rest of China, some people eat a lot of spicy food while others can barely handle it at all. Even though the dou ban is present in everything, many of the dishes people make at home are still quite mild in taste. 

Did anything surprise you about the cuisine?
Sichuanese peasants prefer really fatty meat, and eat much more pork than any other meat. Entire dishes are often made with just the pork fat, such as the local favorite hui guo rou, 回锅肉, and only very little of what Westerners would call "meat." Having grown up in a very health-conscious family, this took a lot of getting used to.

Another local culinary custom which I had not seen before was the practice of steaming chopped pumpkin along with the rice. Pumpkins are grown widely throughout Yilong, and during periods of economic hardship peasants would eat more pumpkin with their staple to make up for a shortage of rice. Though economic conditions are much better now, the pumpkin adds a great sweet flavor to the rice. 

Vegetable vender Sichuan, China
Vege Vendor

What are a couple of your favourite dishes?
Beer-braised duck 啤酒鸭 was probably the best dish that I had the privilege of learning how to make. After sauteing the duck meat, you pour half a liter of beer into the wok with the duck. As the beer boils off, the duck meat absorbs the flavor, giving it a really unique taste. 

One of my good friends in Yilong was a young guy whose family raises rabbits for a living. On the couple of occasions that I was invited to their home to eat they served an amazing dry-braised rabbit 兔子干锅 in a spicy sauce with tofu. Before the cooking process began I watched them kill and skin the rabbit, which was an interesting experience. 

Photos Evan Kornbluh


Dec 12 2010

So you want to build a house – you'll need wood, bricks … sticky rice

Chinese building

Sticky rice is well known as the basic stuff of Chinese zongzi, and moji (mochi), the sweet steamed 'cakes' of Taiwan and Japan, but did you know that sticky rice was once an important building material? Sticky rice lime mortar has glued Chinese buildings together since the 4th century. Tough, hard and waterproof you can still find old buildings that used the technology. Unfortunately the Beigang River Sticky Rice Bridge in Nantou, Taiwan is not one of them, and that's according to Nantou's own government website. Bugger! Talk about mislabelling. All of us – thousands of people – who have photographed the bridge will be forced to re-title that picture: a Beigang River Sticky Rice Bridge. Another nice legend blown out of the water.


Nov 29 2010

China ban cripples Australian lobster industry
China is easily the largest market for Australian rock lobsters. China, for reasons still unclear, has suddenly banned all lobster imports from Oz. Story

For the Chinese the crustacean they call longxia, 'dragon prawn,' is a highly-valued luxury dish, and extremely expensive. Australians too think lobster is expensive. It is a rare treat for most of us ordinary folks. But expense is a relative term. 

When Chinese visit Australia, and go to posh restaurants to eat lobster, they get giggly with excitement – "The lobster, it's so cheap!" I know people who have eaten lobster two or three times in a 10 day trip.


Nov 27 2010

Chinese Noodle Dinner Buried for 2,500 Years

Ancient Chinese noodles

"Noodles, cakes, porridge, and meat bones dating to around 2,500 years ago were recently unearthed at a Chinese cemetery …" story

An interesting discovery but the use of the word 'Chinese' in this article needs to be treated with caution. It sounds like a case of Chinese archaeological nationalism working overtime. Though the place of the find (Turpan, Xinjiang) is today firmly under Chinese control, 2,500 years ago – in the age of Confucius and Laozi – it almost certainly was not. None of the mummies unearthed were Chinese: "… most of them resemble typical Europeans, with light-colored hair, deep-set eyes, and protruding noses," the researchers wrote. "Of the 19 mummies examined, only three are Mongolian." How does that make the find Chinese? 

Chinese were certainly known to be in the area during this period, probably involved in trade (Turpan is on what would become known as the Silk Road), and the millet noodles possibly indicates Chinese influence, but that is about all you can say. 


Nov 23 2010

Sea Salt No More Healthy Than Table Salt
Or no more unhealthy, as the case may be. "These fancy salts are just a more expensive way of doing yourself harm," says professor. Contrast this to another recent finding: Low salt diet not all it's cracked up to be. Arh!!! – what are we supposed to believe?


Nov 13 2010

Fat is Not Evil
Fat is not evil. Fat does not corrupt. Fat does not ruin the lives of innocent children. So it is a pity that Westerners in so many countries like my own (Australia) have undergone 30 plus years of dietary brainwashing, leaving us with a morbid, exaggerated fear of fat. That fear hasn't done us any good; Australians are fatter than ever, yet dietary orthodoxy has it almost down to a simple mathematical-like equation: EF=GF (Eating Fat equals Getting Fat). 

But is it that simple? Consider what Harold McGee has to say for one thing: "Because it slows the digestive process, it delays the recurrence of hunger. This is one reason that fatty foods seem especially filling, or satisfying." Consider the much-in-the-media fatty French diet and the fact French are not fat, for another.

Animal fat, like everything else, has its measure. That measure depends on lifestyle, and varies from individual to individual. For the traditional Inuit, massive amounts of meat and fat are key to their survival in the Arctic, yet I have an overweight and unhealthy friend who gets a headache immediately after a fatty meal. Go beyond your measure too far and too often, and you might have yourself a problem. But I could say exactly the same about wine, chilli peppers, or apples – yes, trying eating a dozen apples and see how your digestive system reacts.

Besides, without fat, cooked meat would be as dry as hundred year old leather, and relatively tasteless.

The modern dietary industry has made inroads into China, certainly, but Chinese, by and large still remain a people who appreciate the flavour and texture of a bit of animal fat, gristle or gut. I have learned from them, bit by bit, to break through the yoke of dietary twaddle and reclaim my natural right; the right to occasionally enjoy fatty foods without guilt or gross-out.


Oct 24 2010

Salt No Longer a Dietary Devil

Salt, pile it on!








"Public health advice to minimise salt consumption to lower blood pressure is based on spurious science and does not recognise the complex role of sodium in the body, say scientists whose study attacks the basis of dietary guidelines." story

Great news, now I no longer have to wipe the salt off saltine crackers with a damp cloth before eating them.


Sept 4 2010

Presenting the Chiko Roll, "Australian cultural icon"

chiko roll, chico roll
Chiko Roll.

I am in Australia, in my home town of Bendigo freezing my nuts off, with my first cold in three years, little access to the internet, and a camera that croaked the day I arrived … sounds worse than it is. I am actually having a good time. 

As usual on these trips home I had a craving for comfort food. I already had a meat pie, a pasty, and an ample dose of my mother's cooking, so today, next stop fish and chip shop. I ordered fish and chips, but on impulse changed my order from fish to a Chiko Roll. Almost immediately I had a pang of regret, but I thought, I haven't eaten one for years. Go for it.

Bendigo people swell with pride when they tell outsiders that the Chiko Roll, an "Australian cultural icon," was 'invented' by a local bloke. I can think of a few Chinese who might dispute that. Actually I can think of about 1.3 billion, because the Chiko Roll is simply a Chinese spring roll mucked up; the result is baby food encased in a thick crusted pastry.

I was not expecting much of the Chiko Roll. I got less. It was awful, and no amount of quaint nostalgia or years of Chiko Roll deprivation could mask that. I struggled to finish half of it. The rest we gave to Zoe that evening; Zoe, being my parents slightly gammy-legged golden labrador. 

Zoe the dog, Chiko Roll surviver.

My father assures me Zoe is a pure bred lab, and she looks it but to see her eat is to believe she is half pig. And I am not just referring to the hoggish way she makes food disappear; she is the most omnivorous of pet dogs. She really does eat like a pig: the outer discarded leaves of a cabbage, raw carrot tops, orange peel, apple cores, raw eggs, you name it.

There is not much in the full food spectrum that gives Zoe pause, but pause she did. According to my mum this is what happened when she fed the Chiko Roll to Zoe. The dog, of course, sucked it up like a turbo-charged vacuum cleaner. But then she spat it out, sniffing at it on the ground awhile before eating it with rare slowness and care. 

As usual with Zoe sheer voluminous greed won the day, but the Chiko Roll incident made me realise that deep inside that canine brain was a discriminating eater, and if there was, there was hope for greedy beast and Man alike.

Whatever you think of the Chiko Roll – I know there exist sober, well-fed people who enjoy it (babies would probably like it if only they could gnaw through the tough casing) – I am quite sure that getting Chinese to eat this bastardised spring roll without a horrified grimace would be a major challenge. That though is an experiment I would love to try.


Sept 4 2010

No iced drinks with dinner, so sayeth Tao master

Typical effect of consuming iced drink at mealtime (alive but very tired).

In Taiwan people are always saying that you shouldn't have cold drinks with a meal, or even soon after a meal. Everyone knows that this is bad for you, but not everyone can articulate why. This chap, Taoist master Sat Hon, can. He explains that the human body is one big heaving, coursing Crock-Pot, and adding icy liquid just slows it down. This is why the Chinese prefer a pot of hot tea on the dining table.


Aug 31 2010

New Chinese Food Scandals
‘Six arrested in melamine-tainted milk scandal’ After what happened in 2008, and the public outrage that followed, this latest discovery is out-fucking-rageous. Murderous greed, pure and simple. On a much lighter note is the news that Chinese wine is being sold as Australian. The counterfeiting of well-known foreign and local brands has been popular in China for a couple of decades at least. What is interesting in this case is that the knock-offs are being sold exclusively to Chinese customers. Unhappy Aussie winemakers say, apart from anything else, the substitute is poor quality. I hope at least it is not poisonous.

There is a brand of Taiwan red wine that I was served at a banquet a year ago that seemed nothing more than cheap, noxious Chinese spirits (bai jiu) topped up with some grape juice. Needless to say it was foul, but it never crossed my mind to question whether it was actually safe to drink. Now I can't help thinking that if the factory that produced that concoction was so sloppy and devious in equal abundance, why should I expect it to be concerned about my safety? 


Aug 24 2010

Finally the world is safe again (from my bad poetry)
Thanks to this reader who explicitly advised, "Don't quit your day job."


Aug 17 2010

Not a single reaction to my Ode to Peanuts post? Bloody Hell.
A couple of weeks ago here I wrote my first ever poem. Well, perhaps not my first, as I am sure at some time during my schooling I was, along with the rest of my class, compelled to produce a 'poem,' but as that one is not recalled by myself and certainly not by my teacher, I am calling Ode to Peanuts my poetic debut. It took me all of 20 minutes. That is not to imply it wasn't heartfelt: I really do love peanuts. The weird thing is I expected somebody, SOMEBODY, to at least provide a snidely, "Don't give up your day job." But what did I get? Nothing. Zilch. The danger is this: without some active discouragement, I may be driven in (misplaced?) self-confidence to put pen to parchment again. I mean, I can tell you that I have been lately enjoying assorted animal guts … so unless you want: "Thine internal organs shone like … " stop me, someone please stop me!


Aug 7 2010

Chinese Spend More on Food and Drink than Europeans and Americans

Beijing Noodle Restaurant

A study has found that people in China eat out more than other nationalities. "… only 11 percent of UK workers compared to 38 percent of Chinese eat lunch outside of the office at restaurants or the like." No surprise there, but there is not necessarily the big discrepancy in price between home cooking and eating out in China that there usually is in Western countries. I doubt very much if the UK has the cheap and convenient eating options that China has – street food for one.


Aug 7 2010

Chinese Food Security Plan Shifts Focus to Wheat
"Chinese government policies to pursue food security will see land resources directed towards domestic production of rice and wheat at the expense of oilseeds and corn …" Read news story


Aug 2 2010

Cooking Tips Page
I have added a cooking tips page for Chinese food. Hardly an extensive guide, just the beginnings of some basic pointers for cooking and eating Chinese. Check it out.


July 28 2010

RSS logo

Eating China Now has an RSS Feed
RSS has been around for a few years now. The blogger services all have it. Now we have it (not so much jumping on the bandwagon, as chasing after it). Now you can stay up-to-date with the latest posts and changes on Eating China simply by subscribing to my RSS feed. Just click on the the orange Subscribe to RSS Feed (top right) link and get started. Your browser's RSS reader will ask you to subscribe. Don't know what RSS is? RSS Intro Most browsers come with RSS readers but their are other readers like Google Reader. So go ahead, try it.




July 25 2010

Peanuts in a bowl

Ode to Peanuts
I love peanuts
They go well with beer or whiskey
They’re healthy, cheap, and have a long history
Why some prefer crackers or chips remains a mystery
Unless you are allergic, then they can be risky


July 22 2010

China Calls for Crackdown on Unsafe Cooking Oil

"There's only a slim chance that you will be poisoned immediately afterwards if you eat this 'gutter oil.' The biggest problem is that after eating this overcooked oil, people could–though some don't–develop cancer in 10 or 20 years."

I am not an easily frightened diner but used cooking oil collected from drains and gutters, recycled and sold back to restaurants is scary, scary stuff. Any restauranteur caught should be jailed for 10 years and made to eat a bowl 'unrefined' drain sludge three times a day.


July 19 2010

“The things that people cannot do without everyday
are firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea.”
–Phrase coined in the late Southern Song dynasty.


July 15 2010

Giant Burgers are Giving Us Ape Jaws
Better is bigger, right?

Along the evolutionary road from ape to human our jaws and teeth shrunk. Now it seems that our jaws (if not teeth) are set to get bigger again, this time perhaps with a snap or crack. But that is only if you indulge in giant hamburgers or sandwiches (the Big Mac is hardly the biggest, yet to my mind it is already hideously oversized). Dentists in Taiwan are seeing patients who have injured their jaw trying to stretch it unnaturally around colossal burgers.

Gee, if we were meant to eat like that we would be built like snakes and only need to eat once a week.

The solution for Taiwanese is to approach the megaburger with a Chinese cuisine mindset: carry a pair of chopsticks to McDonald's and ask the staff to cut a Big Mac into 30 bite-sized pieces. Oh, and while you are at it … bring a couple of friends to share it with. News story


July 3 2010

Kylie Kwong

Come on Kylie, Get Real
Now I like Aussie-Chinese TV chef Kylie Kwong, I do. I particularly liked the idea of a TV series/book she did: My China: A Feast for all the Senses. In it we are invited to “Travel with Kylie Kwong as she rediscovers her Chinese heritage, exploring the food and culture of a vast and enigmatic country.” She roams all over China, (including an emotional visit to her ancestral village), seeking out Chinese food as it is really cooked in the small restaurants and homes of China. This is great stuff. But then in the final Kylie cooks segment comes the clanger: instead of demonstrating a dish as the locals have taught her, KK proceeds to muck about with the recipe, and do it Kylie-style.

Yes, I know her thing is Asian fusion food, and that today’s top chefs build their reputation on originality or at least by adding some individual touch to an original dish, but I wonder what the Chinese people she features on the show, who teach her their recipes, think when they see Kylie’s version: “Aiya, why is she adding sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and biodynamic tamarillo to my grandmother’s noodle soup recipe? And what the hell is biodynamic tamarillo?”

The two halves of the program simply do not mesh.

And (final gripe), Kylie please stop reading verbatim from your cookbook recipes on TV. ‘Add 1/2 tsp white sugar, add pinch Sichuan pepper, stir briskly, remove from heat, serve in bowls. Makes 4 servings,’ is instructionally clear but it flows like the Todd River, which is to say, rarely.


June 29 2010

Learn to Cook Sichuan Food in China
American Diane Drey is running Sichuanese cooking courses in the Chinese city of Chengdu. This is in conjunction with the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. The course was designed by Fuchsia Dunlop specifically for foreigners who want to plunge into the robust cuisine of western China. In the 1990s Dunlop was the school’s first foreign graduate, going on to author Land of Plenty, an excellent Sichuan cookbook, and the China food memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper. She promises students will learn "how to prepare a mouthwatering selection of local delicacies, how to use the versatile Chinese cleaver to cut raw ingredients into different shapes, to create some of the famous complex flavors of Sichuan (including ‘numbing-and-hot flavour' and ‘fish-fragrant flavour'), and to control the heat of the wok."

The Chinese cooking classes will be taught by the school’s regular teachers assisted by an English translator.


June 28 2010

Dogs in Space
Astronaut Yang Liwei reveals that cuisine aboard the Chinese spacecraft is just “normal food.” You know, braised duck neck, hairy crab with ginger, and Huajiang dog meat, stuff like that.

Dog on the menu for Chinese astronauts.


June 27 2010

Dogs at the Table
There was a time not so long ago when Chinese were eating our pets in their restaurants. That, of course is more a (Western) perception than reality but it is not untrue. Now their pets are eating in their restaurants. In Taiwan dogs seem to be banned from parks and supermarkets but not from restaurants. At a street stall or a simple eatery, I am used to having a wide-eyed, salivating stray dog at my chair coveting my food or a cat under my feet. I usually don’t mind too much. I might talk to the animal, pat it or feed it scraps. But when I walk through the door of a proper restaurant, that is another matter. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or uncool (definitely uncool) but I reckon the only live animals that have a place in a restaurant are those destined for the cooking pot. I am not really going to get into potential health issues because that doesn’t really bother me; there is just no need for a pet to be brought into a restaurant. Besides now Taiwan has pet restaurants set up specifically for people who have ‘pet separation issues.’ In more expensive restaurants I am paying not only for food and service, I am paying to get off the street, away from the cars, the heat or the rain, the dust and, yes, animals. Frankly, any restauranteur who risks even pissing off one customer by letting another customer bring in a pooch is an idiot.

Which brings me to our family trip last week to Taidong County in the southeast of Taiwan. With beaches that virtually touch the mountains and laid back people, a more relaxing place would be hard to find. One night we drove to the local fishing port, the village of Fugang (葍岡), to eat at a seafood restaurant. Next to us was a large group of people. We didn’t at first notice a middle-aged woman fussing over two lap dogs, one assigned to her Louis Vuitton bag, the other crouched on a chair at her side. Everything was all right until she passed Chair Doggy around the table for others to hug and smooch, an act that displeased Handbag Doggy who began to yap loudly, perhaps out of jealousy. This din went on for a several minutes causing great consternation at the table – consternation not about the effect of the noise on other diners, but about what was worrying the dog: “Oh poor Moochy. What’s the matter Moochy?”

Not one of them said, “Shut up Moochy!”

While I was trying to catch someone’s eye at their table so as to shoot a filthy look, and trying to think of something cleverly cutting to say (I came up with, “That dog looks delicious,” but that was two days later), I didn’t know that my missus had scurried over to cashier’s counter until I heard her loudly berating the manager. It was an exchange that left me torn between a cringe and a cheer. 

“What are you going to do about that barking dog?”
“What dog?”
“Over there, there.”
“Oh, sorry, do you want to move upstairs.”
“Why should we move upstairs. Tell them to move upstairs.”
“Sorry, that is just the way it is in Taidong.”

Apologetic he was, but unwilling to even ask the other table to quieten their dog. The cynic in me was thinking, the bill for a table of 10 easily trumps that for a table of three, but more likely he was just avoiding confrontation. 

In future I will try to remember to do a quick scan of a restaurant when I go in or ask the waitstaff if there are animals in the house.

See also Good for Dogs, Not so Good for Dog (meat) Lovers


June 15 2010

Making Zongzi, some photos

zongzi ingredients
The ingredients for rice dumplings in bamboo leaves.

See more Photo Gallery


June 12 2010

Dragon Boats and Rice Dumplings
Next Wednesday (June 16 2010), the 5th day of the 5th month on the Chinese Lunar Calendar, is the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節 Duan Wu Jie). That can only mean two things: dragon boats and rice dumplings. But how did all this racing in gaudy longboats, and scoffing down leaf-wrapped dumplings come about? When I first came to Taiwan a student told me the story. It all began – as many great tales do – in ancient times.

It was the Period of the Warring States in the 3rd century BC – this was 200 years after Confucius. Qu Yuan was a noble-born scholar/poet, a man of honour, and an influential minister in the government of the Chu State, one of seven fractious kingdoms. At the time one state, the *Qin, was emerging as the most powerful, threatening to overpower the other six. To prevent this Qu Yuan urged the King to form an alliance of the six states to oppose the Qin. But in the court Qu Yuan had resentful rivals, men of weak morals and corrupt ways, who for their own gain, sought an allegiance with the Qin. They conspired against him and he was framed and banished from the court. Although he spent his time in exile writing poems that would lead to his recognition as China’s first great poet, he was a dejected man, wandering the countryside, sometimes visiting a particular well where he would observe his increasingly ageing, gaunt reflection.

Years later upon hearing that the Qin army had overrun the Chu capital, Qu Yuan walked to the nearby Miluo River, lifted a boulder to his chest and waded into the depths until the flowing water enveloped him and filled his lungs. The villagers, who held Qu Yuan in high esteem, raced in boats to save him but they were too late. When they could not locate and retrieve his body, the idea of the river fish eating Qu Yuan’s flesh was unbearable, so they threw cooked rice into the water to entice the fish to eat this instead of Qu Yuan. And so began the more than 2,000 year-old custom of commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, the upright official, with dragon boat races and rice dumplings, though these days none of the delicious food is wasted on the fish.

*The Qin would go on to defeat all and create the first Chinese Empire (Qin Dynasty 221–206 BC), with Qin Shihuang, its brilliant, brutal emperor achieving renewed fame after the rediscovery of his massive Terracotta Army in 1974 near Xi’an.

Make your own Chinese rice dumplings (粽子 zongzi) Recipe here

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May 15 2010

"As to drinks, we are naturally moderate except regarding tea."
–Lin Yutang, My Country and My People


May 12 2010

Red Cooked Beef Noodle Soup

Red cooked beef noodle soup

Back to cooking beef noodle soup this week. Tweaking the recipe which will go on the Recipe page later in the week. This photo shows the dish the way I like it, with chunks of carrot and daikon radish.


Mar 30 2010

"Yellow dog best, white dog second, followed by black dog."
Saying indicating the order of preference of a dog’s colour in matters pertaining to the Chinese culinary arts.

More Chinese food quotes



Feb 24 2010

Quality Whisky from Where? Taiwan, of Course
Recently I was enjoying a reunion dinner with old friends (including a certain Johnny Walker), when one of them (not Johnny) made the drink-spluttering announcement that a new brand of Taiwan whisky, Kavalan, had beaten Scottish and English whiskies in a blind taste test in Scotland. These were not aged whiskies, rather mostly three-year olds, but it is amazing that a two-year old single malt from a new distillery, from a country with absolutely no history of whisky making, could take the honours. And it must really piss off the high-end whisky establishment whose marketing strategy is based entirely on tradition and agedness.

Taiwan has a huge thirst for whisky – it is one of the top 10 markets in the world despite a small population. Kavalan, with its bold strategy and equally bold slogan: "A lifetime is wasted without a taste of this whisky," wants a slice of that lucrative market. The distillery was created by Taiwan food and bev. giant King Car Group with help from a Scottish master distiller. It is located near Yilan on the east coast of Taiwan, drawing water from the Central Mountain Range and the Snowy Mountain Range. According to Kavalan head of R&D Ian YL Chang, the company imports malted barley mainly from Europe.

I am dying to try Kavalan, though it is not cheap (from NT$1,500/US$47), selling for far more than many well-known brands of eight-year old Scotch.

Read review of Kavalan Whisky: Whisky for Everyone


Jan 30 2010

Good for Dogs, Not so Good for Dog (meat) Lovers
I have not written here for ages but this headline surprised me and shook me out of my torpor: "China could ban dog and cat meat."

Dogs and humans have an amazing symbiotic relationship. In return for food the dog helps us hunt, herds our livestock, protects us and our property, keeps us company, rescues us, and sometimes, it feeds us (and I don’t mean in a waiterly kind of way).

The dog was the first animal domesticated in China 10,000 years ago, and the Chinese have probably been eating it since then, so we can safely say it is a tradition in Chinese cuisine, even if only relatively small numbers of people eat it today. Cat eaters are fewer still (in Taiwan I have never even heard of anyone who has heard of anyone eating cat, but when you ask people they always suggest the Cantonese as likely candidates!).

It is common yet nonetheless disturbing to see a young woman bring a doggy date into a restaurant, sit it on a chair or table and indulge it like a tiny shaggy sultan.

This proposed law to end the practise of eating dog meat shows how much China has changed (Taiwan banned the sale of 'fragrant meat' in 2004). In China under Chairman Mao pet dogs were considered a wasteful indulgence of the bourgeois, and were banned. Now (at least in Taiwan) lap dogs, dressed and pampered, are carried everywhere by their coo-cooing owners, and that includes into supermarkets and department stores. I have even seen a couple pushing their pride and joy in its own pram. It is common yet nonetheless disturbing to see a young woman bring a doggy date into a restaurant, sit it on a chair or table and indulge it like a tiny shaggy sultan.

Dog ownership in China has exploded in the last decade in tandem with the booming economy. And with people marrying later or not marrying at all, combined with China's unique policy of mandated small families–that nest gets emptied quite quickly–pets are an economical, easy surrogate child/companion.

Dog owners don't like the idea of their special animal being consumed anymore than pet pig owners like the idea of eating pork, but the proposed law seems to miss the point. Rather than trying to ban the eating of dog meat (which after all is dead dog) activists for the new law would be wiser to work on banning cruelty towards all living animals (including the human variety).


::: Index 2012 / 11 / 10 / 09 / 08 / 07 / 06 / 05



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