Today I wanted to show some evidence that cooking does actually occur at my place, as well as all the eating. Voila…..chocolate brownies!
Now before you go saying ‘chocolate brownies? We’re meant to be impressed by that?’ I want you to read this and reconsider. Because although my Chinese cooking is coming along nicely, especially with all the fantastic fresh food on offer from the wet market ,if I try cooking anything western I feel like I’m on some bizarre treasure hunt in The Amazing Race, trying to gather all the ingredients together in the allotted timeframe whilst dealing with unforeseen adverse circumstances.
Get-togethers with other foreigners often sound strangely mundane: ‘Pine nuts?! You found pine nuts??? Do you have the shop’s address in Chinese?’ We get together and swap cocoa war stories and valuable gems of information on the whereabouts of icing sugar. I once came home with eight jars of capers in my handbag, just because that’s how many the shop had, and they wouldn’t give me a carry bag.
Baking is particularly challenging – self-raising flour is non-existent, Chinese sugar is just plain weird, half the ingredients are probably tainted with melamine, and most houses don’t have any sort of oven at all. My house does have an oven, although when I light it I have to use a very long taper otherwise the ignition fireball will singe my little eyebrows off. The oven in reality has only two settings – FURNACE and OFF. When I used my handy oven thermometer to test it I discovered its lowest temperature is 270 degrees. Celsius.I didn’t try for a highest temperature because a) the knobs on the front of the oven panel began to melt and b) I’m not planning on setting up a home aluminium smelter.
(For you non-cooks, most ovens have a low setting of 60 degrees, and a maximum of 250 degrees).
So here’s how the brownies panned out. Chocolate – purchased from Ikea Shanghai. Pretty good too. Hazelnuts – smuggled into the country by a kind friend visiting from home. Sour cream – forget it. Substitute UHT cream. Oven – place on lowest setting. Leave the door open until the temperature drops to 180. Put brownies in and shut the door. When temperature rises to 290 degrees within 3 minutes, open the door again until it drops. Repeat 16 times over 45 minutes. Do not leave the room.
So thank you. These are the results of my Shanghai Brownie Challenge. Just spit out the burnt bits.
This is my friend Mr Pork Bun. I’m guessing that’s not his real name (although given the variety of ‘English’ Chinese names I’ve encountered – Fancy, Echo, Green Leaf, – Pork Bun is not that far-fetched) but that’s how I think of him. He is a champion steamed bun
therefore not as easily available in Shanghai. This has been a major disappointment for some of our smaller visitors, until they taste the Shanghainese pork bun – it is less sweet, juicier and more meaty than it’s Cantonese counterpart.
As Mr Pork Bun lifts the lid of the steam
For more on street foods in Shanghai, click on any of the links below. Deliciousness guaranteed.
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes