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Bruny Island Providores: Four of the Best

Bruny Island, pristine and unspoilt, has been an incredible wild haven for the last week, but you might be surprised to find that it’s home to foodie treasures too, with an increasing number of great food destinations dotted around the island. Here are four of the best – I hope you have a chance to enjoy their produce as much as I have!

Get Shucked Oysters
The roadside sign pointing to Bruny Island’s Get Shucked Oyster Shack points you down a dirt road to a humble caravan sitting under the shade of a towering eucalypt. Just opposite the sparkling waters of Great Bay, where the oysters are grown and presumably live a happy life reaching plump loveliness in preparation for being eaten, the caravan sells shucked or un-shucked oysters ($12/dozen) and they don’t come any fresher than this.
You can sit under the eucalypt and eat them straight from the shell, or take them home and arrange them on a plate before eating them straight from the shell. Either way, make no mistake, these oysters make for very, very good eating and need no acconpaniment other than fresh air and a hearty appetite. Thanks little oysters. I love you, I really do. 



Bruny Island Cheese Company


What a find the Bruny Island Cheese Company turned out to be! I really didn’t expect to come all the way from Shanghai to find artisanal cheeses in a pristine wilderness, but those are exactly the sort of pleasant surprises Tasmania has the habit of dealing you every day.
Cheesemaker Nick Haddow makes seven types of cheese, all from Tasmanian cows’ milk. Tasmania has incredibly luscious, rich milk (as an aside, in the 1930s the Cadbury Chocolate Company decided on Tasmania, from the entirety of Australia, for their factory because of the superior quality of the milk) and the resulting cheeses are all excellent.
The cheese house has a light-filled indoor area (for cold days) and a broad verandah (for warmer days) where you can sit with a bottle of good Tasmanian wine, and a sampling of cheeses with bread from the wood-fired oven, or even a wood-fired pizza. It’s a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.
I really enjoyed their ‘saint’ cheese, a soft surface-ripened brie style with creamy full flavour, and the ‘tom’ (seen ripening in the cheese room above),  a five months ripened hard cheese. But they’re all good, including the soft and light-flavoured o.d.o. (one day old) cheese, a baby steeped in olive oil to keep it soft and perfect with crusty bread, herbs, and prosciutto.
Bruny Island Berry Farm

Pick-your-own? Yes please, and berries are always a favourite. Sadly, the day we visited the Bruny Island Berry Farm it was absolutely clean out of berries because everyone else holidaying on the island had the same idea. Instead, I had to make do with a creamy raspberry and strawberry ice-cream from Tasmania’s Valhalla icecreams followed by an excellent piece of berry cake. Small consolation.

The farm sits in an indescribably beautiful location opposite a tiny cove of Adventure Bay with aquamarine waters and silver sands, and serves coffees, pancakes, and home-made cakes as well as jams and berry sauces.

They grow a number of interesting berry varieties including Tasmanian pepperberries, blackberries, and raspberries, all in full season right now, so I returned today to try a few more ice-cream flavours (in the interests of quality research I’m happy to report they are all, including the sorbets, superb) and buy some plump ripe sweet raspberries ($10 for 500g) for dessert. A rare treat.

Bruny Island Smoke House

I have occasional dreams of setting up my own smokehouse, rows of oily fish hanging deliciously from the smokehouse roof ready for eating. Until I get round to that highly unlikely pipedream I can visit the Bruny Island Smokehouse, who smoke their own Tasmanian salmon, ocean trout, rainbow trout, sardines and meats, including wallaby from Bruny Island Game Meats.

The smoked ocean trout from nearby McQuarry Harbour is soft, luscious and lightly smokes, and pairs well with a glass of reisling sitting overlooking Sykes Bay. The wallaby, sliced finely, was less game-flavoured than I expected, and was delicious with crusty bread and pickles. I could imagine using tossing it through fresh orrechiete with mushrooms, herbs and olive oil.



The Smokehouse’s prizewinning produce extends to smoked Pomegranate quail, Leatherwood duck, home-made pomegranate syrup (I’m taking a bottle of that rarity back to China) and spiced preserves and pickles, and they deliver anywhere in Australia.

The Details:
Get Shucked Oysters
Bruny Island Main Road, Great Bay
Bruny Island
Bruny Island Cheese Company
1807 Main Road, Great Bay
Bruny Island
Bruny Island Berry Farm
Two Tree Point, Adventure Bay
South Bruny
Bruny Island Smokehouse 
Lennon Road
North Bruny

My True Love Gave to Me: Oysters Straight From the Rocks….

My husband, badly jet-lagged, searches his hand luggage for a small knife, or screwdriver, or some kind of tool, but there’s nothing even remotely suitable for the task of levering rock oysters from their beds in a bag of stuff brought from Shanghai. Frantic at the site of hundreds of oyster-covered rocks before him he opts for the only tool available – the edge of a flat rock picked from the shore.  
The oyster cleaves messily from the rock, fractured bits of shell flying everywhere. He cracks it open with more care, revealing a plump creamy oyster inside, and rinses it gently in the cold, clear indigo water before handing it to me to eat. Unbelievably delicious. There are hundreds more on every rock around us as we wait for the ferry to Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania. 
Bruny sits off Tasmania’s south-east coast (Tasmania being that very large and beautiful isand off Australia’s southern tip), and from China it’s an almost twenty-four hour trip – two flights, a longish drive, a ferry ride, and yet another drive – to get to the house we’ve rented for Christmas. It’s a pretty traditional Australian way to spend Christmas – pack the entire extended family, in-laws included, off to a waterside destination for Christmas complete with decorations, ham, and plenty of beer in the back of the car.
It’s a little out of the way unless you already live in Tasmania, but that is exactly the point – it has few people but is literally heaving with animal life, in the water, in the air, and on the land. Mother Nature’s abundance is never more obvious than here. Within the first twenty four hours of arriving, I’ve caught eight wrasse (threw seven back – no-one can eat that many!) and a flathead from the seat of a kayak by literally tossing a line over the side, and watched my talented brother-in-law snorkel for fresh abalone which he removes from the rocks with a dessert spoon. Shanghai couldn’t be further away. Different season, different hemisphere, different eco-system.

Our first afternoon is spent at Adventure Bay climbing amongst the rockpools. There are enormous swathes of kelp and tendrils of seaweed fringing the pools, and as I look down I shout to everyone to ‘look!’ at the orange starfish I see. A starfish! We sit and stare for a moment in rapt wonder before one of the children yells ‘Here’s another one! and another!’
There are around thirty fat, healthy starfish n every single rockpool. Even here in Australia, a place kind of overflowing with wildlife, I’ve never seen anything like it. Bloody marvellous!

As for the abalone, Tasmania is one of the places where they grow wild. As long as you’re happy to brave the cold waters and the sharks, they are just sitting on the rocks ready to be scooped off with a spoon. Or a butter knife. 
My marine biologist brother-in-law tells me that they can be too easily damaged with a sharp knife, and the key to collecting them is surprise – the sligtest touch or advance warning of your intentions and their thick muscular foot will clamp down tightly onto the surface of the rock below it, making them completely un-removable. So the best thing is to use something blunt, and slide it quickly under the shell before the abalone knows what’s coming. Oh – and wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edges of the shell.

I wish all of you near and far a very happy Christmas, and thanks for following my adventures on Life on Nanchang Lu over the last year. It’s been another fantastic year of food and travels, from Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces near Guilin, to ancient Miao village festivals, distant Kashgar and everywhere in between, and along the way I’ve met some of you in person and got to know others online, always a joy and one of the greatest rewards of blogging!
I hope your day is filled with family and friends and of course, good food! What Christmas would be complete without it? As for me, I’m having champagne and abalone. What a combination! 
I’ll bring you some more of the beauty of Bruny Island soon.

Shanghai Street Food #24 Potsticker Dumplings: Guotie 锅贴

Love dumplings? How about crispy, juicy fried dumplings? Could there actually be any better antidote for a major dose of Shanghai winter blues? 

Guōtiē ( 鍋貼 literally pot-stick) are pork dumplings with a crispy fried base, made in much the same way as regular jiaozi cooked in water, but with a thicker and tougher skin to withstand frying. The filling is an unctuous mixture of pork seasoned with ginger, shaoxing wine, a little garlic, sesame oil and salt, wrapped in a circular skin and the edges crimped together to form the typical flat-bottomed double-horned shape. 

Cooking happens in three continous stages, first a gentle frying, then some steaming, then a final fry to crisp up the bottoms of the guotie. The guotie are placed in a broad shallow circular iron skillet over a gas flame, row upon row, around a hundred in every skillet. Depending on demand, the skillet may be filled half and half with guotie and shengjianbao, because the cooking method for both dumplings is identical.

While the crowds line up to purchase the freshly-cooked guotie, the cook ladles in oil and turns up the heat to begin the cooking. He lets the bottoms fry a little first, then using a pair of pliers to get a good grip on the scalding hot rim of the skillet, he grasps it and gives it an almighty spin with all his strength, preventing the pot stickers from sticking to the pot. 

The next step requires steam, so a few ladles of water go into the the skillet and a heavy wooden lid goes in, but the arduous spinning continues. 

Lastly the final frying – the lid comes off with great billows of steam, and a couple more ladles of oil are added to really get the bottoms of the guotie satisfylingly browned and crisp.
Guotie are usually eaten standing on the street, using tiny chopsticks to grapple the oily, slippery dumplings from a rectangular styrofoam tray into your mouth. The first bite sends hot oil pouring down your chin – guotie are seriously oily! 

The smooth and chewy top is a wonderful contrast in texture to the crunchy bottom, with the salty savoury pork filling in between. Guotie are rich, but you can dip them in a little dark vinegar to cut through the oil if you desire. But after a tray of these oily, salty dumplings your winter chills will be banished for the day.

The Shanghai Street Food Series

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

The Apocalypse, Now. Constructing the New China

It’s a scene from the end of the world – a pallid sun struggles to push through a thick polluted haze to the ground below, where an endless miasma of cold grey mud covers the ground as far as the eye can see, pitted with pools of stinking green water. Men, such men as can live and work amongst the mud, move slowly and laboriously through the landscape, mud sucking at their every step. They work side by side with rusting hulks of dirty machines digging at the mud and belching smoke and nearby mud-covered pipes spew liquid mud endlessly from one filthy pool to another. Mud moves from one place to the next, covering everything, colouring everything.
The sky is pierced by towers of steel rigging, soon to be cranes, and in every direction for as far as the eye can see are the hazy silhouettes of cranes on other building sites littering the horizon like so many giant skeletal weathervanes, pointing the way to some dystopian future. Flagpoles planted to stake a claim in the earth. 
This is a construction site in the ‘New Town’ of Ningbo, next door to the Ningbo International Finance Centre where I spent a day last week photographing their public art at on my first real ‘professional’ photography gig. Ningbo, I suspect, is a city built largely on mud, sitting on the coastal cusp of the Yangtze delta. Mud barons have spent gazillions to create glittering towers from displaced mud, where before were only flatlands and barren wetlands. 
While I searched for a vantage point to photograph a particular artwork at the Finance Centre I realized I had a birdseye view over the foundation groundworks nearby, normally hidden completely by twelve feet of impenetrable hoarding around the site perimeter. Within that perimeter hundreds of men (and women labourers too) live and work, surrounded every day by all that mud. 
Of course, this hideous mud-covered scene is particular to part of the east coast of China where sediment from as far away as Tibet washes out to the sea, advancing the coast of China by an inch a day. Extraordinary to think all that sediment will make China one mile wider in about a hundred and seventy years. But this kind of building isn’t confined to Ningbo’s new financial district, it’s going on all over the country.
China, every last inch of it, is in the grip of a building boom so vast, with a scope so broad, so deep, and so tall it beggars belief. If I hadn’t crossed the country top to bottom and east to west and seen it for myself I couldn’t even begin to imagine the extent of it.  Millions of metres of new roads, thousands of new skyscrapers, hundreds of bridges and tunnels. 
I watched this man in intervals over the course of the entire day as he shovelled mud, by hand, from the left side of the roadway to the right. Mud continued to ooze from some unseen source, undoing all his work and he would begin clearing the same section of road all over again. It seemed rather futile in the grand scheme of building a skyscraper from scratch, but the more I watched him and thought about it, the more it brought home to me that every skyscraper is the work of thousands and thousands of hands, shovelling, hammering, welding and grinding. And moving mud.

Twelve Steps to Making Traditional Fermented Soy Sauce at Qian Wan Long

As Master Zhang lifted the black conical bamboo hat from the top of the vast earthenware pot, the intense and deeply yeasty aroma of soy sauce filled the air. So this is how real soy sauce smells, I thought. I peered over the rim of the waist-high jar and saw the sky reflected in the inky blackness inside. 

Master Zhang turned to the bespectacled soy sauce master Dàshī Wang, and a small smile moved imperceptably across his face, as if to say “this year’s brew is very good.” Wang Dashi remained implacable, without a flicker of emotion in return. In his thirty years of making naturally fermented soy sauce he’s seen everything, and seemed to be saying “We’ll see.”

Dashi Wang listens as Master Zhang explains

I had come to see the inner workings of one of the few remaining traditional soy sauce makers in China, Qian Wan Long. Master Zhang immediately set the scene by telling us that modern manufacturing processes enable a bottle of soy sauce to be made in only twenty days. Qian Wan Long’s soy sauce, on the other hand, takes a minimum of one and a half years to develop its complex flavours the natural way before they will even consider putting it in a bottle. These people were serious about their soy sauce.

Qian Wan Long set up shop in 1880, in the village that was once Zhangjiang but is now part of modern day Pudong in Shanghai. In those days, owing to the need for large amounts of salt in the production of soy sauce, it was necessary to have an Imperial permit or seal to produce it, essentially a royal decree. Incredibly Qian Wan Long is still in possession of theirs, a heavy wooden tablet made from gingko wood and inscribed with their name in faded gold characters. 

The seal survived the Cultural Revolution (and the destruction of all things imperial) when a carpenter working for the factory hid it in his home, but only because he thought it was a fine piece of wood. It’s the only such soy sauce maker’s Imperial seal left in China.


 
We began the day with a tasting and Master Zhang surprised me by opening a cupboard full of competitor’s sauces. All the big names were there – Lee Kum Kee, Kikkoman, and an organic Japanese brand I often buy. We tasted them against Qian Wan Long’s two year aged soy sauce, and they all fell short. Very short. 

The other sauces tasted ‘thin’ and very salty with a metallic aftertaste and hints of something not quite right, compared with the full-bodied, intense umami and salt flavour of Qian Wan Long’s sauce. I guess it’s not often you taste soy sauce before it goes in your food, but next time you cook I suggest you give it a try. 

Soy sauce can be made using either the traditional fermented or brewed method (slow), or the modern chemical hydrolysis method (fast, but requires additives – often MSG and artificial colours – to enhance both taste and appearance). 

Here’s a factual description of how soy sauce is made using the non-brewed, or chemical hydrolysis method (source: madehow.com):

  • Soybeans are boiled in hydrochloric acid for 15-20 hours to remove the amino acids. When the maximum amount has been removed, the mixture is cooled to stop the hydrolytic reaction.
  • The amino acid liquid is neutralized with sodium carbonate, pressed through a filter, mixed with active carbon, and purified through filtration. This solution is known as hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
  • Caramel color, corn syrup, and salt are added to this protein mixture to obtain the appropriate color and flavor. The mixture is then refined and packaged.


  • Master Zhang, with occasional nods and tacit agreements from Dashi Wang, then explained their traditional twelve step process. ‘It’s not a secret recipe’ he said, ‘everyone here in this factory – and most of them have worked here for two or three generations – knows what goes in the sauce, as you will see. But the difference is that Dashi Wang has the most experience dealing with the small problems, with the weather, and with the different processes, so he can make adjustments.’
    Twelve Steps to Making Traditional Fermented Soy Sauce
    1.Choose your soybeans.
    You have to start with the best soybeans, of course and theirs come from Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River) province, a part of far northern China where the air is clean and the soil is good. Equally importantly, these beans have a stable level of protein, and the breakdown of proteins in the fermenting process is what give the sauce its complexity. 

    2. Wash and soak the beans
    The beans are washed and soaked overnight, then steamed in an enormous tin pressure cooker, the only modern bit of machinery in the whole place. 

    3. Add wheat and rice flour
    The next step is the most crucial – the beans are mixed with a little wheat and rice flour. Over the next year, the fermentation of these wheat and rice starches will help develop the deep colour of the soy sauce and add sweetness to the flavour.


    4. Grow some mold
    Without mold, there is no soy sauce, and if this step is incorrect or incomplete, the finished product will be inferior. Nearly two years of work down the drain. The bean and flour mixture is spread on broad, flat woven bamboo trays and stacked on shelves in a humid room to develop the soft downy white mold necessary for the beans to ferment and develop flavour. 

    In the crucial 48 hours needed for the mold to grow, the vagaries of the weather can interfere  enormously, so to make sure all goes well, Dashi Wang often sleeps by the baskets, adjusting the humidity or temperature of the room by minute degrees. His long experience means he knows exactly how to control for any unforeseen difficulties.

    5. Add brine
    Salt is an essential component of soy sauce – it assists in the fermentation and importantly, inhibits bacterial growth and acts as a preservative.

    6. Age in earthenware jars
    The courtyard of Qian Wan Long is filled with around a hundred heavy earthenware jars, each with a number painted on its side. The soybean mash is placed in the jars covered with a gauze net to keep out insects, and topped with a double-layered bamboo lid.

    7. Leave for a year
    Outside in the weather, the beans undergo a slow fermentation, stirred from time to time. The bamboo lid keeps out the rain but sun and warmth are essential to the process.

    8. Press the beans
    After a year the beans are dark brown and smell like soy sauce. They’re removed from the earthenware jars and pushed into cloth bags for pressing using this aged wooden press. The clear dark brown liquid is separated from the pulp, which is used as animal feed. 

    9. Add more brine
    More salt water is added to the first-pressed soy sauce to bring the salt up to the requisite level (eventaully about 16% for light soy sauce, and 20% for dark soy sauce).

    10. Pour into jars
    The soy sauce is not yet ready and needs to be returned to the earthenware jars in the open air for aging.


    11. Age a second time
    The soy sauce is now aged for six months to two years and reduces in volume. It spends the entire aging process, like the fermentation process, in the outdoors protected by a bamboo lid. As one of Qian Wan Long’s staff, Janni, says “It dries under the sun, it sits under the moon and gathers dew. It’s like a meditation.”

    12. Bottle
    After all this time, 18 months to three years in total, it’s ready to be bottled. 

    At Qian Wan Long Master Zhang said that the last 131 years of making traditional soy sauce has been filled with ups and downs, not least of which is the difficulty of competing with big manufacturers who can make soy sauce cheaply and quickly, and the challenges of getting young people interested in the skill of making soy sauce. Currently, everyone who works there is over fifty years of age.

    Suddenly, in 2008, Qian Wan Long’s fortunes changed. There was finally recognition that the traditional method they employ to make their artisanal soy sauce is valuable, and they were named an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by the Chinese Government. Now, all of their soy sauce is sold before it is bottled, and they have been able to open a restaurant featuring traditional soy-based dishes in Zhangjiang district. 

    Things are definitely looking up and Master Zhang says 2011 has been “a very auspicious year”. Last month, food writer and activist Michael Pollan visited to research fermented food methods.

    Master Zhang feels confident that the renewed interest in traditional methods will mean they can find a new generation of soy sauce masters who are as passionate about the craft as they are. At last, people are beginning to understand that this is knowledge worth keeping. 




    Qian Wan Long

    Unfortuately Qian Wan Long is not open to the public (many thanks to SEA for arranging the visit), however everyone can visit their restaurant and enjoy traditional Shanghainese food cooked with their famed soy sauce.

    Qian Wan Long Restaurant (Qian Wan Long Da Jiu Dian)
    778 Guanglan Lu near Zuchongzhi Lu
    Zhangjiang district, Pudong
    Open 7 days for lunch and dinner

    Ph +86 21 58552088

    上海广兰路778号 (靠近祖冲之路)

    Stop the Presses! Slow Food Comes to Shanghai!

    Shanghai is a city on speed, and everything about it, including the food, is fast. People talk fast, drive fast, walk fast and live fast but I would argue that if ever there was a city ready for the Slow Food movement to take a gentle hold, Shanghai is it. 
    Shanghai seems always poised on the brink of something exciting – new technology, economic advances, five million kilometres of new subway lines, fifty new KFC outlets – then it catapults forward and on to the next achievement. There’s no time to stop, pause and reflect. And yet the Shanghainese love food, and more than that, they love really good food. They’re excited by traditional and artisanal foods and they’re interested in where their food comes from and how it is grown. More and more, they’re appalled and alarmed by breaches in food safety and poor food standards in China.
    Enter Slow Food, the global grassroots movement founded in Italy in 1986, promoting the principles of food that is good, clean and fair. It goes deeper than that – it’s about bringing back the joy of food into our lives, supporting the farmers and food producers who bring us those foods, and protecting the heritage and importance of our food. In the words of Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, ‘Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability, and harmony with nature.’
    So for a city moving fast, more than three hundred of us enjoyed Slow Food Shanghai’s inaugural event yesterday, held to coincide with Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Day, the International Slow Food day of celebration. 
    It was a hugely successful and overwhelmingly optimistic event, as founders Mark Laabs, Kimberley Ashton and Rene van Camp arranged a wonderful group of organic farmers, artisanal producers (including a traditional soy sauce maker I’m visiting this week) and restaurants supporting the concepts of Slow Food. Here are just a very few of the farmers, restaurants and suppliers who attended:

    Chongming Island, outside Shanghai, is home to an entire network of organic farms and farmers producing seasonal pesticide-free vegetables and fruits. Many of the farms, like Yi Mu Tian (left) offer farm visits to see how everything is grown, and will home-deliver their spanking-fresh produce.
    A mouth-watering discovery – artisanal cheese producers Sololatte (right) make fresh mozarella daily, and even better, fresh stracciatella cheese – smooth, light and creamy, it goes perfectly with slow-roasted tomatoes and fresh basil.

    A highlight – a dainty teacup of Jerusalem Artichoke soup (left) poured from a piping hot teapot, from chef Lex Hauser of The Purple Onion. Five years ago he began asking farmers if they’d be interested in growing the small tubers, and this year finally has a reliable supply of what the Chinese call ‘ginger potatoes’ because of their appearance. His perseverance has paid off with a creamy, earthy soup full of nutty flavour, topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke slivers. 
    Kush vegetarian restaurant brought along wraps and spring roll tasters (right).

    I was really impressed that the organizers had done an extraordinary amount of legwork to bring together as many organic Chinese farmers and food-producers as possible, from organic hot-pot restaurants to egg suppliers, to grain and sprout growers. 
    The most illuminating discussion of the day was given by Wang Jing of Greenpeace China. She opened my eyes to the enormous amount of work already underway in China to promote awareness of food safety and farming sustainability. I was surprised to learn that GM foods are already big news amongst Chinese consumers, with around 70% of consumers refusing to choose GM rice. She explained the principles of Greenpeace’s food campaign as being “to test and investigate products and fresh foods, commission research, and hold big food companies accountable and responsible.” She added “we will produce a non-GE food Guide and supermarket ranking to help consumers choose more healthy, safe food, and to encourage companies to take positive action.” 
    As co-founder of Slow Food Shanghai, René van Camp said, “there are already lots of farms here with great practices. The challenge is to connect these people, create awareness, and get people in touch with one another.” 
    Within the next few years, co-founders van Camp and Mark Laabs hope that “no-one in Shanghai is unable to access good, clean, fair food because of a lack of information or awareness. There’s more out there than people realise!” 
    Interested in Slow Food? Join the Convivium!

    The Camera-less Blogger

    The last photo taken with my Canon, Xietu Lu 2.30pm 
    It’s been one hell of a week and already Wednesday, without a single word to show for myself. Chinese classes, sick children, overseas visitors, and to top it all off, camera troubles. I’m between cameras, you see, saddled with one that keeps breaking down but not committed to buying a new one. It’s an unpleasant state similar to realising your current boyfriend is gonna have to go, but you haven’t yet found a replacement for him. 
    The trusty Canon and I have travelled some 100,000 km together in the last three years, across China several times, to Australia, France, Scotland and the Netherlands and back, and up and down just about every street and lane in Shanghai. 
    A hard-working camera like that definitely deserves better treatment than I’ve dished out. I dropped it hard, twice, once on the Great Wall and once on Nanchang Lu, both falls resulting in a short stay at the Shanghai Canon hospital’s high dependency unit. Touch and go on the auto-focus. It’s never even had its own camera bag, it just rumbles around in my handbag along with a hundred pens, a few half-eaten biscuits and leaking bottles of water. I can see the real photographers cringing when I say that. 
    And then it started to play up with little lapses of attention and weird lens behaviour. It couldn’t seem to   capture Chinese reds (lanternsfirecrackers, lucky underwear, and so on) as well as I wanted. When I called my photographer sister last week and asked her advice, she went through all the possibilities and finally said “You know what the problem is? You’ve outgrown your camera. Your technical skill is now beyond what the camera can offer you.”
    What? My technical skills??! My technical skills have never outgrown anything, not the DVD remote control, not the self-assembly instructions from IKEA, nothing. Certainly not a highly complicated bit of kit like a digital SLR, surely?
    I was gutted. I loved that Canon and could use it with my eyes closed. Or half-closed and kind-of-screwed-up. A new camera would just be a whole lot of hassle and I’d have to learn the buttons all over again, and I hate purchasing technical stuff. Really, really hate it.
    Which leads to an embarrassing disclosure – my husband and I both hate purchasing whitegoods and electronic items so much, we outsource the purchase decisions to family members who seem to get some kind of perverse pleasure from drawing up spreadsheets with the pros and cons of various washing machines or DVD players. Based on their research and calculations, they tell us what we need and we go and buy it. 
    And if there aren’t any available gadget-loving relatives around, we walk into the shop and get the shop guy to do the thinking for us.
    “So, what are you looking for today?”
    “A computer”
    “Any idea what kind?”
    “No”
    “Which brand?”
    “Don’t know”
    “Screen size?”
    “No idea”
    “Memory capacity?”
      
    “No. No idea. I haven’t done any research and I don’t have any preferences. How about I just tell you what I need it for and you tell me which one I should buy?”
    “Can I interest you in a discussion about pentium processors?”
    “No”
    We’re dream customers. The guys in the electronic shops know our type, and basically just hand us a iBag filled with iGoods, take our credit card, and hand us an iReceipt and an extended iWarranty. They’re happy, and we’re happy because we haven’t spent hours and days wondering if we should have bought the iGizmo v 2.0 instead. We didn’t even know it existed.
    So you can see why buying a new camera was, for me, an iNightmare. When I asked photography-loving friends what I should buy, they asked all sorts of tricky questions and then came up with four completely different solutions. When I asked Mr Google what I should buy, he came up with “It depends.”
    There was nothing for it. I spent the last two wet rainy days researching sites like dpreview‘s great side-by-side camera comparison. I asked Mr Google a lot more questions, got sidetracked as various photographers biffed it out in online forums (photography buffs apparently love to fight over technical stuff like lenses and something called ‘bokeh’, not a Middle Eastern food).
    I went to the Shanghai Photography Market today and on the way in, took a few last photos with my Canon. The autofocus gave up for good soon after, probably dying of a broken heart. I put it away in my handbag, where it had always lived, and walked out an hour later with a brand new Nikon (purchased entirely in Chinese! Chinese classes are paying off after all) in a padded, waterproof, sturdy-as-hell bag of its very own.
    I believe it does all sorts of cool things the Canon couldn’t, although I can’t be sure because the instruction manual, as it turns out, is also entirely in Chinese. Mr Google and I are going to be having a very late night. 
    What camera do you use, and what would you buy if money was no object?
    First photo taken with my Nikon D700, Huating Lu 5pm.
    The Shanghai Photography Market

    Cnr Luban Lu and Xietu Lu
    上海鲁班路(靠近斜土路)
    Open daily 9am-6pm

    Making Soy Milk, the Old-Fashioned Way

    Winter has taken grip outside, but inside the cottage spinning the wooden handle of the old stone grinding wheel, I’m starting to build up quite a sweat. A trickle of creamy soy milk is dripping from the heavy grinding stone into the basin below, drop by drop, and it already smells good.

    The mysteries of soy milk (dòujiăng 豆浆) and how it is created from soy beans have puzzled me for some time, although never for long enough to actually do some reading or research about it (shame on me). Doubtless for any of this blog’s Chinese readers it will be no mystery whatever, but I didn’t grow up drinking sweetened or savoury soy milk for breakfast everyday and I didn’t even know that making soy milk is the first step in making tofu (more shame on me!). When the opportunity came to actually make soy milk myself this weekend I jumped at the chance to see how it was done and learn more, and I could hardly have asked for a better teacher.

    This is Ah Ping, who lives in the loveliest little white-washed stone cottage on the shores of Yangcheng Lake, where she entertains guests of the nearby hotel by showing them how to make soy milk the traditional way, using organic dried soybeans grown on the hotel’s own impressively large organic farm. Ah Ping is also the apiarist who takes care of the nearby beehives, producing a delicious dark local honey, and a great farm-style cook.
    Yangcheng Lake is home to the world’s best hairy crab thanks to its clean, deep waters, and because of the fairly strict (for China) management of the lake’s valuable natural resources it has become an area of increasing interest to Chinese foodies for its nearby organic farms and food producers. More and more Chinese people are developing an interest in where food comes from and how it is grown, an interest in no small part fuelled by frequent food scandals and disasters. 
    I walk into Ah Ping’s neat three-roomed cottage. The sun is streaming through the open lattice windows onto a small settle by the window where the heavy stone grinder sits. It has a circular top with a stout wooden handle to one side, and a small hole for placing the soy beans and water. This top stone rotates over the lower grinding stone as you turn the handle, and the resulting soy milk trickles between the two stones into a circular stone trough, and over the lip of the trough into a basin placed below it. It must weigh a tonne and I ask Ah Ping whether anyone still keeps such a heavy piece of equipment in their home. ‘Nearly everyone who makes their own soy milk now uses a small electric machine’ she tells me, ‘but in the countryside some people still use these grinding stones.’
    Ah Ping brings me two bowls of soybeans, before and after soaking. Before soaking the soybeans are small, hard and yellow, but after an overnight soaking in water they have quadrupled in size and softened.
    She places a spoonful of soy beans into the hole on top of the grinder, using the blunt end of a chopstick to push them down and begins to grind, adding a little water now and then when the liquid soy milk looks too thick. When the hole is empty she adds another spoonful of beans and some more water. The thick soy milk oozes between the two grinding stones and runs down into the trough, and after ten minutes of grinding we have a litre of cream-coloured milk. As for the optimal grinding speed? ‘Not too fast, not too slow’ she says, with a smile.

    After grinding, the creamy milk is poured through a muslin cloth into a clean wok, and the muslin twisted and squeezed to get every last bit of the milk. The remaining bean grindings can be used to cook other dishes including a type of cake, Ah Ping tells me. Once strained, the milk is heated to simmer point for a few minutes, and the inedible froth skimmed from the surface and discarded. In this process the unhelpful protease inhibitor enzymes in the soy milk are inactivated and removed.
    The result? Like milk of any kind it tastes better and stronger when it’s fresh. Served hot, plain or sweetened, it has a creamy texture and a light nutty taste with grassy overtones. I’ve taken the glass outside to sit in the winter sunshine, warming my hands as I sip. Ah Ping pokes her head out of the window. ‘Tastes different to the soy mik in Shanghai, doesn’t it?’ she asks. ‘You have to make it fresh to get the best taste.’ I agree with her, and decide I’m going to invest in a soy milk machine in the next week or two, because I have a grandiose plan to try making my own tofu. Now that would be an achievement.
    Yangcheng Lake can be reached by taking the fast train from Hongqiao Station, Shanghai to Kunshan South Station (17 minutes at 300km/h, trains run several times every hour). Ah Ping’s house is part of the organic farm owned and run by the Fairmont Hotel, Yangcheng Lake. You can visit for a lesson in soy milk making (50 yuan, including 500ml of organic soy milk) or to taste and buy honey. By arrangement, Ah Ping also hosts cooking classes and lunches using the farm’s own organic vegetables. 

    Master of Noodles

    Meet master noodle maker Ma Dai Cai. He’s the boss at my favourite noodle joint on Fangbang Lu in the Old City. We’ve been going to his hand-pulled noodle restaurant for nearly three years now and he always greets us like old friends, shuffling everyone around so the four of us can sit and eat together.
    My life is full of noodles right now – I’m writing a magazine article about Chinese noodles, and I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to formally interview Ma Dai Cai for the piece and have a bowl of his great niu rou la mian (beef hand pulled noodle soup) at the same time. His story is probably familiar to noodle makers seeking their fortune in every big city in China.
    His restaurant – all of two metres wide – sits right opposite the temple shop on Fangbang Lu, wedged in a row between two other small food joints. What sets Ma Dai Cai’s restaurant apart is the steaming cauldron of bubbling soup sitting just outside the entrance, steaming away day and night. Walk through the plastic strip curtains and you’ll find yourself in a very small room lit by a pair of fluorescent lights, a total of six tables and sixteen small orange stools crowding the floor, and at the rear a tiny kitchen where all the wok cooking takes place. Ma proudly showed me his most recent acquisition – a pink electric chopstick sterilizer and dispenser, about the size and shape of a rice cooker. 
    On one wall of the restaurant is a huge pictorial menu, and on the opposite wall a map of China and a giant blue written menu. (I believe these menus are absolutely identical in every la mian restaurant in China. I have a theory that there is a national la mian menu centre where all the food photography is carefully standardized and they print cloned blue, white and green menu posters.)
    The table closest to the noodle-making work bench is a hazardous place to sit because of the swinging arms of the noodle makers, and you can’t sit at the table closest to the kitchen because that’s where a step ladder leads through a hole cut in the ceiling to the cramped living and sleeping quarters above. Ma and his family – his wife, wearing traditional Muslim dress, his teenage daughter and his three year-old son all live together with the apprentice noodle-maker in the tiny space.
    Ma came to Shanghai eight years ago from Xining in Gansu Province. He had been working in noodle restaurants since in his early twenties, initially apprenticing then working his way up to full noodle-making. He soon realized he needed to own and run his own restaurant to get ahead, so he came to Shanghai and pulled noodles in other people’s restaurants until he could afford to open his own place three years ago. The work is tiring, particularly because the restaurant never ever closes. Keen to capture every last shred of business, you can knock on the door at 3am and Ma will get up and fix you a steaming bowl of freshly-pulled noodles. He never takes a day off and weekends are meaningless to him.
    It took Ma two or three months to learn how to master all the different noodle varieties – hand-pulled noodles thick and thin, hand-cut noodles, and torn noodle pieces. I asked if it perished his shoulders after so many years but he said they he never had any problems. Even so, Ma always has an apprentice now with much younger arms to do most of the noodle-pulling, and Ma is in charge of cooking and serving the noodles and handling the cash. His wife takes care of all the stir-fry dishes, and his fourteen year-old daughter serves and cleans up. The three year old? Mostly he causes trouble and keeps the customers entertained with some lively antics.
    For those of you not familiar with the theatre of hand-pulled noodles, here’s how it works (thanks to Ma’s apprentice noodle-maker) :

    A length of wheat flour and water dough is taken and twisted, stretched, twisted again, then doubled back on itself. This pulling and twisting action is repeated over and over again until dozens of fine long strands have been stretched into shape. The noodles receive a quick cooking in the cauldron of lightly spiced beef stock, then are served in a bowl along with a ladle of stock and a handful of coriander and beef slices. You can add chili paste or vinegar to taste. Here’s how they look:
    Ma’s noodles are really tasty and his restaurant is almost always full, all sixteen seats. It’s tiring, back-breaking work but he has high hopes for his family and their future here – I can only hope Shanghai delivers on its promise.

    Hand-pulled Noodles
    638 Fangbang Lu near Luxiangyuan Lu
    Open 24 hours, 7 days

    方浜中路638弄(靠近露香园街)

    Shanghai Street Food #23 Scallion Oil Noodles: Cōng Yóu Bàn Miàn 葱油拌面

    Scallion oil noodles (cōng yóu bàn miàn 葱油拌面, literally scallion oil tossed noodles) are a deceptively simple street food packing a powerful flavour punch. I dare you to try eating only half a bowl, even when you’re already full! This morning I ate breakfast at home, then went straight out to shoot some noodle photos and I only planned to have a few mouthfuls….but there you go, three minutes later I could see the bottom of the bowl. 
    Scallion oil noodles are one street food you could reproduce quite easily at home (I like this recipe from Cecilia Chiang, minus the shrimp). The finest hand-pulled noodles are quickly blanched for a minute in boiling stock or water then rinsed, cooling them to room temperature. Earlier, a simple sauce has been made by frying julienned scallions until they are dark and crisped, removing them, then adding salt and soy sauce to the hot oil. A bowl is prepared by being filled with a couple of spoonfuls of the scallion oil/soy sauce mixture, on top of which goes a tangle of noodles then a small handful of crispy fried green scallions. As you mix the noodles they become coated with the oil and soy, giving each strand a slippery tasty covering of sauce – a lovely contrast to the sweetness and crispness of the fried scallions. Add black vinegar to taste as you eat for extra flavour.
    This classic Shanghai home-style dish is often the cheapest bowl in any street-side noodle restaurant at around 5 yuan (80 cents) but is also served in upmarket Shanghainese restaurants towards the end of a meal. When sharing, the waitress will bring a large bowl of cong you ban mian and tosses the noodles tableside, serving everyone with individual smaller bowls. 
    In my local noodle shop, the cong you ban mian are one of seventeen different noodle dishes you can order from the vast wall menu, which runs to a total of eighty-seven dishes. I can’t vouch for the other eight-six dishes because I’m usually just there for the noodles, but all of them are produced in a kitchen the size of a closet. A-stounding.
    The Shanghai Street Food Series

    Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
    Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
    Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
    Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
    Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
    Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
    Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
    Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
    Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
    Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

    Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
    Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
    Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
    Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
    Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
    Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
    Number 17  Mutton Polo
    Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
    Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
    Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

    Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
    Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
    Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
    Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
    Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
    Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
    Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
    Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
    Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
    Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

    Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup