4.06pm. Lunch. I tie a tea towel around my neck. On my left, a plate with seven hairy crab, four girls, three boys. In front, a dish of sweet vinegar and ginger dipping sauce. I crack open the first crab, revealing the sweet shards of white flesh and the golden, oily, buttery roe. I remove the feathery gills then eat the meat bit by bit. Unbelievably good. The clean fresh crab taste is so perfect I hardly use the dipping sauce at all.
- Unless you want an Annie Hall moment, keep them tied up until after they’re cooked
- Lay them on their backs during cooking to keep the delcious juices in
- Steam for ten to thirteen minutes in a bamboo steamer depending on weight
- Cut the strings and serve while still hot, with a side dish of ginger vinegar dipping sauce and a finger bowl
- Consider serving the traditional accompaniment to hairy crab – warmed Shaoxing wine
- 50 ml Zhenjiang vinegar
- 100ml water
- 4 tsp sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons very finely shredded ginger
- Gently heat ingredients until sugar is dissolved
- Cool before serving
Fuchsia Dunlop , a woman with a wonderfully exciting depth of knowledge about Chinese food, is now officially my favourite food writer (apologies, Jeffrey Steingarten and the two Elizabeths, David and Romer). Dunlop knows her subject inside out and brings her love and passion for the food of China, and of Sichuan in particular, to a wider audience with her third book, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper.
Dunlop arrived in Chengdu on a British Council scholarship in 1994 (purportedly to study Chinese policy on ethnic minorities) but became entranced, captivated and totally distracted by the food of Sichuan somewhere along the way, eventually studying Sichuan cuisine at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and mastering the intricacies of flavour combinations, cutting skills, and the mystical ‘huo hou‘, the sense of heat when cooking in a wok. She went on to write what many consider the book of Sichuan cuisine, Sichuan Cookery, and a second book on the food of Hunan, the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, written during the terrifying SARS epidemic of 2003.
Her personal stories of culinary discovery are flavoured with the challenges of being foreign in a part of China that saw few foreigners at the time, and of coming to grips with an alien language and culture.
“To learn the language of cookery in China was, in part, to learn the language of life. And as I went deeper into my culinary studies, I found that I was not only cooking, but also in some ways thinking, like a Chinese person.”
Disclaimer: We paid for this weekend ourselves, and it was bloody expensive. But it was so worth it.
The people behind Moganshan’s naked Retreats have just opened a new eco-resort development nestled in a bamboo and fir tree valley between Moganshan and Anji. It’s a spectacularly beautiful piece of unspoiled nature and more importantly, feels a thousand miles from the hideous gritty gray pall of smog that passes as weather we’ve had for the last week in Shanghai.
naked Retreats began as a weekend getaway in a small village at the base of Moganshan mountain, with several village houses converted into rustic retreats complete with roast chicken dinners, fireplaces, and nature walks. A month ago, the same group opened naked Stables, a lavish spread of some 120 ‘earth huts and treetop villas’ settled between the trees of a valley that forms part of a large private nature reserve.
And for those readers outside Shanghai, when I say ‘nature reserve’ it’s not a euphemism for ‘nudist colony’, and the name naked Retreats is designed to indicate a return to nature, not a shedding of clothes. Just so you know.
Walk down any street in Shanghai and you will soon notice the scrap recyclers – they’re the guys collecting used water bottles, dismantling old mattresses to remove the metal springs, and flattening and stacking used cardboard boxes.
Roving scrap merchants go from house to house tinkling a small ‘bell’ made from a tin saucepan or teapot lid, the sound of which lets people know to bring out any scrap they might want to sell. The merchants then collate and stack their recyclables onto the back of a tricycle cart and pass it up the line to a bigger recycling unit, hopefully making a small profit along the way.
What can be recycled is limited only by your imagination and your patience. I’ve watched old nails being painstakingly removed from lengths of wood, and the plastic coating being stripped from short lengths of wire to get to the copper beneath.
He was interested to hear about how recycling works in Australia, that we have a separate bin for recyclables that is collected once a week.
‘How much do they pay you for it?’ Mr Zhang asked me.
‘Why, nothing! I have to pay them to take it away!’ I explained.
Mr Zhang was flabbergasted. To him, it seemed an extremely backward way of doing things and you know, I had to agree. Perhaps if we were paid for our recycling we would be better at it. But perhaps recycling only becomes economically viable in a place where labour is cheap, and everything has a price.
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or half a vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and scraped or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup fresh osmanthus flowers or 1/4 cup dried osmanthus flowers (available from Chinese tea shops)
- 2 cups cream
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons gelatine
- extra osmanthus flowers for garnish
- Heat milk over low heat without boiling
- Add sugar and vanilla, stir until dissolved
- Add osmanthus flowers, stir
- Remove from heat and allow to steep for one to two hours
- Strain milk mixture to remove flowers
- Return milk mixture to heat, heat gently until warmed but do not allow to boil
- Sprinkle gelatine over water and allow to stand for several minutes until softened
- Add gelatine to milk mixture and stir until fully dissolved, remove from heat
- Add cream and stir to combine
- Pour into lightly oiled ramekins and chill until set, about four hours
- To serve, tease edge of panncotta gently away from side of ramekin then invert onto a plate
- Decorate with extra osmanthus flowers and drizzle with honey if desired