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Shanghai Street Food #37 Tofu Pudding: Dou Hua 豆花

I consider this the tofu connoisseur’s breakfast. It’s a set-in-the-pan soy milk custard, warm and savory, as soft as a cloud, surrounded by a clear broth flavored with soy whey as it sets. You might have previously tried the sweet version with ginger and brown sugar syrup, popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Dou hua 豆花 (literally ‘bean bloom’) is made by pouring hot fresh soy milk into a dish containing a coagulant (usually gypsum – calcium sulfate) and dissolved corn starch. The starch gives duo hua its silken, just-set texture. After a few minutes, the tofu ‘blooms’, setting in the centre of the bowl in a quivering flower surrounded by yellow whey.

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Sunday Street Style, Kaili

 

I love an octogenarian with attitude. I spied her one Sunday in Kaili Old Street, with her hair and specs rather eccentrically arranged. She was embroidering herself a new belt.
Sunday is no day of rest in China. In fact, it’s often the busiest day of the week as families, groups of friends and workers head for the shops on their one and only day off. Kali, in Guizhou Province, is no exception as the Sunday Market gets into full swing, starting in the old part of town and spreading like topsy into the surrounding streets.

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Farm to Table Feast, Miao Style

Farm to table. It’s an well-worn phrase on city restaurant menus, but what does it really mean?
 
Many would say it means using seasonal ingredients, with the fewest delays and distance possible between farm and plate, and a high degree of transparency in this process. Others would say it means local farmers deliver directly to restaurants. In rare cases, it means that some items on the menu are actually grown in the restaurant’s own kitchen garden. But that’s pretty uncommon.
 
The appeal of farm to table is obvious – the food is fresh, local, and has maximum flavour because it’s at its seasonal peak. I would argue almost all our food should be ‘farm to table. The disadvantages of our current food supply are that we don’t know exactly where our food comes from, how long it took to get to us, or what was done to it along the way.
 

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A Life Without Boundaries | TEDxBrisbane

I’m an introvert, born without a single extrovert gene. If I go to a party I get all anxious and wobbly at the thought of talking to people I’ve never met before. I worry about what I should say and then worry what I’ve said isn’t witty/interesting/serious enough. It’s an affliction.
And public speaking? An introvert’s worst nightmare. The thought of standing up in front of a group of people, even people I know and love, makes my voice box seize up. I’d honestly rather just send them a little written note. This may explain why I love blogging – it’s like public speaking without saying a word.
But then back in July a message popped into my inbox.
Hi Fiona! How are you? I wanted to invite you to give a talk at TEDxBrisbane. We think you’d make a wonderful addition to the day if you were interested? I hope so!
TEDx? I thought.

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Nine Famous Noodles You Need To Know



There are almost as many famous noodles in China as there are cities in which to eat them, and they’re all good – believe me, I’ve tried most of them.

Traditionally, five noodles were named as China’s Five Famous Noodles, considered the pinnacle of noodle eating. They were Shanxi’s hand cut noodles dao xiao mian 山西刀削面, Beijing’s zhajiang noodles zhajiang mian 北京炸酱面, Guangdong and Guangxi’s fried noodles, Sichuan’s dan dan noodles dan dan mian 四川担担面 and Wuhan’s hot, dry noodles re gan mian 武汉热干面.


Earlier this year the China Ministry of Commerce and the China Hotel Association expanded this list of five to China’s Top Ten Noodles but caused no end of controversy when the list failed to include, for example, any of Shanxi Province’s hundred types of noodles. What? No cat’s ear, willow leaf or scissor-cut noodles? And how about the noodle dishes of China’s far west?None of them made the list either. 

It got me thinking – which noodles would I list as the best, and why? Here are nine favourites I’ve chosen from all over China.

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Shanghai Specialty Food Stores: The Insider’s Guide to Chinese Delicatessens

They’re mysterious places, Chinese specialty food stores. But if you’re interested in Chinese food you will inevitably find yourself wandering into one and contemplating the rows of strange foodstuffs and intriguing smells, wondering where to begin.

For a long time living in Shanghai I felt depressed about the lack of a really good European delicatessen, the sort of place where I would go back home to look at acres of cheese and sample four kinds of prosciutto. The great news is that the  equivalent does exist – think Harrod’s food hall and Dean and DeLuca with Chinese characteristics.

Most specialty food stores have a similar range – cured, dried and preserved goods; baked goods and confectionary; fresh foods, and freshly-prepared meals to eat at home.

Here are three of Shanghai’s best:
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Shanghai Street Food #36 Big CrispyPancakes: Dabing 大饼

For many people, dabing 大饼 is their first introduction to Chinese street food. And what a great place to start!
 
A huge round of flaky bread, leavened or unleavened, dabing is cooked in a contraption that looks like a giant waffle maker, leaving it oil-crisp on the outside and flaky, chewy and soft within. Dabing are always savoury – topped with white sesame seeds and green scallions; or brushed with a red, spicy, garlicky sauce made from pixian soy bean paste.

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Night in Shanghai – In Conversation with Nicole Mones

 

 

 

I fell for the writing of American author Nicole Mones a few years ago when I first read her love letter to Chinese food, disguised as a novel called The Last Chinese Chef (2007). Mones writes beautifully about China and the intersection of cultures, from Lost in Translation (1999) to A Cup of Light (2002), and now her latest work, Night in Shanghai.
Night in Shanghai brings the decadent, seductive jazz age of the 1930s to life as seen through the eyes of African American pianist Thomas Greene. It’s a vivid, lyrical, musical novel that draws the reader in to the world of Ye Shanghai, with its powerful underground gangs, irresistible jazz, and heady mix of Russian aristocracy, Chinese elite, and wealthy foreigners. Thomas finds that in Shanghai he can become whoever he wants to be, but as the Japanese grip on the city tightens we are left with a sense of impending loss – these might be the last days of old Shanghai.
Night in Shanghai is also the extraordinary true-life story of how the city of Shanghai saved the lives of 25,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Europe at the start of Word War II. At a time when every other nation in the world rejected thousands of terrified Jews (including the United States, Great Britain and Australia), Shanghai opened its ports and welcomed them in.
In an unbelievable twist Mones and her researcher uncovered evidence that the Chinese government also had a well-established plan to re-house 100,000 Jewish refugees in Yunnan. The evidence of this plan has all but been swallowed by history, and deserves much wider recognition.
When Mones’ publicist sent me a copy of Night in Shanghai out of the blue, I read it, loved it, and emailed to ask if Mones might be interested in an interview. I admire her so much as a writer but didn’t think for a million years she would say yes, so imagine my surprise and utter delight when Nicole herself emailed to say she had been a follower of this blog for some time and would love to do an interview. I felt like the kid who gets to ask the Prime Minister a question.
Here’s what we talked about – I hope you enjoy the conversation.

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Old Fashioned Tofu at Kung Woo Beancurd

Tofu pudding, silken tofu, firm tofu, golden tofu puffs, folded tofu skins, spindly white soy bean sprouts, hot sweet soy milk,  red fermented tofu, tofu knots.  
 
Kung Woo Beancurd in Sham Shui Po illustrated the soy bean in all its manifest expressions. 
After I learned to make soy milk in the traditional way with a grindstone, and then learned (often disastrously) what was involved in making tofu at home, I was fascinated to search out places in China still making old fashioned tofu. You know, the kind that’s made for taste; not for shelf life or low cost, using beans, water, a grindstone, and wooden molds that impart the faintest flavour to the curd.
What I have discovered is there aren’t many of them left – traditional tofu makers are a threatened species and the last are disappearing fast.
So when I heard about Kung Woo Beancurd from Hong Kong food writer e_ting I knew I had to visit on my recent trip to Hong Kong.

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Eating Michelin with Kids: Le Parc les Crayères

Is it wrong to take children to a Michelin-starred restaurant? And exactly when is it too early to introduce a child to the delights of really, really good cooking?
I’m expecting this post to generate a very healthy and vigorous debate, if my web search for ‘children in restaurants’ is anything to go by. The topic appears to polarise everyone.
There are those who think parents are the problem:
“If you say your kids are angels, that they never get up and run around, never throw French fries, never talk loud, never spill Cheerios, you’re lying.” (New York restaurant owner Christian Pappanicholas)
“Let me make it clear – if your kid is a jerk in public and you do nothing about it, then you’re a bigger jerk and I hope your kid vomits in the car on the way home” (Guardian writer and parent Ben Pobjie, who later in his piece about children in restaurants argues that banning kids from restaurants just means they will never learn how to behave in one).

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