Never one to back away from a challenge, my ever-patient husband and children and I will spend much of this year restoring a decrepit, beautiful heritage house built in 1891 which will become our new home. I’m just jumping to get started, but there will be plenty of travel too – I leave for China next week to travel to Beijing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Shanghai, and April will see me attending the Miao Sister’s Meal Festival in Guizhou for the second time. A greatly anticipated trip to Sweden, Scotland and France is planned for mid-summer.
And of course, The Book. The book of our travels in China I’ve been writing for a year now, a struggle and a joy in equal measure but still a fledgling, will, I hope, find wings and take flight this coming year.
I’d love to know of your plans this year for food, travel and creative projects too – please fill me in!
Jiachang cai is bangers and mash, it’s southern fried chicken, it’s coq au vin, it’s black pudding and tatties. It’s a sticky plate of pulled pork or a fragrant bowl of herby chicken soup. It’s cheesecake and apple cake and red velvet cake, and all the kinds of cake that make you think of home.
It’s the food your mother makes when you come home for the holidays, it’s the food you cook your children every day.
It’s soul food, straight from the heart.
It has much in common with it’s country cousin, nongjia cai 农家菜 or peasant food, which is also simply prepared and presented, but is typically eaten on location at the farm where the food is grown, prepared and butchered by the farmer herself, right beside the table. I’ll write a more detailed post on nongjia cai in coming months.
Jiachang cai, on the other hand, can be eaten in in a simple restaurant or in someone’s home, and the ingredients bought rather than grown.
Take sour shredded potato, for example – suan la tudou si 酸辣土豆丝 － a dish of finely shredded potato stir-fried with dried chill, a little shredded green pepper, and a splash of vinegar until the potato slivers have just softened.
Every Chinese cook has their own version of this dish – in Guizhou the dried chillies are kept hanging over the cooking fire so they impart a rich smokiness to the dish, and in the east a little sugar sometimes makes its way into the dish to counteract the sourness of the vinegar. In Sichuan chili becomes the dominant flavour, and in parts of Yunnan the dish has metamorphosed into a fried cake made of potato shreds studded with flecks of chill – as though the cook just dashed out of the kitchen for five minutes while cooking and came back to find the entire thing melted together into a wonderful crisp-bottomed potato cake.
- Sour shredded potato with chili and peppers
- Smashed cucumber with garlic and vinegar
- Stir-fried green peppers with pork
In Inner Mongolia the bitter cold means hotpot is a popular homestyle dish, served with (clockwise from top)
- finely sliced mutton
- pickled chilies
- chive flower paste
- red fermented tofu
- pickled garlic
- Boiled peanuts with soy beans
- Chitterlings fried with peppers and black wood ear fungus
From Shanghai and Zhejiang province homestyle dishes are cooked with a light touch:
- Sliced wawa vegetable stems steamed then stir-fried with a dash of baijiu liquor
- Tofu strips fried with pork and wilted greens
- Soy cooked chicken
- White-poached Chicken
- Steamed freshwater shrimp
- Smoked dried carp
- sliced pig’s ear
- fat pork
- pork ribs
- fresh pork intestines
- chicken gizzards
- egg fried with chives (also at bottom)
- fish-fragrant eggplant, Guizhou style
- plain fried potato
- sour shredded potato with smoked chili
- fried greens
- home-smoked bacon slices – la rou
- fried pork intestine with local herbs and chill
- fermented chill sauce
- wild herb and peanut sauce
- cold vegetables
- wilted greens
- crunchy fried pig skin
- fermented chill with local herbs
- assorted meats – chicken, fish, pork, pig’s ear
- pork bone broth
- baked yam
- pickled green chilies
- fat pork slices
- poached chicken
- pickled vegetables
- rice steamed with jujubes
- steamed squash
In the sparsely populated north-west homestyle means one thing – noodles. Served here with cold sliced beef, la jiao chili paste, cilantro and shallots. A dish of clear soup is usually served alongside.