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Shanghai Street Food #32 Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken 椒盐排条

Excited as a small child I flew into Shanghai last week on a whirlwind five day visit for the Shanghai International Literary Festival, and of course squeezed in a great deal of street food during my stay – starting with xiaolongbao, and fried radish cakes topped with chili sauce, and ending with these crispy, spicy fried chicken strips.

I was invited to moderate a Literary Lunch session at this year’s festival with author Audra Ang and her recently released book To The People Food Is Heavena memoir of her years as an Associated Press journalist in China covering major stories like the Sichuan earthquake, the outbreak of SARS and the plight of pro-democracy dissidents, while connecting with the people she met through memorable shared meals.

The invitation came at a perfect moment, lifting me out of a dreadful bout of homesickness (for China) and an increasing and confusing sense of ‘What am I doing here?’ (in Australia). By going back to Shanghai for a visit I could avoid thinking about that question for a while longer and just enjoy good food and the company of friends without a head filled with the complications and daily grind of getting our lives in order after moving houses, countries, schools and jobs.

It was a great honour to participate in the festival and meet the author whose book I had enjoyed reading so much. As it turns out, Audra and I are equally passionate about food in general and about street food in particular, and following the Literary Lunch (where seventy of us listened to Audra read from her book and I asked her questions about it) we led a street food tour for a group of twelve hungry and adventurous festival attendees.

In preparation, as soon as Audra touched down from the USA we headed straight to Sipailou Lu for an afternoon of ‘research’ for our tour the following day. I’ve done so much research on street food I truly think they’re going to give me a professorship quite soon.

This Sichuan salt and pepper fried chicken was one of the first foods we ‘researched’ and hell it was good.

I confess I rarely eat chicken on the street because it breaks one of my Dr Fiona Street Food Safety Rules. These rules are entirely in my head, mind you, and I’ll be writing about them in an upcoming post, but they’re all about getting the maximum enjoyment from street foods, with minimum risk. Chicken is often too close to the risky side for my liking, but as I smelled the tantalising smell and saw the crisp golden pieces, my resolve collapsed. What are rules for if not to break now and again?

The tiny open air stall on Guangqi Lu was nothing more than a table filled with ingredients, a gas-powered wok, and a sign that detailed all the possible permutations of fried chicken you could order – chicken strips, legs or wings, all with Sichuan pepper and salt. There was a naked light bulb on a wire so cooking could continue after dark, and the husband and wife team manning the stall had the division of labour completely sorted – he cooked, she took the orders and the money.

The smells coming from the fried chicken were intoxicating, and there was already a long queue of locals eager for a plate of the crispy spicy chicken strips.

Most customers ordered the jiaoyan pai tiao 椒盐排条 – Sichuan pepper and salt chicken sticks. Strips of boneless chicken were crumbed, and thrown into a wok of boiling oil where they sizzled, crisped and browned. While they cooked, the flavoursome salt and pepper mixture was cooked in a second wok – finely sliced scallions and red onion, chopped garlic, and dried chilli flakes were thrown in by the handful and fried up with ground Sichuan pepper and salt.

The seasoned aroma made all of us impatient for our turn. The fried chicken, drained of oil, was now tossed with this salty, spicy, garlicky mixture to coat it with plenty of flavour, and handed to us in a bowl with toothpicks to daintily pick up the pieces.

One serve cost an unbelievable 5 yuan (80 cents), and many of those lining up were taking the chicken home for dinner.

I bit into a piece – at once crunchy, salty, oily and spiced, it was the intense hit of salty garlic I loved, little crackly bits of garlic and fried scallion amongst the crunchy outide of the chicken.

The next day we took our crowd of hungry food-lovers along the same street and fed them spicy fried chicken, dumplings, stinky tofu, three delicacies rice, wonton soup, sweet treats and freshly peeled pineapple wedges. They were an incredibly adventurous group of women, trying everything on offer – we had a ball eating our way through two long streets over several hours, with Audra and I explaining each food they tried. No better way to spend a day really!

Street Foods of Shanghai!

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

Can Someone Please Let Me Know When My Good Luck Is About To Run Out?

It’s been quite the week.

Not one, but three extraordinary and amazing things have happened one after the other, bang, bang, bang, and I’m beginning to worry that my overflowing Good Luck will cause some Bad Luck to sit up and pay attention, hoping to get in on the act. I suspect, on reflection, that I’ve become quite Chinese in my thinking.

Firstly, I was asked to take part in the Shanghai International Literary Festival next month, a three week smorgasbord of writers, books and avid readers starting tomorrow, March 1, and running until March 17.
I’ll be the session moderator for a literary lunch on Friday, March 15 at M on the Bund featuring author Audra Ang and her new book ‘To The People, Food Is Heaven’, describing Audra’s years in China as an Associated Press journalist obsessed by food. During that time Audra covered some of the most remarkable and memorable stories in China’s recent history, and her book is an incredible account of those times.
Later that same afternoon Audra and I will lead a Shanghai street food tour, introducing a lucky group of food-lovers to some of Sanghai’s best and tastiest street food.

I can’t think of anything better than to get together with food-loving book-lovers, so when I was approached to take part in the festival I said yes, right away! If you’d like to come along and enjoy a great meal and hear Audra speak I’d so love to see you there. Tickets are selling fast, so I’ve included details below on how you can attend. (Stop press: tickets to the food tour have SOLD OUT but lunch tickets are still available)

Then a few days later I discovered I had been named a finalist in this year’s Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards, the award ceremony I was lucky enough to attend last year in London. I was completely excited about making it to the finals with almost 8,000 entries this year from talented food photographers the world over, and judges of the likes of food writer Jay Rayner, celebrated chef Tom Aikens, and incredible food photographer David Loftus. Jumping up and down a bit? Perhaps I was…

(Much as I’d love to, I’m not permitted to reveal the photo that made the finals until the awards in London in April.)

Finally, and as if the week wasn’t already shaping up to a cracker, I discovered I was a finalist in the 2013 Bloggies (yes! the Oscars for the blogging world!), in the category of Best Asian Weblog.

Now I don’t which of you wonderful people nominated me, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart – I feel extraordinarily humbled and grateful that you considered my blog as worthy of being amongst the best in that category. Wow.  WOW.

The other blogs in this category are all brilliant and if you have a chance check them out.

The winner is decided on the number of votes received, so if you have a minute please hop onto the 2013 Bloggies website to vote.

All you need do is tick the blogs you like (I have included a voting example above, in case you’re confused 😉 and after writing the robot-proof words in the box at the bottom of the page with your email address, click to submit your nominations. Your email address is needed to prevent you voting 800 times from one email address. Which you can totally do if you want, but they won’t count 799 of those votes. Damn.

Anyway, it’s dead easy and I will love you forever and ever if you vote. I might even send you a dumpling or ten. Pork and chive? Shrimp and white cabbage?

With an abundance of good luck raining down on my head this week I began to wonder when it would all end. I’m not naturally a pessimist you know, but working in the Emergency Room of a great big hospital does tend to make you think that Good Luck can’t last forever, and runs of Bad Luck happen all too often, even to very nice people. When my Bad Luck turns up, I’d like enough warning so I could get to a bunker somewhere quiet, in the hope of avoiding it for as long as possible.

According to Chinese thinking, when a run of good luck occurs, bad luck is likely to be just around the corner waiting for you to mess up. When things go up, the Chinese believe that the natural tendency of the universe is to turn in the opposite direction, and quite soon. It’s their way of being prepared at all times for sudden changes in ones’ fortune, good or bad.

Well, to hell with that. I think I just need to analyze it all less and enjoy it more. Stop thinking. Start opening champagne and preparing those dumplings for all of you!

But just in case, if you see my Bad Luck lurking around a corner somewhere, could you let me know?It’ll give me time to get my bunker filled with snacks.

Shanghai International Literary Festival March 1-17, 2013 
Full event program here

Audra Ang Literary Lunch
M on the Bund, Friday March 15, 12pm – 2pm
RMB 188 including meal

Market Walk and Food Tour   SOLD OUT!
With Audra Ang and yours truly
Friday March 15, 3pm – 4.30pm
RMB 75

You can purchase tickets one of two ways:

Through mypiao  or at M on the Bund, in person only, Saturdays and Sundays 10am-5pm during the festival.

The Bloggerati

How do you alienate a room full of about a hundred bloggers? Start off by saying ‘Actually, I never read any blogs except my own’. Smart. Polite laughter. 

So began the opening night event of the Shanghai International Literary Festival with a panel discussion titled ‘The Bloggerati’, featuring three prominent bloggers: Jeffrey Wasserstrom of  The China Beat , a writer and professor of history; Anne Summers of The Looking Glass,well-known to Australian readers as a feminist, but not a blogger, (she does have a Facebook page though, as she kept reminding us all); and thirdly American journalist Adam Minter, whose blog about China, Shanghaiscrap, is both interesting and accessible.

Adam Minter
As someone pointed out to Minter a few days after he published his first post back in 2007, they thought his blog’s title was  ‘Shanghai is crap’, leaving him wishing that the title was a deliberate cleverness on his part, but sadly wasn’t. He talks a lot about recycling, and he’s running a great series in The Atlantic about the international recycling business. It’s fascinating, and well worth a look. 

Minter also had an interesting take on ‘the death of blogging’, which he thought was no more than a vicious rumour, with millions more blogs now than ever before, and people spending more hours reading online than ever before. 

I’m afraid I found Summers and Wasserstrom less interesting panelists than Minter with nothing new to say about blogging, and in particular about blogging in China. But I needn’t worry about offending them with my comments, because by their own admission, they won’t be reading them.

The 9th annual Shanghai International Literary Festival, known as SILF to literary types, began yesterday and runs until March 20 at M on the Bund. Here are some events I thought looked interesting, if you’re in Shanghai over the next two weeks and feel like being highbrow. Tickets are 65 yuan per session, including a drink. (Full programme here)

  • Michiel Hulsholf and Daan Roggeveen: China’s World Cities of Tomorrow. Roggeveen, an architect, and Hulsholf, a journalist, are the founders of the Go West Project, an interdisciplinary research lab tracking the development of emerging mega-cities in the heart of China. During the two years of research for their upcoming book they experimented on crossing roads in Xi’an, visited car markets in Kashgar, and discovered enormous brand-spanking new cities that no-one seems to live in. An intriguing look at the social cost of massive urbanisation. Sunday March 6, 11am.

  • Thomas van Gulik  talks about his fascinating father Robert van Gulik,  a diplomat, orientalist, gibbon expert, eroticist and author of the famed Judge Dee detective stories set in Tang-dynasty China. Thursday March 10, 12pm.
  • Barbara Demmick : Prying Open the Hermit Kingdom. Demmick spent years traveling to North Korea to interview residents about their lives and her subsequent book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea gives us an insider’s view of this secretive land. Saturday March 12, 1pm
  • This guy sounds intriguing. Tommy Nohilly, former US marine, bartender and bouncer turned playwright, began writing plays while doing the graveyard shift as a security guard. He presents  Blood from a Stone on Saturday March 12, 3pm.
  • Peter Hessler lived in China for eight years, and has written three extraordinary books about China: River Town, Oracle Bones, and Country Driving. His books offer an insightful look at the lives of ordinary Chinese people living outside major cities, through whose eyes we see the rapid changes occurring in China right now. Sunday March 13, 7pm
  • Deborah Fallows, author of Dreaming in Chinese, will be the guest speaker at a literary lunch (ticket and lunch 188 yuan) on Friday March 18 at 12pm. Fallows, holding a PhD in linguistics and with six languages under her belt when she and her family relocated to China, chronicles the unique challenges of living here and learning the language.
  • Lesley Chang wrote Factory Girls to tell the story of those female factory workers who labor countless hours to provide us with the material goods we take for granted. Chang followed the lives of two young women over the course of three years to gain an insight into their difficult lives. Saturday March 19, 5pm.