I’m walking around what looks like the lobby of a five star hotel, wearing blue plastic flip-flops and a vibrant muumuu covered in pink hibiscuses, feeling slightly uncomfortable and very underdressed next to the Persian carpets and marble check-in desk. To one side, a sleek black grand piano plays classical music. By itself. The keys just go up and down, plinkety plonk, plinkety plonk, churning out a Chopin piece. There is a piano stool and some sheet music propped up on the top of the piano, as if to suggest that the pianist is really there but due to some sensory alteration on my part I just can’t see him.
Downstairs is where the real bath action happens, through the doors marked ‘Woman SPA’. We don’t go into the ‘man SPA’ because that might see us kicked out. The Woman SPA is like a Korean bath house (ie nakedness is requisite), with hot and cold plunge pools, showers, and a battalion of scrubbers waiting to exfoliate you to within an inch of your life. On the spa wall are advertisements for this month’s special treatments:
Chinese Tea Eggs
from The Food of China – a Journey for Food Lovers, edited by Kay Halsey, published by Murdoch Books
- 10 small eggs, or 1 dozen quail eggs, or both
- 4 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons black tea
- 3 tablespoons shaoxing wine
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 slices ginger, smashed with the flat side of a cleaver
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Place eggs in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them
- Bring water to the boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 10 minutes until eggs are hard-boiled
- Refresh the eggs in cold water, then drain
- Lightly tap and roll the shells on a hard surface to crack them – this will later give the eggs their distinctive marbled pattern. Do not remove the shells
- Place all other ingredients with 4 cups of water in a heavy saucepan and bring to the boil, then lower heat and simmer for twenty minutes
- Add the cooked eggs and simmer for a further forty-five minutes
- Serve the eggs hot or cold, as snacks with tea
Now for the chicken. Once you have poached a chicken this way, and eaten the silky soft meat that falls succulently off the bone, dressed with soy and ginger, you’ll never want to have chicken any other way. The fantastic sizzle as the hot oil scorches the dressing ingredients sends a wonderful ginger smell through the house.
from Kylie Kwong, original here
- 1.5kg fresh chicken
- 6 litres cold water
- 3 cups Shaoxing rice wine
- 8 scallions, trimmed
- 12 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 cup sliced ginger
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 60ml soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 cup julienne spring onion, plus extra for garnish
- 1 tablespoon julienne ginger
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- For stock, combine ingredients in a 10-litre stockpot and bring to the boil
- Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
- Place chicken breast side down into stock and submerge for 14 minutes, ensuring stock doesn’t return to the boil
- Remove pot from heat, replace lid, and stand for three hours (if mid-winter in a cold place, wrap pot in a bathtowel to keep the heat in)
- Using tongs, carefully remove chicken from stock and place on a tray to drain
- For dressing, carefully combine all ingredients except fr peanut oil in a heat-proof bowl
- Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan until almost smoking, then pour over dressing ingredients and stir to combine
- Using a cleaver, cut chicken into ieces and arrange on a platter
- Drizzle dressing overchicken, garnish with extra spring onion
And don’t forget to buy your rabbit ears and flashing, singing, battery-operated rabbit toys. Enjoy!
So remember last week I promised a vegetarian version of my Chinese New Year dumplings? Here they are, in all their meatless glory. In fact these dumplings are not just vegetarian but VEGAN – please don’t tell anyone, because this is a meat-eating site. To be honest, I was (extremely) surprised by how good they tasted.
- 100g fresh shitake mushrooms, or six dried
- 200g chinese greens (eg cabbage, bok choy, spinach leaves)
- 200g silken tofu
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
- 3 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
- small bunch coriander, finely chopped (including stems and roots)
- 2 teaspoons shaoxing wine
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- dash of white pepper
- 2-4 teaspoons cornflour
- 50 square dumpling wrappers
- If using dried shitake mushrooms, cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes
- chop mushrooms into fine dice
- finely chop chinese vegetables
- combine all ingredients, except cornflour, and mix well
- allow to stand for 20-30 minutes
- drain any extra liquid from mixture, and if still too moist, add 2-4 teaspoons of cornflour and mix well
I have the worst firecracker hangover headache today. After six nights of interrupted sleep, I can tell you that my Chinese neighbours’ favourite times to let off fireworks are –
1. Ten minutes after I fall asleep
2. Half an hour before I usually wake up
3. Between 1am and 2am
I can’t fool them by going to bed later and getting up earlier, or by turning out all the lights and pretending I’m not home. What I really need, other than coffee and aspirin and about 10 hours more sleep, is a double-glazed apartment 50 floors above the ground, where the muted sound of firecrackers fifty floors below will be no louder than the coffee machine starting up.
Also, I wish that the f***er whose car alarm goes off beneath my bedroom window EVERY SINGLE TIME a cracker goes off, will come home to find the battery dead (oh! I wish!!) and all his pot plants dead, and the paint on his car pockmarked by falling debris.
Enough ranting. On to food. At least Chinese New Year comes with some fantastic street snacks that make up for all the sleep deprivation. After years of shift work I can tell you that it’s not coffee that wakes up your brain, but SUGAR. These sugary little beauties are called Crystal Sugar Hawthorns (bīng táng shān zhā 冰糖山楂) and I wish they were available all year round, but that’s what makes them so special.
Hawthorns are a member of the rose family and the red berries are the size of a large, round, rosehip. Eaten raw they are incredibly sour and quite astringent, but rolled in oil then confectioner’s sugar and left to dry gives the crunchy, sour hawthorns a crisp sweet white crust. Like a miniature sugared toffee apple.
They’re quite hard to find, I bought mine from a tiny stall at the Yu Gardens. 5 yuan/bag.
‘A food book is a book which is centered around food and/or drinks. That could be a cookbook, a food biography or memoir, a non-fiction book focused around a specific food, wine, chef or restaurant. Also allowed is a fictional story in which food plays a major role.‘
- Nibbler: 1 to 3 books
- Bon Vivant: 4 to 6 books
- Epicurean: 7 to 9 books
- Gourmet: 10 to 12 books
- Glutton: More than 12
To really set myself a challenge, I’ve so far found six books about Chinese food to read this year, and I’m hoping to find another seven along the way. Recommendations very welcome!
‘a mince of wild herbs and dried tofu, sweet-savory puffs of gluten, and pureed scented hyacinth beans. He came back for the fragrant vinegar duck, spattered with brown Shanxi vinegar.’
Reading The Last Chinese Chef brought me such a great deal of pleasure – pieces of my Chinese puzzle fell into place, and I gained a deeper understanding of the food I’m eating every day, along with a beautiful tale of healing grief and love. I hope you will get a chance to enjoy it too.