Chinese is a diverse cuisine. A myriad of dishes and snacks are
available in China but without the lingo, and knowledge of Chinese
food, you can miss out on an awful lot. How
To Order Chinese Food.com (now defunct –ed) is an English/Chinese glossary of
Chinese food. With food terms, dish names and more, all in English,
Chinese characters and pinyin, this site helps take the mystery
and frustration out of ordering food, and in the process opens
up a whole new range of eating options. It also has photos of many
of the dishes and foodstuffs. Well worth checking out.
How to Pair
Wine with Chinese Food
When it comes to vino, in Taiwan or China we don't have a lot to
choose from. Few eateries stock wine, and supermarkets carry little
more than a small range of reds. But in other countries where there
is easy access to wine and a wide choice, what wine do you drink
with Chinese food? Besides the fact that wine was never designed
with Chinese food in mind, Chinese is a diverse cuisine, and even
in a small restaurant you will likely eat a variety of dishes.
How do you match a banquet, a modest meal or even a single dish
with the right wine? White, red, dry, sweet, sparkling, French,
Australian, German, the choice has never been greater. I enjoy
emptying the odd bottle but I am not knowledgeable about wine,
so I asked someone who is: Natalie MacLean, author of Red,
White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
Natalie, Chinese cuisine is extremely varied, so let me ask you
about some specific styles of food and some common dishes, and
what wine should be paired with them.
What should we drink with fried rice or noodles?
A crisp bubbly from California such as Roederer or Domain Chandon
will go nicely with both.
A mildly flavoured seafood dish like steamed fish?
A more delicate white wine, such as a bone dry German Riesling
or a chenin blanc.
The hot and spicy dishes of Sichuan or Hunan?
Sweet survives heat so look for off-dry styles of Riesling and
Something to go with Peking Duck?
Off-dry styles of Riesling and gewürztraminer.
A leafy green vegetable stir-fried in half a fistful of
A zippy, herbal New Zealand sauvignon blanc would be great.
Oily dishes or deep fried stuff like spring rolls?
A bubbly to cut through the fat, or dry Riesling.
Salty or pickled foods?
Rosé would be lovely and thirst-quenching. Serve it well chilled.
The traditional (in China) dessert of a mixed fruit platter?
Late harvest Riesling: not too sweet, just enough.
You are invited to a banquet, where of course a great range
of dishes will be served. You have know idea what they are. What
style of wine would be most serviceable?
Two most versatile wines with food are off-dry Riesling and New
World pinot noir… loaded with fruit but not heavy on tannin, oak
Is there any other advice you can offer?
Experiment and have fun, and don't give up on wine with Chinese
There are two basic traditional styles
of Chinese alcoholic drink. Both are made from grain.
Rice is the mainstay in the south. Sorghum and wheat
dominate northern brewing and distilling. Yellow wine,
the best known being Shaoxing wine, is a fermented
drink made with rice and/or other grains in a process
more akin to brewing than winemaking. Yellow wine (actual
colours can range from quite dark to clear) is commonly
15 or 20 percent alcohol. It is an important ingredient
in the Chinese kitchen. The second major style of drink
is bai jiu, a strong clear liquor made from
sorghum and/or other grains. It is often distilled
to a very high level of alcohol.
Shaoxing is a taste that can be acquired
(its not unlike sake, its Japanese equivalent), but
only the most courageous Westerners willingly take
on bai jiu. Some of the cheaper brands are
best approached with a peg on the nose and a packet
of throat lozenges.
Beer is popular but not among hard drinkers.
There was a phase in the Eighties and Nineties when
guzzling expensive French brandy like free beer at
a college piss-up was a mark of high status. Scotch
is popular these days as is wine, particularly red,
which in China like elsewhere is perceived as a healthy
drink. Large upmarket dining establishments carry a
range of beverages including some Western. Small local
places usually stock bottled beer and a small range
of the more popular traditional liquors.
Red Wine & Lemon
At a restaurant last
year in Shanxi I was taken aback when our host
served red wine with a slice of lemon floating
in it. I couldn't take my eyes off this odd cocktail
which apparently is quite common in China. It did
not taste great, but it might be a good innovation
because when I tried the same sweet locally-produced
wine without the lemon, it tasted even worse.
I guess it is no more strange than putting lime
in beer – thanks for that Corona.
Are Taiwan Green
Lemons Really Limes?
A friend of mine from Australia was visiting last week. He happened
to mention that one of the nice things about being back in Taiwan
(he used to live here) was the low price of limes – he enjoys the
odd gin and tonic you see. "They call them 'lemons' but they
are really limes."
Well, I was staggered to hear this.
Are Taiwan lemons really limes? Lemons here are normally
green, low on juice and quite bitter but I had always
assumed this was because the Taiwanese picked and ate
them green, as they do other fruits like plums, apricots,
and peaches. Tellingly, the Taiwanese describe the
taste of lemon as 'bitter,' rather than 'sour.'
I sometimes put lemons out in the sun
for a couple of days to ripen them. They do become
more juicy and sour but only take on a dirty yellow/green
My mate has a solid knowledge of food
and I am sure he has been drinking those G&Ts for
god-knows-how-many years, so I reckoned he knew a lime
when he saw one. Me, I barely know what a lime is.
But growing up we had a lemon tree in the backyard
so I thought I knew what a lemon looked like. Till
now that is.
On the internet I discovered a lot of
people confuse lemons and limes, but after finding
of a lime that looked like a Taiwan lemon, I began
to lean on the side of my friend's contention.
The following day I put the question
to the Taiwan forum Forumosa. After reading what others
in Taiwan said I was leaning back toward my original
assumption that a Taiwan lemon may be green, bitter
and mean of juice, but it was still a lemon.
Then yesterday I talked to a fruit and
vegetable seller at our local market in Taichung. Although
he has thirty years experience I came away more confused
than ever. He seemed to be saying that a lemon and
a lime are 'more or less' the same thing, and that
in any case I shouldn't worry about it.
Maybe someone else can shed some light?
Check out the forum.
Rice Living with Weevils
"In the early
years of the camp everyone pushed the weevils to
one side, or flicked them through the nearest window,
but now Jim carefully husbanded them. Often there
was more than a hundred insects in three rows around
the rim of Jim's plate, though recently even their
number had been in decline."
– Empire of the Sun
have ever turned your nose up at people who include
bugs in their diet, I've got some news: you too
are an insect eater. Yep, and I am not just talking
about accidents: like gasping a little too hard
and swallowing something more than air, or when
at that picnic, a couple of years ago a fly rode
into your mouth on a forkful of salad (what, you
didn't know about that?). Out in the fields insects,
their microscopic larvae, and faeces are all over
our food. Our food is their food too, and their
home and breeding ground. Some of them are still
on our food after it has been cleaned and processed.
In fact the United States Department of Agriculture
acknowledges this to the extent that it has limits
on how many bugs are allowed in frozen and canned
vegetables – officially it is OK to eat aphids,
just not too many.
on ricePhoto: Clemson
University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide
These bugs, if they survive as far
as your kitchen are normally dispatched by cooking,
but some of them or their body parts may remain in
your food. If you enjoy salad – no matter how well
you rinse – you have probably eaten raw, live bugs
at some time.
All this is normally quite harmless,
and may even be beneficial considering that insects,
if edible, can be an excellent source of protein (if
you eat enough of them), a fact well known to Jim,
the main character in J. G. Ballard's Empire of the
Sun. Jim makes a point of eating the weevils in his
ration of boiled wheat, much to the discomfort of his
more squeamish fellow detainees in the Japanese POW
From time to time the canister of rice
in our kitchen sprouts a few weevils. When this happens
we deal with it by bathing the rice even more thoroughly
than normal before cooking, drowning the weevils and
discarding what floats to the surface. For the sake
of peace at the table, I am always quick to attribute
any odd black spot in the cooked rice to 'discoloured'
grain rather than arthropod origin.
I never gave much thought to how weevils
get into our rice, until I collected a weevil and put
it under a magnifying glass. I jumped on the web and
discovered that my weevil was, appropriately, the rice
weevil (Sitophilus oryzae), rather than the
granary weevil, boll weevil or any other weevil. It
was about 2 mm long with a distinctively elongated
snout. What I read about this common pest of Indian
origin indicated that it probably had not flown into
my kitchen just to chew on our personal stash of rice.
In any case, our rice canister is airtight and (I assume)
insect proof. Our rice was likely first infected months
earlier in the fields, granary or even at some point
during the distribution process.
When people say there are 'weevils in
the rice', they mean it in the literal sense, because
the little blighters are right inside the grain eating
from the inside out. The adult female eats or bores
into a grain of rice and lays an egg in the cavity.
She then seals the hole with a sticky secretion. The
egg hatches three days later and the larva develops
within the rice grain. It feeds on the inside of the
grain further hollowing it out and pupates. The adult
bores its way out of the grain and starts to mate soon
after. The life cycle can be as short as one month
in hot weather or as long as five months in colder
temperatures. Females are prolific breeders and can
lay three to four hundred eggs in a lifetime that lasts
three to six months. As time goes by that is a lot
of hollow rice grains.
They might be called rice weevils but
they will happily gnaw on other grains, grain products
like breakfast cereals and pasta, and beans, nuts,
fruit, and even cotton fabric.
Now, I don't mind snacking on an insect
occasionally particularly if it doesn't look too unappetising
and is cooked, or at least dead. I have knowingly,
even willingly tried creepy-crawlies like grasshoppers,
bamboo worms, bees, ants, and other small creatures
I could not identify but I am damn sure were not mammalian.
So I don't have any problem with the idea of
eating insects. The odd weevil doesn't bother me. The
odd weevil is one thing, a rice canister seething with
tiny black beetles is another. Not a pretty sight.
Unlike arch-survivalist Jim, I don't need to have my
rice fortified with protein and I would rather eat
no more weevil parts or excretions than is absolutely
necessary. The longer the beetles remain in the grain,
the more they eat, the more they shit, and the more
they breed which leads inexorably to more eating and
defecating. Theoretically in time you could end up
with more weevils and shit than rice. If they can't
get out of a container, eventually they would completely
consume their food source and starve themselves. Clearly
something needs to be done before this happens.
The simple, smart solution would be
to toss out the whole container. That never occurred
to me. In the past I would take the canister outside,
preferably in the sun and give it a shake. The weevils
near the surface seemed anxious to get out and and
when they did I would try to catch them and toss them
into a pot of hot water. (It was while I was doing
this once that one of them gave me a sharp nip on the
arm, even though they are said not to bite people or
animals. Perhaps it mistook me for a grain of rice?)
But this was tedious and extremely ineffective considering
I only ever managed to get rid of a small percentage
of the weevils.
I've also tried heat. I put rice in
the microwave and zapped it. This was easier and much
more effective but because the microwave heats unevenly
I was never sure if I had killed everything or not.
I also worried the heat would damage the rice.
The solution, if there is one, starts
when you buy rice at the supermarket. Unless you can
see adult beetles (which I did once), it is extremely
difficult to tell if a bag of rice is already infected.
However, you can try this: pick up a bag of rice, give
it a few good shakes and see how much dust accumulates
at the bottom of the bag. A lot of dust may indicate
that weevils have been having a very good time inside.
Try another bag, or another shop. If there are weevils
(assume there are), the less time they have to do their
dirty work the better, so check out the manufacture
or use by dates, and buy the smallest bag that is practical.
As soon as you get the rice home, set the fridge freezer
thermostat to its lowest setting, chuck the bag of
rice in and freeze it
for a week. (This
site contradicts that advice but freezing seems
to have worked for me – after three months I have detected
no sign of adult weevil life in either whole grain
or white rice.) Then get your rice out of that plastic
bag it came in – which doubtlessly has microscopic
punctures – and pour it into an airtight, insect proof
container to prevent further infection. If you are
going to keep the rice for an extended time, keep it
in the fridge. If you are really worried, just keep
it in the freezer.
Freezing kills the weevils and contains
the problem but it is highly unlikely that even the
most thorough rinsing is ever going to wash out the
larvae that is encased in the rice grains, so if there
ever were weevils in your rice, you are eating them.
Enjoy your rice: just think about the
free, added protein!
Divine Root book now in Chinese Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious
History of the Plant That Captivated the
World by David A. Taylor, a book I
recently reviewed very
favourably, is now available in Taiwan
in a Chinese
K. Chesterton on Tea
Is a gentleman at least;
Cocoa is a cad and coward,
Cocoa is a vulgar beast,
Cocoa is a dull, disloyal,
Lying, crawling cad and clown,
And may very well be grateful
To the fool that takes him down."
This week during the Mid Autumn Festival, on the way back from
a sodden camping trip, we stopped for lunch at the hamlet of Tian
Leng. The only customers, we sat on wooden stools at a table outside
a little noodle shop, making small talk with the proprietress.
She was a Hakka. In Taiwan, Hakka communities are mostly located
in the foothills, in places just like Tian Leng. When I asked why
this was, she said only that Hakka people "can't afford to
live in the city."
I ordered a bowl of wonton noodle soup,
and checked out the homemade chilli mix in a covered
red plastic bowl on the table. At the next table sat
a big box of fresh chillies. Next door, the local micro-butcher.
Strings of sorghum liquor-flavoured sausages hung in
the sun by the roadside – the air smelt of strong alcohol
and unrefrigerated meat.
The variety of chilli sauces in Taiwan,
either homemade or commercial, is almost infinite,
and I have rarely met one I didn't like. The one on
our table looked interesting.
My soup arrived. Without hesitation
I shoveled a heaped spoonful of the oily mixture into
my bowl. It was the perfect complement to the original
dish, neither overly hot or salty, it melded easily
into the soup. I asked the woman how she made the sauce,
and she began to explain. But that's when we started
to become aware of our legs. Up until then I don't
think any of us had been thinking much about them at
all. At first it was just squirming and gentle rubbing,
but within a couple of minutes at our table there was
a total obsession with our uncovered lower limbs: close
examination and violent scratching.
Midges! The scourge of the outdoors!
I'll take five mosquitoes over a single minute midge
any day. At least with mozzies you have a fair chance
at hunting them down. Midges, you can barely see them.
You don't know they are there until it is too late. "We
didn't have any midges before the 9/21 earthquake," said
the proprietress, referring to the 7.6 quake that hit
Taiwan in 1999. Dubious statement? Considering that
the dimensions of the island were altered by the earthquake,
Suddenly the food did not taste so good
anymore. All we could think about was escape. But I
did manage to get her recipe for the chilli sauce as
we paid the bill and hurried to the car.
So grab some chillies, garlic, soy sauce,
and vegetable oil, and you can quickly put together
a jar of chilli sauce to cook with or as a dipping
condiment. Use straightaway or keep – the taste of
chillies and garlic will gradually permeate the liquid.
Beef Noodle Soup One of the signature dishes of
Taiwan is beef noodle soup. It's not native – it washed
in with the flood of KMT-led Mainland Chinese in the
late 1940s. So popular has it become, that if you had
just arrived and were walking around Taipei, and if,
within 20 minutes you had not passed a niu
rou mian shop, I'd hazard a guess you were in the
wrong place. By wrong place I mean wrong country.
Beef noodle soup is that popular in Taiwan. Not
native, but completely naturalized.
The dish has even established
a reputation beyond these shores – the last time
I passed through Hong Kong, there at the airport
was a restaurant specialising in 'Taiwan beef noodle.'
Living in Taiwan, I've eaten a lot
of it. It is one of my old reliables; what I go for
when I really don't know what I feel like eating.
But I have always been curious about beef noodle
soup in China. Was the Taiwan dish anything like
the original; how was it different? I finally had
a chance to find out last year when I went to Beijing
and Datong. There I ate the basic version of the
dish three or four times.
Without doubt they
have some good wheat noodles in the north, in particular dao
shao mian: strips shaved from a big slab of fresh,
firm dough, shot with a large blade, straight into
a pot of boiling water. But everything else about
the dish left me unimpressed. I found the clear liquid
almost insipid, and the thin slices of beef dry,
tough, and bland. The meat reminded me of roast beef
that had been left in the fridge for a week, uncovered.
I came away convinced that the Taiwan interpretation,
with its robust soup, and succulent, sinewy braised
beef was much better than its antecedent.
Taiwan beef noodle
soup may be better, but to be fair, I later
realized, I was more used to a certain kind of
beef noodles that some say is Sichuan-style. Hong
shao (beef braised in soy sauce and other ingredients)
is the style of beef noodle soup that has come to
dominate in Taiwan. Sometimes a little bok choy is
added to the bowl, or a couple of chunks of carrot
and radish. One version includes tomato, another
is spicy, yet another is ma la, hot and numbing.
After plumbing the
'depths' of my memory (which didn't take long) and
checking around a bit, it dawned on me that there
is another, major style of the soup in Taiwan, one
that used to be much more common than it is today.
That soup is light and clear – very similar to the
soup in China, albeit with much better beef. It seems
that the Taiwanese started out with more-or-less
the same soup as in north China but over time gravitated
towards the stronger tasting, hong shao version.
I have been meaning
to learn how to make beef noodle soup for ages. Now
I knew I had to start with the clear soup: the Taiwanese
rendering of the northern-style beef noodle soup,
originally developed by the Hui Muslims. Later maybe
I will tackle the hong shao. I found a recipe
in a Chinese cookbook, showed it to a friend who
confirmed it looked 'chabuduo', about right,
which I took to mean 'authentic,' and that is what
I have been cooking lately.
It is normal to have
a side dish or two with hong shao beef noodle
soup. I did the same with the clear soup but realized
straightaway that my choice of side dish – bamboo
shoots in chilli oil – had been a bad one. No sooner
had the bamboo touched my lips and the soup flavour
simply vanished – there was no way it could compete
with all that fiery capsaicin.
The soup is based on
a beef stock flavoured with carrot, radish and onion.
If your tastes run to strong and spicy like mine,
it might take a couple of sittings to appreciate
it. Stick with it, and you should come to enjoy the
natural cleanliness and relatively pure flavours.
At my house no one
has complained about the soup, only about the frequency
I have been serving it. "Oh God, not beef noodle
drizzle (who'll stop the reign?) I don't know about you, but if I hear another
TV chef say the word drizzle I am going to chuck
my guts. Sometimes I think that dreaded word is the only
thing that separates a good home cook or a real chef
from the TV chef. Interview for the position of TV chef,
drop the word drizzle seven or eight times and
you are likely to get the job. But what is really puzzling
is why aren't the TV weather guys complaining? Drizzle is
World of a TV Food Show A day on location with the Bizarre Foods program
I was a 4-year old the last time I appeared
on television. That was in Bendigo, Australia on the
Ansett Flying Club. It was a kids show with an airline
theme, hosted by a make-believe pilot and stewardess,
and every week a different bunch of kids got to be
part of the fun. The show was sponsored by Ansett Airlines.
Today Bendigo aerodrome still has no regular commercial
service, so God knows what the Ansett marketing department
were thinking – no wonder they went out of business.
That TV experience was heady stuff: a bit of sing-along,
some on-cue screaming and lots of clapping, and then
my television career was over.
But two weeks ago I got an email from
a couple of friends in Alaska who I had not seen or
heard of for over than 10 years. They had tracked me
down via this website after spotting me on TV. In Alaska!
I wouldn't have thought they'd have electricity there
let alone television. They had seen me not on a rerun
of the Ansett Flying Club but on a program called Bizarre
The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods program
was planning an episode on Taiwan when Georgianna Day,
a researcher with the show's production company contacted
me. That was mid-March. I gave her a list of suggestions
– basically my top picks for unusual Taiwan food that
I thought viewers might, shall we say, find 'interesting.'
As the show neared production, Georgianna asked me
to appear as a guest on the program. Shortly before
the film crew arrived in late April it was agreed I
would go to Taipei to film a segment about Chinese
Filming (April 28 2007)
In Taipei I meet the crew outside their hotel. As cameraman Luke
Logan is packing gear into the back of a van, Andrew Zimmern,
host of Bizarre Foods, and producer Janice McDonald are staring
at my chest. "No one told you about logos? You can't have a logo
on your shirt," says Janice. I have another shirt, plain white. "No
white. We'll get you a shirt later."
Backing up the Americans is a group
of locals: Josh is the fixer, the location guy who
organizes things in advance, a second cameraman, a
photographer for publicity stills, a production assistant,
and a driver.
Just before 10 am we arrive at the Black
Gee restaurant. I am pleased the show has taken up
some of my suggestions. Wu gu ji, black bone
chicken, is one of them. This is the silkie bantam,
a Chinese breed. Its beautiful, fluffy white feathers,
disguise a shockingly black body. The Black Gee specializes
in wu gu ji dishes.
The restaurant owner, Mrs. Pan, arrives
soon after and we all go to her local market. The camera
follows her as she buys the ingredients she needs for
the day. At the poultry vendor she chooses birds from
cages. These are filmed live, dead and in various states
of undress and dissection.
Luke takes a lot of footage in the market.
I have to move out of sight anytime the camera pans
in my direction. "You can't be in the shot. You haven't
'met' Andrew yet," explains Janice.
At a nearby clothing shop Janice picks
out two logo-less, collared shirts. I choose the deep
We let Mrs. Pan get on with her work,
and we go to a Chinese pharmacy in Dihua Street. Andrew
and I are filmed arriving, filmed inside talking about
the role of medicine in Chinese food, and filmed looking
at the mind boggling array of medicinal goods. The
obvious presence of items like deer penises, seahorses
and sharks fins should forever put paid to the term Chinese
herbal medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine is
a better description.
Former chef Andrew is an uprooted New
Yorker now based in Minneapolis. Apart from this program,
he has a hand in several other food/media related ventures.
I have seen Bizarre Foods only once, and then only
a snippet, but unlike other media personalities who
are usually enhanced in some way on screen, Andrew,
oddly, is diminished. He looks very short on TV. In
reality he is not.
As we finish up, a small group of curious
onlookers gather at the door. One guy is excitedly
snapping pictures of me. I point him towards Andrew
but he is undeterred. I imagine the dinner conversation
at his home this evening:
Celebrity snapper: "Guess who I photographed
today down in Dihua Street?"
Celebrity snapper: "He was in a bright red shirt being interviewed.
There were cameras everywhere."
Wife: "Who, who?"
Celebrity snapper: "I am not sure."
This is the scenario for my 'meeting'
with Andrew: I am waiting for him, leaning against
the stone guardian lions by the wooden temple doors
of the Xingtian Temple. He is across the courtyard
walking towards us through the temple gates. The cameraman
is next to me. It is a busy place and visitors keep
unknowingly spoiling the shot by blocking the line
of sight. It occurs to me that to those not in-the-know,
Andrew might look mad; a shaven-headed foreigner in
a loud shirt talking and gesturing to himself as he
walks staring into the distance. Andrew fluffs his
lines a few times as well. Each time he has to go back
outside and start again. It might be only April, but
the temperature is already pushing 30º C. We are in
the shade but he is stuck out in the hot sun. I watch
intently to see if he will blow his cool. He doesn't.
After 10 or 12 times he gets it right and makes it
up the temple steps where he says, "Stephen?" And there
we are, pretending we have never laid eyes on each
other, yet suddenly heading off down the road like
sworn blood brothers. Of course we had to film that
part several times too.
At every opportunity the crew film little
promos for the series. These usually involve Andrew
holding up some piece of food and saying, "If it looks
good, eat it," before chomping down on whatever it
is. It is a slogan that makes perfect sense if you
want to encourage people to broaden their culinary
perspective, but as much of the stuff Andrew tucks
into looks like crap, it is a bit incongruous. Case
in point, the next item on our itinerary.
It's after 2 o'clock and we are back
at the Black Gee Restaurant. There are only a couple
of customers left so Mrs. Pan has time for us. The
crew discuss important matters: which table Andrew
and I should sit at; which direction to film from;
the whereabouts of the toilet.
Chinese believe that poultry is the
most nutritious of all meat. Chicken in particular
is hen bu, a very nourishing, warming food,
good for the immune system, and a great tonic for the
whole body. Though good for everybody, chicken soup
is particularly popular with pregnant and nursing women.
Sweet tasting wu gu ji, is considered more nourishing
than other chicken.
The complete restaurant menu is based
on wu gu ji. The chicken is stewed with different
combinations of herbs and other ingredients and, depending
on what medicinal characteristics are to be emphasized.
Mrs. Pan has ample qualifications for running this
restaurant. Her home village in southern China is well
known for wu gu ji dishes. She says her grandfather,
who has eaten wu gu ji every day of his life,
is now well over a hundred years old.
Someone suggests filming the last customers
as they eat so Josh asks for their permission. The
man, in his sixties, not only won't give permission,
he is quite adamant about even appearing in the background.
The couple hurriedly finish their food and leave. It
strikes me that his dressed-for-the-Oscars female dining
companion may not be his wife. Or his daughter, though
she easily looks young enough. The Black Gee with the
reputed 'male strengthening' qualities of some of its
food is exactly the kind of place a man might visit
for some extra insurance before engaging in behaviour
of a naughty nature.
Andrew and I are filmed arriving and
leaving the restaurant, several times. Then with the
equipment set up, we are filmed at a table discussing
and finally eating black bone chicken (it's
not so much a choice between light and dark meat as
between grey and black).
It is getting warm in the restaurant.
We are filming under lights and the food has been reheated
several times to keep it steaming. Problem: Janice
notices that sweat is beginning to seep through Andrew's
bright green shirt. Solution: without an identical
replacement shirt, someone is sent out to buy a singlet
for Andrew to wear under the shirt.
Wu gu ji is distinctly unappealing
to look at, but it is only chicken meat after all.
Now it is time to eat the rooster's balls. I was the
one that suggested this, now I was going to have to
eat my words. The chicken testicles are first soaked
in rice wine, then cooked in a herbal mixture.
For the Chinese, there is a basic correlation
between the parts of animals you eat and your own.
The saying chi gan, bu gan, eat liver to fortify
your own liver represents this idea. So if you are
an alcoholic, eat lots of pig liver. If you have eye
problems, eat fish eyes, if you want to be smarter,
eat brain (at least walnuts, which are also supposed
to work because Chinese think the flesh of the nut
looks like a brain).
When you ask Taiwanese why men eat rooster
testicles, they usually just say they are "good for
man," wink, wink, giggle, giggle. What they
mean of course is sexual virility; they supposedly
help a male keep up his manhood. But they are eaten
not just for this purpose. They are considered to be
a good source of protein and hormones. It is said also
that some women eat them to improve the complexion.
We stare into a pot on our table that
consists of little more than the whole testicles of
both the white-fleshed and the black-fleshed rooster.
I can testify that the dark guy's cojones are as black
as the rest of him. We eat one each of the white balls,
then tackle the black. Andrew describes the texture
as, "… like having milk jello inside a paper membrane,
and the moment you put any tooth pressure at all the
whole thing explodes in your mouth."
And that is it. It is 4.30 pm and filming
is over. Andrew goes back to the hotel. Everyone else
sits down to a lunch of wu gu ji hotpot. And
to the relief of the Americans, if not some of the
Taiwanese, there is no rooster balls in it.
I catch the train back to Taichung and
relative obscurity, while the crew, after a couple
more days in Taiwan, were off to Vietnam for another
I still have the red shirt I wore that
day. It's a kind of memento, and like the show, the
shirt left an indelible impression. The first time
I washed it, red dye leaked into all the other clothes.
We have a lot of pink clothes now. My wife, more expert
than I in these matters, washes it separately now,
but even after 10 or 15 washes the water still runs
red. She calls the shirt a 'bleeder.'
The show has not been aired yet here
in Asia but a couple of days ago I received a disc
copy sent over by the production company. It went straight
in to the DVD player.
My reaction? Mild shock. They have diminished
me too! Not only did they cut all my best lines, but
with their digital trickery they have somehow managed
to make me look older and less charismatic than I actually
am. In one scene it even looks like I have a mild hangover!
Well, all right, I have to admit the
hangover was notcompletely digital.
Chinese cuisine has been exported to the world very successfully. Tea is the one, singular item that has eclipsed all individual Chinese foodstuffs and even the cuisine itself in its influence on the wider world. A drink enjoyed in all its various forms by everyone from Japanese Emperors to Russian peasants … more