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::: Index 2012 / 11 / 10 / 09 / 08 / 07 / 06 / 05
Nov 20 2009

Taiwan University Develops New Rice Variety

A high-yielding purple rice, "able to keep one’s skin looking white and beautiful." Read news article

 
 



Nov 13 2009

5,000 Restaurants Serving Foreign Food in Beijing

If the range of foreign food available in a city is an indicator of its 'international-ness' then Beijing has 'made it.' Because of geographic location (on trade routes for example), some places were 'international' hundreds or even thousands of years ago, but now with 'globalisation' the whole world is converging, the lines blurring. With 5,000 foreign food eateries already, it is only a matter of time before Beijing is a culinary mirror image of San Francisco. And that is all very nice and convenient: people get more choice, but year by year it makes the world a bit less interesting. Read news article

 
 



Oct 30 2009

How to Tip a Bad Waiter

"Oh, you expect a tip do you? Here's a tip: don't be snobbish, rude, and stop to trying to sell me the dearest stuff on the menu."

 
 



Oct 29 2009

Chinese Food Delivery, Risky Job

I swear barely a week goes by without a story in the American media about a Chinese food delivery guy getting robbed, even killed: 'Food Delivery Driver Shot During Robbery,' 'Police Investigate Robberies Of Chinese Food Delivery People,' 'Brothers Charged With Attempted Robbery of Food Delivery Driver,' are some random recent headlines.

It would be easy to wave the hoary racist placard around as presumably most of the delivery guys are ethnic Chinese. But I guess it has more to do with basic arseholean opportunism: there are lots of 'em (Chinese delivery guys), they are easily identifiable and they are obviously carrying money (and food – some robbers take the chicken chow mien as well). I wonder if pizza delivery guys get held up as much?

 
 



Oct 11 2009

Taiwanese Team Discovers Rice's Flood-tolerant Gene

Why rice is the only grain that can germinate and grow under water. Read story

 
 



Oct 8 2009

Who are Taipei's Beef Noodle Soup Champions?

Find out soon – the Taipei City Government is running a competition to find the city's 50 best beef noodle soup restaurants, the results to be published in a guide book. You can even vote online (in Chinese) for your favourite noodle shop. More about Taiwan beef noodle soup

 
 



Sept 4 2009

Dalai Latte

Dalai latte

The Dalai Lama inspires many things: devotion in followers, respect in non-followers, undiluted loathing in the Chinese Government; now he has inspired one hotel in Taiwan to create the Dalai Latte, a coffee with the likeness of the holy man drawn in its foam. It is a tacky commercial ploy, especially as the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan was solely to bring some comfort to victims of the recent devastating Typhoon Morakot. No one is saying if the man in orange tried a cup. He would probably have a chuckle about it though. Video

 
 



July 27 2009

Cold Noodles: Salad, Chinese-style

In Australia when it is cold we eat hot food; when it is hot we eat cold: stuff like cold meat and salad. It works well. One of my gripes then about Chinese food (and I have a few) is that the diet is not particularly seasonal. Yes, there is hotpot in winter, and plenty of snacks, drinks, and desserts that cool in summer, but essentially when you sit down to eat a proper meal what you get is the same all year round.

I recall when I first came to Taiwan after one long walk to an outdoor eatery, I sat as sweat dripped from my forehead plopping into an intensely hot bowl of noodle soup (I can testify that in no way did it effect the flavour of the dish; salty being the elemental character of both sweat and Chinese food). It struck me then that this was no way to eat in 35ºC heat. But for summer in Taiwan there are a few odd exceptions like cold noodles: recipe

 
 



July 13 2009

Cool Off in Summer with Sweet Mung Bean Soup

Summertime in Taiwan arrives in April like a visiting Aunt with too much time on her hands. It is nice to see her, but after a while you wonder if she'll ever leave. By the time she has packed her bags in October – half a year later – you never want to see her face again. Yep, the Taiwan summer is hot, humid and very loooong.

There are ways to cool off though besides the air con and going out in the monsoon rains. You can eat your way to coolness. Chinese medicinal theory has it that all foodstuffs, to some degree, have heating or cooling effects on the body (though some are neutral). Foods such as chilli peppers, pepper, and cinnamon are heating, while mushrooms, watermelon, and bitter melon are cooling. Another cool one is the mung bean (what bean sprouts are normally made from). This is a simple, refreshing cold soup easily made at home: recipe

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July 7 2009

Taiwan Goes Organic

The Taiwan Government has introduced a certification scheme and labelling system for locally-produced organic foods. In the initial inspection of 467 products, 11 were found in violation of standards with chemical residue levels too high – that's probably not a bad first attempt. For imported products, the government will recognise the certification of 18 countries. Goods from China must past muster according to Taiwan standards. read more

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July 3 2009

Eileen Wen Mooney Interview

Earlier in the year, Eileen Wen Mooney's book Beijing Eats: A Food-Lover's Companion to China's Culinary Capital was published. It is a guidebook to eating in Beijing covering 140 restaurants and including a bilingual glossary, phrase list and maps of restaurant locations. This week I had an email chat with Eileen.

What makes Beijing the Culinary Capital of your book title?
Beijing as the seat of the government has always been attracting people from all over China. Pretty much every regional cuisine is represented in the capital, therefore one can eat foods from every corner of China without leaving the city. Over the past 20 years there has been a culinary revolution here, with entrepreneurs from around the country opening new restaurants in the city. This has also been helped by rising incomes, which has resulted in more people dining out and keen to try different cuisines.

Why did you see a need for a book like this?
Because I want people–both foreigners and Chinese–to know that Chinese food is more than just Cantonese, Sichuan and Hunan, or just Peking duck. I want to tell people that there are so many wonderful dishes that are not well known and should be experienced. Many writers attempt to simplify Chinese cooking by squeezing the whole gamut into a handful of 4 or 8 regional cuisines. This is impossible. There are stark contrasts from one place to another, even in those provinces that border on each other. For example, lumping Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, and Shandong together is like saying French, Italian, Spanish, and German food are in the same family. I'm also concerned that the new trend of restaurants turning out two or three cuisines from the same kitchen, and the obsession with presentation and contemporary Chinese cuisines is starting to blur culinary lines and threatening the survival of some cooking styles. Today it's difficult to find more than one or two restaurants in the city preparing decent food from Anhui, Jiangxi or even Shandong. I hope my book can play some small role in getting diners out to try some of these lesser known cuisines. I also hope that it will also encourage the owners of restaurants focusing on the basics and doing things the old-fashioned way.

Does the book only cover Chinese food or all types?
My book focuses on Chinese food only.

What sort of food experiences in Beijing excite foreigners? What disappoints (or otherwise negatively effects them)?
Many foreigners in Beijing love spicy foods, Peking duck and dim sum. A growing number is beginning to experience ethnic cooking from exotic places like Yunnan and Guizhou. One negative aspect is the growing interest in nouveau cuisine, or contemporary Chinese cuisine, and presentation. Both foreigners and Chinese are starting to frequent such places, many of which I believe are too focused on gimmicks–and not basic taste. This is another threat to the survival of traditional cuisines. Foreigners are negatively affected by dirty or sloppy dining venues, restaurants that offer things such as intestines, tripe, insects or other foods not popular in the West. That's a shame because some of these things are among the favorites of the Chinese. I'm a big fan of tripe and one restaurant I like offers 13 varieties.

Your book covers 140 restaurants. That's quite a lot. Did you eat in all of them?
Yes, I've been trying places since I arrived in 1994, and many of the restaurants I introduce in my book I visited dozens of times. At the very least, each restaurant was visited a minimum of two times–but I estimate I've made three or more visits to each one. And this is important because it's difficult to really judge a restaurant with just one visit. I estimate I chalked up more than 1,000 restaurant visits in putting this book together.

You are an ethnic Chinese from Bali who has been living in Beijing for quite a long time; what initially brought you to Beijing?
I came to Beijing following my husband, who is a journalist. I sort of fell into food writing. I had never written before coming here, but started to do a bit of travel writing beginning a decade ago. In 2005 I wrote my first restaurant review for what was then known as That's Beijing, which is today known as The Beijinger. I'd always liked cooking–I even took some cooking classes in Taipei in the mid-1970s. I have lived in Indonesia, the United States, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and have traveled around Europe trying different foods, so I have long been interested in food. Moving into food writing was a natural progression for me.

What is the biggest change in that time to Beijing's restaurant scene?
The biggest improvement has been in terms of the quality of food and service and the growing number of new restaurants opening up around the city, from hole-in-the-wall places to upscale dining venues. Unfortunately, I worry that the growing competition is forcing people to turn to gimmicks to survive and prosper rather than focusing on the basics. I now see a reversal of some of the gains that were made over the past two decades as restauranteurs look for novel ways to pull in customers, forgetting that eating is more important than decorations or presentation and novel ways of preparing food.

Do you have a favourite Beijing food?
Yes, I do. I love sauteed mung bean pulp, Beijing fries made from mung bean flour, zhajiang noodles, traditional Beijing hotpot and boiled tripe. Of the 13 kinds of tripe, duren is as tender as scallops, while at the same time crisp, while duxin is incredibly tough, and almost has to be swallowed without chewing. Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more difficult to find good Beijing food in the city–this cuisine is as threatened as the hutongs and courtyard houses.

Outside of China, where can people get hold of your book?
Right now, my book can be ordered on line in the United States at Amazon and China Books. I hope in the future it will be more easily available in other places.

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June 15 2009

Stir-fried Water Spinach

炒空心菜 (chao-3 kong-1 xin-1 cai-4)
Water spinach, also known as water convolvulus (Ipomoea aquatica), is one of the great vegetable staples of Taiwan and southern China. This quick-growing leafy green (best grown in water) when cooked right is a great combo of crunchy stems and tender leaves. Here is a basic recipe:

Serves 4

Ingredients
225 g water spinach
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ginger slivers
1 chilli, chopped
1 teaspoon (1 cube) chicken stock powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Method

  1. Wash vegetable. Trim off the thickest parts of stems. Cut into 4 cm lengths.
  2. Heat oil over a low flame, add garlic, ginger, and chilli. Fry till fragrant.
  3. Bring the flame to high heat, add vegetable. Fry for about 1 minute.
  4. Add salt and chicken stock. Fry for a further minute. Remove to serving plate and eat at once.

Notes: Like a lot of the more delicate Chinese leafy greens, water spinach needs hot, quick, vigorous stir-frying, but not a minute too long. When I say 'eat at once,' I mean it. Have your diners seated, chopsticks in hand, to enjoy it in peak condition; remember that as long as it is hot, it is still cooking.

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June 4 2009

Poisonous Snake-bitten Chicken"… an irregular way of slaughtering poultry."

Irregular indeed – the above quote from a disapproving local health official in China where according to the BBC, people are up in arms over a handful of restaurants in the south serving "poisonous snake-bitten chicken" as a detoxing delicacy. Snake bites chicken, chicken dies, chicken is cooked, diner bites chicken, diner …

How putting a deadly toxin in your body can be considered 'detoxing' defies even the most infantile logic. This video shows a man forcing a reluctant snake to bite a chicken and inject its venom. Too bad they are putting an end this practise. I would love to check it out, hopefully to witness the snake biting the man. Then I would ask him whether snake venom was truly detoxifying or not. Caution: the video is not only in poor taste, it is poor quality and excruciatingly boring. Watch it if you must.

Ironically, on the same page of the BBC's website there is a link to older story entitled, "China food poisoning kills 41."

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Apr 2 2009

Chilli-shaped Mulberries

Himalayan mulberry

In the hills east of Taichung there is a network of hiking trials that we often use. At one trailhead a clutch of oldster farmers is always selling fruit and vegetables; a sort of impromptu farmer's mini market. It always make me laugh when someone tries to sell me a watermelon or hand of bananas as I am about to begin my hike in the steep hills – as if I want to carry that! Last weekend one approached us holding out what I thought were dried chillies. As he came closer the only thing I was certain of was that they were not chillies. Mulberries, he said, a kind I have never seen before; elongated, some of them three inches in length, and he'd grown them on his orchard nearby.

Taiwanese do not seem to particularly prize the more familiar black mulberry. Some people do make preserves with them, but time and again I have seen trees dropping fruit all over the place because no one seems interested in picking it. And you don't see mulberries for sale much either, perhaps because they are delicate, ripen quickly, and go off just as fast, making the fresh item a difficult commercial proposition. Or perhaps people just don't like them.

This season there is a bumper crop. Slender tree branches are arching over with the burden of fruit, and birds are having a fine old feast. I have a tree myself (it is potted so you can picture it more as a bush) which has more fruit on it than ever before, but that did not stop me buying a container – perhaps half a kilo – of this unusual mulberry from the old man for NT$40 (US$1.20).

It turns out they are called Himalayan or Pakistan mulberries (Morus macroura). Common mulberries are near-black when ripe and quite tart, these however, as you can see in the photo, are lighter in colour and sweet. The stem of this mulberry extends nearly all the way down inside the fruit. To eat, put the whole fruit in your mouth, except for the stem, which you pull, and it should slide out easily. Presto!

Interesting discovery though it was, I still prefer to eat the garden variety tart, black mulberries.

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Mar 28 2009

"He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician."

–Chinese proverb. See more Chinese food quotes.

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Feb 11 2009

Cured Meats May Cause Leukemia

A study in Taiwan says cured meat products like smoked pork, bacon, sausages and salt fish may increase the chance of getting leukaemia. I hate it when these studies come out. I have already given up a lot: dairy products, and anything containing milk (including cows) because of melamine, vegetables because of pesticides, and red meat because fat kills (so I won't miss pork, bacon and sausages anyway), but now salt fish? Give it up; like hell! I love tiny Taiwanese salt fish fried up with peanuts. You might too. Here is the recipe.

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Jan 24 2009
Happy Chinese New Year
Year of the Ox (Chinese Yellow Cow

The Year of the Ox is upon us. This photo is of a Chinese Yellow Cow, taken in Jinmen (Quemoy), Taiwan.

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Jan 23 2009

Chinese Restaurant Wins Three Michelin Stars: World First
Hong Kong restaurant Lung King Heen is the first Chinese restaurant in the world to get the three big (rubber?) stars from Michelin – the Academy Awards of cooking. Bravo.

China has had a great haute cuisine for hundreds of years at least, and while it is good to see Western trend-makers finally recognising this, I can't help be a bit cynical. Will we see some high-end Chinese restaurants changing, pandering to international (read French and Italian) standards of cooking and presentation? Will we see a greater reluctance to serve the kinds creatures and their body parts that would make the average Western diner blanche? Will we see more Chinese (con)fusion food? Hope not. A great restaurant is great with or without awards, but awards, particularly prestigious ones, are seductive, and they have huge marketing value.

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::: Index 2012 / 11 / 10 / 09 / 08 / 07 / 06 / 05

 

 
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