A high-yielding purple rice, "able
to keep one’s skin looking white and beautiful." Read
Nov 13 2009
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
Oct 30 2009
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."
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
Team Discovers Rice's Flood-tolerant Gene
Why rice is the only grain
that can germinate and grow under water. Read
Oct 8 2009
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
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
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
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
July 7 2009
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
July 3 2009
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
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.
June 15 2009
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:
Wash vegetable. Trim off the thickest
parts of stems. Cut into 4 cm lengths.
Heat oil over a low flame, add garlic,
ginger, and chilli. Fry till fragrant.
Bring the flame to high heat, add vegetable.
Fry for about 1 minute.
Add salt and chicken stock. Fry for
a further minute. Remove to serving plate and eat at
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.
June 4 2009
Snake-bitten Chicken"… an irregular way of
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."
Apr 2 2009
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
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
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.
Interesting discovery though it was, I
still prefer to eat the garden variety tart, black mulberries.
Mar 28 2009
that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the
skills of the physician."
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.
Jan 24 2009
Chinese New Year
of the Ox is upon us. This photo is of a Chinese
Yellow Cow, taken in Jinmen (Quemoy), Taiwan.
Jan 23 2009
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.
Even the English, known for their plain cooking, use salt when boiling potatoes and carrots. Yet the Chinese cook rice in nothing but water. In stark contrast to the way most other foods are prepared in China, rice is a singularly pure, simple, even bland dish; the perfect foil for well seasoned meat and vegetable dishes.