My son Tom found my favorite cold cereal at a shop in his Beijing neighborhood, but after eating a Chinese breakfast with him around the corner, there’s not a chance of my eating cereal while I’m here. (Though […]
Notes from the Test Kitchen
One of my favorite cookbooks has been, for years and long before I thought of food publishing, Barbara Tropp’s 1982 The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. It doesn’t have the glossy photographs of Fuchsia Dunlop’s books, and the recipes are long – which might suggest complexity. But what Tropp does is take the reader by the hand and, with words, helps us see and taste and feel – before we write a shopping list or pick up a knife.
Thanks to Nicole Mones for alerting me to this wonderful blog from Shanghai. Here’s a brief extract that strikes me as crucial information for any traveler to China who wants to taste everything, as I always do, without getting laduzi (‘pulled stomach’).
I was eating dim sum with friends in New York the other day. One of them, a young Chinese American, asked if I could recommend a book on pairing wine with Chinese dishes. She’d been stumped when arranging a Chinese dinner for her and her boyfriend’s parents. “If we’d been eating Western food, we could have picked nice wines for each course, but we couldn’t figure out what really worked with Chinese food and it was really annoying.” She’d been talking to a friend in investment banking, another sophisticated Chinese American and said he had the same problem, “He’s used to ordering expensive bottles of wine when he’s the host, but for Chinese food, and Chinese guests, he can’t figure out what to choose.”
I first tasted these honeycomb oat noodles near the Summer Palace on a cold December day a couple of years ago. I tried to find instructions for making them, and assumed that the tubes of […]
Now that I’m going to be a food writer and publisher, I have to decide whether to go with the casual and imprecise mode of recipe writing – “add a dollop of crème fraise,” “bake until done” – that is most congenial to me, an inveterate adaptor of any recipe. Or will readers demand the chemistry-lab precision of Cooks Illustrated?
There’s a good argument for precision in the fact that most people do not learn to cook while growing up, and may never have seen much home cooking being done. They don’t know what changes a cake goes through as it bakes, or that fresh green vegetable become much darker green as they cook (only later, if cooked too long, do they become sludge green and dank). Simple instructions like “fold in two egg whites whipped until stiff” will confound a novice who has never hung out in a kitchen with a skilled home cook.
On the other hand, precise recipes with detailed measurements, methods, and ingredients are daunting. A compromise that I really dislike is cookery books that offer recipe “templates” with dozens of substitutes and alternatives, so no dish is coherent. It’s like turning culinary arts into a frozen yoghurt shop where you can pile your cup of strawberry yoghurt with gummy bears and peanuts and toffee bars. Yuck.
Today, the day after the Climate March in New York City, I am going to Flushing, in Queens, a to learn about Chinese food. The two things are not unconnected. Chinese cooking has lessons for […]
The potato, native to Peru and associated with northern Europe, is well-known in China. In fact, China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of potatoes (81 million metric tons in 2013). Julienned potatoes fried with […]
2014 was a summer of blockbuster sunshine, breathtaking thunderstorms, and my first forays into Chinese cooking. This was much scarier than the storms because I’m in such unfamiliar territory and yet catering for an audience, my nearest and […]