Sunday, December 25, 2016

Do you even Chinese Phood, brah? Pt 2

Here's Part 2 of my Beijing food non-odyssey. Make sure to check out Part 1 first.

So here I was, thinking that the rest of this would be a pretty traditional Chinese meal. Nope. By the time the meal was over, I had to figuratively and literally digest what had just happened. Because to me, some of the dishes didn't seem to resemble any truly local foods I knew. Here are some other "Chinese" foods enjoyed in Beijing that day. (sarcastiquotes intended)

Ah, the Sichuan wok-tossed Maine Lobster, no doubt utilizing a creature indigenous to China and prized by cadres nationwide (confession: probably only one of those is true). I've had chili crab a few times, but something sits weird in hindsight when you consider that Sichuan is one of the furthest removed places you can think of re: lobster. The second thing is that when you think about it, most of what you see is inedible. I mean, 85% of that dish was shell and dried chili peppers. Feels to me like one of those things that's supposed to be a show of opulence, rather than anything that people actually enjoy eating. Find out how to make this dish yourself.

Notice they put the slate on a plate. The plate has a plate.

Here's an interesting one - chili steak cubes. If it looks familiar (i.e., compared to the first dish above) it's because as far as I can tell, it was finished in pretty much the exact same way. It was actually pretty tasty, and I'd say that unlike the former dish, the beef here probably represented a healthier 50% of the net weight here. But that's not the weird thing. The weird thing is that they served it on a slab of slate. Nice presentation, but as a former dishwasher I started wondering how well they could wash one of these things. Why, you'd have to do it by hand, and I don't think those kids are paid well enough to care too much about slate-related hygiene. Find out how to make this dish yourself.

You can spot one piece of matsutake sitting on the 6 o'clock position

So here we have the third dish, which is a twice-cooked rib and mushroom dish. The first thing you may notice is that the dish is actually kind of small. That's because the mushroom is not just any mushroom, but the highly prized matsutake variety. They're big, meaty, and pungent - and pretty expensive. Which is probably why there were only a couple pieces in the entire dish. But hey, there are a couple mint leaves, so that's nice. Plus, there are some yellow peppers, too, which look like the matsutake. Well, a little, right? Anyways, as a carnivore I probably still preferred the ribs, but those mushrooms were that one mushroom was delicious. Find out how to make this dish yourself.

Looks like something I'd make.

Now here we're getting into more traditional territory. which is to say that it's something I'd often cook/eat myself. Stir-fried cauliflower, soy sauce base, and some fresh garlic. Voila. I was pretty happy that someone decided to balance out the meats/seafood with something more sensible for my colon (as I'd do at home). These cauliflowers look a little forlorn, but the flavor was totally on-spot. Dishes like this give me hope that I can one day go vegetarian for longer than a month. Find out how to make this dish yourself.

Now this, I could get used to.

Ok, here's the last one. Once upon a time, when I was a little kid, I tagged along for a meal where someone ordered this sweet and sour fish. Now, you may have heard many Chinese friends tell you how inauthentic "American Chinese Food" is. And that we don't really eat Sweet & Sour and Moo Shu. Well, sometimes we do. In fact, sweet & sour dishes are a hallmark descendant of Shandong (Lu) Cuisine, where strong, bold flavors are a necessity. Anyways, back to the fish. Someone in the party (not me) ordered this. and what you see in the picture is the body of the fish sliced into thick stripes, all still attached on one end like a blooming onion. Then it was deep-fried and quickly covered with the S&S sauce. It was exactly like I'd remembered.

So there you have it. I'm surprised every time I go back to China, because things just keep on changing. Restaurants get fancier, presentation gets upgraded, and Chinese food gets a little... weirder. It makes me wonder what Chinese food was like 100, 500, 1000 years ago. I'm a strong proponent of someone making this a major concentration at Harvard.

Make sure to check out the final segment of the 3-part series!

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