Tag Archives: Food

Escape!

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Today I saved a life, but I don’t know if he will thank me much. I was in the grocery store and this guy flipped himself out of the tank onto the floor next to me. I alerted a worker who promptly scooped him up and put him back in the tank. He seemed to be giving me the evil eye from within those murky waters.
Just another day of grocery shopping in China.

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What was that food? Answers to 3.0 challenge

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So this is the day you have all been waiting for!  The big reveal…

What is that strange thing she is eating in China???

First, I have to tell you that I loved all your guesses.  The meatball smuggling Sicilian definitely wins for creativity!!  And the food is not nearly as strange as others give me credit for.  Although I do have to confess that I never, ever would have tried it if a friend hadn’t explained it to me and assured me that it was good and safe to eat.  Your guesses even taught me something.  One guess was about a Mexican fruit called a ‘granada’.  I wasn’t sure if this entry was just a joke but I decided to check it out.  It turns out that there is a fruit called a granada and a close relative called a China granada which are both related to the pomegranate and both related to this mystery food.

Granada china: golden passion fruit or granadilla (Passiflora ligularis)
Sometimes incorrectly translated as “passion fruit” because it is related, the granada china does not taste much like a true passion fruit, although its unique flavor and consistency are much prized by aficionados, who call it “the caviar of fruits.” An egg-shaped fruit with a hard yellow-orange “shell” is cut open to reveal a soft, grayish pulp, which is eaten right out of the shell with a spoon. Despite the hard outer skin, it is more perishable than most other tropical fruit, and is generally not used in ice cream and other confections. Granada china can be tested for ripeness by shaking it for the sound of the ripe flesh moving inside.

This mystery food is the PASSION FRUIT.

Yes, really.  It is a flavor that is widely used in western food but I had never seen it in it’s natural state before.  The flavor is really good but super intense and sour like a sour patch kid.  The best way to eat it is to cut it open, dip a spoon in a little honey and use that spoon to scoop out the fruit and eat it up.

I guess it just goes to show that you never know what you will run into, and taking risks can have quite delicious rewards 😀

Zhe shi Haerbin (This is Harbin)

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Harbin is in the very north of China and inland a bit, along the Songhua river.  It is on a parallel north of Vladivostok, Russia.  As we fly from warm, damp Shanghai, over Beijing and onward north  I can see silvery black mountains like wrinkled taffeta gowns lined with bright white veins of snow and ice in the valleys.  Then they give way to more tundra like terrain.  And still the roads stretch on for kilometer after kilometer broken occasionally by outpost looking towns.  The harsh beauty is mesmerizing. I can watch the clouds build on the windward side of a ridge and dump their cargo of thick white snow on the leeward side of the mountains.  I am fascinated by who would choose to live here and why?? Also what do they do for work, for fun, and for food?

We will land shortly and they have announced the current ground temperature is 7•F, much warmer than I had expected, but that is todays high temperature.  The joke in my family is that my body runs so cold I wear turtleneck shirts in August.  This is an exaggeration, but perhaps not a huge one.  My kids keep asking me why I, of all people, chose this trip.  I have to say that I am intrigued by all the ice and I figure I can survive anything for three days.

We wore our regular clothes and polar fleece jackets on the plane.  I kept looking at our fellow travelers while we were boarding the plane, trying to judge if we were over or under prepared.  We packed our winter gear and figured we would get changed in the airport.  I thought we had done ok.  Everyone else seemed to be dressed similarly to us.  We were in a big surprise!  As the plane stopped people started pulling down their carry on luggage and pulling out jackets obviously designed for the arctic.  I thought we would be ok, all we had to do is get to our luggage in the terminal and we would have our jackets too.  Then as the plane parked I realized we were out on the tarmac and just like the old days we took a stair case down, walked a ways, and took a bus in to the terminal.  The dry cold wind sucked every bit of heat from our bodies so quickly and took our breath away.  Once packed into the bus we shivered quietly and then made the mad dash for our coats in the luggage.

We had a guide and a driver with a heated van 🙂  waiting for us.  They took us to our hotel in the center of the city.  Once checked in we added more layers of thick long johns, hats, neckies, ski gloves, two layers of socks, and headed out for a tour of the old part of the city.  The historic street has several buildings which are very influenced by Russian architecture and are quite lovely.  This is unusual for China as many buildings were knocked down or otherwise destroyed during the cultural revolution.  Also, just culturally, the attitude is old is bad and new is good.  The sense of historic preservation really barely exists here.  There is one very old and very beautiful Eastern Orthodox church which is now a museum of architecture.  We were on a tight schedule so we did not go in it.  According to our guide the military destroyed much of the inside during the cultural revolution so much of the beauty is on the outside anyway.

Along the historic street there were several small ice sculptures which were pretty during the day but really great lit up at night.  The day time high hovers around 5F and goes down to -20F during the night so there is no fear of melting sculptures.  This is a cobbled pedestrian street which is lovely for a stroll.

Saturday we were up and out to see the Sun Island Snow Park with amazing snow sculptures.  They actually use snow machines to create huge blocks of compressed snow out of which they build amazing sculptures.  They start work on the park in mid November and, according to our guide, are largely done by the end of December.   At this park they also had dog sled rides, an ice slide, and go carts out on part of the frozen river.  But we did not do the rides here.  We were enjoying the snow park sculptures and walking around.  After two hours we realized that we were loosing the feeling in our toes and fingers.  We popped into a tea house and had a pot of tea and enjoyed the warmth.  The main sculpture is huge, about 5 or 6 stories high.  Our guide told us that while the smaller sculptures are allowed to melt naturally in the spring (March or April) but the larger sculpture has to be blown up.  The kids want to come again to see that!

Heading back out around 2:00pm the sun was already starting to hang low in the sky so we headed over to a different part of the Songhua river to watch a ‘swimming show’.  This show was really just a group of swimmers willing to dive into a pool carved out of the ice.  Crazy in my book.  The highlight of this part of the trip were the ‘ski chairs’ and top games as well as the ice slide.  Next to the pool there was a man doing a brisk business in renting out ski chairs so we gave it a try. My policy is when in doubt follow the locals and they were right again!  The ski chairs were a blast.  You use giant ice picks to dig into the ice and push yourself along.  Some people had races, some just scooted around, and some took the opportunity to play bumper cars.

The top game was free to try while you waited for the swim show.  They were metal tops about 4 inches high and two inches in diameter.  You give it a good spin between your palms and let it drop to the ice.  Then, using a stick with a cord tied to the end, you whip the bottom of the top and this keeps it spinning.  For those of you with younger kids you may know the game ‘bay blades’ which is battling tops- this is an older but very similar game.  The kids loved it.

The ice slide was steep and ran out pretty far onto the frozen river.  They gave you a plastic mat to sit on so you went flying down and out onto the river.  The kids could have done this all day.  But it was time for dinner.  We headed to a restaurant which specialized in Chinese pancakes (think mushu pork style- not sweet american pancakes).  We had all kinds of fillings which ranged from pickled seaweeds to tofu to beef and the best sweet and sour pork I have ever had in my life.  It tasted of fresh, crispy pork with a freshly made sauce with vinegar and sugar and fresh ginger – no red dye #2.  Sooooo yummy!

 

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As the sun set we prepared for the main attraction to winter in Harbin – The Grand World of Ice and Snow Sculptures.  The ice buildings are nice during the day but at night they are lit up by LEDs which change color and make the ice sparkle.  Many of the ice buildings had stairs to go up (and down if you wanted to) but ice slides to take the fast route down.  Everything was made of ice.  There was no support structure that I could see.  Just the sparkling ice.

There were extra rides here too but you would have to stand in line for over half an hour and the temperature was hovering around -10F so we opted to keep moving.  As a travel tip I would recommend anyone who goes to Harbin go to the ice show once during the day to do the rides when it is less crowded and then, after warming up, go again at night to enjoy the lights.  This ice city largely defys description so enjoy the pictures.

We thawed out over bowls of hot noodle soup and crawled into bed under warm down comforters.

Sunday we explored the local market and tried some of the local foods.  The market was especially hopping since the Chinese new year is coming up and everyone is out shopping for the foods they will need for the holiday.  Our guide was very patient and  explained many of the mysterious foods.  I felt like Anthony Bordain in ‘No Reservations”.  After eating our way through the market and picking up a few things to take back to Shanghai we headed to the Tiger breeding park.  This park was billed as a place where they breed siberian tigers to release back into the wild.  I don’t know what their success rate is but the park, sectioned into several large areas with fences and gates not dissimilar to Jurassic Park, seemed bleak.  Maybe it was the lack of snow (there had only been one snowfall in Harbin this year) or maybe it was the lack of educational material (in Chinese or English) but either way I am not convinced of the benefits of this park.  I would say it is not worth the time.  Spend your time and money at the other parks going on rides or in the great restaurants in town.

The pictures really tell the tale for this trip. I am sorry WP has limited my ability to a video I made unless I upgrade (read spend more money).  But I think you get the idea from these pictures.  If you get the chance I would VERY highly recommend a visit to an ice festival.  There are many around the world.

Chinese cooking class

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Many of you have jokingly asked “in China when you order take out, do they just call it food?”  LOL.  Well the other day I not only got to taste some authentic food, but learned how to make it too!  It is incredibly easy (as long as you have the master chef looking over your shoulder and helping you every time you screw up!).  This was reinforced when I went home and tried to make my own version which tasted good but looked nothing like the real thing.

So here is a little photo journal of my class learning how to make Xiao Long Bao.  – said “sh + ow(like ow that hurt!) long bow” (like bow and arrow).  They are basically fancy steamed dumplings with ground pork, some veg and soup inside.  They are very typical of Shanghai and you can buy them everywhere on the street, like pretzels in NYC.

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The dough is very simple, made with flour and water.  I tried to substitute whole wheat flour when I made them at home.  Although they tasted good, the texture was definitely tougher and there was so much less stretch to the dough that the pleating around the top was impossible to do, so we made them look more like ravioli folded over.  Hey, it all ends up in the same place, right?  So, my gluten free friends, keep this in mind if you give it a try with rice flour.

Here is the official recipe if you are feeling brave:

Ingredients:

80 grams white flour

40cc cold water

100g minced meat

2g salt

2g sugar

2g white pepper

4g rice wine

4g light soy sauce

4g green onion

4g minced fresh ginger

a dash of sesame oil

70g pork jelly (recipe to follow)

1.  Put the flour in a mound on a board or the counter (having a scraper handy is a good idea) and make a well in the center that extends down to the board or counter.  Then take your finger and make a moat around the well so you finish with two rings of flour.

2. Pour the water in the middle well and use your fingers to blend the flour and water.  Use the scraper as necessary to collect all the bits.  The dough should be moist but not sticky.  Knead it for 5 minutes, folding and pressing with the heel of your hand.  roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and set aside for 10 minutes.

3. Season the minced pork.  In a mixing bowl add pork jelly and all other seasonings and mix well. Set aside.

4.  Roll the dough out into an elongated rectangle with a rolling pin.  Using your hands roll this up like a jelly roll.  Then roll the jelly roll out like a snake.  Stop when your ‘snake’ is about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter.  Using your scraper or a knife cut the snake into 1 to 1.5 inch lengths. Set aside and cover with plastic wrap or cloth.

5.  Take one section of your dough and flatten it out into a circle with the heel of your hand. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough towards the center but DO NOT go across the center.  You want the dough to stay thicker in the middle.  In the end you should have a circle of dough that fits roughly in the palm of your hand.  It should be fairly thin except for the middle which should have a thicker area about the size of a dime.

6.  Putting the circle of dough in your non-dominant hand, take a small teaspoon of filling and place over thicker area of dough.  Place the thumb of the non-dominant hand over the filling.  You will use this to tamp down the filling and to help stretch the dough over the top as you work your way around.  With your dominant hand start accordion folding the dough, pinching it firmly together, and work your way around.  Near the end you will have to remove your thumb and crimp the top closed.

7.  Place in a steamer over boiling water for 10 minutes.

8. Serve with soy sauce or vinegar. (a dark salty vinegar is traditional).

I made some this way and made a veggie filling with the same seasonings but substituted a variety of minced, sautéed mushrooms for the meat.  It was very yummy and worked well.

So the Pork Jelly part….I know you are all wondering…..  It’s basically the stuff that you have in the pan after you make a pork roast, or the stuff that jells on the top of soup when you chill it and then re-liquifies when you heat the soup up.  But here is the teacher’s recipe:

1. start with pork skin – meat and fat removed.

2. in a wok (or any other pot) add pork skin, water, green onion, ginger, rice wine.  bring to a boil on high heat.  Once it is boiling reduce the heat to a rolling simmer until the skin is soft.

3. keep cooking the liquid but remove the skin and chop it up well.  Then add the skin back to the liquid.

4. When the liquid becomes sticky it is ready.  Turn the heat off, let it cool. Then chill it and it will jell.  Use this in your dumplings.

When the jell reheats as you cook the dumpling it becomes soup inside.  It’s like a little yummy magic.  Just be careful because the soup part is really hot when they are just out of the steamer!

Let me know if you try it and how they come out.  I would love to see some pictures too!

Food Shopping

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A funny description of the product...not that any of us are middle aged or elderly :

 

There are a variety of grocery stores in my area of Shanghai.  BLT ( it stands for Better Life Today)  is quite nice and reminds me of Adam’s Fairacre Farms.  They are spotlessly clean and bright.  They have attentive employees, have a decent selection of western foods.  But the food there costs an arm and a leg. It will be a great choice for those times I am completely homesick.

the other end are the warehouse stores which are soooo much more warehouse than BJ’s or COSCO.  I almost got run over by forklifts several times and I really don’t need 35lb of rice at once anyway, so I probably won’t frequent this store either.

In the middle is the Carrefour.  This is a French based company that has grocery stores all over Asia.  Often they seem to be attached to a mall.  They are huge and remind me of Walmart.

Anyone who knows me well knows Walmart and I are not close friends.  I go into complete sensory overload in a store like that. But this is where I will be spending most of my grocery shopping time and dollars as it has a huge selection and reasonable prices.

The other day a new friend told me she had had a breakdown at carrefour and just started crying.  At the time I nodded politely, now I understand so much better…..

Like Walmart, the Carrefour has an electronics section (this is where we bought our cell phones- which is an adventure I still have to tell you about!), a housewares section, a small appliance section, clothing, bedding, jewelry……Then you get to the food, and this is where any resemblance to a western grocery goes out the window.  The packaged food section is HUGE but I cannot read any labels.  Is it instant soup? is it a seasoning? is it something you add to a recipe?  Luckily, having visited my sister in Japan previously, I do recognize a few things, and Ramen is universal – although they seem to have about 35 flavors of Ramen here.

In the middle of the store are the cold cases with dairy and the freezer section.  An important piece of shopping information, if you ever find your self  getting groceries in China , is that in the stores there is generally no or minimal air conditioning. And the term “cold case” should be used loosely.  The butter was so warm it was soft right when I picked it up.

After hours of looking and thinking about not just what I wanted but where the hell is it in the store? What is it? If I can’t find what I want, what can I substitute? I finally had a reasonably full basket with enough food to put together at least two dinners plus some staples. I had found some beautiful apples and oranges, lettuce, garlic, potatoes, grapes, carrots in the produce section.  I was feeling mighty proud of myself.

Then I went to check out……..

It turns out that the cashier not only does not have a scale, but has no interest in instructing you on how to go get things weighed.  So if it is not already marked with a barcoded price, it gets abruptly set aside and I was not allowed to buy it.  This meant no fruit and the only veggie I got was a hydroponic lettuce in a plastic container.  I could feel the tears welling up.  All my freakin’ time and effort spent trying to piece together healthy identifiable food, didn’t the cashier have any mercy for me????  apparently not.

There are fruit vendors on every corner so the fruit was a sad moment, but the veggies broke my heart.  I thought about taking the things I was allowed to buy out to the car and coming back in to reclaim my produce but the butter was about to turn into a puddle and I knew it wouldn’t survive even 5 minutes outside in the heat. (western butter is a luxury item not to be wasted).  So I bagged all my groceries and carefully balanced the butter on top of the eggs so it would not get squished, and said good bye to my produce piled so forlornly to one side.

I plan to go back later this week just to try to figure out produce.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time my shopping did give me a great idea for a blog entry category.  I will post a picture and you all have to guess what it is.  Then after 3 or 4 weeks you all can pick one of the items and I will try it and let you know how it is. Please don’t be cruel!

Enjoy the pictures from this weeks shopping adventure!