Huānyíng lái dào zhōngguó
Smashed Cucumber Salad - Pāi huángguā
I usually don't post the salads I eat because I try to dispel that “Vegans Only Eat Salad” stereotype, but dammit I like a good salad! There’s so much more to salad than romaine lettuce and those damn carrots shreds that fall to the bottom of the bowl. Insert the spicy cucumber salad, Pāi huángguā, pronounced “Pie-wong-gwa”. Cucumbers were introduced to China during the Han Dynasty, around 100 B.C. It's so easy to make- just combine some chili oil, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, black rice vinegar, Sichuan peppercorn oil, and a little sugar to dress the cucumbers in. The key is to smash the cucumbers when you slice them, that way they absorb ALL of the flavors. You can have this with any meal, or just whip it up when you don’t feel like cooking for real, and are tired of giving DoorDash & UberEats all your money.
Chinese Scallion Pancakes - Cōng yóubǐng
Cong You Bing, pronounced “Song Yo Bing”, aka Scallion Pancakes goes way back. Some folks say the dish originated in Shanghai, and is inspired by Paratha, Indian flatbread. It has 4 ingredients- oil, water, flour, and scallions aka green onions. It’s hella simple, and can be eaten with some soy sauce based dipping sauce or with something savory like soup. There’s a myth that Marco Polo missed the scallion pancake so much after rolling through China that he tried to imitate it in Italy and actually created what we now know as the pizza! Thanks China.
A Brief History of Rice - Báifàn
I hate eating plain rice- white, brown, black, etc. no matter the gravy, sauce + topping combo put on top. T.M.I, but it triggers my gag reflex, save for a coconut rice with a fire green curry 1-2 times a year. But rice is a staple in the Chinese diet; sooo many entrees are paired with rice to soak up the sauce and oil. Imagine having something hella saucy like Mapo Tofu, steamed eggplant and garlic sauce, or even Kung Pao chik’n with fried rice. It's just too aggressive lol, that's way too many flavors going on for one meal. I tried to adhere to the culture and do the rice thing, but after 2 days I tapped out, faded into the bushes, so as a compromise I’ll give you guys a brief history of rice cultivation in China. Rice is cultivated mostly in the eastern and southern regions of China because the climate is tropical-humid, warm, and plenty rain.
There’s evidence that the first rice deposits were found in Shangshan (east China), which told archaeologists that the people in that area started cultivating and gathering rice about 10,000 years ago, but it was very different from the rice we know today. The earliest rice grains found in this region of China were short and thin, basically seed-like, but constant gardening and influence from migrants over the years finally got the rice to the robust quality and variety that we know today. ChinaSage says that, “in the Zhou dynasty only the rich could afford to eat rice but by the Han dynasty it had become a staple food for everybody. Rice is easy to store and cook, and if combined with soybeans provides basic nutrition.” Rice is also hella versatile- as the Chinese have mastered making drinking and cooking wines from rice, rice flour, rice based desserts (Rice pudding, Rice Cake), etc. Personally I added Shaoxing Wine to my sauce shelf for this China Trek. Shoaxing wine is a rice wine that's made from fermented rice, water, and wheat; pro tip, it's the secret ingredient the restaurants use.
Char Siu Ribs - Chāshāo Páigǔ
Char Siu, pronounced ‘Char -Shou”, like “ou” as in Ouch! Char siu literally translates to “fork-roasted”, referring to the way it was prepared back in the day, roasted on an elongated fork, over open fire, but it's literally barbecued (boneless) pork. It can be served as an appetizer, entree, but the most popular way is in bao buns. The dish originated from the Canton region of China, the province of Guangdong, in southern China. Ancient cave markings in Beijing point to Barbecue aka roasting meats on controlled fires to 460,000 years ago. I know the tailgates was LIT back in the day. It's rumored that the first seasonings used for Cantonese barbecue were imported by Arabian and Indian traders. Back in the day any animal would do, but pork was always a fave, HOWEVER these ribs were made with extra firm tofu. Man don’t ever let a hater tell you that tofu is nasty; they just not cooking it right. The key to making any bomb tofu dish is to: One, dentify the right texture of tofu you need, i.e. to mimic animal flesh, you need an extra firm tofu, for scrambled eggs or a fish (still meat), you’d want a firm tofu, and for an omelet or sauce, you need a silken tofu. Second, because tofu is full of water, you need to press the water out, but taking it out of the pack and either enclosing it between two plates and sitting some heavy objects on top of it for at least 20 minutes, OR you can buy a tofu press for $20 on Amazon. Once you drain the water out, tofu will absorb any seasoning or marinade you put on it. Now if you can’t season food, that's a different problem, but don’t blame it on the veggies. The fiery red color comes from food coloring, and the rest is sesame oil, soy sauce, molasses, garlic, chili oil, and the all star of the dish is [Chinese] 5-Spice seasoning: star anise (originated in southern China), fennel seeds, cloves, szechuan peppercorn, & cinnamon.
Peking Duck - Běijīng Kǎoyā
Part of cooking is trial and error. I be posting about these wins, so its only fair that I post about these L’s too. This block was supposed to be Peking Duck- translation Běijīng kǎoyā, pronounced “Bae-jing Cow-ya”, HOWEVER I had an ingredient fail, but before we get to that, here’s a brief history of Peking Duck. National Geographic says that, “The dish is said to have originated during the 13th century in Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. Roast duck was one of the cooked foods sold door-to-door by street vendors, and it became a speciality of nearby Nanjing, the first capital of the Ming dynasty. Allegedly, it was only after 1420, when the Yongle emperor moved his capital to Beijing, that roast duck found its way to the city.” Peking Duck has a glossy skin and is wrapped in thinly sliced vegetables, and fried crisp in a savory sauce. To mimic this I used ginger, bamboo shoots, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms for the filling and for the grand finale, tofu skin for the duck. Everything was going well until I grabbed the tofu skin that I had ordered off Amazon cause they don’t just have this lying around at Walmart or Tom Thumb (Shoutout to Dallas), and yall that sh*t was plastic, I tried to open it all the way and it cracked. It looked nothing like in the picture, which was like a sheet of dough. I got so mad I threw the whole pack in the TRASH. I didn’t even bother to translate the instructions, which were all in Chinese, cause I just KNEW that Amazon ripped me off. I had a chat with my Good Sis Tonya, and brought it up when she asked how the China “trip” was going, and she was like “GIRL, you gotta soak it in water first, like how you do noodles!” Oops lol, the more you know. Lesson Learned, translate Google, or phone a friend first before calling an audible. Don’t let the devil win. Here’s a picture of what the duck WOULD HAVE looked like. I’m gonna order more tofu skin and report back! I’m not about to get defeated by soybeans.
Eggplant with Garlic Sauce - Yú xiāng qiézi
Yú xiāng qiézi, pronounced “Yu shiong shi-aye-tzu”, translates to “fish flavored eggplant”. Traditionally there’s no fish presence in the dish, it's named because the, but it's named that because this dish uses the ingredients and sauces that are often used to cook fish- which as a baseline typically involve sugar, vinegar, spicy bean sauce, and soy sauce. Check with your local restaurant on those ingredients though because some folks like to do the extras and add oyster sauce. Just leave well enough alone!! Anyway this meal is super easy to make at home too! Second to tofu (soybeans), eggplant gotta be my top tier fave plant to eat. Its hella versatile and can be served as a side dish or a meat substitute. Eggplants actually originated in India, and were introduced and grown in China during the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-316) . Also I was TODAY years old when I found out that eggplant is a berry. Am I the only one who didn’t know this? It's classified as a berry because it's grown from a single flower and has small edible seeds. You learn new things everyday.
Mapo Tofu - MáPó Dòufu
Mapo Tofu, pronounced “Ma-Po Dow-Fu”, originated in Sichuan Province (home of the Sichuan Peppercorn), where spicy food is THAT GIRL. Ma Po comes from 2 words, Ma which is short for mázi, which means pockmarks and Pó which is short for pópo, meaning old woman or grandma, and Dòufu means tofu. So why is anyone eating a meal called “Pockmarked Grandma’s Tofu”? Well back in 1862 during the Qing Dynasty, poor oil porters would bring their own oil, pork, and tofu and ask Mrs. Chen, co-owner of the Chen Xingsheng Restaurant, to cook for them. And Just like somebody’s mama Mrs. Chen made do with what she was given, and added a few of her own herbs and seasonings for a lil razzle dazzle and the recipe blew up all over town. They literally could’ve just named it “Mrs. Chen’s Tofu” lol, RUDE. However you can have it vegan by removing the pork, or swapping the pork out with Beyond, Impossible, or Field Roast Pork. You can have this dish with rice and you’ll definitely want to have some ice water nearby because this dish ain't for the weak, but it's sooooo good.
Chik’n Fried Rice - Jīròu chǎofàn
You ever be at a [*Insert Ethnicity Here*] Restaurant and think, “Do they really eat this over there, or are we getting the Faux Locs version?”? This thought would tap dance through my mind every time I pulled up at the Golden Wok on West Blvd (IYKYK, pour some soy sauce out for the homies). So while I was throwing all the white and brown rice that I ordered away (refer to previous post), my friend Jarred says, “Why are you throwing that rice away when you could use it to make fried rice??” And I really did not know if fried rice was authentic, traditional Chinese food, or not, since everybody thinks Americans just get drunk off of fried foods all day. Well after a quick Google search, it turns out that it is! Fried rice dates all the way back to the ~6th Century, during the Sui Dynasty in Yangzhou City. The technique was created to use up leftovers cause money don’t grow on trees. Folks back in the day took rice, veggies, and small amounts of meat that were a few days past their prime and whipped it up before they went bad, so they didn’t let food go to waste. Now we go to restaurants and pay for leftovers…WILD. 2-3 day old rice is perfect for fried rice, 1 day old as well, but if you try using fresh cooked rice it will definitely come out mushy. For the “chik’n” I used tofu, as for the eggs which are true to traditional fried rice; you can use “Just Egg” or a firm, silken tofu. Personally I’ve never eaten eggs, even before I was vegan, so I’m used to fried rice without eggs lol. When searching for an authentic recipe, avoid any recipes that include rice wine vinegar unless you like tangy, sour flavors- like you’re one of those people who puts sour cream in guac…or you go to sleep with your fists balled up cause you’re an agent of chaos.
Scallion Oil Noodles - Cōng Yóu Miàn
Some nature journals refer to northwest China as the birthplace of the noodle! They found some noodle deposits there that are over 4000 years old. Noodles became a popular staple in the North since rice does not grow well there as opposed to Southern China. Fast forward to modern inventions like shipping, now everybody can bask in noods. Scallion oil noodles aka Spring Onion oil noodles originated in Shanghai. Man I wish I knew this on that irresponsible, long ass layover I had there because I would’ve made that the first dish I tried knowing what I know now. I hate onions, but something about that green onion hits different. Scallion oil noodles are as simple as they look, but the flavor is bussing and feels like a warm hug on the inside. This is a perfect rainy day meal, or “I feel like cooking, but not really” meal. The key is to cut the scallions into thin strips, and DO NOT skip the dark soy sauce. I’ve made this meal twice and the dark soy sauce is not the same as light, but darker lol, dark soy sauce has a sweet taste, and blends with the flavor profile so well here! I used rice noodles because that's what I had on hand, but traditionally it's made with thin, wheat noodles. so all in all this meal takes like $20 and 12 minutes to make, so try it and report back!