keito potato

Traditional Tofu-Making Experience in Debao, Guangxi
August 16, 2013, 2:42 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China | Tags: , ,

This summer I spent 3 weeks in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces visiting some of my students.   One of the places I visited was Debao County, a remote mountainous region in Guangxi near the Vietnamese border.  While in Debao County, my student took me to Du’an Village for the day to learn the traditional method for making tofu.

Du'an landscape

Debao County is known for excellent homemade tofu.  Debao people regard mass-produced tofu (what the rest of us eat) as “fake tofu.”  Only homemade tofu is considered “real tofu” and most people only eat tofu that was freshly made that morning.  The tofu-masters get up before dawn to make a batch at home.  Then after dawn they take the fresh tofu to the market to sell.  Before this trip, my student waxed poetically about the tofu from this area, claiming it’s the most delicious in China.  He couldn’t contain his excitement about introducing me to a “tofu master” so that I could learn the old method.

When I arrived in Debao, I was promptly served a meal that included fresh tofu and I swooned.  Their homemade tofu has a wonderful rich fermented flavor, like a good beer or German bread.  It is usually served in simple ways, often pan-fried plain or with garlic.  This fresh tofu has a deep flavor on its own, and doesn’t need a complex sauce to find flavor.


My student introduced me to a woman in her 80s who taught us the traditional method for making tofu.  You can make tofu at home using a blender, however the traditional method creates a richer flavor and better texture.  A big stone grinding wheel is required.  Most homes in these villages have a stone grinding wheel to grind dried corn.  We started that morning by grinding the raw soybeans to lightly crush the beans and take the peeling off the soybeans.  The wheel is incredibly heavy and difficult to turn.

stone grinder

stone grinder

We were told that in the modern tofu-making process, the skins are removed from the soybeans after cooking, or not removed at all, which makes a poor product.  Removing the skins before cooking the beans creates a more even texture.

stone grinder

After the raw soybeans are crushed, the skins are shaken off.  They used a wide, flat basket to shake the skins onto the cement floor.

shaking the peels off

Next the soybeans are soaked in cold water for 30 minutes to soften slightly.  Then the soybeans are ground a second time on the stone grinder.

After the second grinding, the soybeans are cooked in water over an extremely low fire.  A wood fire is preferred.  They use a special kind of wood that perfumes the tofu with extra flavor.

cooking the soybeans

Once the soybeans have come to a rolling boil, a little cold soaking liquid is added to cool the mixture down slightly.  Then a fermenting ash is added.  This fermenting ash is a by-product from the previous batch of homemade tofu.  Once the ash is added, the liquid will start to curdle.  I tasted a little at this stage, and it was delicious.

Then the mixture is poured into a wooden frame that has holes in the bottom for draining.  The frame is lined on the inside with fabric, which creates a pretty pattern on the finished tofu.

wooden frame

wooden frame


After all of the mixture is poured into the frame, and is wrapped gently in fabric, we pressed the wooden lid firmly to help squeeze excess liquid out.

pressing the wooden lid

The tofu only takes a few minutes to set into a firm rectangular shape.  Once it has set, the sides of the frame are removed (like a springform pan).

removable frame sides

Then the lid is removed and the tofu is cut into rectangles.  We used a measuring tape to create lines to guide the knife.

cutting the tofu

The fresh tofu was promptly fried up for lunch.  It had a rustic presentation, but was more delicious than words can describe.  I greedlily ate more than my fair share on that plate.  I was so proud that I helped make this tofu!

fresh tofu

That day while we were making tofu, the orchestra of that village came over to play a concert for me.  The orchestra of Du’an village is the premiere orchestra for Zhuang Opera, which is the Zhuang Minority style of Chinese Opera.  The top orchestra has always come from this village, and they were proud to play a private concert for me to welcome me to their village. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  The musicians are all farmers, and learned by watching their elders.  None of them read sheet music.  They apologized for not wearing traditional concert attire.  Here’s one of the videos that my students recorded.

In the 1950s, the Zhuang Opera orchestra from this village (which would have the elders of the current members), travelled to Beijing to perform for Mao Zedong and Zhoul Enlai.  They played one song for me from the concert for Mao.  It’s a song celebrating farm life, and the instruments are used create the sounds of birds in the early morning.

Making Bamboo Rice in Debao, Guangxi
August 7, 2013, 5:50 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: , ,

This summer I spent 3 weeks in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces visiting some of my students.   One of the places I visited in Guangxi was Debao County, a remote mountainous region near the Vietnamese border.

Debao landscape

While in Debao, one of my student’s friends wanted to teach me how to make bamboo rice, which is the method of cooking sticky rice in bamboo poles over an outdoor fire.  Because it is a slow process, this is normally something that children in Debao do for fun.  Adults generally don’t have the time or patience for it.  I guess in this region children learn how to use machetes at a young age.  Making rice in bamboo poles takes time, but the finished steamed rice is incredibly fragrant from being cooked inside the bamboo.  I’m outlining the process for you in case you want to make this at home (and have a machete).

eating bamboo rice


Start by using a machete to chop down some bamboo.  Use strong, dark green poles of bamboo.  Wash it well.  We washed ours in the stream.

washing bamboo in the stream

You will steam the rice in hollow sections of the bamboo.  The sections are marked by the horizontal lines on the outside of the bamboo.  Use a knife to cut a hole in one of the horizontal dividing walls inside the bamboo.  The hole should be a little less than an inch in diameter.

bamboo rice

In a large bowl, combine raw sticky rice with room temperature water, and add a little salt.  My friends didn’t measure any of this.  Use a soup spoon to scoop rice into the bamboo.  Then use a chopstick to push the rice around until it goes through the hole.  If you get ahead of yourself and put several spoonfuls of rice over the hole before pushing it through, it will be harder to push through.  Just be patient and use a spoonful or two at a time.  You might want to have one person spoon the rice and another person using a chopstick to push the rice through the hole.

sticky rice

When you think the rice has filled the section of the bamboo to the halfway point (you can use a chopstick as a dipstick to measure the level of the rice), then stop adding rice, and pour water into the hole to fill the section of bamboo with water.  To close the hole, shove a big carrot into the hole to seal it.  When it’s finished cooking, the roasted carrot is edible.


Repeat this process with as many bamboo poles as you are using.

Make a fire outside using wood, and ideally include bamboo branches and leaves for fuel.  Place the bamboo poles on the fire, only 2 at a time.  Roast over the fire until it is cooked.  My friends did not set a specific time for roasting.  One benefit of cooking bamboo rice is that the rice won’t burn inside the bamboo, as it might in a metal pot.  The bamboo walls will keep the rice moist.  The bamboo pole will char a bit, which is fine.  However if the bamboo gets hot enough after charring to actually catch on fire, then pull it away from the fire.  You don’t want the bamboo rice cooking longer than that.

cooking bamboo rice

cooking bamboo rice

Pull out the roasted carrot with tongs.

finished bamboo rice


Use a machete or large knife to cut open the bamboo, lengthwise.


Scoop out the sticky rice, or eat it straight out of the bamboo as a bowl.

bamboo rice

bamboo rice

Juan Tong Fen — Rice Rolls in Debao, Guangxi Province
August 6, 2013, 8:25 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China | Tags: , , ,

Karst mountains around Debao

This summer I spent 3 weeks in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces visiting my students’ homes.  It was a sort of learning tour for myself to learn about my students’ lives.   I spent a week in Debao county, Guangxi province, which is a remote mountainous region near the Vietnamese border.  The mountains are the same kind of vertical karst mountains that are so famous in Guilin, but tourists don’t visit Debao because the region is so remote.  The first roads in the area were built 20 years ago, and in some villages only 10 years ago.

Debao landscape

Debao county also isn’t on the tourist path because it doesn’t have any special lovely traditional architecture to lure tourists.  It’s a Zhuang minority area, but people don’t wear traditional clothes anymore.  Guidebooks dismissively say that the Zhuang have assimilated into the mainstream Han Chinese culture, but after spending a week there living with a family, I can say there are some special aspects to life there.  Some distinctions include the local language of Debao county, which has some similarities with Thai, and it’s the only place in China where the work animal is the pony!  The cuisine is also special, with a few Vietnamese influences.

Juan tong fen

One of the Vietnamese culinary influences is found in the rice rolls, called juan tong fen in Mandarin.  Juan is the verb for rolling things.  Tong is the noun for a rolled object, and fen is for rice flour.  These rice rolls are a common street breakfast in Debao.

juan tong fen stall

pouring rice batter

The stall we visited made the rice sheets fresh to order, which made the rice rolls warm, soft, and slightly thicker than the Vietnamese rolls I’ve had before.  They were slightly reminiscent of crepes.  The process starts with a bowl of batter for the sheets, which consists of rice flour dissolved in water.  She uses a ladle to spread a thin layer of batter on a piece of cloth that is stretched over a steamer.  Then it is covered with a lid to steam for about 20 seconds.


After the rice sheet has steamed, it is removed with wooden sticks.

fresh rice paper

There are a variety of fillings, and customers order a combination of 2-4 fillings.  Many of the fillings are preserved items, so the juan tong fen has a mild sour edge.  Some of the fillings were chopped green beans, preserved bamboo shoots, soy bean sprouts, sour pickled vegetables, and some meat, all chopped fine.

adding fillings

Then the juan tong fen is quickly rolled up.  Because the rice paper is fresh, it is thicker than store-bought rice paper, and it is soft and warm, quite comforting for a breakfast food.

rolling the juan tong fen

juan tong fen

Many people drizzle a little soy sauce on top.

drizzling soy sauce

This little boy was waiting patiently for his breakfast juantongfen.

waiting boy

Making Mushroom-Ginger Jiaozi with Chinese Seminary Students
January 17, 2013, 2:01 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: ,

I recently had two jiaozi-making parties with my students at the seminary here in Nanjing.  The first party was on Christmas Day with a group of master’s students, and two weeks later I had another jiaozi-making extravaganza with a group of undergrads.  Back home in California, I’d made jiaozi numerous times, but I had always used packages of pre-made dumpling wrappers from the grocery.  When I told my students here that I made jiaozi with store-bought wrappers, they were stunned.  They always make the dough from scratch, rolling-out each jiaozi wrapper with a special slender rolling pin.  I told them I was ready to learn how to make them the real way.

jiaozi party with students

At our gatherings, the favorite filling was the mushrooms-ginger one.  It’s a filling that my family has been making for years, picked up from an old Ming Tsai episode on TV (way back in the 90s, I believe).  My students and I experimented with several vegetarian fillings at both parties, but Ming Tsai’s mushroom-ginger filling was the clear winner.  If you are making vegetarian jiaozi, there are so many options in front of you.  Greens, garlic, tofu, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, or anything else you dream of.  You could actually choose your favorite Chinese stir-fried dish, chop it fine, and stuff it into your jiaozi.  This particular mushroom filling has a nice punch of ginger balanced by the mellow sesame oil.  The chopped black mushrooms, chopped cellophane noodles, and scrambled eggs all work to hold everything together (the way pork would hold a non-vegetarian filling together).

mushroom-ginger filling

At both jiaozi-parties I was more involved in making the filling, and I missed the process of actually making the dough.  Good thing I already have another jiaozi-making party scheduled right after Chinese New Year, when all of the students come back to Nanjing after the holiday.  I learned how to roll out the dough and shape the jiaozi, but next time I’ll learn how to actually combine the proper proportions of flour and water to make the dough.

dough for jiaozi wrappers

In Northern China, folks eat and make jiaozi more often than in Southern China.  My students come from all over China, and my northern students are the ones who are more confident in making jiaozi.  They were the ones taking charge to mix the dough, and the ones giving me detailed tutorials about making the wrappers.  A student from Dalian repeatedly stopped me to give me more precise instructions on using the rolling pin, so my technique kept improving.  My wrappers started to look pretty good and round, but she is much, much faster.  Good thing I’m open for more jiaozi-parties, and more chances at improvement!

rolling out dough to make jiaozi wrappers

If you can find a slender rolling pin, that will work better than a standard hefty Western rolling pin.  The rolling pins here in China are only about 1-inch in diameter.

Here’s what I can tell you about rolling out the dough to make the wrappers.  Start by pinching off sections of dough that are about 1-2 tablespoons in size.  Roll each one into a ball, and then use the palms of your hands to flatten each one into a semi-flat disc, similar to a UFO shape.  Then with plenty of dough on your work surface, hold the top third of the dough-disc in your left hand, while rolling the bottom of the disc with the rolling pin under the bottom of your right palm.  Roll from the bottom of the circle into the center of the circle, and then back out to the bottom.  Then use your left hand to rotate the circle.  You’ll keep rotating and working your way all around the circle, like a clock.  When you push the rolling pin from the bottom of the circle in, start with more pressure, and the decrease the pressure as you approach the center of the circle.  Use even less pressure as you take the rolling pin from the center back out to the bottom of the circle.  This will keep the periphery of the circle thinner, and the center of the circle thicker.  This way, the dough will be thick enough in the middle to protect the filling while boiling, and it will be thinner on the edges because that is where you’ll be crimping dough together.

making jiaozi wrappers

We all worked to make the jiaozi around my little round coffee table in my living room.  Looking around at the girls, I noticed that they were all making dumplings in different shapes.  I asked them about it, and they explained that there are regional differences in dumpling shapes, and they were all from different provinces in China.

various jiaozi shapes

I admired the shape from Ningxia province, and practiced making that shape.  The Ningxia dumplings sit upright, with a seam that curves across the top.  To make the Ningxia shape, after you put a little filling in the center of the circle, bring the top and bottom of the circle together.  When you bring the top and bottom together, the sides will still be open on either side.  Bring the center of each side opening up to the top, which will give you 4 diagonal openings, 2 on each side.  Mash or crimp the 2 back pleats flat into the top seam.  The long seam will now still be open at the front edges, so close the open seam, as you crimp it forward.  The seam will curve forward now.  You’re then supposed to squeeze the dumpling gently to reinforce the shape.  This process is a bit hard to explain, but the result is a dumpling with a curved seam along the top, instead of a flat Cornish-pastie-shape.  The girl from Wenzhou made ones that were more football-shaped, with fluted patterns on the top that she delicately scratched with her fingernails.

homemade jiaozi

jiaozi party


A single batch of this filling will make about 2.5 cups.  So depending on the size of your party, you might want to double or triple this recipe.

1 cup dried black mushrooms

1 cup cellophane noodles

2 tablespoons ginger, chopped

1  1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1/2 cup garlic chives or green onions

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg


Soak the dried black mushrooms in a bowl of hot water.  Likewise, soak the cellophane noodles in another bowl of hot water.  When they are soft, you can drain them and chop them both fine.  In the meantime while they are soaking, chop the garlic, ginger, and green onions.  Combine them in a mixing bowl.  Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt.  Scramble the egg in a way to create a crumbled texture, or alternatively, chop it after scrambling.  Add the scrambled egg to the mixing bowl.  When the cellophane noodles and dried mushrooms are soft, drain them and chop them fine.  Add them to the mixing bowl, and mix everything well.

Noodles in my Nanjing Neighborhood
January 16, 2013, 1:30 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China | Tags: ,

I live in Nanjing now, where I teach at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.  I apologize for not being active on my blog since I moved here in August.  I’ve been eating well and cooking well, but I haven’t been writing about it.  I promise to do a better job of sharing my meals with you!

One thing I love about eating in Nanjing is the variety of noodle cafes in my neighborhood.  I live in the Jiangning university district, which means that many of the restaurants are cheaper because they cater to the thousands and thousands of students who live here.  There are several “Lanzhou Lamian” cafes in the neighborhood within walking distance.  They have similar menus, featuring hand-pulled noodles and hand-cut noodles.  Even though most of the families who manage these places are from Qinghai province near Xinjiang, the cafes are named for Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, which is famous for hand-pulled noodles. I briefly visited Lanzhou in 1998, and now regret that I wasn’t aware that I should have been eating noodles there!


When I want noodle soup, I often order hand-pulled noodles, which are about the thickness of linguine  but chewier and slightly irregular because of the pulling.  I frequent this Lanzhou Lamian cafe on Qiao Ge Lu, just across the street from the north gate of Jiangsu Maritime Institute.  This string of cafes all look scruffy on the outside, but they are clean on the inside.  The family who run this cafe is super-sweet, and their food is outstanding.  Many of my students also consider it the best noodle place in the neighborhood.

Lanzhou Lamian on Qiao Ge Lu

Lanzhou Lamian on Qiao Ge Lu

I usually order hand-pulled noodles in a clear broth with greens, and I often order it with a fried egg.  They fry the egg and serve it on a separate plate, so you can slide it onto the top of the soup.  The trace of grease on the fried egg deliciously dissolves into the broth.  I order this when I need something comforting.  I also eat this when I miss northern-European style soups, like my Grandma’s noodle soup or my great-grandma’s Danish dumpling soup.  It has similar flavors and textures.



Sometimes when I order noodle soup, I get hand-cut noodles instead.  Da shou (hand cut) noodles are made by holding a ball of firm dough over a pot of boiling water, and sort of whittling thick noodles from the dough, letting them fall straight into the hot water.  The resulting noodles are thick, and incredibly irregular in texture.  The chewiness is what Jonathan Gold refers to as “fettuccine on steroids.”  This bowl of hand-cut noodle soup has some leafy greens floating in the broth, with a fried egg on top.

hand-cut  noodle soup

This variation has some green chilies added to the broth.

eating noodles (3)

When I’m craving Italian food, I order “chao da shou mian.”  In this dish, the previously-mentioned hand-cut noodles are sauteed in a tomato sauce which is built on onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and sweet green peppers.  This sort of dish does not taste like typical Chinese food, and gives evidence to the Mediterranean influences of the ethnic minorities in Northwest China.  I’ve tried this dish at all of the noodle places in the neighborhood, and prefer it at the Lanzhou Lamian cafe on Longmiandadao, one block north of the NJCI metro station, because their sauce is more delicate and flavorful.

Lanzhou Lamian on Longmiandadao

Lanzhou Lamian on Longmiandadao

When the noodle guy at that particular cafe cuts his noodles, they are wider, almost reminiscent of wide Italian pappardelle noodles.


I’m so lucky to have a student from Wanzhou (Wanxian), Chongqing, which is where I lived from 2000-2002.  She does reconnaissance work to find good Sichuan and Chongqing cafes here in Nanjing.  This cafe is in the building connected to the Longmiandadao Metro Station.  It’s tiny, with cramped counter seating.  They make a limited number of special Sichuan noodle dishes.

Sichuan noodle cafe at the Longmiandadao Metro Station

Sichuan noodle cafe at the Longmiandadao Metro Station

This Sichuanese noodle cafe at the Longmiandadao Metro Station makes a wonderful version of suan la fen, (hot and sour noodles).  The fen noodles are made from sweet-potato starch, and are sort of clear-grey in color.  The soup is an intensely spicy lava of a broth, with a pleasant sour edge.  The soup is built on chili-soy paste and preserved vegetables.  The rich peanuts floating in the soup are a nice counter-balance to the spiciness.  These noodles are so spicy that I cough a little, but it’s worth it — they are so incredibly delicious.  I was just there for lunch today with students.

suanla fen

suanla fen

The Sichuan noodle cafe is also where I go for this lamian (or zanmian) dish, which is topped with peanuts, sour preserved vegetables, minced mushrooms, and green onions.  There is also a tiny sprinkling of lajiao (red chili) powder.  These noodles are simple, but deeply satisfying.



A Week of Eating in Chengdu
September 2, 2012, 7:11 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , , , ,

I just moved to Nanjing, China a week ago.  On my way here, I spent a week in Chengdu for a conference with Mennonite Partners in China.  I used to live in that area of China, so I am familiar with (and also smitten with) that spicy Sichuan cuisine.  Here are a few photos of the food I enjoyed in Chengdu!

I ate this spicy noodles for a breakfast during a few of my mornings there.  I wouldn’t want to eat this every morning, but it’s a fun breakfast for people who like spicy food.

While I ate the spicy noodles, a woman chopped chilies with a cleaver over at the next table.

Hot soymilk is common as a breakfast beverage all over China.  I picked this up most of my mornings in Chengdu.  It’s hot, nutritious, and restorative.  American soymilk has stabilizers so that it will look more like dairy milk.  This real soymilk is delicious, but I wouldn’t put it on cereal — it’s for drinking.

This stall had 2 blenders going at all times making the soymilk.

Peanuts were served as an appetizer.  Because it was Sichuan, they were covered in huajiao (numbing Sichuan peppercorns).  Love that combination.

Mapo doufu is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, and was invented in Chengdu.  As a vegetarian, it’s a top-favorite.  I love the “mala” flavor, which is the Sichuan flavor profile for the combination of the of the numbing huajiao (Sichuan peppercorns) mingling with the heat of the chilies.  I think I ate it five times during my week in Chengdu, but only took photos of it four times.

Jiachang doufu is homestyle-tofu.  The tofu is sliced and then panfried.  It’s removed from the pan, while you make a quick sauce with garlic, ginger, chilies, spicy bean paste, and green onions.  Once the sauce is going on the stove, you slide the fried tofu slices into the sauce, and they simmer a few minutes to absorb the rich flavors.  I love this dish.

Ganbian siji dou, dry-fried green beans.  One of the most famous Sichuan dishes.  I’m glad I can find good versions of this here in Nanjing.

Chao tudou si is the common Chinese dish of stirfried slivered potatoes.  It’s a great side dish.  This version includes a smattering of green chilies.

This potato dish is ganbian tudou si, which means the slivered potatoes have been dry-fried, in the way that you’d made the classic dry-fried green beans.  Flavor-wise, a “gan-bian” or dry-fried dish usually includes a strong presence of garlic, ginger, and chilies.  In Sichuan, they “gan-bian” a number of vegetables, including potatoes, lotus root, and doufu gan (tofu leather).  Today I heard from some students that in Shanxi province, they make ganbian noodles!

Here’s an extra-spicy version of the dry-fried potatoes.

Ganbian tudou pian.  This dish is the same as the one above, except that the potatoes are sliced instead of slivered.

Ganbian ou is dry-fried lotus root, cooked in the same dry-fried style as the green beans and the potatoes.  Even though I’m happy I can find good ganbian green beans outside of Sichuan, the ganbian lotus root is really hard to find.

It’s more common across China to find plain stir-fried lotus root like this.  Plain lotus root is still good.  I love the crunch of it.

Kongxin cai, also called morning glory or water spinach.  The Chinese name literally means “hollow heart vegetable” because the stems are hollow.  This is one of the most common vegetable side dishes in China, usually stirfried with a heavy hit of garlic.  In Sichuan they often also throw in a few chilies.

Yuxiang qiezi is so-called “fish-fragrant eggplant.”  It doesn’t smell like fish, but rather it’s prepared in the same method that is often used for serving fish: spicy and slightly sweet.

Tiger skin peppers (hupi qingjiao) is another distinctive Sichuan dish.  Green chilies are seared in a dry wok until their skins start to loosen and peel back.  Then soy sauce and black vinegar are added to the wok, and the dark liquid collects in the loosened skin, giving the illusion of tiger stripes.  It’s cute and spicy.

Tangcu baicai is sweet and sour cabbage.  Sweet-and-sour in Southeast China means there will be an orange glaze.  In Sichuan, sweet-and-sour means a little sugar, vinegar, garlic, and ginger.  I like the Sichuan version of sweet-and-sour better…

A simple egg fried rice, “dan chao fan.”

Fanqie jidan tang, egg and tomato soup.  Scrambled eggs are often mixed with tomatoes as a dish, but I usually prefer eggs and tomatoes combined in a soup like this.  Think of an egg flower soup, but with a savory tomato soup base instead of a clear soup.  In China, soup is usually eating at the end of the meal.

While in Chengdu, I ate at the Lanzhou lamian place a few times.  Lanzhou is in Northwestern China, where the cuisine is different, and influenced by Central Asian cuisines.  One of the things they’re famous for is the noodles.  These ones were as wide as Italian  paparadelle, and were hand cut right after I ordered.  Here the noodles are combined with hot and sour cabbage for a vegetarian meal.

The next time I went to Lanzhou lamian, I ordered the same kind of wide noodles, but this time with hot and sour potatoes.  It was a starch bomb, but so tasty.

These noodles are hand cut, but you don’t roll out the dough and slice them.  Rather, you hold the ball of cold dough in your hand, and then sort of whittle strands of noodles off the the ball of dough, using a sharp little knife.  I know a few places in LA that make this kind of noodle.  The noodles end up being irregular and chewy.  “Like fettuccini on steroids” as the food critic Jonathan Gold once put it.  Here they’re sauteed with a tomato and bell pepper sauce, with some scrambled egg thrown in.  As I mentioned before, Northwestern Chinese cuisine has some interesting influences outside of China, and this dish with the simmered tomatoes and peppers seams quite Mediterranean.

I actually didn’t have regular lamian at this place, the thin pulled noodles.  Here one of the guys is pulling the noodles by stretching the dough, doubling it over, then stretching it and hitting it on the table.  This is the difficult cooking skill that I really want to learn while living in China.  Actually tonight as I watched Chinese TV, a game show came on in which the contestants took turns trying to pull noodles.

These mango smoothies were wonderful.  They were topped with white tapioca, sweetened condensed milk, and some fresh cubes of mango.

Here are the smoothie toppings, including fresh fruit, but also things like white fungus and red beans.

This is the maze of cafes outside the school gate, the area where I ate many of my meals that week in Chengdu.  Let’s go back!

May 2012 Nanjing Trip
June 1, 2012, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , , , , ,

I will be moving to Nanjing, China in the fall to teach at the national seminary there.  I am thrilled because I previously lived in China a few years.  It’s fantastic to have an opportunity to move back to China, and with a very fitting job.  I just spent two weeks in Nanjing for job training at the seminary.  I learned about my new job, and also spent time getting to know students.  They are extremely friendly and welcoming, and I feel good about moving there.

Since this is a food blog, I’m sharing the food photos from the trip.

This little hole-in-the-wall dumpling place is open 24 hours a day.  Good thing to know about.  They have two kinds of vegetarian dumplings, and this plate includes both kinds, half-and-half.  They make the classic leek and egg dumplings, but my favorite was the carrot, mushroom, and egg ones.  A plate of twelve was about a dollar US.  And the lime green chopsticks are cheerful.

Di san xian literally means “the three fresh things” and it’s a classic dish in Northeastern China.  When I did a study abroad term in Dalian in 1998, I ate this dish quite frequently.  It’s a combination of potatoes, eggplant, and green peppers, all cut in roughly the same size and shape, and served in a garlicky brown sauce.  It’s seriously delicious.  I ate this at a restaurant quite close to the Nanjing seminary campus, so I’m happy to know I can walk over and order a plate any time I need it.

Ganbian sijidou, dry-fried green beans.  This is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, and this photo is of a great version at a restaurant near the seminary in Nanjing.  You can see it has plenty of whole hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorns) on top.  I don’t know how to say “addicted” in Mandarin, but I got addicted to the numbing sensation of hua jiao when I lived in Sichuan.

Cabbage stir-fried with chilies, garlic, and ginger.  This is fresh and savory.  I absolutely love simple Chinese stir-fried cabbage — I personally think it’s so much more delicious and interested than American raw cabbage coleslaws.  At home I usually stir-fry cabbage with garlic, ginger, and sherry or white wine.  That reminds me — I should post that recipe for you soon!

Morning glory is a classic in China, stir-fried with garlic.  It’s called “kong xin cai,” literally “hollow-heart vegetable” because the stems are hollow.  It’s a tasty and common side dish.

Homestyle tofu is usually sliced thin, fried until crispy on the edges, and then braised in a spicy sauce.  I ordered homestyle tofu with a friend who can’t eat spicy food, so they put together this mild version with black fungus.

Love hot and sour stir-fried potatoes.  Usually they are tossed with lots of chilies and some vinegar, but this version has chile oil instead.  Tasty and bright red.

Some students took me and another teacher out for lunch, and this watermelon drizzled with cream was the appetizer.

Preserved eggs.  This dish is a bit scary for many foreigners, but it’s mild, a few bites are not bad.

Lotus root stuffed with sticky rice.

“Songren yumi,” corn with pine nuts, is a classic combination in China.  In my experience dish usually also includes green chilies.  Thinking about the pairing of jalapenos in savory cornbread, it seems that corn and chilies are a perfect pairing that separate world cuisines discovered.

These tofu noodles are almost like tofu skin, but a little thicker.  They’re paired here bok choi and mushrooms in a satisfying dish.

The students who took us out to lunch also gave us this cake topped with fruit.  The little message on the cake says, “Jesus loves you” which was cute and sweet of them.

Asparagus cut on the diagonal and stir-fried.

Here is another simple and savory version of homestyle tofu.

We were served this vegetable at a special lunch on campus with school administrators.  The vegetable is so rare and special that the cook had to explain it to everyone.  It is similar to a scallion, but is somewhere in between a scallion and a lotus root.  The hue is slightly green, and also slightly grey-lavender.  The cook kept insisting we try it because she said it’s so delicious.  It truly is surprisingly delicious, and extremely flavorful.  I’m sorry that I forgot the name of it !

A simple dish of spongy squash combined with soybeans.

While I ate a few special meals on this trip, most of my meals were with students in the school cafeteria.  The meals were simple and it was great to sit with students and get to know them.  Breakfasts were standard Chinese breakfasts, and it’s a good thing I generally enjoy Chinese breakfasts.  For lunches and dinners, the cafeteria offered about 6 dishes per meal, and usually 2 of the dishes were vegetarian.  The servers behind the counter quickly learned that I am a vegetarian, and would simply put the vegetarian offerings on a metal tray for me.  Since I love cooking, when I move here I will probably prefer cooking for myself in my apartment instead of eating in the cafeteria.  However, because it’s a great place to spend time with students, I will probably still eat there a few meals per week.

Here is a typical breakfast at the student cafeteria.  There were always a few baozi options.  Baozi are the steamed buns that are filled, and then pinched on top.  This one happened to be filled with black sesame, which is delicious and not too sweet.  In my experience, sometimes baozi at breakfast can be dry, but the cafeteria knows how to make them well.  They are fresh and hot.  You can also see a plan steamed mantou bun in the back corner.  There were always hardboiled eggs available, and sometimes they were tea-eggs.  Chinese tea-eggs (cha jidan) are hardboiled eggs steeped in tea, soy sauce, and star anise.  They are richly flavorful and delicious since those strong flavors are infused into the hardboiled egg.  The cafeteria also always offers some sort of porridge.  Sometimes it was plain rice porridge (xifan), but most days on my trip is was this babaozhou, the 8-treasure porridge which includes all sorts of grains including red beans and peanuts.  I think it’s more interesting than plain xifan.

Eating in the cafeteria: here we have morning glory (similar to spinach), a simple and watery cabbage soup, and cold vinegary gluten cubes.  The cold squishy gluten is common in Sichuan, so I learned to enjoy it sometimes.  I once heard that while Americans are usually fond of crispy and crunchy textures, the Chinese are equally passionate about rubbery textures in their food.  So you’ll find lots of rubbery and glutenous items on Chinese menus.

Eating in the cafeteria: fensi noodles with cabbage.  This was tasty.  The dish in the back corner was potatoes with eggplant.

Eating in the cafeteria: simple morning glory in the back corner, and classic leeks with eggs in the front.  They also accidentally gave me “cuipi doufu,” crispy skin tofu, which had pork in it, so I didn’t eat it.

Eating in the cafeteria: stir-fried lettuce in the back corner.  While I’m a person who really enjoys greens, I actually don’t really care for stir-fried lettuce.  It might be too bland?  In the middle we have stir-fried tomatoes and eggs.  I enjoy the egg and tomato soup, but haven’t been a fan of the stir-fried version.  My extended family on my mom’s side all has an aversion to tomatoes, so this dish isn’t my favorite.  The tofu in the front was the star of this meal for me.  Strips of chewy tofu were stir-fried with bean sprouts, green chilies, and lots of ginger.

Eating in the cafeteria: I’m always a sucker for Chinese stir-fried potatoes, so I loved these.  The other vegetarian dish that day was sliced onions with egg.  I felt like this combination has potential, but that the onions were too sharp and overpowering.

Eating in the cafeteria: garlicky cabbage is tasty and enjoyable.  I also enjoyed the cold and vinegary squishy gluten cubes.

I’ll close this post with a photo of students doing late-night eating in a bustling shopping area near the campus.  This shopping area is in between several universities, and is geared toward college students with lots tiny shops selling cheap and cute things.  You can see that the area also has rows of snack places, and many of the stalls had Chinese-Muslim food, which is the unique cuisine from Northwestern China.  This neighborhood also had rows of boba tea and juice places.  In the months to come, you’ll probably find me here snacking.