keito potato


Vegetarian Zhajiang Mian
November 9, 2016, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Living in China, Uncategorized | Tags:

Zhajiang Mian is a famous noodle dish from Henan province, and I learned to make it about 3 years ago from a former student from that province.  She’s a great cook, and intuitively adjusted the recipe to make it vegetarian for me.

Soon after I learned this dish, my parents were visiting me in Nanjing, and I had a few students over to help make homemade noodles and this sauce for them.  When I told my parents all of the ingredients in this sauce, they said it sounded gross, with too many competing flavors.  However, when they took the first bite, their eyes lit up and they asked if I could make it for my grandparents when I went home that summer.  And could I also make it for church?  I admit, the combination of ingredients initially sounds strange because it’s different from an Italian pasta sauce, and honestly the final product has a murky color that isn’t very pretty.  You’ll notice I don’t even have any good photos of the sauce.  The sauce almost looks like a wok-ful of puke, but it smells wonderful and tastes delicious.  The predominant flavors here are ginger and fried peanuts.

I was recently in Shandong province visiting a former student.  Her mom is a professional noodle-maker, and at one meal she made the noodles, and the student asked me to make the Zhajiang Mian sauce because she and I had made it together several times when she was a student here in Nanjing.  In fact, when we made it for my parents, she was the student who made the homemade noodles for that meal.  Because this sauce comes from a different province, her mom didn’t know it, and she was learning it from me that day.  I sometimes find myself teaching Chinese regional dishes to Chinese friends from different provinces, which seems strange.

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noodle dough at my student’s home

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my student’s mother, making the noodle dough

I use Chinese yellow bean sauce for this, but you can use a Korean daenjang or a Thai fermented yellow bean sauce.

This version of the recipe has carrots and garlic shoots.  You can substitute most any other vegetables instead of the carrots.  I recently used spinach and taro roots in their place.  It might be difficult for you to find garlic shoots, and if that’s the case, you can double the amount of green onions.

Zhajiang Mian recipe: for 6 people with leftovers

oil

3/4 cup peanuts

6 eggs

1 block soft tofu

1/2 head of garlic

ginger: same amount as garlic

1 bunch green onions, white and green parts

2-3 TBS yellow bean paste

2 tomatoes

salt

ground dried red chile, to taste

ground Sichuan peppercorns, to taste (optional)

2 carrots

splash of soy sauce

1 bunch garlic garlic shoots ( or substitute another bunch of green onions)

3-4 TBS cornstarch

 

METHOD

Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat.  Fry the peanuts, then remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon.  Set the peanuts aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Cut the soft tofu into a small dice, then carefully stir the diced tofu into the beaten eggs.  Heat a little more oil in the wok over high heat.  When very hot, add the egg-tofu mixture.  It will puff a bit like  a soufflé.  When fully scrambled, removed that egg-tofu mixture from the wok and set aside.

Chop the garlic, ginger, green onions and garlic shoots.  Cut the carrots and tomatoes into a dice.

Add a little more oil to the wok.  Add the yellow bean paste.  A few seconds later, add the ginger, garlic and green onions.  Then add the tomatoes and salt.  Cook for 2 minutes, and then add ground red chile and Sichuan Peppercorn powder, if using.  Add the diced carrots and a little soy sauce.  Then add the garlic shoots.  Let it cook several minutes.  Then add the egg/tofu mixture.  

Add about 1 quart of boiling water to the wok to thin out the sauce.  Mix the cornstarch with cold water, then add that cornstarch mixture to the wok.  Let this cook about 10 minutes while you boil the noodles in a separate pot.  Pound the fried peanuts with a mortar-pestle, and then add them to the sauce at the end.



Noodle Lessons in Nanjing
December 14, 2014, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China | Tags: , , ,

When I moved to Nanjing two and a half years ago, I had a dream of befriending some folks at a noodle shop who would teach me how to pull noodles.

pulling noodles

I thought that would be a useful and fun hobby.  Back when I lived in China from 2000-2002, I took lessons from a chef who taught me how to carve fruit and vegetables into decorative flower and animal shapes.  That was a fun and quirky skill, but not especially practical.  I hoped this time around living in China I could learn to  make Chinese noodles instead.

During my first fall here I discovered several decent noodle places in my neighborhood, and a favorite was run by a friendly family.  I was planning on asking them to teach me, but they suddenly moved away.  None of the other families running noodle shops in my neighborhood seemed very friendly, not wanting to engaging in conversation besides taking my order.  I kept waiting to find the right place because I wanted these noodle lessons to emerge from a friendship first.

chao daoxiao mian

Over the months, I gradually forgot about this plan.  Then last spring I started going to a Xi’an noodle place downtown.  Their youpo mian 油泼面 is delicious.  Youpo means “throw the oil on,” and it’s a noodle dish flavored with a little oil in the bottom of the bowl sauteed with garlic, and topped with soybean sprouts, wilted leafy greens, cumin, red chile, and green onions.  You stir it at the table so the oil lightly coats the noodles.  The noodles have oil “thrown on” or tossed on them instead of being chao, or fried in oil.

youpo mian

Here is another beautiful bowl of youpo mian I had in Xi’an with the ingredients composed on top.

youpo mian in Xi'an

The family in this Xi’an noodle shop is so friendly.  They are from Xi’an themselves and we talked lots last spring about how my parents were going to visit soon, and I was going to take them to Xi’an for 5 days.  The man said, “In Xi’an, over there, you just walk down the street and it’s fun — 走路就好玩”  It’s true because Xi’an has great street life, and his comment became our trip motto “you just walk down the street and it’s fun”.

This fall when I returned from my summer travels, their faces beamed when I showed up for a bowl of noodles.  “Where were you?  We missed you!”  One night in September as my friend and I ate bowls of noodles after a lengthy Belgian happy hour, she encouraged me to ask them if they could teach me in their free time.  “Can we teach you?  Can we?  Of course!”  And that was that.  So far I’ve had 3 lessons.

making dough

One of my lessons was in the early morning to learn how they make their dough.  They use this machine to mix the flour, salt, and water.  They use the same dough for all of the different shapes of noodles, but for each designated shape, the dough rests for different amounts of time at different temperatures.

daoxiao dough

We started with dao xiao mian 刀削面, the wide cut noodles in my photos above.  These are the noodles that food writer Jonathan Gold describes as “fettuccine on steroids.”  They’re thick, chewy, and slightly irregular, which gives them a good mouth-feel.  The dough is formed into a log, and then refrigerated a several hours until firm.  Then the log of dough is placed on a wooden board so that you can prop it on your shoulder to cut the noodles.

tool for dao xiao mian

This is the tool for cutting dao xiao mian.  The blade is curved on the top left end of the tool.  You could use a paring knife, but this tool slides along the dough to cut the noodles more evenly.   Apparently you can only buy this tool in northwest China.  When one of his breaks, he has a friend back home in Xi’an send him a new one.

making daoxiaomian

We were practicing over a metal work table, but to make real noodles to serve, this kind of noodle is cut directly over a pot of boiling water, made to order.

Jessica doing daoxiaomian

I’ve been taking these lessons with my student Huang Xiaoming (Jessica) because she loves working with dough.   She grew up making noodles with her mom in the simple homestyle way, rolling dough out flat then cutting it into strips.  She has made those simple homestyle noodles in my home in Nanjing several times for student parties.  So she’s been really excited about joining me on these days.  She also helps translate a bit for me when the vocab gets too technical.

Jessica doing daoxiaomian

Here she’s practicing and making a pile of noodles.

my daoxiaomian

After practicing with the dough, we made our own daoxiao mian to eat ourselves.  We cut the noodles directly over the boiling water in a huge pot the size of a cauldron. I made these noodles myself!

chemian

For another lesson, we made chemian 扯面, the super-wide noodles from northwest China that are rolled out wide and pulled gently.  You start by forming the dough into smaller logs about an inch and a half wide and a little over a foot long.  These logs are dusted with cornstarch and placed in a cool spot next to a cold open window to chill slightly.  You can see a whole tray of these logs resting under wax paper.

rolling the dough

Once you are ready to work with the chilled log of dough, roll it out a little with your hands.

Jessica rolling out the chemian

Then it is rolled out with a slim Chinese rolling pin to stretch further.

rolling chemian

It’s rolled out into a strip about 2 inches wide.

pulling chemian

Then the strip is pulled gently a few times to stretch out.  These are not la mian 拉面 which are the famous thin pulled noodles.  These che mian are only pulled gently, and are still very wide.  Both la 拉 and che 扯 mean pulling, but la mian 拉面 and che mian 扯面 are pulled in different ways.

Jessica with chemian

Here Jessica is showing off one very long noodle.

my chemian

The che mian are so long and wide that only 1 or 2 noodles fit in a large bowl of noodle soup.  Here is the che mian that I made, in a classic tomato and egg soup.

my chemian

I look happy with my bowl of che mian!

Jessica's noodles

And Jessica looks happy too.

The family at the noodle shop won’t accept payment for these lessons.  They won’t let us even pay for the noodles we eat at the end of our lessons (because they say we shouldn’t pay for noodles we make ourselves).  In the Chinese style, we’ve tried throwing money down and leaving, but they grab it and stuff it in our bags and pockets before we can get out.  It’s very Chinese.  I’ve found that in these situations it’s usually more appropriate to give a gift for lessons instead of money.  So I bought them an expensive knife at a good knife store as a “Thanksgiving present to thank them for being my teachers.”  They accepted the gift, so I feel good about it.

I’m not sure if they’ll teach us how to make the thin pulled noodles, the lamian 拉面.  They are quite difficult and require many, many hours of practice.  The husband and wife at the noodle shop can make them, but they haven’t even taught their other staff in the kitchen how to make them.  He said we can keep coming to practice these shapes we’ve already worked on, but he’s not sure if he’ll teach us lamian.  So we’ll see.  I’m simply grateful for the experience I’ve had so far.



Homemade fensi noodles in Wenzhou
December 6, 2014, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China | Tags: , , ,

This fall I spent 5 days with a student’s family in Wenzhou county, along the southern coast of Zhejiang province.

coffee on the balcony

They live in Yongjia village just across the river from Wenzhou city.  Every morning I drank coffee on the 4th floor balcony looking out at the small community farm next to their home.

cutting sigua

My student’s parents are retired, and spend their free time growing a variety of vegetables in their little plot in the community garden next to their building.  Here my student’s mom is cutting some sigua in her garden.  Sigua is a soft squash, similar to zucchini in texture, but with a different, earthy flavor.

washing vegetables in the canal

She likes washing her vegetables in the canal next to the garden.  During warm weather she also prefers doing her laundry in the canal rather than using her washing machine.  She trusts the canal to wash her clothes better than a machine.

sigua from the garden

A basket of sigua from her garden.

shirtless farmers

From their kitchen I looked out at another small farm plot behind the building.  Every afternoon these guys worked in their garden, usually shirtless, sometimes while smoking pipes.

Yongjia market

There’s not much sightseeing to do in Yongjia, and that was okay with me.  I’m happy visiting students when I can just hang out with their families and get a feel for the rhythms of daily life.  Every morning we would cook breakfast, then go to this vegetable market in the picture to pick up ingredients they don’t grow in their own family garden, cook lunch, take a long nap, cook dinner, and then go out in the evening to walk.  Her mom loves joining the big dance groups in the city squares in downtown Wenzhou.  So I pretty much only saw Wenzhou city at night.  One night we took the ferry across the river instead of driving over a bridge.

Wenzhou skyline at night

My student’s mom is a great cook.  One of the unusual things she cooked for me was homemade fensi noodles, those light tan, chewy noodles made from sweet potato starch instead of wheat flour.  I’ve had fensi noodles (pronounced fuhn-sih) numerous times in China, but never homemade.  I was surprised by the method because it was so drastically different from making noodles with wheat flour.

You need to make a thin batter instead of a dough.  Then you use the batter to fry a stack of crepes, and cut the crepes into strips before boiling the strips as noodles.

sweet potato starch

Here is the light tan sweet potato starch powder.

making fensi batter

The fensi starch powder is mixed with egg and a little water.  She doesn’t measure the amounts, but rather goes by feel.

fensi batter

The batter is extremely watery and thin.

making crepes

The batter gets ladled into lightly-oiled wok, and cooked into thin crepes.

crepe

A crepe after being flipped over.

cutting the rolled up crepe

 

After a stack of crepes is made, each crepe is rolled up and then sliced with a cleaver into wide noodles.

chopped sigua

At this point, she started to make a soup for the noodles.  She peeled and roughly cut the sigua she picked from the garden that morning.

frying sigua

She stir-fries the sigua in a wok with whole smashed cloves of garlic.

sigua

After the sigua is softened a bit from stir-frying, she adds some water and a little salt and green onions to start turning it into a soup.

boiling fensi

More water is added, along with the fensi noodles, which boil directly in the soup.

fensi noodle soup

The finishing touch was poaching a few eggs in the soup. You can see one floating toward the back of my bowl.  These noodles are so delicious and succulent when made from scratch.  I should try making these at home.

 



Su Ki Jeh Ruyi Vegetarian Restaurant in Bangkok
July 2, 2013, 6:13 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , ,

I sent a month in Thailand during my holiday for the Chinese New Year.

To get ready for the trip, I did some online research about street food in Bangkok, and discovered this food blogger who is passionate about street food in Bangkok, and has an e-book about eating vegetarian in Thailand.  The e-guide was a good investment at around $6, because I learned some phrases for ordering dishes vegetarian, learned a broader spectrum of Thai dishes, and I was introduced to some phenomenal vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok.

Su Ki Jeh Ruyi was my favorite vegetarian restaurnt on his list.  It’s a simple place near the Hua Lamphong train station and MRT station, which made it extremely convenient.  It was packed until late at night with older locals, and we were the only westerners during our visits.

vegetarian tom yum noodle soup

The first time I was there I fell in love with a vegetarian tom yum noodle soup.  The broth was electric, simply stunning with strong flavors of kaffir lime, ginger, and chili.  My friends and I were crazy about it and returned to the restaurant 2 more times.  This poor photo was taken late at night with an older camera, and it can’t capture how amazing this soup was.  You can see the pretty curve of the fresh oyster mushrooms, but you can’t see the vividness of the elecric broth.

eating vegetarian tom yum noodle soup

Here I am eating the tom yum noodle soup.  We had a long day of walking in the heat, and this soup was restorative and bright at 9pm.

vegetarian sign

Vegetarian sign above the restaurant.

Location: 285 Soi Phraya Singhaseni Street, Bangkok, Thailand, 13330

Direction: The restaurant is located right around the corner from Hua Lamphong MRT station and train station.  From the MRT station, take exit #3 and turn left to head backwards, away from the train station.  Take a left on to Soi Phraya Singhaseni, and it’s just 50 meters down the road on your right hand side.



Pad Thai across Thailand
July 2, 2013, 4:32 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , ,

I spent a month in Thailand during my holiday for the Chinese New Year.

Pad Thai is an cheap, delicious meal, and I happily ate it several times during my month-long trip.  Lime, garlic, peanuts, tofu… what’s not to love?  I downloaded an e-guide for eating vegetarian in Thailand, which had some helpful phrases for ordering food without fish sauce or dried shrimp, both of which are traditionally included in Pad Thai.  That little guide was helpful for me as a vegetarian.

Pad Thai

Here’s a version of pad thai in Chiang Mai, at a little cafe run by a grandma and grandpa, across the street from the YMCA.

pad thai at Bangkok's Jattujak (JJ) weekend market

 

Pad Thai and Thai iced tea at Chattuchak (or Jattujak) Market, Bangkok’s premiere weekend market, which attracts 200,000 visitors most weekends.

Pad Thai street cart

Here is a pad thai street cart in Bangkok.  The woman here is making my plate of pad thai.  She had 6 kinds of noodles you could choose from.

street pad thai

Gorgeous and cheap pad thai on the street.  I bought it from a cart, and ate it on a plastic stool on the sidewalk, holding it on my lap.

happy about pad thai

Here I’m happy to have a lovely plate of pad thai at the Cambodian border, after a long dusty train ride through the Issan region.

pad thai

Gorgeous pad thai on the Cambodian border, after a long train ride.

train ride

Channeling Jason Schwartzman on a 1910-era Thai train.

Chinese New Year dog

The puppy I met on Chinese New Year before eating a plate of pad thai.

wide-noodle pad thai

Enjoyed this plate late at night after walking the streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown for Chinese New Year.  We had been eating street food like durian, but I was hungry for something a little more substantial.  This pad thai street cart offered several kinds of noodles, including these extra-wide rice noodles.  They were fresh and soft — an amazing texture paired with with the pad thai flavors.



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!

IMG_0593

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.

IMG_0590

IMG_0591

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.

IMG_0387

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.

IMG_0382

 



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!