Learning to Cook in China

I got back from China a week ago and I’m itching to start cooking some real Chinese food at home.  Now, before I went I expected that after two weeks I would be sick of eating Chinese food every day.  This usually happens to me when I go on holiday and indeed, if I had been eating in a Chinese restaurant here I would feel like that.  But in China it’s different.  The dishes are lighter with a higher ratio of vegetables to meat than the food from a UK takeaway.  It all feels healthy and the  sauces are not so sticky and although I ended each meal feeling absolutely stuffed and unable to eat any more, I got back from the holiday having not put on any weight at all.  Would that be possible in many places?

One of the highlights of my trip was a four hour cooking class at the Yangshuo Cooking School .   We were collected from our hotel and walked to the local indoor market.  It was basically two huge rooms.  On entering the first room there were live crabs, eels, frogs and fish at the side of the room.   The centre was long tressel tables ladden with a huge variety of herbs, fruit and vegetables.   If  only I’d had access to my own kitchen there I would have bought so much to experiment with.  But I was going to cook later so I couldn’t complain.   The second room was not quite so enticing – whole bulls’ tongues, chicken feet, offal and in a far corner of the room a stall stacked with cages of live dogs lying on top of each other, and at the front of the stall half-butchered carcases hanging ready to be sold.   Even though the guide had prepared us it was quite shocking.

Live eels

Fresh vegetables in the market


We then took a minibus for about 20 minutes to the cooking school in the countryside.  It was a beautiful location surrounded by rice paddies and karsts (limestone hills).  Each participant had their own workbench with a chopping board, knife, gas cooker and wok. We made five dishes.  First we prepared the steamed chicken dish – with sliced ginsing, goji berries, chinese dates, mushrooms, salt, pepper  a little chinese rice wine and seasame oil.  The goji berries, dates and ginsing gave an unusual but interested flavour.  A dish I would happily eat again but perhaps not go to the lengths of finding the ingredients at home in order to recreate myself.

This dish was followed by egg wrapped dumplings containing minced pork and fresh mint leaves. Now these are something I will definitely make at home.  I’m not normally a fan of dumplings but these were much tastier.  The dumplings were unusual in that they were made with beaten egg for the outside.  A spoonful was dropped into a hot wok and then a teaspoonful of filling was place on one side of the egg and then it was folded over to seal in the filling, pushed to the side of the wok and the process continued.  Just before the end of the cooking time a couple of tablespoons of water were added and this bubbled away until it was almost evapporated.  This was something we learnt to do with every dish to bring the flavours together and as it makes the sauce go a little further it’s something I will definitely continue to do.

Next we made stir fried pork, green vegetable stir fry and my most favourite dish ever –  aubergine Yangshuo style.   I could eat and eat and eat this dish.  It was just so delicious.  Augergine stir fried with crushed garlic, ginger and chilli bean paste. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.  When can I fit in a trip to Chinatown to track some down?


The view from the kitchen

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