- Always make sure the wok is already smoking before you add oil.
- When you think you’ve added enough oil, add two more teaspoons. Or heck, a ladleful while you’re at it.
- Soy Sauce is salty. Oyster sauce is sweet
- You can never have too many green scallions (roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces)
- Dongbei food is heavy (think dumplings and 锅包肉), Yunnan Food is heavy on the spices, Shanghainese food is sweet (think lotus roots stuffed with sticky rice), Xinjiang food has the highest likelihood of giving you diarrhea (but the 大盘鸡 and the cumin-scented lamb are worth it), and Yangshuo food is, well, disgusting.
Last weekend, on our trip to Guilin, we took a Chinese cooking class, which involved a visit to a Chinese ‘farmer’s’ market (the kinds I tend to avoid in Shanghai). Actually farmer’s market may not be the proper term, now that I think about it. It wasn’t quite as twee as the ones in New Haven or Union Square. There wasn’t a Caseus truck doling out oozing grilled cheese sandwiches, no such thing as organic yogurt purveyors or bakeries selling sun-dried tomato tarts for that matter. After getting thoroughly scarred at the market (but more on that in a bit), we spent two hours cooking garlic eggplant, beer-battered fish, and pork dumplings, to varying degrees of success.
Back in the Elmhurst, I used to cook almost every single day, and in Shanghai, I constantly tell myself that I should cook more. The thing is – my cooking instincts aren’t particularly Chinese, so when I do cook, the food always ends up Western (or mildly Eastern European, as I discovered while braising an entire head of cabbage last night). To be honest, I feel much more comfortable with paprika and Old Bay than I do with white pepper or sesame oil. Give me a package of lentils and I’ll make a stew. Give me mung beans? Well, I’m not quite sure what I would do with them (but that’s what a rice cooker is for, right?) While not as insightful as I would have liked (yes, I know what a ‘dice’ looks like), the cooking class helped me rediscover what persimmons, bitter melon, winter gourds, Chinese eggplant and celery (ew) could do in the kitchen.
Before the class though, the lady led us through one of those vegetable ‘farmer’s’ markets I’m deathly afraid of in Shanghai. She seemed a little too gleeful to tell us about eating dogs (okay, totally thought that wasn’t a thing in China) and with an inappropriate amount of pep pointed out that the high-pitched squeals of an animal being slaughtered were indeed those of a dog, her eyes gleaming (with appetite?).
Either way, we had already spoiled our appetite by getting caramel popcorn on the way over.