Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bite me: 冰糖葫芦 Bing Tanghulu fruit

Don't they look yummy....I guarantee you they taste even better than they look. These fruits are placed on a bamboo stick and then coated in a sweet syrup made from rock sugar 冰糖 Bīngtáng. Rock sugar is preferred because it offers a more complete flavor than ordinary white sugar.  Although it contains mor e calories, its full taste allows you to use less of it, therefore eliminated that concern, if it is one of yours. All this transforms the fruit, already packed with nutrients, into a super duper snack for the winter.

Originally, Chinese hawthorns were used because of their contrasting sour taste. Over time, however, other tart fruits and even nuts have been introduced to this enjoyable winter snack.

Chongqing winter weather rarely drops below zero, so we can safely thank the northern states of China for sharing this with the rest of the country.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cooking @ Dawn: Baked Pineapples

Living in the south of China has its perks. While my friends are complaining of knee-deep snow, I'm still sporting my sneaks. But I must be clear. These warm days are totally sporadic, so unfortunately the flu crept up on me. My aversion to pills had me up at dawn searching for soothing throat relief. With no citrus in sight, I turned to the next best thing: Pineapples.

The following recipe is great because 1) pineapple has a rich Vitamin C content, the official go-to for colds and flu, which gives the immune system a boost 2) pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which can reduce pain, swelling and mucus 3) ginger, in addition to that beautiful burning sensation, also contains antioxidants and nutrients that you body needs at this time 4) honey has wonderful antibacterial properties and 5)wine...at dawn...need I say more....actually I do. My original intention was temporary comfort but then the next day I felt so much better: headache and sore throat all relieved. Thank God for pineapples!

Baked Pineapple

1 Pineapple, peeled sliced and ready to go
2 tsp red wine of your choice
1 tsp honey
2 tsp ground ginger

1. In a bowl, mix wine, honey and ginger.

2. Slightly base your pan with the mix, since the pineapple slices will release its juices.

3. Bake until pineapple slices slightly reduce in size. We don't want to lose the nutritional value after all.

4. Munch the flu away....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bite me: 我们跟土家族一起吃吧!Lunch with the Tujia people

People often compare life to a 'Rat Race' but across here I feel more like a part of an ant colony. We  They all walk the same, headed in the same direction and if one person breaks pattern then confusion is amiss. But if you are one of those who think that all Asians look alike, like me, you would discover differently.

China is mainly comprised of the Han nationality, along with 55 recognized minorities. But you don't notice it at first. I'll admit I was one of those who though everyone was cut from the same cloth and at one point even distinguished my classmates by hairstyles. But now, I graciously admit my error and even discovered that most locals have a hard time distinguishing me from other foreigners. So please, no need to take offense. Now back on topic.

The Tujia minority (土家族) are considered the native citizens of Chongqing and are known as a cultivating people. Grains and provisions such as potato accompany sour and spicy meats.

What struck me at first, wasn't the food but the bowls. In previous articles I have shown that dishes are served on personal sized plates which are impossible to finish by one person but at this restaurant, there were the cutest bowls for a perfect bite size.

Personal sized plates

Various dishes prepared Tujia style

Actually everything had a rustic and earthy feel to it, including the seating and decor and you could really experience the spirit of the people. Definitely have to note that the rice was mixed with corn grain, which is a rare find but a true testament to the essence of Tujia.

Without a doubt, the flavor and heart of this new discovery has guaranteed it as one of my weekly lunch stops.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

真的吗?: Brown Sugar fortified with Donkey Hide Gelatin

Compliments Google

When shopping in China one must not leave the house with this one thing...sunglasses.... because cashiers, customers and even babies are undercover paparazzi. What is most important though, is a translator. My Pleco translator always saves the day when I'm in the vegetable section and despite names like Granny Lettuce and Moonlight Tomatoes (no I didn't make those up), my meals are always healthy and tasty. Today however, we hit a bump in the road. While perusing the brown sugar section, I encountered an immense challenge. As hard as I searched for raw brown sugar, I only found ginger, pepper, jujube and lots of something called Ejiao brown sugar. Excited about a new product, I plugged in '阿胶' into Pleco and got the following result:

Yup...that's right. Donkey skin. After all these years, I can still come face to face with food that leaves me speechless. Needless to say, brown sugar shopping was left for another day.

All of my Caribbean childhood, I was taught that brown sugar is healthy because of its unrefined state. In China, however, the clean appearance of refined white sugar is preferred and so in order to sell brown sugar, it is often enhanced with various functional foods and nutrients. The appearance of these sugars are usually dark, powdered and sometimes damp. Ginger provides antioxidants and can sooth the digestive system. Pepper provides antioxidants of a different family which are considered anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic. Jujube or Chinese dates nourish the nerves, strengthen skin and intensifies the effects of other herbs.

Donkey hide gelatin
Donkey hide gelatin steals the show. It promotes stronger bones, improves immunity, helps with anxiety, improves the function of the circulatory system and here's the bonus, enhances natural beauty. Who said no new friends for 2014?

Donkey hide gelatin brown sugar

Any of these sugars can be mixed with herbs and hot water at the beginning of the day to promote a healthy lifestyle. Interested anyone? Let me know below.