Friday, March 6, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: The granny that could cook everything except....

This is my third and final week in this little Chengdu community and I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE. Could it be the clear sky and fresh, unpolluted air? Could it be the beautiful spring flowers that I wake up to every morning? Could it be the Mapo Dofu? It's all of the above but most especially, having a family treat me like we are one blood.

I really felt at home, especially in the kitchen, standing next to granny. Watching her put together lunch and dinner was really enchanting;the poise, the confidence and swiftness of her stride. I would watch her transform a small slab of meat into a meal for five. She would dip into her arsenal of pickled veggies and scoop out some secret sauce to give the food that extra layer of flavour that you can't buy in a store.

Pickling jars you can find in every kitchen

And every time I tried to guess the dish , I was usually way off. Like the time she started to slice potatoes. I thought, 'Yea bwoy, granny bad on it! Even fries?' (The islander in me comes out when I'm excited). But then I saw chili and prickly ash pepper and I knew something was different.

Sichuan potato fries

They were actually tasty, partly due to the fact that this combination of seasonings is the only way I'm satisfied. I know in my earlier articles I endlessly complained about having 花椒 in everything. Now, I don't even flinch when I accidentally bite one. Actually, during my first week here, food was absent of this seasoning. Even though this family was born and bred in da South-West, they weren't about that pepper life. So they thought I wasn't accustomed to their cooking. I thought the chopsticks were slowing me down. But one day Mapo Dofu was placed on the table and my chopsticks picked up speed like it was on nitro. That's when it hit us, I had become true Sichuan 人. Since then, granny ensured that there was a pepper-flavoured dish or two during every meal.

Years of wisdom meant that there was always farm-fresh fruit and vegetables, home-made steamed dumplings 饺子, self-made condiments and tasty food. There were no hits or misses. Until we bought popcorn. Call it an experiment of sorts. With the holidays, many kids were at home and popcorn seems like an easy snack to keep their little mouths happy. So when the scent of smoke wafted through the living room, I never imagined I would find my mentor standing over a pot filled with charred kernels.

Then she ask me 'Can you do it?'. I nearly melted. I was getting an opportunity to cook in the kitchen of a master. It was popcorn, yes, but I sure was proud. I made the best bowl of popped kernels ever, with that hand-pressed oil flavour, perfect crunch and colouring. Uh-huh. Thanks to all those cooking at dawn situations.

That moment bonded us. We spent the rest of the holidays together. Her spewing words of Sichuan dialect and me nodding and quickly grasping the Mandarin I did recognize to enable a response. I learnt so much in a short space of time. Including the technique of sealing steamed dumplings. Take a look and guess which were mine.

They both were :p

I freestyled the first and then after Granny's brief demonstration, I tried again and didn't come close. In fact, I kept getting worse, so I watched on, humbled in knowing that in this kitchen, popcorn was all I was made for.

And that, that my friends, is the final instalment of this vacation. I'm on the way back to Chongqing. See you whenever the opportunity to 旅游 arises again.

The Travelling Nutmeg