Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Graduation taught me: How to celebrate - Photo Gallery

Graduation this year was like celebrating a birthday on Christmas day. The celebrations seem never ending. And they were all in the name of FOOD. Consider with me for a moment, how every country and its tribes speak their own language, inform in their own accent, insert special's impossible that every dish that we as people cook would be the same. When the character of the cook infuses into meal and fleshes out unto a plate, food finds its voice. This was evident during our African-Caribbean dinner. Everyone brought a dish, either with ingredients authentic to their country or adapted to China. There was Lasagna, Potato Salad, BBQ chicken,

Samosas from Rwanda

 Pie from Tonga

Crepes from Cameroon

 Fried balls from Uganda

 Meat balls from Uganda

 Ndole from Cameroon
Bitter leaves in Peanut Soup
 King Fufu

Flan from Cape Verde

Dinner with my Chinese classmates was much different. When going out, we always choose a statement restaurant. A restaurant with a particular style of flavour, cuisine or ingredient. One time we did ants, another time it was strictly shell fish. In this case Goose Feet and Fries. Minus the appetizers of course. We warmed up with:

Cold noodles

Fried Peanuts

Liang fen, a type of starch noodle

In the mean time vegetables and meat was added to the bottom pot, below the main dish, as part of the appetizer.

We shared the main dish and appetizers per Chinese customs.

and it's as tasty as it looks

Man of the hour! 

We ordered two rounds and it ended the same way each time.

We also took a break from tradition and had 'Western' food. The thing is, that Chinese take out that you love so much, the sweet and sour chicken that you crave in the middle of the night, doesn't exist here. Local food tastes nothing like that. Sorry if I'm bursting any bubbles. Same goes for Western food. But it's as close as we can get to a home-cooked meal, so we take it.

Restaurants are popping up every season with new approaches to food. The other day I had to choose between TWO Durian shops. Everything from cakes and milkshakes to ice cream and tarts overwhelmed with Durian flavour.

 Durian fruit is like that really loud friend, who turns out to be the life of the party but after getting down with him all night, you still go home with a bad taste in your mouth.

However, back on point, China, and in particular Chongqing, offers never-ending options of cuisine. And as people who love to eat, we are not complaining. 

You have no excuse to have the same dining experience twice.

 All you need is a reason to celebrate!

Choose wisely and eat to you tummy's content.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: 神圣葡萄! Holy Grapes!

I grew up picking my own fruit from my own garden planted by my parents hands....Hahaha got you! But only-child syndrome aside, the concept of paying to pick your own fruits at an organic farm is very appealing. Not just for the health benefits but the entire experience.

At first glance, I knew I would enjoy my trip Bishan Vineyard. I immediately felt like I was back home in the hills again with the greenery, piercing white clouds in the blue sky and crispy breeze.

In order to welcome us, we were treated to Chinese cultural performance like fire-breathing and mask changing Sichuan drama, modern dance and local opera. I remember when I first moved to China and expected everything to look like a scene out of a karate movie. Now that I know better, I appreciate the traditional shows of culture when I encounter them.

Fire Breathing and Mask Changing Sichuan Drama

Local Opera
Modern Dance

This was followed by a pageant where young university students vied for the title of Queen of the Vineyard. The competition got close during the talent section. Portraits, poetry, traditional calligraphy and Indian dancing showed just how serious the ladies were about their craft. This girl knew how to arrest these grapes with grace, style and poise.

Queen of the Bishan Vineyard 2015

And speaking of style, it seems the grapes aren't the only things from France...

Fan Bing Bing, famous Chinese actress, at Cannes Festival 2015
Of course a fruit festival is never a complete without an eating competition, right?! My friends came second and third place winning 300 and 200 RMB and a local went home with 500 RMB (80US) and complimentary box of the top notch grapes. Just for finishing a plate of grapes without using hands. Why do people even work anymore?

Sorry I couldn't do that to my friends.

But here are the winning grapes, Summer Black
Then we got to the reason we were really there-to pick grapes. Although there are a variety of grapes available, we were brought to the section of the vineyard specially grown for this moment. Organic, slightly sweet because of the early season, and bursting with flavour.

Every Chongqing vineyard comes with a local restaurant that allows you taste authentic Sichuan cuisine and here was no different. Every dish was 'soaked in chilli and prickly ash' and for the first time in a long time, I struggled to finish a spicy meal.

I spent more time with the fish which was more plainly seasoned and were reared in the pool right outside the door.

In China, it is very common for customers to have a brief meet and greet with their dinner in a nearby fishing tank. But the pool afforded these guys much freedom and they simply carried their party elsewhere every time we showed up.

But it was made up by spotting this beauty on the way out. I haven't seen this tree since my days growing up and learning the hard way not to play with everything you see.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Also located in Bishan is one of five Lourdes churches in China. And just amazing is the fact that it's still standing in the midst of many other church demolitions throughout the country.

The property is quite huge and filled with beautiful scenery. Most of the buildings have been converted to tourist sites but for a 100 year place, very spiffy.

The close proximity of a vineyard and church may or may not be coincidence but both places can be life-changing if you allow them to be. This Travelling Nutmeg will note this visit under spiritually defining moments.

John 10:7-9  Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's in my rice cooker?: Lasagna

What is a rice cooker you ask? It's a wonderful kitchen appliance which allows you to cook rice to perfection without the stirring and babysitting. It originated in Japan but like any item of convenience spread beyond  the Asian continent into the Western world. In spite of all that, I never encountered one in the Caribbean and it was quite the surprise to me. It reminded me of the Anansi story of the magical pot that cooked any food at command. 

After using a rice cooker for four years, I wished I knew of this as sooner. Unlike the name suggests, rice isn't the only food that you can cook in this. Once you understand the mechanical working of a simple rice cooker, you can manipulate it into anything: pot, deep fryer, steamer etc. Basically the cooking takes place in a removable metal container which is surrounded by an insulated pot. The metal container presses on a spring which controls the thermostat and responds to temperature change. When the contents are in place, heating is activated. When the food is cooked (all the water has evaporated into steam and the metal container temperature begins to exceeds 100 C) the thermostat responds by releasing the spring and altering the cooker to warm setting of 65 C.

As a college student, having one pot with the ability to cook everything, besides one pot meals, is a relief. So let's get into dish numba one. Lasagna baby. 

Honestly you don't need a special recipe or particular adjustment. Just prepare it exactly as you would for an oven lasagna and watch out for the extra fragile structure.

After second meat layer

After final meat layer
There you go!!

Look out for more in this series...Up next Home Made Yogurt!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bite me: 自助火锅 Hot Pot Buffet

If you are a foreigner living in Chongqing and you have been invited to the mid-week hot pot dinner, you have truly made it my friend. If you're the one doing the inviting, why are you even calling yourself a foreigner? Point is Chongqing isn't called the oven city for nothing. You better be eating hot pot three to four times a week with your family, co-workers and the random foreigner you met yesterday and what better way to do it than at a 'All You Can Eat' Hot Pot Buffet.

Thing is, when in comes to Hot Pot, it isn't about eating to be satiated. It's about conversation, reconstructing the day's highs and lows, recalling memories and making new ones , coming up with new theories of life or just junk talk. In the midst of that, the last thing you want is food to run out. So this buffet is the perfect source of fuel.

The variety of raw food is limitless. Greens, meat, fungus, tubers of every kind is cleaned, chopped and ready to enter the red hot lava of a soup.

1. Mushroom 2. Black  Fungus 3. Lettuce
 4. Cucumber and Tofu Skin 5. Black Soy Bean Tofu 6. Bamboo
7. Cuts of Pork 8. Seaweed 9. Processed Seafood

Then there are the organ parts and blood, mainly pig sourced, because thou shalt not waste right:?

Or if you really, really, do want your food cooked first, don't worry. They got you covered.

Top row:  Stewed duck and chicken
Bottom row: Fried beef, cucumber, peanuts

Next important step is creating dipping sauce, vinaigrette in a sense, to add flavour to the food after it's cooked. Every time the food dipped in the sauce, the chilli flavour of the hot pot mixes in, taking it to another level.

From L-R: Mono-sodium Glutamate, Vegetable Oil, Seasoning Salt, Crushed Garlic in Oil,
Back: Black Vinegar
Not Pictured: Fresh Chopped Chive

And of course, after eating, there is always space for desert. See the small cuts of meat and vegetables are designed to keep you feeling stuffed, way back in the history of Chinese cuisine. So feel free to splurged on fruit, moon-cakes, fried peanuts and the like.