"To hear about something a thousand times is not as good as experiencing it once."
(Ancient Chinese Proverb)
I've had the opportunity to travel a bit and I must say that China is a place unto itself. I've been to South Africa twice, Israel three times, Europe, Costa Rica, Australia, Tahiti, and all over the US, but nothing has quite thrown me like China. China is an in your face kind of place. It never stops. Between the noise and the smell (I swear everything smells like 5 spice unless you are smelling the making of tofu milk, which I thought was garbage until Alex told me that was how it smelled!) and the people and the pollution at all times of day; China just never slows down. Waking up to air that is described in the press as very unhealthy is a new experience. You will see from my photos the sky is kind of hidden. Truly. And the humidity. Well. I am a girl that sweats and let me tell you- I did.
This trip really couldn't have happened without Alex Odie San China Boy. Having someone that is fluent in Mandarin made this trip possible. Otherwise it would have been tour buses for us. Watching Alex "at work" was a lot of fun, though I know he wasn't always thrilled with his position. Taking care of three people who are all type "A's" is not an easy job, and keeping his group from wandering side alleys or into the depths of malls was challenging...but somehow we all made it through every airport, train and boat trip together.
Food is everywhere and every place is crowded at every time of day. We did a lot of searching on different web sites to find the best places to eat; however finding their physical locations was never easy. Often they are located in malls. Surprisingly we had many of our best meals in malls! Often restaurants are located two or three floors above the street so we found ourselves looking up a lot. And sometimes they were in alleyways. Like I said...without Alex searching or ordering we would have been stuck to the basics! We also learned that Alex is partial to restaurants with old neon signs and there aren't many of those left.
There is so much to talk about but I thought I'd share a few highlights and start delving a bit into what we learned. We tried to be good students but I'm not sure that Alex thought so. So! Let's start with some easy stuff like eating. We all know how to do that right? Well, in China it is very important to take charge of your chopsticks. They must be aligned and some of us may have had a problem with this but we won't name names. Some how the food still got to their mouth. Chopsticks must never touch the table. Each place setting always has a plate, a bowl and a cup. I still am not sure what went in the bowl or on the plate because if you ordered soup they always brought soup bowls, but we didn't order soup often, because it was so hot outside!
Eating in China is a bright experience; kind of like eating in the senior center where my parents live. The lights are never dimmed. There is no atmosphere. There are also no napkins unless you call tissues napkins. And if there are no tissues on the table, you have to buy them. If there is a waste basket at your table you must throw your dirty tissues into the can when you are finished eating. If there isn't a can they will take them when they clear the table.
Dishes are not cleared until you leave, which means your table gets very full of platters and empty or not they will stay there until you leave. Even if there appears to be no room on the table, if a new dish appears they scrunch everything together to have room for that platter.This was a hard one for me because aesthetically eating in China, is not always so pleasing to the eye. Dishes appear as they are cooked which often means one at a time and in no particular order. Rice is always ordered extra and served at the end of the meal. And if you should happen to drop some food on the table never under any circumstances proceed to eat it. This is a no no! It should stay in that spot until you leave, or in my case I would cover it with tissues and pick it up and move it to another dirty plate.
All that being said, we had awesome meals in China. We never got sick and we ate everything. Food was for the most part very cheap. We all commented that after three weeks we had not eaten the same thing twice. My favorite day with Alex was going to all of his street food places. We ate jao bing and scallion pancakes and buns and Taiwanese rice rolls and crab dumplings and pastries and wine and more pastry and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. We never drank the water as all water must be boiled, though for some odd reason folks do rinse their fresh veggies with it. We did eat a lot of fresh cucumber salads with many of our meals. Often they were tossed with a chili sesame dressing. So good.
Eggplant was often on our menus as were lots of vegetable dishes. Potatoes were also quite common which is kind of funny considering you never see them in Chinese restaurants here. They were often prepared with chilies and onions but we did see them roasted too. Sweet potatoes are also sold roasted on the street. Can't wait to experiment with some new potato dishes!
But today I bring you eggplant. Given the abundance of my eggplant plants, I made this recipe before I left, I guess in anticipation of what I'd find in China. This is a great recipe and so easy to prepare. Like all Asian recipes make sure everything is ready to go before you start cooking.
I know you'll love this eggplant, but I promise this won't become a Chinese recipe blog! I'm so anxious to get cooking some great Fall foods!
Chinese Eggplant with Pork and Garlic
Serves 4 or 2 as a main course
From: Food 52-A Genius Recipe
Time to Make: About 20 minutes
2 ounces ground pork
2 t plus 1/4 c minced scallions, divided
1 t plus 3 T low soy sauce, divided
1/2 t minced ginger
1 t plus 1/4 peanut or vegetable oil, divided
1 T chopped garlic, plus 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed, divided
3 Asian eggplants weighing about 1 lb total, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2" thick slices, about 6 cups
1/4 c rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 t sugar
1. In a small bowl combine the pork and 1 t cold water. Stir in 2 t of the scallions, 1 t of the soy sauce and ginger. Add 1 t cold water and stir until the pork absorbs all of the water. In a small bowl combine the remaining 3 T of soy sauce and 1/4 c cold water.
2. Heat a 14" flat bottomed wok or 12" stainless skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1-2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 t of oil and add the pork mixture, using a metal spatula to break up the pork. Stir fry 30 seconds or until the pork is opaque, but slightly rare. Transfer the pork to a plate.
3. Swirl in the remaining 1/4 c oil and heat for a few seconds or until hot, but not smoking. Carefully add 1 T of the chopped garlic and stir fry 10 seconds, or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the eggplant and stir fry 2 minutes, or until the eggplant flesh has changed color and has absorbed all the oil. Swirl the rice wine into the wok, immediately cover the wok, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 30 seconds. Uncover the wok and sprinkle on the sugar. Swirl the soy sauce-water mixture into the wok, increase the heat to high and stir fry one minute. Return the pork to wok. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until almost all the liquid has been absorbed by the eggplant and the eggplant is just tender when pierced with a knife. Uncover, and stir fry 15 seconds. Stir in the remaining 2 smashed garlic cloves. Cover, remove the wok from the heat and set aside for 1 minute or until the pork is just cooked through. Remove the garlic cloves for serving if you like and sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 c of scallions. Serve warm, room temperature or even cold.
Cook these too!
Cantonese Steamed Chicken with Black Mushrooms
Ma Po Tofu
Chinese Noodles with Blackened Green Onion and an Angry Egg
Fresh Fried Rice
Xi'an Style Pork Stuffed Pancakes
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