Exceptionally Lazy Rainy Day Prawn Pasta

Exceptionally Lazy Rainy Day Prawn Pasta

If you’re a three-hours-or-longer-Friday-lunch kinda person, the Chinese work ethic can take a bit of getting used to. It’s no wonder they’re taking over the world one “Made in China” label at a time – they work like machines. So my husband works really long hours. We hardly see each other on a work day and then he only has one in every twelve days off. Needless to say, rain days have become very precious to us, because he gets to stay home. We get so ridiculously lazy on these days. We COULD use them as a precious opportunity to spend some time together exploring all the fascinating new places around us. But when that call finally comes, confirming there will be no pick up that day, we inevitably turn to each other and, slightly embarrassed at our anti-wanderlust tendencies, timidly suggest simultaneously, “Movies?”. We will then proceed to spend the entire day in bed watching movies, only emerging to make tea or something to eat. On one such day, while one of the many typhoons that battered China’s eastern coast this summer was raging outside, I hit a personal low on the uselessness scale. I got up around four in the afternoon, still in my nightie, and looked in the mirror (probably to check for bedsores). The mirror is behind the bedside lamp and the globe is naked because the hotel uses these ridiculously ostentatious lamp shades that are all shade without the lamp bit. They are so covered in gold they don’t let any actual light through so I’d removed it. Anyway, I leaned into the mirror and accidentally burnt my boob on the globe! I pulled my nightie away and was horrified to discover I had burnt a blister right through the fabric! I was also a little confused as, while it had smarted a bit, it didn’t seen to be as sore as a big, brown blister warranted. Nonetheless, it was not lost on me that I could use my injury as a means of getting out of tea making duty for the rest of the day. So I put on my best quivering-lip face and, nursing my injured appendage, made my way to my husband to garner some sympathy. I was just rounding the corner of the bed, wondering whether limping a little would be overkill, when my blister fell off. We stood there staring at it for a few seconds until realization dawned: The blister was nothing more than an errant popcorn kernel, stuck there from wolfing down a bowl from a prone position hours earlier. So it was on this day – trying to make up for being caught at such an obvious deception just to get out of tea making duty – that this dish was conceived. Adam declared it to be one of his favorites. The inspiration came from my mom’s preferred way of doing prawns. The original recipe (from a Vroue Federasie cook book from yore) used lemon juice (and had a few different tweaks I don’t recall) which is an ideal substitute for when you’d rather drink your wine than cook with it. This pasta dish is perfect for days when you are so lazy, that anything you eat needs to take ten minutes or less to cook from start to finish. Maximum impact with ridiculously little effort.

Serves 2

Read the rest of this entry

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

So you have 24 hours in China’s biggest city. You’re a world-wise traveler. You have more stamps in your passport than David Attenborough’s cameraman. You prefer to do those things that are off the beaten track, far from the madding crowd, living like the natives do and all that. Hole-in-the-wall eateries, remote temples, out of the way ramshackle buildings with loads of history, original fittings and a little old man out front who will single-handedly change the way you view the world with a story about how he ones saved a shepherd and his goats. You know – all those tips that well-thumbed guidebook has told you and a million other readers to do. I get it. But if you’re only going to have one day in Shanghai, you’re probably going to want to see the Bund and Old Shanghai – probably the two most touristy spots this side of Mongolia (the pavements of Nanjing Road alone are trampled by over a million visitors a day). Nothing wrong with that. Hit the area between Nanjing Road pedestrian street in the north and Fang Bang Road in the south and you’ll see the best of all that is East and West, modern and traditional that Shanghai has to offer. Or that’s what I think.

Pudong skyline. Clearly not reliant on Eskom.

Time: Full day

Distance: 3 miles / 4.8 kilometers plus exploring

START: East Nanjing Road MTR Station (1) END: Yuyuan Garden MTR Station (20)

Exit the station on to Nanjing Road and head west. The pedestrian portion starts a little way up the road. Just because you’ve almost been knocked down four times by speeding, obnoxious scooter drivers and at least one brown car does not mean you’re not in the right place. Sidewalks are where the Chinese like to drive. Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s main shopping street and one of the world’s busiest. It is divided into Nanjing Road East (from the Bund to People’s Square) and Nanjing Road West (from People’s Square towards Jing’an District). Both Nanjing East and Nanjing West boast large department stores as well as a variety of retail outlets and restaurants. For the purpose of this tour we’re only going to head a little way up Nanjing East, mainly to get to the (2) San Yang Food Shop located at no. 630. It is not signposted in English, but you should find it easily from the gallery pic. I suppose one would describe this place as a dried grocery store. If you can dry it and eat it, it is here. And as you know, the Chinese will eat just about anything, so expect to find sea cucumbers, starfish, every possible edible mushroom and bracket fungus, a selection of shellfish that will make your eyes water, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, meats (the appeal of sweet pork floss remains a mystery to me) and mind bogglingly expensive cordyceps fungi with their caterpillar hosts. There is also a massive selection of traditional Shanghainese sweets and snacks as well as cured meats and fowl. It is a fascinating place, especially if it is your first introduction to the oftentimes weird and wonderful world of Chinese cuisine. Find the ladies selling the cookies and palmiers and try a few of their pineapple crisps. Delicious! If time permits you can continue heading west towards People’s Square and Nanjing West with all its luxurious boutiques where all the larny people shop, but we’re going east.

 Just outside San Yang is (3) Chez l’Ami. This is a good place to quench your thirst (you have been walking for all of twenty minutes after all) and do a bit of people watching. Yes, it is very, very French and as such is a bit of a shameful cop-out on day one of your big Chinese adventure, but it is one of the few places with seating right on the street.

Nanjing pedestrian road, oui?

Cai Tong De traditional medicines

Continue heading east towards the Bund. (6) South Beauty is a chain restaurant located in the Henderson Metropolitan and is a good bet if you’re looking for traditional Shanghainese and Szechuan food but are too scared to try street food. My suggestion though is to keep walking. Shanghainese street food is safe, delicious and cheap and available everywhere. Get your first taste right here at the little cafe on the street corner (opposite Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store with its floral wreaths). It’s easy to spot – there is probably a queue thirty people deep standing in line for (4) pork moonpies sold from a little window on the side. These savoury pastries are absolutely stuffed with pork mince filling and encased in a crispy, flaky shell. And at around US$0.50 a piece, it’s a deliciously cheap way to fill your tank. There’s a veggie version too. Look out for the red lanterns of (5) Cai Tong De pharmacy a little further along. Opened in 1882,  this pharmacy is famous for its traditional Chinese medicine. The four-story building sells medicinal herbs, herbal pieces, medicinal liquor, beauty treatments, health care products and some expensive tonics such as ginseng and pilose antler. If you’re running low on sheep placenta, donkey hide gelatin or deer penis, this is the place to stock up. I always wonder who the first person was to think, hmmm, let’s rub a bit of this on and see what it does? The rest of the road down to the Bund is chock full of boutiques and stores including an Apple store and the massive, newly opened Forever 21 if you’d like to kid yourself.

(7) The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is named after the Swatch watch shop on the first floor. The Renaissance style building was constructed as the Palace Hotel in 1908. It has a brick veneer structure with six stories reaching 30 meters in height. The rooftop terrace has spectacular views of the city skyline and is a fantastic place to try a few cocktails (many with champagne if you’re feeling particularly celebratory) as the sun goes down. It also has a lovely view of my favourite art deco building in Shanghai – the Imperial Crown of the Westin Bund Centre.

The rooftop bar at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Looks posh, but anything goes.

Right next door is (8) The Bund 18 – a high end commercial bar and restaurant complex in a neoclassical style building that received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2006 after two years of careful restoration. The building houses the well known French eatery, Mr. & Mrs. Bund. Stop here for dessert. No, it doesn’t matter if it’s only eleven in the morning and you haven’t even eaten lunch. Just stop here for dessert anyway! With his Lemon & Lemon Tart, chef Paul Pairet does things to this little yellow citrus fruit over a period of 72 hours that will have you jumping up and down in your seat and clapping hands like a giddy little girl. At least, that’s what it did to me. A paper thin, whole candied lemon rind is filled with lemon sorbet, lemon curd and vanilla chantilly and served with sablé (shortbread biscuit to you and me). At 100RMB (US$16) a portion this is a dessert you savour mouthful by creamy, tangy, citrussy mouthful. But you can tuck in to a complimentary amuse-bouche before you start – impossibly light and airy but beautifully flavoured tuna mousse served in a re-purposed tuna can with crispy melba toast and other breads, so you’re getting your money’s worth. If that doesn’t convince you, they have teeny, tiny chairs specially for your bags! Now how cute is that?

Keep heading south along the Bund. Named after the Persian word for embankment, this one mile stretch along the Huangpu River is lined with dozens of historical buildings. There are benches all along the promenade where you can relax and look over the river at the view of the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre and the Jin Mao Tower that dominates the Pudong skyline. The Shanghai Tower – currently under construction to the right of the Jin Mao Tower – will be the tallest building in China when completed in 2014. The living walls lining the river side are a spectacular site and change with the seasons. (9) The Shanghai Customs House houses a massive clock tower known as Big Ching. At 90 meters tall it is the largest clock tower in Asia, with each of the four clock faces measuring over 5 meters in diameter. The bell was modeled on London’s Big Ben and when it chimes it feels a little like you could run into the Queen at any moment (like you do on an average day in London.)

HSBC Bank & Shanghai Customs House – don’t worry, you’re still in China.

(10) The HSBC Bank (now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank) is a six storey neoclassical building with 4 storey high columns, archways and a dome, the base of which is decorated with a triangular structure in imitation of Greek temples. Opposite the bank is a bronze sculpture – The Charging Bull Statue. It was designed by Read the rest of this entry

Mezepoli

Mezepoli

It turns out that blogging is not like riding a bike. Rather, it is like a gym routine – once you’ve missed a few days, even sorting your sock draw somehow seems to take priority over getting the next post out. And so it is that more than a month has passed since I got back to South Africa and I’ve hardly written a thing. To be fair, I have not touched ground till now. We moved house, saw friends and family and tried to pack in as much of the SA sunshine as we could before hubby headed back to Shanghai without me. But the dust has settled a bit, my sock draw is sorted and there are no more excuses.

Where is the first place you go to eat when you’ve spent a few months away from home and are craving all things South African? Well, apparently my family thinks it’s to a Greek joint. So Mezepoli is where I found myself a few weeks ago the day after I landed back home. I was not expecting to say anything about it here and didn’t even take my camera. The plan was just to catch up with my family. But oh. My. Word. One bite of their decadently thick and creamy tzatziki and I knew I had to spread the word! So I grabbed my phone camera (hence the quality) and started taking notes before the Rosé could go to my head.

Mezepoli is like that guy at school who everyone wants to be like even though he’s only ever in faded jeans and old t-shirts – it is just effortlessly cool. The waitrons are knowledgeable, efficient and attentive without bothering you with too many “Are you okay?”‘s, the decor is simple and fresh and menus are printed onto paper that doubles as your table cloth. This is not the place for a quiet, romantic meal (unless it’s a first date and you’re worried about awkward silences, because there will be none here). Mezepoli is vibey and energetic and brilliant for a big group of friends. All those vague acquaintances you accepted on Facebook? This is why you put up with them! Get together as many people as you can so you can order and taste a bit of everything! Virtually the entire menu consists of meze. Various olives, cheeses and dips and vegetarian, seafood and meat meze can be mixed and matched as you like. You could get stuck here for an entire afternoon working your way through plate after plate. They describe their own dishes as being simple and paired down with unmasked, pure flavours so that matching dishes together is easy. There is even a food pairing suggestion if you just want to have drinks and one plate. Ha! Like you’ll manage to stop after one plate. I am no Mediterranean food expert, but I have never had meze like this! Start at the very beginning and order a bit from each section. Don’t skip the dips just because they might seem pedestrian compared to the rest of the menu. The tzatziki will have your uvula throwing little ceramic plates down and shouting “Opa!”. But if you think that that is expecting a bit much from a bit of yogurt and garlic, then try the melitzanosalata (roasted aubergine blended with garlic) and tirosalata (feta blended with peppers and chili). You’ll be praying for a successful solution to the Greek crisis so your supply never gets cut off. Be sure to mop it all up with lots of their fantastic pitas! Mezepoli is not the place to come if you’re worried about food miles as many of the yummy ingredients on the menu are imported. But I say rather plant a few extra trees and tuck in to the Spanish Jamon Serano ham or Italian prosciutto. And even if you’re lactose intolerant, practice your “it wasn’t me” face, put up with the bloat and have a few of the feta and gruyère cheese croquettes. The calamari grilled with onion and garlic and chicken wings done in delicate peri-peri are two other not-to-be-missed dishes, both bearing testament to the fact that simple, uncluttered flavours are sometimes the best way to go. The bekri meze (beef fillet with peppers and white wine) wasn’t to my taste, but then peppers can be a Read the rest of this entry

Guest Post: Swiss Miss

Guest Post: Swiss Miss

Guest post by Rachel Carlin

The magical number 7:  a movie with Brad Pitt; a trying time for relationships, and of course the time frame Jesuit priests need to make the boy a man.  This is also the length of time I had not returned to Geneva: place where I found my passion (early childhood intervention), was very happy (Flanagan’s Pub and Shaker’s Nightclub) and learnt to cook (Faith O’Neill).

Faith not only taught me to cook, she taught me to love food. She taught me that a recipe book is often better reading than the latest bestseller. She taught me to look at a recipe and adapt it to the many needs and dietary requirements of a growing family. But, the most important thing she taught me was the best way to say “I love you” is in a dish. The dish has to be like the emotion itself: consistent, easily recognisable as such, and the culinary cuddle you need on a bad day. Faith and Paul (Mr. Faith) showed the ultimate love when they allowed me, not only to join in what was essentially theirs, but let it morph and grow to fit one more (as love should) and so shit pie became ours. Shit pie was served on bad days, sad days and glad days. Faith dished up shit pie to my backpacking baby brother and reduced him to tears. I will admit to trying to make it once, but failed dismally as it just wasn’t the same without the lashings of red (cue in Paul).

Some misconceptions about shit pie:

  1. It isn’t a pie
  2. And in the same line it contains no shit
  3. It is not the colour of shit

Rather, it was devised by the fantastic Faith (lawyer, mother, culinary expert and awesome lady) pre-kid days in London. Legend has it, Faith opened the kitchen cupboards and announced :”There is just shit here” and proceeded to create one of my favourite dishes ever. She made it TWICE for me in a 9 day visit (four of those nights she was State side), that is how awesome she is. So, without further ado, I give you Shit Pie for 4 (uncle Sticky joined us the last night)

Ingredients

1 tin anchovies

Healthy shake of mixed herbs

2 onions thinly sliced

1 garlic clove minced

2 tins tomatoes (ideally peeled and cubed)

2 tins tuna in brine

1 small tin black olives (not Greek) pitted and sliced

A handful of capers

A squirt of Tabasco

Basmati Rice to serve

Lashings of red wine (for 4 at least 6 to 8 bottles)

Method

In a frying pan, add the anchovies, with the oil and soften and then add the onions and garlic.

Next add the tomatoes and herbs.

Reduce. ( 5 to 7 minutes)

Shake on some Tabasco to taste and add tuna, olives and caper.

And yip you are done.

Serve with rice and lashings of red.

Perfection.

Turkish (or possibly Moroccan) chicken with saffron and almond couscous

Turkish (or possibly Moroccan) chicken with saffron and almond couscous

I have been back in beautiful, sunny SA for a few weeks now.  It is insanely lovely right now. Really. Like living in an HDR photo. Or maybe it’s just my new polarised sunglasses? Either way it’s crazy green and ridiculously blue and just gorgeous! I’m not sure whether to say I’m visiting, touring or home, because I’m not completely sure where we go next really. No wonder the gypsies were always a little miffed at the world. But I am loving it! My life feels a bit like an episode of the Amazing Race (a show I now realise I could never partake in as I would most certainly go postal when dealing with the airlines, will in all likelihood brain someone with one of those little posts used to contain the queues at an airport and then spend the rest of my life in jail. Also, at 35 years old I have been informed by my father that with my back I may not horse ride or go-cart, so there goes half the challenges too.). We spent a few days in the Kruger Park (more on that later) and are now lazing next to the banks of the the Vaal with G&T’s whilst feeding the fish using rods. There has been little time for blogging. And when there has been, I have preferred to use it to read – Kaalkop by Nataniël to be precise so at least I am getting my foodie fix in. Do yourself the favour. Anyhoo, to make up for the lack of posts, herewith a recipe for chicken that my mom made on my last visit home. The original recipe is from the Lifestyle magazine in the Sunday Times but as I was so busy nattering and gulping down ice cold bubbly, I took no notice of what she did really. So I had to sort of chuck in the flavours I remember. The recipe called for a whole chicken stuffed with couscous and took hours to make. This one is done in a jiffy and with drumsticks. It is therefore probably not remotely the same thing, but is a close enough approximation none the less!

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 medium onions, chopped

3 tablespoons oil

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 cup of raisins or sultanas

1kg chicken pieces

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

125ml chicken broth

2 or 3 tablespoons honey, depending on how sweet you like it

a few saffron threads, steeped in 2 tablespoons of hot water (essential! treat yourself!)

couscous for 4

half a cup of whole almonds, halved

 

1) Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan. Season the onions with salt and pepper and slowly saute until translucent and just, just heading towards a pale golden colour. Add the garlic and cook for another two or three minutes.

2)Transfer to an ovenproof dish big enough to hold the onions and all your chicken. Scatter the raisins over the onions.

3) In the same pan, brown the chicken pieces and place on top of the onions and raisins. Deglaze the pan with a little water and add the juices to the dish.

4) Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat down a little. Add the spices and fry until they start releasing their fragrance. Hum a Bollywood tune. Add the broth, honey and saffron, heat for a minute or two more and pour over the chicken. Bake at 180ºC for 1 hour.

5) Prepare the couscous as per the packet instructions (use a bit of chicken broth instead of just water), stir in the almonds and serve with the chicken. The almonds add a beautiful texture to the dish that I have become totally addicted to!

“Pap & Wors”

“Pap & Wors”

What is it about boerewors that makes it one of the first things South Africans abroad would list when asked what they miss most about home? Like maple syrup, mushy peas and rice noodles, this coriander spiced sausage is one of those dishes that evokes instant images of a nation while simultaneously getting a “meh” from the rest of the world. But for us, boerewors is short winters and long summers, relaxed braais in the sunshine, friends around a fire, cheering for the Boks (or lately, crying together about them) and tapping our feet to “Spirit of the great heart” playing on a loop in our heads. It’s on our whittled down list of 100 reasons why we stay despite the crooks, crime and corruption. Like Africa, it’s in my blood and impossible to forget when I leave it behind. And weirdly, when I am away from home I even start missing things I never even liked at home! Like pap tert. I can’t stand pap tert. But suddenly I really, really wanted pap tert & wors. In China. Needless to say, it’s not big there. But I could easily get everything I needed to create a close approximation without having to try and explain  pig intestines to the butcher. That would’ve been fun. This was the result: A kind of posher version of pap en wors (or at least as posh as meatballs can be). Our Tanzanian correspondent believes that this dish is an abomination. Pap should always be pap and should not be poshed up. I can only think of two reasons why she feels this way: a) she hasn’t tried it and b) her mother’s pap lasagne has ruined fusion South African cuisine for her forever. If it helps, then think of it as meatballs and cornbread. Better now, isn’t it? When done this way, the cornbread is very light and crumbly and the bottom bit soaks up the tomato and onion sauce. It’s like krummel pap en sous and that lovely little crunchy bit you get at the bottom of a pot of mieliepap that everyone fights over at the end of a meal! Personally, I thought it was genius.

Serves 4 with ease

 

Ingredients:

For the Ishibo (tomato and onion sauce)

If you can get your hands on a tin of Ishibo then, well, then you’re probably in SA and your car is being stolen from the supermarket parking lot. But chin up because at least you don’t have to chop up onions! If you don’t have Ishibo, fry a chopped onion until translucent, add a tin of chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer for thirty minutes. If the mixture become too dry, just add a little water. Set aside. Read the rest of this entry

Guest Post: The good girl’s guide to chicken livers.

Guest Post: The good girl’s guide to chicken livers.

By Rachel Carlin

It turns out Pringles are not the only thing that once you pop you can’t stop. Since popping my cherry, every time I so much as make a slice of toast, I am talking myself through it and seeing the process in print. As I firmly believe life is too short to ever eat bad food, or drink instant coffee for that matter, this “what will I blog next” question has taken over my life.

Living in the tropics, with manly man frequently off assembling big manly equipment, I am usually in the position to have chick food. This is not the corn and grain variety, or questionable substances if the sources of anti-battery farming are to be believed, but rather girly food, essentially salad. I am not one of these girls who has bought into the no carb after stupid o’clock diet. I have also never bought into one lettuce leaf and a murmur of carrot salad. So, I created THE SALAD OF CHAMPIONS.

A quick side note. My mobile phone provider gives 200, yes two hundred, free local texts a day. Texting is my communication mode. I seldom require a reply and have been known to reach close to 200 LOCAL texts in a day (this excludes bbm’s, whatsapp messages and international texts). Did I mention I run my own business?

So, due to this texting habit, I know what all my friends are having for dinner every night. And I am a bit competitive so I like to believe, even if it’s just in my head, that I am winning. It is sometimes challenging to remain loyal to TSOC, but I do. My dearest friend and next door neighbour was having chicken livers for dinner and coincidentally so was I. Sadly I knew hers would be the yummy restaurant variety with the cream and rich sauce lovingly mopped up with chapattis. Mine unfortunately would be the healthy variety, ten days until my trip to Switzerland and trying to store up negative calories to use on cheese fondue and hot chocolate being the driving force.

So here goes:

Chicken livers for good girls

2 garlic cloves minced.

1 onion thinly sliced Read the rest of this entry

Mooncakes

Mooncakes

Thousand layer mooncakes.

I have been so busy shoveling mooncake into my face, trying to determine which ones are tastiest (in the name of investigative eating of course) that I forgot to write about them before they started disappearing again! Blame the brain slump after the sugar rush. Mooncakes (yuè bĭng) are sweet or savoury cakes eaten all year round, but especially during the Mid-Autumn Festival when the selection on offer balloons from a few choices in the corner of the bakery to what seems like hundreds of sizes, shapes, colours and flavours. During the festival (also known as the Moon Festival or Chinese Lantern Festival) which celebrates the end of the fall harvest, mooncakes are offered between friends, business associates and family. They are packaged in anything from single cakes in simple cellophane wrappers, to a selection of cakes wrapped in delicate tissue paper and nestled in beautifully decorated, elaborate boxes. (You know how you are always thinking it’ll be there tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow? Well, that’s what happened with all the beautiful displays of packaged mooncakes I kept swearing I’d photograph the next day. It never happened. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.)

Typical mooncakes are round or rectangular thin pastries with a rich, sweet, dense filling. Traditional mooncakes are made from red bean or lotus seed paste around a salted duck egg yolk that symbolises the full moon. (Salted duck egg in a sweet pie is a lot tastier than it sounds.) The cakes are embossed with various drawings and characters that might say the name of the bakery, the type of filling or the Chinese characters for  “longevity” or “harmony”. Other imprints might depict flowers, leaves, vines or one of the various legends surrounding mooncakes:

– Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon – who landed up living there due to an unfortunate string of events involving ten suns in the form of three legged birds living in a mulberry tree, a kick-ass archer and half a coughed up pill  – is often depicted. And you thought Scientology was weird.

– Rabbits are another popular choice, with some cakes even baked in the shape of a rabbit. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Rabbit lives on the moon where he pounds away at herbs trying to make another pill for Chang’e so she can get back to earth. I believe this. I’ve seen him. Although to me it looks like he’s lying in a bed with a patchwork quilt, which fits better with the other legend claiming that three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, jumped into a fire to cook himself so that they could eat his flesh. Touched by his sacrifice, the sages let him live in the Moon Palace.

– A popular legend claims that moon cakes were instrumental in the overthrow of the Mongol dynasty that ruled China from 1271–1368. As group gatherings were banned, it was impossible to make plans for a  rebellion and so the Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang had to devise a sneaky plan. Noting that the Mongols didn’t eat mooncakes, he timed the uprising to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival. He sought permission to distribute thousands of moon cakes to the Chinese residents in the city to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Inside each cake, they inserted a message on a piece of paper that read: “Kill the Read the rest of this entry

Homemade granola

Homemade granola

Breakfast is a bit of a challenge in China if you’re not near a shop that sells expat goods. You can get the odd cereal, but they’re more into congee and noodles with their morning cuppa. Lucky for you, you’re a thrifty little homemaker, and all the ingredients to make your own granola are readily available. And you don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make this either. It takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, and then just let the oven do the rest!

 

Makes 3 cups

 

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups raw oats

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)

1/2 cup of nuts (I used almonds)

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

5 tablespoons honey

 

Method

1) Preheat the oven to 100ºC. (If you’re using a little toaster oven, which if you’re a temporary citizen you probably are, make it 120. Don’t be impatient and set it too high or you’ll burn the nuts. You don’t want burnt nuts). Scatter the oats in a baking tray. Sprinkle with the salt, cinnamon and nuts and stir through.

2) In a little bowl, melt the butter and add the oil and honey. Pour over the oats.

3) Stir the honey mixture into the oats. This is about the minimum amount of mixture you would need to get good coverage without it getting to fatty or sweet. Yes, I realise there is no such thing as “TOO fatty or sweet”, but it’s breakfast, so let’s try to start the day right, okay?  It won’t look like enough in the beginning, but just keep stirring till it’s all coated and trust that it is enough. If you want more butter and honey, add as much as you like.

4) Place in the oven and toast until golden brown and crunchy, about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Of jellyfish, old eggs and other things to eat.

Of jellyfish, old eggs and other things to eat.

Century eggs with soy sauce

As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend I finally got around to trying century eggs, chicken feet and jellyfish. I have had a punnet of preserved duck eggs sitting in the fridge for weeks now and just haven’t had any ideas on what to do with it. The only recipe suggestion I could find was century eggs with silky tofu. Ew. But when it was served to me on a plate on Saturday night I had no more excuses. Ditto with the chicken feet and jelly fish. Chicken feet are ubiquitous around here. They are available on the street as a deep fried, boiled or battered snack and they are plentiful at the supermarket, both fresh and frozen in open cases at the butchery as well as vacuum packed in the snack aisle. Jellyfish too are available at the fish counter and vacuum packed as a snack. But unlike those sneaky chocolate bars that slip into your trolley as you pass through the snack aisle, chicken feet and jellyfish don’t exactly jump off the shelf at you now, do they? As I pointed out to my husband the other night when a tiny, disorientated beetle took a nose dive into a boiling pot of pasta I had on the stove, our perception of what is acceptable to eat is almost entirely a state of mind. I have no problem wolfing down a platter of prawns, legs and all, but I would spend ten minutes trying to fish the now partially disintegrated beetle out of the pasta. By the time I got it out I actually needed the crunch it would’ve provided as by then the pasta was overcooked and nothing was “too the tooth”. It was just the idea of eating this beetle. Big, fat, bug-eyed cockroaches of the sea? No problem. Flying insectile sources of protein? Hell no!

I think these might be off, but how would you even know??

Which brings me to the century egg. To be honest, if you had blindfolded and fed it to me (blindfolded me, not the egg) and told me it was a hard boiled egg with a bit of cream and beautifully ripe Camembert inserted into the centre for a creamier yolk with a delicate ammonia flavour I would’ve loved it and declared you a Heston Blumenthal-esque genius. Because that is exactly what it tasted like. Just a little more sulfurous. But it isn’t a hard boiled egg with a creamy center now, is it? It’s a raw egg, immersed in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for anything from a few weeks to several months. This turns the egg white into a firm, translucent, dark brown jelly and the yolk a grey-green, creamy consistency with a slight sulfur and ammonia taste. I tried the egg white first and it didn’t taste like much – pretty much like a very firm, boiled egg white. Then I tried the yolk on it’s own and I really struggled to keep it down. I don’t know why! The flavour was creamy and delicate and everything but my eyes told me it was something I should love! But as I took the second bite, getting a bit of everything in, some of the green yolk sort of glooped off the chopstick on to my plate and I was done. I really am rather disappointed with myself on this one I have to tell you. Century eggs (quail, chicken and duck eggs) are available everywhere and can be bought singly as a vacuum packed snack, by weight or prepacked in punnets. They are also labelled as preserved eggs.

Preserved quail eggs at a market.

The chicken feet were a bigger success. I’ve suspected all along that I’d actually like them as one of my many secret shames is that that little gristly bit on the end of a drumstick is my favourite part of the chicken. But when it comes to animal bits, what puts me off is the package deal. Chicken feet on their own are fine. Chicken feet still attached to the chicken, not so much. So when you’re standing in the butcher, contemplating the chicken feet right next to other chicken feet still part of a whole chicken, you have one of those “Usual suspect” moments. You look at the feet, you look at the chicken, you look at the feet… Wait… The feet… are part of the chicken! I need to get over this. After all, as a South African the concept of “walkie-talkies” (chicken feet and heads) is not foreign to me, even though it is not a staple of the average white South African. Personally, I think this should change because, as I suspected, I liked the chicken feet. Not so much how they were served on Saturday night (boiled and then served cold with chillies and vinegar), but nibbling those little gristly bits off was really good, and I can quite imagine myself working my way through a big pile of roasted chicken feet washed down with an ice cold beer.

Looks good right? I’d klap that with a beer!

As for the jellyfish, you might as well find the dullest person around and ask if you can nibble his ear a bit. Tasteless with a sort of squeaky crunch. A bit like trying to chew that rubber skeleton toy we all had when we were kids, just with some sesame oil and a bit of soy. I am dumbfounded as to why anyone would eat this. I will try it again though, just to be sure. And as with all things, you shouldn’t take my word for it either. Who knows? Century eggs and jellyfish could just be your dream meal!