Chile was a great example of how day to day life as we know it can be rudely and terribly interrupted by Mother Nature. It also reminds me of the resourcefulness of mankind in the face of disaster.
Our next destination is one of the most difficult countries to summarize. To get to it from Chile, we must sail westward past the furthest territories of Chile, Easter Island. Perched in the Southern Polynesian chain, Easter Island is world famous for its giant monolithic statues known as Maoi. These massive heads are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Despite their geographic distance from Chile, once we reach them, we still have several thousand miles to sail to reach Hong Kong, the home region of our next dish.
China has one of the oldest continuous societies on earth. With over 1 billion people from various regional backgrounds each with their own identity, China is either an enigma or a life study for a food historian. The best way to summarize China for the sake of this journey is to break down the common regional cuisines and leave the issue of culture and society within China for a more detailed study. This link will provide a nice overview of the geographic and cultural influences that help identify the subcategories within Chinese Cuisines.
China has at least 8 different influential regional cuisines. From these, more focused styles can be identified and even further specific classification occurs such as within major population centers like the capitol of Beijing. We will discuss the “Four Great Traditions” here. They are often referred to as the Four Great Traditions. (Refer to Wikipedia articles and further research for more in depth explanations than those paraphrased here. I am generally quoting Wiki since my computer crashed leaving me short on time and I am not an expert on Chinese cuisine.)
The first is Shandong. Also known as Lu Cuisine, it can be broken down into two main styles. The first is Jiaodong. This style includes dishes from Fushan, Quingdao and Yantai as well as surrounding regions. It is characterized by seafood, with light tastes. The second subcategory is Jinan. This style includes dishes from Jinan, Dezhou, Tai’an and surrounding areas. The use of soups characterizes this style.
The second of the Four Great Traditions is Sichuan, or Szechuan to many westerners. Szechuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, drying and smoking, and is generally spicy. The Sichuan peppercorn is commonly used; it is an indigenous plant producing peppercorns which has an intensively fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a “tingly-numbing” sensation in the mouth. Also common are garlic, chili, ginger, star anise and other spicy herbs, plants and spices. Broad bean chili paste is also a staple seasoning in Sichuan cuisine.
Third is Huaiyang cuisine. Native to the regions of the Huai and Yangtze river, Huaiyang cuisine characteristically founds each dish on its main ingredient, and the way that ingredient is cut is pivotal to its cooking and its final taste. The cuisine is also known for employing Chinkiang vinegar, which is produced in the Zhenjiang region. Huaiyang cuisine tends to have a sweet side to it and is almost never spicy, in contrast to some cuisines of China (e.g., Sichuan or Hunan). Pork, fresh water fish, and other aquatic creatures serve as the meat base to most dishes, which are usually more meticulous and light compared to the more “brash” eating styles of northern China.
Cantonese ( Yuet ) cuisine comes from Canton in southern China. Of all the regional varieties of Chinese cuisine, Cantonese is the most renowned both inside and outside China. Its prominence outside China is due to the great numbers of early emigrants from Guangdong. In China, too, it enjoys great prestige among the eight great traditions of Chinese cuisine, and Cantonese chefs are highly sought after throughout the country. Cantonese cuisine draws upon a great diversity of ingredients as Canton has been a trading port since the days of the Thirteen Factories, bringing it many imported foods and ingredients. Besides pork, beef, and chicken, Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats, including organ meats, chicken feet, duck tongue, snakes, and snails. However, lamb and goat is rarely eaten, unlike in cuisines of Northern or Western China. Many cooking methods are used, steaming and stir-frying being the most favored due to their convenience and rapidity, and their ability to bring out the flavor of the freshest ingredients. Other techniques include shallow frying, double boiling, braising, and deep frying.
(The above notations were taken from Wikipedia under various entries and are free license. I have edited some of the wording for voice.)
I have chosen to cook the National Dish associated with Cantonese cooking. The dish is called Loh Foh Tong and is regionally associated with Hong Kong. It is a slow cooked dish that includes seafood and pork as well as the peppery leaves of the watercress plant and is accented by dates of two varieties and Goji or Chinese Wolf Berries.
This dish is a very exotic flavor to a western palate. Similar to most Chinese recipes, Loh Foh Tong is a very carefully balanced series of flavors that work off of each other to give an otherwise simple dish a very sophisticated flavor profile. I give this dish a 2 for difficulty. Following the directions very closely is recommended. I bought an inexpensive digital scale to handle the conversions and was happy with the results.
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Appearance: 3 out of 5
Aroma: 3 out of 5
Flavor: 4 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 15
Ingredients (serve 4-6):
150g lean pork
2-3 small pieces of dried cuttlefish or dried octupus (optional)
150g watercress, washed and drained
2 dried honey dates
6 dried red dates
1.5 liters water
2 tbsp Chinese Wolfberry/Goji berry (optional)
Salt to taste
1. Place the pork in a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over it. Let sit for a few minutes. Rinse with clean water. This step removes excess fat, any strange ‘porky’ flavour and makes for a clearer and cleaner tasting soup.
2. Place the pork, dried cuttlefish/octupus (if using), watercress, honey dates, red dates and boiling water in a large pot. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down to a low simmer. The soup will be ready in about 2 hours, but I like to cook mine long and slow for at least 3-4 hours.
3. If using Chinese wolfberry/goji berry, add them during the final hour of cooking. Cooking goji berry for too long imparts a slightly sour taste to the soup which some people do not like. If you do not mind, just add them to all other ingredients at the beginning.
4. About 5-10 minutes before serving, season to taste with some salt.
Note: Although the cuttlefish is optional, it is a special flavor and can usually be bought at an Asian Grocery. It is commonly used in regional recipes.
In addition to the soup, we also prepared steamed dumplings, another traditional favorite. Here are pictures and a quick recipe:
1 lb lean pork minced
2 cups diced green cabbage
1 pack gyoza wrappers
1/3 cup Thai Soy Sauce or other soy sauce (The Thai variety of soy sauce is all natural and uses original ingredients rather than caramel flavoring and artificial coloring)
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
fresh cracked peppercorns
2 tbsp sugar
Blend all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and saute for 5 minutes till cooked.
Place a small amount of the mix in each gyoza wrapper and wet the edges with fingertip.
Fold into a dumpling and press the edges closed to seal.
Place dumplings in a steamer and steam for 5 minutes.
Makes about 50 dumplings