Recently I went all the way to China … The impetus for the trip was the news that my last book Grow Cook Nourish had been shortlisted for a World Gourmand Cookbook award. It was up against stiff competition including Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion and Oprah Winfrey’s Food, Health and Happiness… I reckoned that my tome urging people to take back control over their food, grow some of their own and cook it, wouldn’t have a chance.
Nonetheless it was an excuse to spend a few days doing some edible research in China and surprise, surprise, Grow Cook Nourish WON a special award - Best World Gourmand Cookbook 2017 -
and my publisher Kyle Cathie received the Publisher of the Year Award so that was definitely the ‘icing on the cake’ …
On this trip we took in Beijing, Datong, Pingyao and Yantai where
the awards were hosted.
Yes, I walked on the Great Wall of China, visited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, The Summer Garden and the totally awesome Hanging Temples near Mount Hengshan in the Shanxi Province but in this piece, I’ll concentrate on the food and the many good things we tasted.
The pace of change, in virtually all Chinese cities is just jaw
dropping, most of the traditional single or double storey houses have been demolished to make way for gigantic skyscrapers 28-30 stories tall, the horizon is dotted with the tallest cranes I’ve ever seen.
Peking duck is the great speciality of Beijing. Of course there are a
myriad of restaurants who serve it, Mongolian hot pot too, but if you have a craving for McDonald’s or KFC they are there aplenty,
however I’m always on a mission to taste the local street foods and so far, they are still a part of everyday life, even in Beijing where it
seems there is a huge push towards all things Western. A wander
through a local vegetable market is also an illuminating window into local culture and eating habits. One of Beijing’s most fascinating is the Sanyvanli Market, opens at 6am and has stall after stall of beautiful super fresh vegetables and exotic fruit, mangosteen, durian, lychees, pomelo, also ripe mangoes and huge hard scary grapes, some round, others pointy. All the fruit and vegetables were beautifully presented and packed including, boxes of spanking fresh waxberries (myrica rubra) also called Chinese bayberry, all juicy and delicious.Stalls were piled high with fish and shellfish, scallops, sea urchins, crabs, lobsters, crayfish, much of it still alive.
Butcher shops selling freshly slaughtered meat, black and white
skinned poultry and tons of offal. A wild mushroom stall with a mind-blowing selection of fungi including cauliflower mushrooms the size of a baby’s head. Two little bakeries, making Chinese flat breads,were nestled among the stalls. I loved watching them rolling huge rounds of dough – 2 feet in diameter and cooking it on a hot griddle, sometimes plain but often with chopped scallions or garlic chives incorporated. I took a little video so I can experiment, it was so delicious, I hope I can manage to recreate this popular breakfast bread at home.
The night markets are also a must, there are many but we visited the one just off Wangfujing Street, Beijing’s posh shopping street where all the luxury brand shops cluster. This area really comes to life after sun down.
Here I ate scorpion kebabs and crispy silk worms, surprisingly
delicious once you grit your teeth and decide to be adventurous. Lots of offal, squid and dumplings, chicken feet and gizzards and tiny toffee apples- a Beijing speciality. Lamb kebabs were also delicious but a roast goat (kid) leg with cumin and chilli was the best of all. This market was fun but a bit touristy.
Street food vendors are still a vital part of everyday life in China.
Dough stacks, youtiao, snacks like scallion pancakes, Jianbing . Sweet potatoes roasted in old cooking oil drums are also delectable.
Don’t leave China without attending a tea ceremony, a wonderful
ritual after which tea will never be the same again. We tasted ginseng, jasmine and gunpowder tea and puer, exquisite but sadly the teas I bought having been assured that they were identical quality were anything but – sadly a frequent occurrence in China, from taxis to restaurants. Follow the guidebooks advice, insist on using the taxi meter and check your bill meticulously…..otherwise a brilliant and delicious experience.