No hope of that any time soon, so for the present, I relive the memories through photos and videos on my iPhone and the interviews I recorded with many of the fascinating cooks, farmers and artisan producers I encountered and of course I wish I had done many, many more.
But the most poignant way to bring precious memories flooding back is through the food. Even smells transport me to far away places, to bustling food markets, ‘hole in the wall’ eateries, street stalls, as well as world renowned restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen, Fäviken in Sweden, Chez Panise in California, Atica in Melbourne and Restaurante Tlamanalli in the Teotitlan del Valle outside Oaxaca in Mexico.
This week I am going back to China on my virtual food travels, particularly poignant in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. My first visit, in February 2018 was to attend the International Slow Food Conference in Chenghu, the UNESCO capital of gastronomy in the Sichuan province.
The food was fantastic, the city of Chenghu welcomed the delegates from all over the world whole heartedly, with wonderful entertainment, opera, theatre, music and superb Chinese food for which the Sichuan province is justly famous. We visited day and night food markets with super fresh food, the freshest fish I have ever seen, some still alive. In Pixian, a suburb of Chengdu, we were shown how the famous Chinese spicy bean paste, Dobuanjiang is slowly fermented for several years in huge earthenware pots with wheat, salt and a variety of chillies – it’s the quintessential flavour of China. Dobuanjiang, is considered to be the soul of Sichuan cooking is an essential ingredient in Mapotofu.
We visited organic farms in the highlands, a 2 hour bus journey outside the city, a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside and wave to the friendly people, many of whom may not ever have seen a non-Chinese person before. It was an intriguing cultural experience, one I will never forget.
One of the special highlights of my visit to Chenghu was meeting Fuchsia Dunlop who was the very, first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and for almost three decades. Since then she has travelled around China collecting recipes. Fuchsia speaks, reads and writes in Chinese and is the author of four outstanding books on Chinese Food. Her Sichuan Cookery published in 2001 was voted by Observer Food Magazine as one of the greatest cook books of all time – how about that for an accolade.
On this trip, Fuchsia was revisiting the region where her culinary journey began, adding more than 50 recipes to the original repertoire and accompanying them with her incomparable knowledge of the taste, textures and sensations of Sichuanese cookery. Fuchsia’s writing on the cultural and culinary history of Sichuan is quite simply spellbinding and there are food and gorgeous travel photos.
Sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, well if you have even the remotest interest in Chinese food prepare to be captivated by The Food of Sichuan – Fuchsia Dunlop’s insight into one of the world’s greatest cuisines published by Bloomsbury.