When you hear the phrase, “Chinese food,” what do you think of? Shrimp lo mein? Chicken and Broccoli? When you hear the phrase, “French food,” can you make such a narrow picture? Most people would say no. This is ironic, as China is hundreds of times bigger than France and has many more delicacies to choose from. Fuchsia Dunlop shows exactly how little Westerners know about the second largest country in the world.
Fuchsia Dunlop set out to research China for the BBC. Almost as soon as she got there, she abandoned the idea of working for TV and started getting into the native cuisine. Amazed by the flavors and extraordinary food, she decided to take courses in Sichuanese cooking. She saw how much different Chinese culture was to what she was used to. Daughters are hardly seen as part of the family, in some parts of the country, people have never seen foreigners, and almost all of the people loved Mao, even though he killed many people and was a fierce ruler. Fuchsia was overwhelmed by this culture shock, but she started to become more and more Chinese, almost to the point where she couldn’t understand why some people wouldn’t eat chicken feet. Now she has become a food celebrity and she makes China seem like an amazing place to be.
As I read this book, I got more and more intrigued by China. The whole idea of a culture revolving around food and streets brimming with snacks piqued my interest. I had to learn more about it. So I decided to make a hot pot from the book and my parents and I drove off to Chinatown for Chinese produce and sauces. It was a blistering hot day, but we had to find my ingredients. We left the car and checked all of the stalls. It took a while, but we finally found some radishes, ginger, and cabbage. The cabbages were a bit bigger than normal ones, but the radishes were HUGE. They were practically the size of my head! There were also string beans almost as long as an arm! Whoever said everything is bigger in Texas has obviously never been to China. We checked a couple of grocery stores and found our sauces and I managed to find some milk flavored pocky (It melted by the time I got home, but it was actually white chocolate flavor, so it was okay.). One grocery had animal crackers with Macaw, Furseal, and Mandarin Duck shapes (I didn’t know that they were that specific in those designs!). The groceries smelled of dried shrimp, so getting out of them was a relief. After our shopping, we visited a crowded restaurant called Xo Kitchen. I wanted to get the goose feet, duck feet, or pig knuckles, but I stopped myself from getting too strange foot food. We did get a whole squab, though. Head and tail still attached. It was delicious. We went home happy (minus one parking ticket). Success!
The next day, we made the hot pot. We peeled and chopped monster vegetables, eating leafy cabbage slices on the sly. The Sichuan peppercorns’ bag warned not to eat as a snack, but they looked so delicious! My Dad chopped the meat and then stirred it into a spicy chili mixture. Covered in chili sauce, the colorless meat had donned a supernaturally spicy coating. We covered it in water and let it stew for a few hours. Just a little while now…
We put the dish in a fondue pot and watched it come to a simmer. We took our rice and a bit of the concoction. We raised our chopsticks to our mouth and felt the flavor. Not only did we taste it, we felt it. The hot pot had overpowered us. I dipped into my cran-grape juice funds and went for another go at this challenge. Nothing in that pot was the least bit mild. Then we remembered. The tofu! We threw it in, waited a little while and took a bite. Ah! Something that has that almost obnoxiously loud spicy flavor coupled with a cooling inside! We were pleased at this flavor. The radishes were also quite a good contrast, both bitter and spicy. Nearing the end of the feasting, we were delirious with spice. As Fuchsia Dunlop put it, “We couldn’t distinguish pain from pleasure.” And so ends my brief discovery of China.