China flag

China

Why China?

China was Lani’s choice on the very pragmatic grounds that she wanted to scratch a large country off the scratch map. No problems with that logic!

My experience of China

I’ve never been to China and would love to go. A friend of mine (hello, Sharleen) is going there this year, and if my finances were in better shape (no thanks to you, Australian Tax Office!), I would have gone with her. I’ve always wanted to see the Great Wall but I know that I would have let myself be disappointed if there were people on the wall when I was taking photos. No people on the Great Wall. As if that’s ever going to happen!

Like many other Aussies, my exposure to Chinese food has mostly been the ubiquitous Chinese takeaway. And sometimes those yummy, yummy, yummy lunar new year feasts. But sometimes those chicken feet and flat, tasteless, steamed chicken – errrkkkk.

My mum suffered dreadfully in the heat and, after my older brothers got married and left home, my dad would not let her cook big Christmas lunches. He would take mum and my younger brother and me to the Jade Garden Restaurant in Essendon for Christmas lunch, and my memories of those Christmas lunches are wonderful. And for many years after dad died, my younger brother took Mum there for lunch every Christmas Day, until he died himself. So many happy memories. I wonder if the Jade Garden is still there?

Preparation

Lunch in China is on Sunday 25 March, and it’ll just be Lauren and Will and the kids, and Jan.

The Hiep Phat supermarket in Mitcham is a great place to visit! Not only is there a stunning variety of completely unfamiliar sights and smells, but the staff are extremely helpful. I could browse through those shelves for hours.

I need lotus leaves for the Lotus Leaf Wrap Sticky Rice, and had no idea what to expect of a lotus leaf. Holy moly, they’re huge!

And then it was off to the North Ringwood Meat Supply to buy some belly pork for the crispy roast pork, and chicken and beef for the steamboat. Oh, and to scrounge some butcher’s string to tie the sticky rice in the lotus leaves.

I was a bit half-hearted about making fortune cookies (which aren’t Chinese at all – they originated in the US in 1920), but then found a website with fortunes, and couldn’t resist. I haven’t had fortune cookies very often, and remember not being at all impressed by the very bland taste of flour and water. The recipe I found includes almond essence, which upped the flavour considerably, and was supposed to make ten cookies. But I got 13 quite large ones, so when the real time comes, I’ll make them quite a bit smaller. Which means we’ll have more fortunes!

I’m not even going to attempt to make Chinese desserts, and bought some pie cookies with mochi and blueberry and custard cream dai-fuku. I have no idea what they are or what they will taste like but, after all, the whole idea of 80 cuisines around the world is to step out of our food comfort zones.

Lani is very keen to write the quiz, so she and I will sit down together during the week and come up with 20 questions. I’m very glad that Lani chose China for her birthday month. I think we’re gunna have another great feast!

It’s Lani’s birthday on Monday. I’ll have to research if the Chinese have a special kind of birthday celebration cakes for six-year olds. Happy birthday for Monday, Lani-pops!

The menu

Our menu is:

  • Spring rolls
  • Chicken dumplings
  • Spring onion pancakes
  • Steamed prawns with garlic
  • Lotus leaf wrap sticky rice
  • Crispy roast pork
  • Chinese hot pot
  • Fortune cookies
  • Bought biscuits

Here are the recipes for our faves – China best recipes

Click here to see all our favourite recipes.

Lunch in China, Sunday 23 March 2018

The highlight for me was the crispy roast pork. It was indescribably delicious, and everything you want in crispy roast pork – crisp crackling, moist, tender, and a superb flavour. The recipe told me to use red fermented bean curd, and I’m sure it must have been that that gave it the punch. I’m still in raptures even thinking about it.

The spring onion pancakes were also seriously yummy. That recipe is definitely a keeper!

Lauren liked the Lotus Leaf Sticky Wrap Rice – again with some very unfamiliar ingredients, but oh so worth it. I had one for dinner on Saturday night as a sampler – and very nice, it was.

Liam loved the spring rolls. I had never made spring rolls before, and I didn’t even get to try one at lunch. But there are about two dozen the freezer, so my time will come.

The steamed prawns with garlic were superb, but how can prawns and garlic be anything but superb, I ask.

I have to fess up to being a little disappointed with the hot pot. I have only ever had one once before with a friend in the UK (hello, Karen!), which was delicious, but I think I neglected elements of the presentation on Sunday. I made shrimp balls (every nice), and had steak, chicken, calamari, tofu and lots of vegetables to dip into the really flavourful stock. But maybe we were wowing too much over the crispy roast pork, and the sticky rice and the pancakes to give the hot pot its due respect.

I wrote earlier about how wonderful it is to wander around an Asian supermarket, not having any idea what you were looking at or smelling. One of the many unfamiliar ingredients I had to get was char siu sauce.

Holy moly. How have I lived all this time and never tried char siu sauce! I thought I liked hoisin sauce, but this is hoisin sauce one million, squillion times nicer. Truly – that’s no exaggeration. The first thing I did in tidying up was to throw my bottle of Fountain hoisin sauce in the bin. It’s char siu for me from now on.

The fortune cookies were great fun, although damn impossible to shape consistently. Never mind, they tasted nice and had fortunes in them. As Meatloaf would have sung to us “two out of three ain’t bad”. I think my favourite fortune was “You think it’s a secret. But they know.”

And, um, the biscuits turned out to be made in Japan. I should have looked at the size 3 font a little more closely.

 The drinks

Ah, yes. The drinks.

I had decided at the beginning of this adventure that I would not bother too much with drinks, but we have found some fairly good ones on the journey and, at the last minute, I decided to see if there were any cocktails that had any claims to China in their names. And I’m so glad I did.

Do this. Do it now:

Shake half an ounce of midori, half an ounce of blue curacao, half an ounce of lime juice and a dash of Angostura bitters over ice. Pour into a cocktail glass and top it with champagne. It’s a jade cocktail. It’s the most amazing colour, and right up there with the Japanese gumboot for flavour. Just delicious!

The ambience

To eat inside or outside? Isn’t that the never-ending dilemma in Melbourne? The prediction was for rain and very high winds so I decided we would eat inside. Needless to say, the weather was perfect, and outdoors would have been lovely. C’est la vie!

I had been up to the local Chinese shops just after the lunar new year, and bought lots of red and gold decorations that the lady in the shop said meant good luck. So, we had lots of good luck charms around.

And I found a Spotify playlist of classical Chinese opera and folk songs. To my extremely untrained ears, it just sounded like high-pitched noise. But there you go – it’s all part of the atmosphere, isn’t it?

The quiz

I was so pleased that Lani wanted to write the quiz questions. It is so heartening that the littler kids are getting right into the spirit of this journey.

Here’s the factsheet – Factsheet_China

Here’s the place-mat – Place-mat_China

And, here’s the quiz – Quiz_China

Jan won the quiz. Well done, Jan! That’s two months in a row that Will has not won the quiz. I’ll ask him to do the questions next month, so that’ll be three months that he will not have won it.

 The highlight of lunch in China

For me, it was the crispy roast pork. Lauren liked the lotus leaf sticky rice, and Liam loved the spring rolls.

 Where to next?

Hej, Denmark!

 

 

 

 

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