Where did you learn your culinary skills?
To some, culinary skills bring to mind fancy creations like blanquette de veau, foie gras, or maybe bouillabaisse (or any dish with a French-sounding name).
Fine cooking has become such a rare skill now, a man refused to agree to a divorce because his wife’s cooking is too good.
But to most of the younger generations who grew up with electronics and the Internet, spending time in the kitchen wasn’t a big part of their childhood.
A lot of them are equipped with “survival cooking”, and that’s about it. That includes knowing how to boil water, and how not to electrocute/drown/poison yourself in the kitchen.
That’s why some of the more traditional culinary skills are being lost, especially those that are passed down in the family.
蕨根糍粑 fern roots cake
A lot of teaching happens in the family kitchen.
These fine-looking flowers produce rapeseed oi.
There’s an old saying 油菜花开疯子出来, which translates into “When the rapeseed flowers bloom, the crazies start to move.” I never really understood it. Maybe it’s because these flowers bloom around March in the spring, and the spreading of pollens in the air causes some kind of allergic reaction? Or maybe 疯子 does not refer to crazy people, but crazy dogs.
Dried rapeseeds smell damn nice. If someone’s processing rapeseed oil in their house, the entire village can smell it.
The method of processing rapeseed oil has a history of over a thousand years. The worker has to be able to wield a battering ram that weighs 100 kg, use it to basically “beat” the oil out of the rapeseeds. And the battering lasts for 3 hours.
It’s often the preferred oil used in certain dishes.
徽州臭豆腐 stinky tofu
油炸锅巴 deep-fried crunchy rice
牛肉锅贴 beef potstickers
回锅肉 double-cooked pork
红油 chilli oil.
I know how to make this! You only need red peppers and rapeseed oil to do it (maybe ginger and sesame as well, depending on individual tastes), and a big-ass extractor fan, since there is going to be a LOT of fumes, and also a tolerant neighbour.
辣萝卜 radish in chilli oil
蒜泥白肉 pork belly slices with garlic and chilli oil
凉拌猪耳 pig ears in chilli oil
In Shaanxi, making hung-dry noodles is a skill honed over decades. They need to do it in three stages. Stage one is allowing the noodles to dry. Stage two is stringing the noodles like guitar strings over wooden sticks, to stretch them out, giving them that special crunchy, bouncy taste.
I’ve been using the term 挂面 (“hanging noodles”) for years without understanding it. Now I do.
宁夏手擀面 Ningxia hand-made noodles
重庆小面 Chongqing noodles
苏州头汤面 Suzhou noodle soup
While some skills are family secrets passed down through the generations, more and more of such skills can be learnt at culinary schools.
糯米卷 glutinous rice roll
苏式小方糕 Suzhou square cakes
枣泥拉糕 cakes with jujube paste
三角团 triangle cake
蟹黄烧卖 crab roe siu mai
元松 sponge cake
钳花小包 tiny bun with a flower (This video teaches you how to make it)
四喜蒸饺 steamed dumplings with four different fillings: ham, egg yolk, wood ear, and bok choi.
金鱼酥 goldfish-shaped shortbread
船点 boat pastry (because they were prepared for people travelling by boat in ancient time? Maybe)
The common fillings are sweet bean paste and lotus seed paste.
Suzhou-style pastries are like the people of Suzhou—delicate, sweet, and easy on the eyes.
Cooking skills are not just about knowing what ingredients to use.
蚝烙 oyster omelette
烫干丝 tofu slices
葵花大斩肉 “lion head“ meatball
蓑衣刀法 a way of wielding a knife without breaking apart the ingredient
脱骨鱼 boneless whole fish
扬州三套鸭 Yangzhou duck. Like a Russian nesting doll, the boneless domestic duck is stuffed with a boneless wild duck, which is in turn stuffed with a pigeon.
扣三丝 thin slices of ham, chicken breast, and winter bamboo shoots topped with mushroom
油爆河虾 flash-fried shrimp
黄鳝啫啫煲 rice eel claypot
After CNY meal everybody’d be carrying their stomach like this: