Many of our kitchens are now equipped with gas stoves, microwaves, and all kinds of fancy modern appliances. But in some parts of the world, food is still cooked in the most traditional, or maybe even primitive, manner.

Eryuan County, Yunnan Province, China

A group of men. Middle of the night. A fire.

Mysterious ceremony? Local cult?

Nah, just an outdoor barbecue.

They light up straws to burn away the hairs on the pig skin.

After more than an hour, every part of the pig has been seared five times.

The skin turns crispy brown, but not burnt.

Skin is easily separated from the body.

Look at that layer of subcutaneous fat.

生皮  pork rind

It’s not yet completely cooked.

It tastes better with a dipping sauce.

Plums are an important source of sour flavour.

梅子醋 plum vinegar retains the fruity taste of plums.

Vinegar made this way has over 2,000 years of history in China.

Add several condiments to the vinegar (chilli powder, spring onions, garlic, etc.), and you have a dipping sauce that goes extremely well with the pork rind.

Yuli County, Xinjiang, China

A family of Luobu people (a branch of Uyghurs) live on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The nearest town is about 20 km away.

Their staple food now is wheaten food.

An outdoor stove dug out in the ground.

Put the naan inside.

A while later, naan turns golden brown.

烤馕  baked nann

Pull, stretch, and twist the dough, and you have noodles.

拉条子  Laghman

Summertime, water level in the Tarim River rises.

A local resident paddles into the middle of the river with a dugout canoe.

Spotting the target,

he quickly jabs the harpoon.

Critical strike!

The scales are scraped.

The fish is split in half,

then pierced with a thin branch.

Fish used to be the staple food of the Luobu people.

But with the drop in fish population, it has now become a seasonal treat.

Outdoor barbecue.

The fish looks like it’s trying to fly into the fire . . .

罗布烤鱼  Luobu grilled fish

I learned a new word: Maillard reaction, the chemical reaction that gives barbecued food its distinctive flavour.

Changshu, Jiangsu Province, China

image source

三黄鸡 sanhuang chicken, or “three-yellow” chicken, refers to a type of free range chicken that has yellow feather, yellow claws, and yellow beak. The name was coined by a Ming Dynasty emperor.

image source

Marinate the chicken in all kinds of sauces, then stuff it with ingredients,

and wrap it in pig caul fat,

and lotus leaf.

Then wrap it in mud,

and roll it in rice hulls. Bake for four hours,

And then, smash!

叫花鸡 beggar’s chicken

Its name is traced back to a legend. Many many years ago, a beggar stole a chicken, but he had no pot and no way to cook it. So he wrapped the chicken in mud and lotus leaves, dug a hole, put the chicken inside, and lit a fire above. When he dug up the chicken later, the meat was so tender and juicy and savoury and aromatic, it attracted everybody passing by. Eventually, even chefs in restaurants started cooking the chicken this way.

You can still cook it the old-fashioned way, in the wild, like the beggar.

All you need is a fire,

and patience.

And voila!

Sanya, Hainan, China

The invention of fire introduced humans to the world of meat. But we need something to hold the food while it’s being cooked, and we can’t all carry a machete with us to cut twigs in the wild or just pick lotus leaves anywhere we go.

Ceramic wares are one of the oldest human inventions and also one of the earliest cookware.

This is 陶甑, pronounced as “tao zeng”, which means “ceramic steamer”.

It’s still used in parts of Hainan today.

Used mostly for steaming, like rice.

The Li people still know how to make such earthenware.

The clay used in mined locally.

泥条盘筑 a method of rubbing and twisting the clay into coils, and then gradually curling the coils into the desire shape.

慢轮制作 a method of shaping clay on a slowly turning wheel.

Once the pottery ware takes shape, it’s time for firing.

An outdoor firing mound is used.

Earthenware made this way is used not just for steaming.

They’re making popcorn 😀


The design of cooking utensils is often linked with local environment.

The Atlas Mountains is on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

Residents in a village have to walk 6 km to fetch water.

With water being so scarce, a type of cookware has been designed to help minimise water use.

塔吉锅  tajine

It has a shallow circular base and a tall conical cover.

Steam rises up, condenses near the top, and falls back into the pot.

蔬菜塔吉炖鸡 chicken and vegetable tajine

Tajines are widely used in Morocco.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh, Morocco

The Chinese name of the square, 不眠广场, means “the square that never sleeps”.

I see sausages.

A famous chef in Morocco.

These little packages contain 16 spices.

To be used in cooking mutton leg.

Sprinkled with various spices,

And cooked in a tajine.

The chef believes that the conical shape of the cover doesn’t just help to conserve water, it also helps to seal in the aromas.

朝鲜蓟豌豆羊腿 stewed mutton leg with artichoke and peas

All kinds of food can be cooked with tajine.

I have no idea what these dishes are, but I still want to try them . . .

Tengzhou, Shandong Province, China

A pottery factory.

Now chiefly used to make iron woks.

Liquid iron with a temperature of over 1,300 degrees Celsius gets cooled quickly.

Iron wok lead to stir-frying, a uniquely Chinese cooking method.

The curved inner wall of the iron wok allows for food to be turned.

How stir-fried rice is made


扬州炒饭 Yangzhou fried rice

油爆鱿鱼卷 stir-fried squid


To be continued . . .


What to do when you run out of lunch money:

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. I don’t ordinarily comment but I gotta admit thankyou for the post on this special one : D.



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About fmiswriting

One out of 1.4 billion voices.

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