On Your Mark, Get Set: Open Minds, Open Mouths
by Jessie Chien
Guangzhou, Southern China – There has been a lot of talk of backyard gardening, slow food, and the turning of seasons in the past few weeks. Valeria’s most recent post incorporated a sense of all three with her cheese-garnished squash soup. As I read about her experiences living and cooking in Italy, I wistfully looked out my window at the grey skies spitting out warm typhoon rain over a sea of concrete buildings. Not a garden for miles, still as warm as an East Coast summer, and sadly no Italian herbs, squash, or cheese as far as my eye could see.
Hence, the challenge that RecipeRelay presents.
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Last week I was riding home in a cab when I got roped into conversation by my friendly cab driver. After discovering I was from the U.S., he proceeded, like many other Chinese do, to ask me all sorts of questions regarding my lifestyle in America. I’ve been asked how much we pay for rent, if groceries are expensive, if there is a lot of traffic, if I like Chinese men, among a slew of other questions – as if there is one general answer for any of these queries. After asking me if I liked Chinese food, he then asked me if Americans eat pork. It was such a precise and silly question (to me), but asked with sincere concern.
I carefully explained to him that Americans most certainly did eat pork, although I admitted probably not as much as the Chinese. I explained that in America, beef was popular too, and sometimes preferred over pork. I conceded that there were indeed some Americans who refrained from eating pork for religious reasons. But yes, I confirmed, in general Americans ate pork. He nodded with a feigned sense of understanding, then was quiet for the remainder of the ride.
I realized that this man who drove a cab around in China, and had possibly never been further than where his car could take him, had no idea how we ate on the other side of the world. For all he knew, pork was something as exotic to Americans as chicken feet and snake meat (both of which are very popular here). There was zero connection to what he ate on a daily basis to what you or I eat in other parts of the world. Relaying off Valeria’s Creamy Winter Squash Soup is a great challenge, and this conversation with a random cab driver, made our differences even more prounounced in my mind. Nevertheless, I knew there was a way to merge the techniques and essence of ingredients she provided with something very local and thus, very Chinese.
Valeria’s use of a simple sofrito appealed to me right away. Many cuisines use this technique of throwing aromatics into a base for soups, stews, sauces, and braises, and the Chinese are no exception. Taking this concept of sofrito and with a few trips to the market, I had a feeling I could even make my cab driver proud.
Check back on Thursday to find out what goodies I’ll be bringing home from the market, and how I transform my kitchen into a test lab for a certain Chinese dish.
Jessie Chien lives in Guangzhou, China. She edits Chinglish for a living and in her free time likes to visit the wet markets around town. Visit her blog for more expat adventures in China.