Xiamen

Xiamen and my second cooking lesson will be the focus of this update.

Dean?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s company (called Bo Po in Chinese as much as I can tell) was holding a weekend meeting in a town called Xiamen (Shaa men) in southern China. Since the meeting would mostly be in Chinese but many executives were coming from around Asia, he was interested to go and participate but not in three days of meetings. We made arrangements for me to go too, and made a mini vacation out of the trip.

This was my first flight from Hongqiao (hong chow) airport, for anyone familiar with Shanghai, this is the old airport. The new airport is the Pudong airport, which is a beautiful modern facility and handles all International flights. Frankly, Hongqiao is like flying into Midway before the renovation, including the massive lines, with pushing like a Southwest flight, except in Chinese. Everything is in Chinese, which includes your flight number and the frequent gate changes. You have to pay close attention and know your numbers in Chinese or listen closely for the city names. This airport was an adventure for me.

Our flight was about two hours and the Xiamen airport was also beautiful and modern, with skylights and everything. We took a cab to our hotel. The cab driver told us the hotel was not a good choice since it was located in the industrial zone. This was true, but pretty much just like a Convention hotel in the US. It was a good place for a meeting, just not so convenient for sightseeing.

Xiamen History and Basic Information

For those of you checking the map, you can find Xiamen in the Fujian province, below Fuzhou and Quanzhou ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äúkind of between the East China Sea and the South China Sea, just across from Taiwan. Xiamen is a major city with 1,250,000 people. Xiamen was founded in the Ming dynasty (1358-1644) and was originally known as Amoy. During the Ming dynasty, Xiamen was established as a major seaport, and an established walled city. According to Loneley Planet, the city became a refuge for Ming rulers fleeing from Manchu invaders. The island of Jianmen which is nearby became a base for the Ming army as well as various pirate groups. This port opened to foreigners in 1841. Xiamen was under Japanese control from 1938-1941.

If the island of Jiamen sounds familiar to you, it is probably because Taiwanese soldiers have occupied the islands of Jianmen and Xiao Jinmen since the Communist regime began in 1949. In fact, when China bombed Jianmen and Xiao Jianmen in 1958, the US security pact with Taiwan, nearly led to a real war between the US and China. Relations are better now, and in 2001, Chinese with relatives on Jianmen were allowed to take a boat to visit. The close distance between these islands is really amazing.

The neighboring island of Gulang Yu is also a major tourist attraction. I think traveling to Gulang Yu from Xiamen is like traveling to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen. And for those of you from Ohio, Gulang Yu is really quite a lot like Kelly?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Island.

Our Trip

Our first day in Xiamen we checked into our hotel and went to the beach. I believe the part of the beach we went to is really the Chinese equivalent of a boardwalk. The Island Ring Road runs the entire perimeter of Xiamen, and about half way around the island this beach area starts. A road runs through the middle, but on either side there are long sidewalks for seaside strolling. Interestingly enough one side is green and the other side is red. This beach road runs for 4 kilometers. We saw small swimming areas, outdoor cafes and several small amusement parts, including one children?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s roller coaster with mouse shaped cars, sort of like Mickey.

After our beachside walk, we went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant called Havana, which was supposed to be in the Spanish heart of Xiamen. I had read about this restaurant in a travel magazine. The restaurant was charming, built in an old house on a quiet street. We had the paella, including shrimp with heads, scallops and much too much saffron. It was not bad, but I never really saw anything Spanish about the area. The Sangria was not as good as mine, so we made some when we got back to Shanghai as a reminder.

The second day Dean was in meetings, so I explored the island on my own. The first thing I did was go to Nan Putuo Temple. This temple is roughly translated as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Ancient Temple of One Thousand Years?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and was founded in the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) and is one of the most famous in southern China. This is an active temple, with Monks who live there, and to the Minnan Buddhist College, a well-known place for the study of Buddhism and Buddhist education. There is also a mountain behind the temple with many instructions. I climbed the mountain, in my skirt and sandals- the view was gorgeous.

Next I went on to the Botanical Garden, about a 45-minute walk ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which looked much closer on my map. Although I was sweaty and exhausted when I arrived to the garden, the breezes and amazing horticulture really refreshed me. I took some amazing pictures of water lilies, bamboo forests and seaside pagodas with bridges. I felt so inspired by this garden that I plan to visit the botanical garden in Shanghai.

I headed back to the hotel for a quick shower ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú believe me I needed it, before dinner with Dean?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s company. On the way we stopped briefly at Xiamen University. This was a beautiful seaside campus. We wondered how these students get any work done.

Dean was reminded of the University of Miami and I thought the campus looked like Pepperdine.

Next we actually took a small ferry, then climbed a precarious staircase on to the island of Gulang Yu for dinner. Dinner was a lovely buffet. I had my first taste of Chinese red wine, which reminded me of communion wine. The buffet was full of interesting foods, most of which we could not identify. Many of Dean?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Shanghainese coworkers could not either since the food in southern China is so different. The grilled fish and shrimp were terrific. After dinner, most people participated in Karokee, we did not, thank goodness for those of you who have heard me sing.

The next day, Dean and I decided to go to Gulang Yu island. First we got on a ferry, and then ended up thinking we had signed on for a tour around the island, not a visit to the island at all. We did get a nice view Jianman (Taiwan) and finally the ferry did take us to the island dock. This island really is gorgeous, with beautiful archiechture and winding streets (no cars). There is a Memorial on the highest point of the island, on a place called sunlight rock.

We walked, sweating, over most of the island. We believe that Gulang Yu must be famous for dried fish, since there were dried fish stores and even fish drying everywhere.

I managed to order fresh fish for lunch by carefully pointing at what we wanted in the plastic buckets outside the restaurant.

We had shrimp, crab and an amazing fish dish. I was able to find out the name of the fish dish ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú qing zheng tu xing yu. What I know is that the fish head was made into some terrific soup and the rest of the fish was steamed with some type of soy sauce. It was amazing. If anyone has any idea what the Chinese means (except the yu ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which I know means fish) please let me know. I would love to replicate that dish!

We finished our trip with an amazing dinner at a California style restaurant. Again, it was one found in a travel magazine. This restaurant is called The House. The House is a two year old restaurant in a refurbished 1920?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s colonial mansion. The house is beautifully decorated and so interesting. We ate on the roof deck – the breeze was perfect. Dean had filet mignon and I had steak as well. The meal was pretty close to perfect. If you are in Xiamen anytime soon, we strongly recommend it.

My Second Cooking Class

Since the last round of classes was vegetarian cooking, this was a special day long class on different types of meat.

The class started with Sweet and Sour Pork (Boluo gulaorou). This dish is most like fast food Chinese ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú very China Panda. Basically you take pork, slice it fine, squeeze it into balls and starch it a little, then dip in egg and starch again. Then fry it ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú fry it twice. All frying gets done twice, once to cook it, then again on higher heat, to brown it. You make a bright red sauce for the pork ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú amazingly the bright red color comes from ketchup. This dish also includes marinated onions, pineapple, green pepper and tomatoes. After frying the pork, make the sauce with ketchup, sugar and salt. Then add the other ingredients, tomato first, some starch to make it thicker, then onions, pineapple, pork and green pepper. Add rice vinegar and serve over rice. This one is not too difficult and has a nice flavor.

The next dish was by far the most difficult and the most interesting. Xiangsu babao ya ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú aromatic and crisp duck, also known as Shanghai Duck. Of course this duck was developed to compete with the famous Beijing Duck. This dish starts with a whole duck. In China, there are tons of whole ducks (ya) everywhere and all the ducks still have their heads. No feet, just heads with eyes and beaks. Basically this dish involves slicing the duck neck and removing the neck (just like the one that comes in the bag inside your turkey) and then gradually removing most of the bones and all the internal organs. Once you have most of the bones and meat removed, you make the stuffing. The stuffing is made of 4 kinds of meat ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú ham, duck liver ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but I think it is actually duck gizzard, sliced pork and dried scallops. It also has carrot, mushroom, green peas, fresh bamboo and rice of course. You boil the vegetables, then the meat, add rice wine, salt, msg (oh yea ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú everything in China is cooked with MSG), a little sugar and light soy sauce.

Next stuff the duck. Fill the duck completely but don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t overstuff. Next, cover the duck in cheesecloth and stack leeks, star anise, ginger slices, and large hunks of cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorns which are also popular here. You steam the duck over a wok until it is done, maybe an hour or so. Once the duck is done, you carefully remove it. It will smell great, but look terribly ugly ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú like a raw chicken. So in the best tradition of China, you deep-fry the duck ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú carefully and briefly. This was one of the best dishes I have ever eater.

I forgot to tell you all the details about the how the duck neck is tied in a not to prevent the juices from leaking out or how one of the assistants in the class ate the duck head, whole, after all the students refused it.

The third dish was called Koushui bouboji ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú chicken with more than 10 flavors. This really means more than 10 ingredients. The sauce is the basis for this dish. Start with sesame paste, chopped garlic, ground Sichuan peppercorns, liquid smoke, chili soy sauce, soy vinegar, sesame oil, chili oil, sesame seeds, bay leaves, dry chilies, leek, cilantro and ginger. Use ?Ǭ? chicken ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú literally ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a whole chicken, sliced down the middle, already cooked. Or you can boil the half chicken yourself; just remove the internal organs first. Literally hack the chicken into nice slices, and lay it carefully so it basically looks whole. Julienne the leek, and put it into water to rinse off the harsh flavor. Put the dry peppers and bay leaves into boiling water; add the ginger and a little leek. Boil this until very fragrant, add chicken powder (basically dry granules of chicken bullion), then some sugar. Next pour the amazing smelling sauce over the chicken. Add sesame seeds and leeks on the top if you like. Decorate the plate with coriander (Chinese parsley or cilantro).

For those of you tired of my cooking stories, you can sign off now, and join again next week ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a cooking lesson free week. For those of you as food obsessed as I am, the next dish was mizhi dahomgti ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú translated as sweet honey pork trotters. I was pretty much terrified that this would turn out to be pig?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s feet. But it was actually the foreleg of the pig. Unfortunately it had the big think skin still on it. You boil this for awhile. Boiling the pork makes it clean (?). Then hold the pig on something like a giant fork and hold it directly over the gas to brown it. Next, stew it in brown sauce. Make the sauce by adding lots of chunky pieces of crystal sugar, which looks like rock candy. Add two scoops of oil, green onion and 2 big pieces of ginger. Pour the onion, ginger over the pork. Watch the color get darker and darker. Kind of like a dark caramel, but not as thick. Cook until tender ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú several hours at least, near the end add something that I swear is called Jiujiu beans. These are large dried fruits ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú sort of like dry figs. Will I ever make this one at home? Not so sure.

The fifth dish is the only one I have already made at home ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú garlic ribs. Get about 5 heads of garlic. Peel the cloves and chop them ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú this will be A LOT Of garlic, but your house will smell great. Get a scented candle for later. This is for small pork ribs. Wash and dry the ribs carefully (I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not sure how this helps since you can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t drink the water in Shanghai?¢‚Ǩ¬¶), put the ribs in a bowl, sprinkle with baking powder and rice wine, they will fizz. Then add a little soy and about a quarter of your chopped garlic. Marinate about 30 minutes. Rinse them again to get rid of the powder. Next sprinkle the ribs with garlic powder, not the fine ground expensive kind, the choppy cheap kind. Add a little soy sauce and a little rice wine, then a little msg ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú I never use the msg, but always list it for your benefit-and starch. Marinate for a couple of hours. Starch a lot. Generally rub off most of the garlic and deep fry the ribs. Twice of course! A little longer than you think you need to. Serve right away.

The final dish is apparently translated as perch with pinecones. Right away I believed it would be perch with pine nuts. This ended up being correct. I was surprised that we were actually making perch ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú when I explained, with Chinese and some help in translation that perch is so popular in the part of the US that I am from. This actually began with a whole fish. Now I was afraid, pig feet are one thing, but this fish had a head and everything. First, slice off the head, neatly since you need it for later. Slice the side of the fish, and remove the bones, next make slices on the fish flesh, basically a big fat dice, but keep the skin holding the whole thing together. Starch the body and the head ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú so the fish is completely starched. Cook the pine nuts in oil in the wok ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú quickly. Add a lot more oil. Deep-fry the fish. And the head? Fry twice of course! Quickly and neatly put the fish into shape, with the head in front, so it looks like a fish flower ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú kind of. Next, in just a little oil, add ketchup, sugar, and cornstarch in water to thicken the sauce, then some vinegar. Sauce the whole fish. Put some pine nuts on top ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú serve right away.

The cooking is always interesting, always friend and thick sauces, tomorrow I am having a dumpling making afternoon with one of my friends ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú we will be steaming Chinese dumplings and then making our own ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú mushroom, pork and seafood. Some of what I made in Chicago and some more Asian. China is good, everyday life is challenging and interesting. Plan your trips now.

The next update will have my first visit to a Chinese massage, the Shanghai fabric market and our trip to Beijing.