Posted in Spicery

Spice: Homemade Madras Curry Powder

Madras Curry Powder 1

At one time, a ‘Madras Curry’ was a standard on Indian restaurant menus in the west, and was also a fairly common recipe entry in Indian cookery books. It seems, however, to be a little less frequently encountered these days and this is perhaps because the Indian City of Madras (whence the name) is now known as Chennai, and the eponymous curry was probably more of an Anglo-Indian, rather than a purely Indian creation. Whatever the case, the Madras Curry is still something of a classic and well worth adding to one’s culinary repertoire.

In my research of a wide variety of spice blends, I have found that the Madras Curry blend is the closest to what most westerners would call the ‘curry flavor’ and the typical ingredients are much the same as found in the generic ‘Curry Powder’ you can find in almost any supermarket. The one major difference between the two, as far as I have seen, is that the generic type tends to be high in Turmeric and low in Chili, while, in a Madras blend, the reverse is usually true. In this post, we will have a quick look at the general composition and then I’ll provide a fairly straightforward version that you can use as a starting point for your own culinary creations… Continue reading “Spice: Homemade Madras Curry Powder”

Posted in Foodstuffs

Foodstuff: Dried Sea Cucumber

Sea Cucumber 01

You might be forgiven for mistaking the above two objects for fossilized dinosaur droppings but they are, in fact, a dried marine delicacy commonly called ‘Sea Cucumber’. These ‘cucumbers’, also known as ‘beche-de-mer’ or ‘trepang’ are widely harvested and consumed but are especially popular in Chinese cookery where they are known as 海参 or ‘hǎishēn’, meaning ‘sea ginseng’. Like tofu, these delicacies are prized more for their texture rather than their intrinsic flavor, which is practically non-existent and they are typically braised, or otherwise cooked with rich sauces and other ingredients from which they then absorb flavor.

Despite being called sea ‘cucumbers’, these culinary treats are actually a type of marine animal and, while it is possible to buy then fresh in some places, or occasionally frozen, they are commonly sold in the dried form you see above. Accordingly, sea cucumbers must be reconstituted before use and, although you will sometimes find them being sold with this process already completed, more commonly you will need to do it at home. It is a bit of a lengthy process and we will be looking at this below…  Continue reading “Foodstuff: Dried Sea Cucumber”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: Traditional ain’t Simple…

CC Traditional-Simple 1

Well, I REALLY, REALLY hate to do this to you… We were progressing so well in our culinary Chinese lessons and, now, I have to introduce a nasty new complication that is going to make our job that much harder…

Take a look at the two noodles bowls in the picture above. We encountered the left-most Chinese character a few weeks back and identified it as ‘miàn’, meaning the wheat-flour noodle of the ‘Chow Mein’ type. Well, as it turns out, the character on the bowl on the right is also ‘miàn’. In fact, it is the actually same character.

Well, sort of … Unfortunately, I now have to break the news to you that there are, in fact, two parallel systems of Chinese characters. We’ll take a look at the actual details of that in a moment but, first, you need to know a bit about the story behind the situation…  Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Traditional ain’t Simple…”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: Pleased to Meat You…

CC Pleased to Meat You 1

Last week, we saw that the Chinese word for Beef is formed by combining the characters for ‘Cow’ and ‘Meat’. In that lesson, we focused mainly on the ‘Cow’ character but today we are going to turn our attention to the character for ‘Meat’ and see how it is used in connection with other popular menu items…  Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Pleased to Meat You…”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101… Where’s the Beef?

Where's the Beef 1

First of all, apologies to those of you who are too young to recognize the catch-phrase I adopted for the title of today’s post. However, even if you didn’t get the reference, you can still probably guess, from the various clues, that the two Chinese characters in the above picture are translated as ‘Beef’…

The first of these characters means ‘cow’ or ‘ox’, while the second translates as ‘meat’ or ‘flesh’. The Pinyin transliteration ‘niúròu’ doesn’t really suggest the pronunciation very well but our cow helpfully provides this as ‘Nyoe Roe’ (which is close enough for now).

The main focus of today’s lesson will actually be on the first character. We will also be looking at the second in much more detail in an upcoming lesson but, for now, take note of its shape. To me it looks rather like a coat rack with one of the coat-hangers falling off, but others see it as a rib-cage, which does rather suggest the meaning…

Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101… Where’s the Beef?”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: Chinese Radicals…

CC Chinese Radicals 1

Okay, I admit it… Today’s opening picture is a really, really bad pun. The protesters in question apparently have some issue with a trade pact, or something… I don’t know what point they are trying to make exactly, nor do I understand the significance of the flowers, but I am fairly sure that somebody, somewhere quite likely dismissed these people as ‘radicals’ …

The topic of radicals, you may recall, is something I have mentioned several times now and, on each occasion, I have promised that I would be shedding some light on the whole issue. What is going to follow is a little bit technical but it is very important… Indeed, I can pretty much guarantee that today’s topic will be one of the most important things you need to know. Bear with me and I will try to make it as painless as possible…

Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Chinese Radicals…”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: The Wine House

The Wine House 1

Today’s lesson begins with the same picture with which we concluded last week’s post. In our lesson last week, we looked at the compound word 家常, meaning ‘Home-style’, and specifically focused on the first character, 家, which can mean home, family, or in some circumstances, ‘house’. In today’s post, we will be looking at a new compound in which 家 is used in the latter sense.

The sign above does specify that the restaurant serves 家常菜 but in the large character name it uses the 家 character without the 常 after it. Instead, we see that it is preceded by a character we have not encountered before and, in concluding the last post, I asked you to guess at what the two-character combination, 酒家, might mean.

If you guessed that 酒家 probably means restaurant, and that the full name of the establishment pictured above is ‘Sichuan Restaurant’, then kudos to you indeed. The character combination 酒家 does, in fact, get translated as ‘Restaurant’ but this is actually a very loose translation and, in order to see what I mean by that, we need to look at the 酒 in more detail… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: The Wine House”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: A Homely Character…

A Homely Character 1

For those of you who have been following these Chinese language posts, the 菜 character (grass-claw-tree) ought to be leaping out at you from the covers of the three cookery books pictured above. You may also be able to guess, from the context, that the titles of the books refer to some type of cuisine.

We have already looked the Chinese characters specifically indicating Sichuan cuisine (川菜 or 四川菜) and Beijing cuisine (京菜 or 北京菜). In those cases, the characters preceding the ‘cài’ refer to a province and a city respectively. Here, however, the 家常 before the 菜 doesn’t refer to a location at all…  Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: A Homely Character…”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese: It’s all in the Stroke…

CC All in the Stroke 1

Every single Chinese character is composed of a specific set of brush strokes that is formally prescribed both in form and number. Now… repeat that last sentence to yourself and digest it for a moment.

Chinese calligraphy is a fascinating subject in its own right but we won’t actually be spending too much time on it in these posts for a couple of reasons. First, I am pretty darn awful at drawing Chinese characters (and therefore in no way qualified to instruct others) and, secondly, this series of posts is more about reading, rather than writing. Still, that being said, we can’t completely ignore the rudiments of the latter if we are going to be any good at the former.

 As already discussed in our post ‘Look me up sometime…’, being able to look up Chinese characters in a dictionary is an essential skill and I asked you, in that post, to consider the ways that lists of characters might be organized. Kudos to those of you who then read ‘A Character Study…’ and guessed that the number of strokes in a given character might be a useful indexing method. As it happens, listing characters according to their ‘stroke count’ is just one of the ways of organizing them into dictionaries…  Continue reading “Culinary Chinese: It’s all in the Stroke…”

Posted in Chinese

Culinary Chinese 101: Let’s Chow Down…

Lets Chow Down 1

The title of today’s post may not make much sense to many of my overseas readers unless they have seen a lot of older American movies. ‘Chow’ is a somewhat dated American slang word for food and to ‘Chow down’ once meant to eat. Now, I am not sure of the origins of the word but I doubt it actually had much to do with stir-frying, or Chinese food in general for that matter. However, the similarity does make for a nice segue into the subject of today’s post, which is … what puts the ‘Chow’ in ‘Chow Mein’…  Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Let’s Chow Down…”