Today, we are beginning our post with a new character. However, you will probably notice that, contrary to previous practice, I have provided you with neither the pronunciation nor a definition. The reason for this is that we will be looking at both of those things next week. The 炒 character doesn’t often appear on restaurant signs but it will appear lots of times on just about every menu you will ever encounter. It is a very useful character to know and we will eventually have some fun exploring it in more detail.
That being said, I am trying, in these lessons, to alternate the interesting and instructive stuff with information that is a bit less exciting but nevertheless critical. Next week’s post will be a lot more fun, I promise you, but, today, please bear with me as we wade through a bit of technical stuff. The best way to begin is to dive right in by stating a few basic, but essential principles… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: A Character Study…”
Today’s post is not so much a lesson in written Chinese as it is just a little food for thought… So far, in our first few posts, we have looked at the following Chinese characters:
菜 白 四 川 北 京 味
大 小 上 海 苗 燕 精 不 辣
The 7 in the first line have been examined in some detail while the remaining 9 in the second line have received only a brief mention. Thus far, the total is only 16 characters and if you are seriously following these lessons and keeping an eye out for the various characters in grocery stores or restaurants etc., you could probably print out the above two lines and keep them in your pocket for easy reference.
What will happen, though, when our vocabulary list approaches 25, 50, or even a hundred characters? I expect you can probably guess how quickly such a list would become unmanageable without some sort of method for organizing the characters in a meaningful sequence. To illustrate this, we can try a simple exercise:
Our first 7 characters listed above are printed out in the order in which we encountered them in the previous series of posts. What I would like you to do now is organize them in their ‘correct’ order… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Look me up (sometime)…”
If you read much about Japanese cuisine, or even just scan recipes, you can certainly get the idea that the preparation of the vinegar dressed rice for sushi is a very arcane, almost ritualized process. In fact, amongst Master Sushi Chefs the steps required to make the perfect rice for any given sushi preparation is as much a science as an art and can take a rigorous apprenticeship to perfect.
That being said, however, we need not be overly daunted by the prospect of making sushi ourselves. Today, I am going to share with you my method for making the seasoned rice. It departs from the traditional practice in that the vinegar and sugar is added to the rice as it cooks (rather than as it cools afterwards), but the simple process produces a perfectly acceptable sushi-style rice suitable for all sorts of further preparations… Continue reading “Quick Sushi Rice”
Today’s first picture is essentially the same as the final one in last week’s post. In that lesson, we saw that a restaurant may advertise itself as featuring ‘Chuān cài’ (川菜), or ‘Jīng cài’ (京菜), and mean, respectively, that Sichuan or Beijing (northern) cuisine is served. As in the above picture (and our lesson 2 weeks ago), we also saw that 川味 (‘chuān wèi’) or 京味 (Jīng wèi) might be specified. If you recall, I asked you to consider what the ‘Wei’ part might mean… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese: ‘Wei’ to go…”
Last week, we learned that the characters 川菜 appearing on a restaurant sign or menu indicate that Sichuan cuisine is served. If you recall, the 川 character, pronounced ‘chuān’, frequently appears alone as an abbreviation for 四川, or ‘Sìchuān’.
Now take a look at the above picture… You will easily be able to find the川菜 characters again. Even without any English words as a help, you can correctly conclude that both restaurants in question have Sichuan dishes on the menu. However, that does not tell the whole story as both places, in fact, specialize in two different cuisines and we can tell that by looking at the character immediately preceding the ‘Chuān cài’ characters …. Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Another Cuisine…”
Thus far, we have noted that our ‘菜’ character can mean either vegetable, dish or cuisine, and, in our last post, we looked at an example of it’s employment in the former sense using the common vegetable, Bok Choy. Today, we turn to situations in which菜 is used to refer to a type cuisine and, for a first example, we will look at the famously spicy culinary tradition of China’s western province of Sichuan.
So what’s with the introductory pictures of rivers?
Well, the rivers pictured above are all in China and, as you can see, there are four of them. In Chinese, the name ‘Sichuan’ translates as ‘Four Rivers’ and, happily for our present purposes, we can use this fact to introduce a couple of new Chinese characters to our growing lexicon… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: ‘Introducing… Sichuan Cuisine’”
Kakejiru is commonly referred to as ‘noodle broth’ since it is commonly served as a ‘soup’ for many types of Japanese noodle including Udon, Soba, and Somen. In particular, Udon served in this broth, often with various toppings, is called Kake-Udon and is a very popular dish both at home and as a restaurant offering or street-food snack. In practice, however, the preparation, whose name essentially translates as ‘gravy’ or ‘dressing’, has much wider application. Just as Kakejiru is based on the foundation Japanese stock Dashi, so too can Kakejiru be regarded as the base for many other Japanese broths, sauces and simmering liquids… Continue reading “Kakejiru: Japanese Noodle Broth”
Although we will be introducing a new character today (and taking a quick look at a few more), I very much want to keep the focus on remembering and being able to recognize our old friend the ‘cài’ character. The whole purpose during these first few weeks of lessons is to get you to the point where the character will ‘leap out’ at you wherever you see it (even if nothing else makes sense). I promise, if you keep repeating ‘Grass, Claw, Tree’ to yourself and watching for the familiar three components in a vertical arrangement, this *will* happen for you, so keep at it…
Now, let’s move on and see what puts the ‘Bok’ in ‘Bok Choy’ … Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: A Second Character…”
Dried Squid are used quite commonly as a cooking ingredient in the cuisines of China, Korea and the Philippines and are very popular, in various forms, as a snack food, particularly in Japan. The advantages of drying the product are not only for lengthy storage in the absence of refrigeration but, as with most dried foods, the flavor of the fresh article is considerably concentrated and enhanced.
Whole squid, untreated other than by the drying process, can be purchased in a variety of sizes, from over a foot long, to just a few inches or so in length and, once prepared for use, can be utilized in much the same was as fresh squid, albeit with some change in flavor and texture. Generally, good quality dried squid will still have quite a sweetish taste but as it ages it can be a little bitter sometimes so try and choose a product that has a nice, light color and avoid any that is very dark brown or is devoid of aroma… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Dried Squid”
Last month, in an article entitled ‘Culinary Chinese, Anyone?’, I proposed doing a series of posts about Chinese characters related to food with a view to having my readers join me in my progress as I learn the rudiments of reading a Chinese menu. I received quite a few expressions of interest and so I am going to finally get things going…
In the original post, I introduced the character you see appearing (and circled) three times in the above picture. I have chosen this particular character to start off with because, as I mentioned, it is something you will almost have certainly have seen at one time or another (even if you weren’t aware of it) as it appears frequently on restaurant signs, menus, on food packages and on signs in Chinese grocery stores. It may, at the moment, look to you like nothing more than obscure squiggles but the whole object of this very first exercise is to get you to recognize it wherever it appears… Continue reading “Culinary Chinese 101: Your First Character…”