Those of you who don’t know me also do not know that I spent three months in China last summer. Those of you who do know me, know that it was CRAZY! I traveled between three cities, Kunming, Dali, and Tengchong, in the Yunnan province. The culinary experiences I had there ranged from incredible to downright horrifying. I wont go into too much detail about my travels here, because that would require pages and pages of pictures and I’m not sure how much you want to know about people eating dog. Yeah, really.
Kunming is a huge city with a population of 5 million and is known as “The City of Eternal Spring” because of its beautiful weather year-round. I managed to fare pretty well in Kunming because they have a strong tourist industry going and an entire street near Yunnan University dedicated to “Westerners.” Though I’m not sure what everything was cooked in, I at least experienced a lot of wonderful vegetarian food and was introduced to lotus root, spicy fried basil, Puerh tea, and a truly bizarre apple-vinegar drink. On the other hand, there was a Wal-Mart (!?!?!) that sold live turtles and frogs in the grocery section. Gotta love cultural differences!
Hm. Back to the lotus root. The other week I decided to venture down to my local huge Asian Market, Mitsuwa, to see what was cookin’. I was so happy with what I found there, and managed to bring home a huge haul (see below) including sliced lotus root! I tried to recreate a dish I had in a tiny cafe in Kunming. This time I also used black fungus, but I’m leaving it out of the recipe because I ended up throwing it out. There was something really … earthy … going on with that fungus.
Stir-Fried Lotus Root
1/2 lb sliced lotus root
1 small onion cut into 1/4 in slices
2 T sesame seed oil
2 t minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t brown sugar
2 t soy sauce
Pinch of pepper
1/4 C vegetable stock
- Preheat a wok on medium-high heat, then add the oil to coat wok.
- Add salt, ginger, and garlic and sautee until fragrant.
- Add onions and stir-fry until they start to become translucent.
- Add lotus root and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle in sugar, pepper, and soy sauce and toss to coat.
- Pour in the vegetable stock and stir to de-glaze the wok. Cover wok and let simmer for 5 more minutes.
On to the next city!
Dali is truly an experience. The “Ancient City” is a walled section of the city that is full of cafes, bars, fascinating people, and lots and lots of weed.
Just sayin’. There are little old women dressed in traditional Bai, Naxi, etc., garb who come up to you in the street with postcards in hand. They point to the postcards, as though trying to show you something important, and then whisper in your ear:
Every day in Dali is an adventure. On one side of the Ancient City are the Cangshan mountains, and on the other side is Erhai Lake – the second largest lake in China. The landscape is unbelievably gorgeous. Oh, did I mention it’s a veggie paradise?
I was able to have wonderful tofu hot-pots, huge plates of stir-fried eggplant, and I even had some vegan apple pie one day – thanks to a crew of dread-lock bearing jugglers who opened the Rainbow Cafe! My absolute favorite food, however, was Baba. I have not been able to find a recipe for this stuff, and I’m pretty sure it’s not vegan but it was wonderful. Baba is a bready street food, much like paratha, that is stuffed with either a savory or a sweet filling. Being a psycho for sugar, I would always get the sweet variety that was filled with red azuki beans. The whole thing was about the size of an open hand, and it was warm and pan fried to a crispy golden flaky gaaaaaah. Only gutteral noises could describe this pastry.
So about these azuki beans – they were everywhere! My boyfriend came to visit me and every time he tried to eat one of his beloved ice-cream-popsicle-on-a-stick things, it was full of BEANS. He was not such a fan, but I am! I bought some azuki beans at the market, and last night I got to cookin’. I have a pre-packaged red bean dessert to try out, so I wanted to make something savory. Of course, I headed straight for Veganomicon and the Acorn Squash, Pear, and Adzuki Bean Soup with Sauteed Shiitakes.
I threw a few of my own spins on the recipe because I had:
TONS of azuki beans
Dried shiitake (every time I type this I feel like I’m saying something dirty, thanks to the PPK Boards.)
So what I eventually got was sort of a combination of my favorite Chinese foods: hot pot and azuki beans! It was more of a stew than a soup since I tossed in so many veggies. Fond memories of this picnic our friends Ping and Mae in Dali gave us spring to mind:
I’ll spare you any discussion of the food in Tengchong because it involved a lot of soup full of bugs and going to bed with a growling stomach. Need a cleansing retreat? Tengchong would be a great place to fast!