Category Archives: China

Chinese Food Class – Part II

Part 2 of the Chinese Food class was held at a Chinese restaurant on the corner of Tryon and Cary Parkway in Cary – called Able Karaoke Bar & Grill.  I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect from the name of the place, but the food was really delicious and we were served a feast!  The Confucius Institute combined the second part of the food class with a graduation and celebration ceremony for their language students and their teachers from this semester, probably 30-40 people altogether.We started with a tea pouring demonstration by Mr. Able. We got to smell and sip the special jasmine tea and black tea that he imports for himself and doesn’t serve at the restaurant.

He also showed us a special dried blossom (I think chrysanthemum or something related?) that is twisted and tied in a special way while drying so that when you immerse it in hot water it gradually blooms, like this! He cautioned us that the resulting ‘tea’ doesn’t taste very good, but hey – it’s pretty :)  This was also the point where Mr. Able said that he only serves food in his restaurant that he himself enjoys eating. His reasoning is because if he doesn’t taste the food, then he can’t guarantee that it is up to his standards. That encouraged me about the level of quality and pride that he brings to his restaurant – which was definitely proven by the meal that followed.

Pork Skin Jelly – you know how when you roast or cook pork at home, the juice forms a gelatinous goop when you chill it? This was like eating a very firm version of that jellied pork broth, not my choice in textures but it wasn’t unpalatable either. I finished a whole piece, but didn’t have seconds.

Peanut salad – the peanuts were very soft, had been soaked in something, though I’m not sure what.

Very tasty Chinese Salad – shredded dried tofu, carrots, snow peas, and bean sprouts. I couldn’t place the flavoring, but when I asked, Mr. Able said that it was Szechuan peppercorns, a distinctive spice that was very tasty in this dish.

We also had fried shrimp chips. These were all considered appetizers, which we ate while making dumplings.

They delivered  a plate of filling (leek, pork and shrimp) and a plate of homemade dumpling wrappers to each table and we all tried our hand at forming the dumplings. Then they gathered them back up and cooked them for us.

Spring Wraps were also on the menu for the evening. From the name, I was thinking they might be like Vietnamese summer rolls or fried Chinese spring rolls – but this was actually something in between, and different than anything I’ve had at a Chinese restaurant before. The fillings above, seasoned chicken and beef and scrambled eggs were provided to our table along with a big plate of shredded lettuce and green onion.

We wrapped any mixture of these fillings in a thick wheat flour wrapper which reminded me of a thick mu shu pancake or a homemade flour tortilla. It was then eaten fresh. If you only try one thing at this restaurant, you HAVE to try these spring wraps – they are offered as a lunch special and you can get them with assorted fillings.

About this time, others at my table were complaining about being too full, and I was having to finish off some of the extra food at the table so it wouldn’t ‘go to waste’ ;)  I found the pace of our meal to be slow enough that I really could eat more. We ate the entire meal over the course of about 2.5 hours, with a graduation ceremony in the middle.

This is when our main entree arrived at each table – a hotpot bowl filled with spicy broth on one side and mostly unseasoned broth on the other. They brought so many plates of veggies we could barely fit them on the table – baby bok choy, chinese cabbage, mustard greens, 3 kinds of mushrooms, bean sprouts, and bean thread vermicelli. Shortly after this picture was taken they also brought us 2 plates full of shaved beef, and one plate of shaved lamb. All of this was placed in the hotpot to cook and eat communally.

I have to say that the spicy broth (again flavored with Szechuan peppercorns) was incredibly spicy – and I don’t have a low tolerance for these things. Once I realized that there were whole peppercorns contributing to the heat, I was able to avoid biting into those, and the beef cooked in that side of the pot was very tasty. But it was impossible to scoop out the vermicelli without getting a whole bunch of peppercorns with it from the bottom of the pot. And the greens also seemed to soak up the spicy heat. But it was a very fun time with the others at my table, and if I go back again I’ll figure out my method for what goes on each side. It does make me worry a bit about the spicy hot pot mix that I bought at the supermarket last week though…

While we were cooking the hotpot additions, they brought us one more “appetizer” of lamb kabobs, seasoned with a very nice mixture that I think included cumin and paprika. They were cooked perfectly, still moist and tender with a lovely grilled flavor. It didn’t taste at all like what I would consider “Chinese” – but as we learned in part I of the class, there is a lot of variation within that cuisine that we aren’t typically exposed to in the West. Also, if you’ll notice, there was not a single grain of rice served at the meal!

Needless to say, we were all incredibly stuffed by this point, and there were a number of hotpot ingredients that could not be eaten at our table. I asked the waitstaff if the remaining beef, bok choy and Chinese cabbage would be discarded and when that was confirmed, I offered to take it home instead. Luckily (according to others at my table), this is seen as a compliment in Chinese culture, so they were happy to provide me with a takeaway box. I made this delicious stir-fry the next day with just a bit of soy sauce and ginger added.


Chinese Food Class, Part I

I recently attended a two-part Chinese Food class, offered by the Confucius Institute of NC State University. The Institute mainly offers semester-long Chinese language classes, but they also have shorter classes on Chinese music and food.

The class I took was not a cooking class, per se, but a class to learn about the Chinese food culture. The first class was for a few hours on a Tuesday night at A&C Supermarket in South Raleigh. I had driven past this place many times, but never realized that a huge Asian grocery store was there! We met in the food court area where we were encouraged to buy dinner and sit together to eat and chat, getting to know each other a little bit until everyone showed up.

I was so hungry, the food was so tasty, and the conversation so interesting that I actually forgot to take a photo of my plate before I ate everything on it! There were a number of Chinese students (from NCSU, I assume) eating solo and in pairs, so based on that cue and the offerings on the menu (which included cow stomach), I’m assuming that this is pretty authentic food – or at least more so than many of the local Chinese takeout joints. I had some fresh stir fried bok choy which was delicious, and I also very much enjoyed an eggplant and tofu stir fry – the remnants of which are shown at the bottom of the photo above.

We then proceeded to have a slide show about the different regions in China and how their food differs. For example, in northern China the climate is cool enough that rice does not grow well, but they do grow a lot of wheat. That’s where many of the dumpling and noodle dishes originated.  We asked a lot of questions during the presentation, and then we walked around the grocery store.   A Chinese student who came along to help teach, Dong Shu, gave us some suggestions of how she cooks and the ingredients she uses.

This grocery store has quite a large produce section, and I was interested in many of the items, like fresh lotus root, Chinese okra, and about 6 different kinds of bok choy – yum!  I also noticed that they have some of the Vietnamese ingredients and herbs that I used last year during that month of cooking. They also have quite a selection of cooking utensils, pans and woks – it looked like a restaurant supply area.

Not everyone came away with groceries, but while we were going through the store I did some actual shopping, buying some of the suggested ingredients to play with. If any of you have ideas about what to do with these items, please let me know! Dong Shu said that she uses the spiced dry tofu (in the green package) just to cut up into a vegetable stir fry. The orange package on the left is a spicy hot pot mix (I’ll describe hot pot in the next post), and the jar is spiced preserved bean curd. And I also bought a dark soy sauce, who knew there were light and dark soy sauces for different purposes? The dark has less sodium and is used to add color to meat dishes, while the light has more salt. The dark soy sauce is the bottle on the left, and a dark rice wine vinegar is next to it.

And here are a couple of things I didn’t buy;

I’ll follow up with a second post for our part 2 class, where we met at a restaurant in Cary for a Chinese feast to celebrate the end of semester with all the language class participants. It will mostly be a photo journal of what we ate.