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TOPICS INCLUDE: Book review kudos; Cat's ear noodles; An herb that does a lot; Dated products; China's culinary divide; Salted duck eggs; Sweetened wines; Edame bean use; Eight major regional cuisines

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Winter Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(4) page(s): 6, 7, and 9


From JOHN and AMY vie e-mail:
Love all your book reviews, even those that are not cookbooks. Actually, some of those we like even more. Can you do a dozen or a bakers dozen in the winter issue so we have lots to choose from for holiday gifts?
To JOHN and AMY and others whose requests coincide: Your wishes are heeded; and Happy Holidays.

From ELIZA via e-mail:
Your magazine is very informative on the art of Chinese cuisine in the U.S.
ELIZA and All commentors on places we write about. Thank you for the compliments. We hope you read all our articles, book reviews, restaurant reviews, etc. carefully. As new or old subscribers, do realize we discuss Chinese cuisine worldwide. For example, articles about various dynasties and their foods are surely not about the hinese foods in America. Foods in Taiwan do not qualify for that location either. Many, many books reviewed were not published in the United States, and so forth. If there is something special you want written about, no matter the country, please make suggestions. We take them seriously and try to accommodate as many as possible. This can be seen in the previous letter and its response, and in others.

From LOUISA via e-mail:
Read about 'catís ear' noodles made with buckwheat flour in Gourmet magazine. Why buckwheat flour?
LOUISA: China is a huge country and a small part in the north does use buckwheat flour. On three of our many trips, we were in the north. We did have noodles shaped like and called catís ears. However, ours were always made with wheat flour. We have asked several northern Chinese friends and perused about two hundred cookbooks. In the books we investigated, not one mentioned or used buckwheat flour. As to the people, none of them remembered eating any food made with this particular flour. Please contact the magazine; we tried to get in contact with the restaurant and were not successful about these Shanxi noodles. Might add, never had any noodle made with buckwheat flour anywhere in that province.

From ELAYN via e-mail:
Thanks for all things herbal. As one dietitian to another, wish I had your knowledge and could evaluate Chinese herbal sources and information. Now that your ego may be inflated, hope it will provide and answer to: Is there a single food that helps lower blood pressure, combats fatigue, alleviates constipation, and reduces coughing?
ELAYN: Is this a quiz? Never mind the response, and thanks for the compliment. We are not doctors, do consult some Chinese medical practitioners, read lots, and use our years of experience to assess things herbal. We wish we knew more, and are glad that we do know one food that does all these things. It is conpoy, better known as dried scallops. Your compliment deserves a recipe, too, so do try this popular one.

From DOUG after the Fancy Food Show, via e-mail:
Saw the folks at Lee Kum Kee give you a packet of what the guy in the booth said was 'a new Mandarin Orange Chicken Sauce.' Does the editor of a Chinese food magazine really use pre-pre-prepared sauces? And if so, did you like this one?
DOUG: Did not know that I was a known visual commodity. Yes, I did take the sample (and several others from other vendors). I was impressed to see it clearly dated 'MAR.09.2007' on its exterior. I prefer and do make my own sauces because of taste and the fact that I do not like them soupy, which this one was. I get gifts of and I purchase many new products, more of the latter than the former.

In this sauce, pictured, the first ingredient listed on the envelope is sugar. The second ingredient is water. For those unaware, ingredients are listed in order of weight, heaviest to lightest. Did I try this product? Yes. Would I pay for sugar and water as initial ingredients, no, so this was a chance to check out this new-to-me product. For the record, the next ingredients are distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and modified corn starch.

Before purchasing any product I read ingredient labels; everyone should. I never buy one with two sugars among the first five or six ingredients; and I do not like salt among them either. This packet makes a sauce close in taste and texture to those labeled 'sweet and sour' in Chinese take-out places. Therefore, I assume it will have an audience among those uninterested or unwilling to use measuring cups and spoons and an extra minute or two of minimal labor. The instructions below the date say: Preparation Time: 8 Minutes ē Cooking Time: 5 minutes. Most Chinese dishes, such as the one intended, cook in less than ten minutes. They need only another one or two minutes to measure their ingredients. This product does not reduce time needed to cut the chicken, onion, and red peppers they recommend using. As I like to cook, I would make such a sauce from scratch.

On the plus side, I do commend this company for clearly dating their products. A suggestion to them and all manufacturer, do add the words: 'Use before' the date given. That small amount of clarity would be useful because imported items are often dated when manufactured.

From ARIAN in MANHATTAN:
Why is it that China's culinary is divided in half when I believe the Yellow River is closer to half. Using any of these rivers, do all Chinese from or living north of this river not eat rice and all living south of it only eat rice?
ARIAN: As the map on this page indicates, your visual perception does match some understandings about the north-south divide better known as China's pasta/rice line. However, as this and all maps show, the area south of the Yangtze is a mite less than one-third of China's land mass. It may be closer to the population half than the land half. Actually, there are many myths about Chinaís staple foods and you may have been exposed to one of them. Another is that all Chinese eat rice. Geography plays a major role, the land north of the Yangtze is colder and grows little rice compared to the south of China where triple rice cropping is commonplace. North of the Yangtze, people do eat some rice, as do those living south eat noodles and other wheat products. The word 'all' surely does get folks into trouble.

From CLAUDINE via e-mail:
Hope you can help me make salted duck eggs? I live far from a Chinatown. Two vendors I contacted, for reasons unknown, would not mail them to us.
CLAUDINE Not sure why they would not send them. Inquired of a few vendors in Chinatown, and they knew of no restrictions. Suggest you expand your web searching to try others. As to making your own, we have one recipe but must confess we never tired it. Perhaps you and others will and advise the rest of us. It seems simple, but time consuming. Making duck eggs needs one dozen fresh duck eggs, and a mite of home science to determine the exact amount of salt. It says to use a raw potato in about six cups of boiling water. Put a pound of salt in the water and If the potato floats, fine; if not add more salt until it does. Next, take out the potato and let the water stand until it gets cold. Now, take a gallon jar and put the eggs in it, then the cold salt water. Add a quarter of a cup of 'used' tea leaves and let sit for thirty days or more.

From NAN via e-mail:
Does anyone in your organization know when sweetened wines were first made in China?
NAN: Some reports say the answer to your question can be as early as nine thousand years ago. Pottery jars with fermented rice, honey, and fruit remains were discovered and dated in that time frame during the Neolithic period. The place, should you or anyone else need to know, was in the Henan Province near the Yellow River. They were analyzed and reported from Penn State Universityís Museum of Archeology and Anthropology in the New York Times about two years ago.

From BETSY, via e-mail:
Do the Chinese use the edame bean as a snack food the way the Japanese do today?
BETSY: The beans you are referring to are small fresh soy beans in their shells. Yes, the Chinese do use them, and they are boiled before use. Actually, they should always be boiled because not doing so and eating lots can make you sick. Boiling them inactivates a particular toxin. The Chinese do boil them whole, for about three minutes, with star anise and a dozen or more Sichuan peppers in the water. Then, they peel and mince some garlic, heat about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a wok and fry the garlic with a teaspoon of black peppercorns for about a minute. Next, they drain and store the soybeans. At that time or later, they remove them from their pods and mix the beans with half teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of chili oil. They are used as a snack and as an appetizer.

From TERRY, via fax:
Lots of friends ask, and I have no answer. Bet you do to their question about what are the eight major regional cuisines of China. And I would like to know, is there an important dish representing each of these cuisines?
TERRY: There are any number of regional cuisines in China, depends upon with whom you are speaking. Also flexible is why eight regions? Because eight is a lucky number for the Chinese. Some years back, I did see an article naming these regions, and as the magazine was Taiwanese, they began with that cuisine 'branch' as they call it. For it, they listed Peony Lobster. The others in alphabetical order were: Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Zhejiang. Dishes for each, in the same order were: Peking Duck, Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, Cantonese Cold-cut Platter, Smoked Cured Meats, Fish Chin/Lip Braised in Brown Sauce, Broiled Carp in Chili Sauce, and Dungpo Pork. Must confess, we neither agree with the regional choices nor the dishes for each of them. Suggest you and others query your Chinese friends and report back. That and our future research combined will make a great article in some future issue.
Dried Scallops and Bean Curd
Ingredients:
1 ounce (about four) dried scallops
1 pound soft bean curd
1 Tablespoon ginger juice
2 Tablespoons Chinese white wine
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce mixed with one tablespoon warm water
Preparation:
1. Soak scallops in warm water for three or four hours, until soft, then shred them into very thin strips.
2. Mash bean curd and set aside to drain in a strainer over a bowl for about ten minutes.
3. Put scallops in a small bowl with two tablespoons water, the ginger juice, and the wine and steam over boiling water for fifteen minutes. Allow to cool for one hour in this water.
4. Oil a steam-proof bowl or line it with parchment paper or cheesecloth. Sprinkle about one quarter of the scallops shreds on its bottom. Then mix bean curd slowly and carefully with the remaining scallop shreds, the egg white, and the salt and pepper, and gently put on the scallop shreds, pressing down ever so gently. Then steam this over boiling water for ten minutes, turn over onto a serving plate, remove the plastic wrap, if used, and serve with the oyster sauce mixture drizzled over and around it.

                                                                                                                                                       
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