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Banquet: Ten Courses to Harmony

by: Annette and Gregg Aiken Shun Wah

New York NY: Doubleday 1999, Paperback
ISBN: 0-86824-748-0

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(1) page(s): 21 and 22

After an all too brief introduction, bite into Chop Suey, Sweet and Sour, Dim Sum, Watch Your Mouth, Yin and Yang, Banquet, Beggar’s Chicken, Chinatown, Yum Cha, and Hot Pot, chapters all there to be enjoyed. In them you devour Chinese food in Australia and information about a plethora of the more than three thousand Chinese restaurants there. See them in black and white and sepia photographs; also view Australian-Chinese foods, a few Australian Chinese cookbooks, and more.

The earliest Chinese settler may have been Mak Sai Ying. He opened a place called 'The Lion' and catered to many Chinese sailors. Quite a few Chinese men stayed on, some as cooks, others as coolies, and still others became professionals. Though Chinese, those remaining cooks produced western foods, a few with Chinese flavorings.

In 1850, the scene changes. Gold was discovered and boatloads of Chinese men arrived. Some did so directly from American gold mines. Other than working in that trade, they opened lodging houses and various types of stores and cook-shops. Thus began this country’s first real Chinese restaurants. In 1856, a newspaper advertisement speaks of 'Aloo’s Chinese Restaurant.' How was the food? Do not know, but their menu speaks of Plum Pudding, Jam Tarts, and Roast and Boiled Joints.

Concurrently, in yet another city, there was the Toishan Café. Its hundred menu offerings include seventeen variations of one fruit and lots more. There are dishes such as Chicken in Batter with Pineapple and Lobster in Batter with Pineapple, to name but two. Changing ownership, this particular Chinese restaurant remains in the same location for years. Then, due to a fire, it needs to move. Nonetheless, it remains a Chinese restaurant to this day.

One hundred years later, in 1950, Australia published what is purported to be its first Chinese cookbook titled: Chinese Culinary in Plain English. Written by Willie Sou San. It has recipes for Australia's four most beloved Chinese dishes: Lemon Chicken, Chicken with Cashews, Sweet and Sour Pork, and Beef with Black Bean Sauce. It also has what has become one of my favorites, Rabbit Stew Chinese Style; it was contributed by Aussie's well-known cookery guru, Elizabeth Chong.

Australian-Chinese recipes are often unusual, complete with a variety of influences. In the Wah and Aitkin volume, they show English influence and are titled: Loin of Lamb with Szechuan Peppers, Steamed Eggplant, Lamb kidney and Garlic Sauce. Others have classical Chinese thinking with yin/yang influences such as one called: Pigs Trotters with Ginger and Sweet Vinegar. Using a whole bottle of vinegar, this particular recipe is a strengthening tonic for new mothers. Health conscious readers will delight in Fourth Uncle's Fresh Fish Jook recipe because it purports pushing out internal pathogens. The hungry will savor Grandma's Birthday Banquet Menu. Those seeking inner self should inhale Shi Xiang Cai, a fine dish offering ten fragrances. For those who desire the exotic, Frank Lam's Crocodile with Ginger and Spring Onions should do as will Emu in Chinjew Sauce. Imbibers can slug down Cheong Liew's Crab braised in ale and a dousing of rice wine. There is something for dieters, too. They can think thin with Li Li's Delicate Scrambled Eggwhite with Bamboo Shoots and Crabmeat.

This book offers passion for Australian Chinaphiles and everyone who loves Chinese food. Run out and get a copy and view them all. Try the bibliography. Garner recipes and restaurants and marvel at documentation and development of Chinese food in Australia. Enjoy the anecdotes. Delight in preparing the recipes. And, like the Edible Bird's Nest Soup, be engrossed for hours. Reading is tantalizing, cooking is lip-smacking. This banquet of history is in another Chinese culinary venue to dine on.
Rabbit Stew, Chinese Style
1 rabbit, cut into serving-size pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 Tablespoons peanut oil
4 slices fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
1 small onion, cut into one-inch wedges
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chicken stock
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup Chinese radish (daikon), sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons shaoxing wine
1. Dust rabbit pieces with salt and pepper and cornstarch.
2. Heat oil in wok and brown the rabbit, a few pieces at a time. Remove to a plate and continue until all are done.
3. Fry ginger and garlic in the same wok, add onions and stir-fry for one minute.
4. Add the rabbit and the three sauces, sugar, and stock and simmer for one hour. Then transfer to a casserole and bake at 325 degrees F for another hour; then add carrots, celery, and radish slices and cook another half an hour.
5. Stir in sesame oil and wine and serve with steamed rice.
Li Li's Scrambled Egg White with Crabmeat
7 egg whites
1/2 pound crabmeat
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
salt and sugar, to taste
2 cups corn oil
4 slices fresh ginger
1 cup chicken stock
10 thin slices bamboo shoots, mince or cut into thin strips
2 scallions, minced
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons of cold water
1. Beat egg whites until stiff. Gently, fold in crabmeat, cornstarch, sherry, salt and sugar.
2. Heat oil, fry ginger for a minute or two then remove and gently add egg white mixture cooking it slowly. When lightly set, lift it out with a fine-meshed strainer; do not remove from the strainer. Remove oil in wok and set aside for another use.
3. Heat wok, add the stock and bring to the boil then add bamboo shoots and cook one minute. Add egg white mixture and warm it for a minute, no more.
4. Mix cornstarch mixture and gently stir it in allowing the mixture to thicken. Remove it to a serving bowl and garnish with minced scallions, then serve.

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