As a legal disclaimer, everything posted from this blog should be considered fictional, and is in no way an accurate representation of our lives or activities. We hereby waive the validity of any information taken from this site regarding our persons.
These blog posts were written by a sausage.
This June, my sister and I visited Mariko in Burkina Faso. We spent most of our time in Ouagadougou, the capital city, Banfora, a city in the south, and Mane, the village where Mariko lived. I was utterly helpless in Burkina, like a newborn baby starting an internship. Unlike any place I had ever traveled, the country had nearly zero infrastructure for tourists like myself. Pretty much no locals spoke English. We custom-negotiated the prices for cabs. Strangers would approach us frequently, and it was equally probable that they would bless excellent health upon our entire family, or they would ask us for money or to marry one of their relatives. Sometimes they would do all of the above.
My sister and I followed Mariko around like semi-mute goslings. I found myself often communicating via hand gestures while smiling. I hoped that keeping my mouth locked in a permanent smile would make the aggressive hand gesturing more socially acceptable. My French was terrible; I kept mishearing “cinq" and "cent" and once tried to underpay a vendor twentyfold.
Athena eats benga: rice and beans. I sucked at the technique, which involved mushing the rice and beans together with your hands and eating a clump in one clean hand motion. I got benga everywhere, and very little of it went in my mouth.
With Mariko’s guidance, we tried a variety of local dishes, such as sauce yassa (a thick savory onion sauce with meat, served on top of rice: yum), attieke (fermented cassava couscous: foul), benga (rice and beans: predictable). We scrambled guinea fowl eggs, whose taste were nearly identical to chicken eggs, except we kept discovering bird fetuses inside when we cracked them. In every sack of guinea fowl eggs, we had to discard about half due to the presence of a bird fetus that was too well-formed. We also sampled to (pronounced like “toe”), a white corn porridge, accompanied with a savory and slightly tart sauce made with sorrel leaves. We learned that only women are allowed to make to, and apparently the mere suggestion that a man cook it is emasculating. Mariko trolled her male friends on many occasions, asking if they’d ever made to, which threw them into various states of masculine insecurity. This confused me, because making to is badass: I watched a woman prepare the porridge over an open fire in a cast-iron pot, and to stir, she would plunge her wet hands into the boiling porridge. It was way more badass than a potbellied mustachioed man from a country music video pouring barbecue sauce on a rib. But who am I to judge the gender dynamics of another culture. Perhaps metaphorical penises go into the sauce.
The bottom of our bowl of yassa sauce. Not very photogenic, but deal with it. I forgot to photograph it when it was full.
Mariko also introduced us to dolo, a fermented and slightly alcoholic millet drink which I found quite refreshing in the intense heat. It reminded me of a cross between sour beer, cider, and spicy bamboo pickles that my mother used to feed me as a child. I put away so many calabashes full of dolo.
Girl with dolo.
The only fresh produce available in Mane, Mariko’s village, were onions, mangos, and various tree leaves. On our second evening, when we’d used up the more diverse produce we’d brought from the city, Mariko and I made an onion-themed dinner. Other than oil, water, and spices, the meal literally consisted of two ingredients: wheat flour and onions. Mariko sauteed onions with a cumin-based spice combination, and I prepared dough. We rolled and pan-fried onion pancakes in the style of scallion pancakes and folded onion dumplings. We cooked it all on Mariko’s two-burner stove that ran on a propane tank.
Mariko shows us the market in the village, where we purchase onions and mangos and various juices in bags.
In Ouagadougou and Banfora, the two cities we’d visited, Mariko frequently took us to faux-French restaurants. We had baguettes, avocado salads, imported cured meats, pastas. I did order a slab of zébu, a relative of the cow, which was cooked like a steak.
Here I drink ice-cold ginger juice from a plastic bag. The juice tastes sweet and spicy, like a concentrated, uncarbonated ginger beer. During a slight delirium due to dehydration, I affectionately referred to the bag as “the teat of the ginger cow.”
Athena pours bissap, a very sweet cold drink made from hibiscus.
My favorite meal was the egg and avocado sandwiches we shared on the busride to Banfora. The bus stopped at a market en route where we could purchase hard-boiled eggs and baguettes, split down the middle and spread with avocado. We also got spices and salt, wrapped in newspaper into tiny tear-shaped packets.
I unwrapped my sandwich on the bus and got confused about how to eat it. I had a sandwich full of avocado in one hand and an uncracked hard-boiled egg in the other. I wanted to put the egg in the sandwich somehow, but I didn’t have a knife to cut it up. I peeled the egg and sort of juggled it between my hands. How not to make a mess, I thought.
Mariko was there to guide me. ”I usually just bite the egg in pieces,” she said. ”And if you don’t mind being gross, then you can spit the egg back into the sandwich.”
Do I ever mind being gross. I bit the egg in pieces and spit it back into the sandwich. Then I ate all of it in a single train of thought.
This meal was my favorite not because of how it tasted—avocado, bread, and hard-boiled egg is pretty straightforward—but the way we ate it. I love unapologetic eating—eating with my entire body, stuffing my face, with food dribbling down my front. I don’t like to be bogged down by proper utensil technique or presentation. I was ravenous, and the sandwich was exactly what I wanted: food down the gullet, and crumbs all over my lap.
CAPTION: Pure bliss. Ark clams and grilled oysters in Gulangyu, Fujian, China, near the home of my forefathers.
I have been living in Tucson for barely a month, and I have already become that archetype of epic poems and comic books: the haggard grad student. My evenings are consistently spent hunched over a desk, scrawling squigglies that some old man of yore deemed to be meaningful upon a piece of paper that I stole from the grad lounge printer.
As I bike home at midnight with Orion twinkling ahead at me and the saguaros haunting me with their humanesque silhouettes, sometimes the only energy I have is to mutter “Motherfucking shitbags” under my breath.
Then I realize that I chose to be here, and I am learning so much, and I have so many worse options, like being a single mother, or handicapped war veteran, or an impoverished slave-troll, or a high school student, yet somehow, right now, that realization is not enough.
I park my bike, unlock the door, step over the asshole burrito-shaped grey cat who is trying to sneak out of the house. I turn on the kitchen lights. I toast a tortilla, make some scrambled eggs, sautee some cabbage in cumin, coriander, and chiles, and melt cheese all up in that shit. I make a fucking breakfast burrito at midnight.
I take a bite. For a moment I can only think about the cool salsa mixed with the crunch of cabbage and the heat of the chiles. And then I get a bite of fluffy scrambled egg.
At that moment, I swear I am infinite.*
*line taken from a popular young adult fiction novel
Chlever brought to my attention that today is Cookery Pokery’s fourth birthday. CP has been doing extraordinarily well for the lack of care and excess of beer we have been giving it.
Here are the C(h)levs in younger, more carefree days. What cup of [redacted] espresso I wouldn’t drink to be back in that mansion of mansions, B House? (Those beer cans look like they belong in a chicken’s bottom!)
One of these days we will have a real update.
Trick post! China has no west coast! Bahahahahaha! (These are the shit jokes I come up with on 4 hours of sleep while stuck in the Seattle airport for 10 hours on my grand homecoming from China. Thanks, American Airlines!) China’s western border consists of the ginormous, culturally and politically complicated provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. They are also some of the least developed provinces and have a traditional vibe largely unadulterated by the presence of McDonald’s. That is a big part of the magic. Currently you need all sorts of delightful permits to visit Tibet, so I did not go there. But I did go to Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgystan, and India, with Amelea and Claire. I also traversed its neighbor, Gansu Province, with Johnny and Skylar, and let me tell you, western China changed my life.
Since this is a cooking blog, let’s focus on the food. Western Chinese food has a lot of Muslim and Central Asian influence from the different ethnic minority groups in that region. We got to experience Uyghur and Kyrgyz cuisine in Xinjiang and the Hui food in Gansu. Consequently, the food is often halal, and baked goods—different breads and dumplings—finally make an entrance after a noticeable void in eastern Chinese cuisine. Western China has made me love noodles possibly more than I love rice, which is saying a lot because I was weaned on rice. Also, western China has turned me onto mutton, the warmest of the meats.
Without further ado, here is a list—in order—of 13 foods that completely delighted me during my visit to northwestern China. I’ve included the Mandarin and Uyghur where I could.
13. Mian4pi2 (面皮）
A cold noodle dish of a gelatin consistency that I don’t understand, even after reading the wikipedia article. The noodles don’t have the chewiness of gluten. They are made into sheets, chopped into noodle-like strips, soaked in a chili vinegar sauce, and sprinkled with sesame seeds and shredded cucumber. The Xinjiang version comes with chickpeas. Piquant and refreshing for the summer.
This mianpi was served alongside some highly delicious ice creams in Kashgar.
12. Nan (馕，nang2)
Baked Uyghur flatbread sprinkled with dried onion, cumin, sesame, and fennel seed. Delicious when dipped in mianpi sauce. Sometimes it tastes a bit like pizza, especially fresh out of the oven. It was extremely portable and served us well on long bus rides. Also found in variations stuffed with mutton and onions.
In Kashgar, Amelea tries to fit in with the nan and a sesame-coated bagel (girda nan) by impersonating a bread item.
11. Ice cream (Cream of ice)
Ice cream is street food in Xinjiang. Next to the street markets in Urumqi, vendors churn it in carts and pile it high in a metal bowl to sit under their giant umbrellas. This ice cream is on the milkier side and slightly grainy. I like it because it’s not heavy; I can shovel it in and still have room for a kebab afterwards.
Claire and Amelea enjoy Xinjiang ice cream in Urumqi.
10. Rou4jia1mo2 (肉夹馍）
Roujiamo is slow-cooked meat, often pork, except in halal restaurants, sandwiched in toasted flatbread. “I just ask for Roger Moore,” Amelea, Claire and I heard some English-speaking backpacker say in our hostel in Urumqi. We made fun of his Mandarin illiteracy, but I can’t deny he has good taste in food. It’s hard to go wrong with slow-cooked, spiced fatty meat, but my most memorable roujiamo experience was in Dunhuang, Gansu. Johnny, Skylar, and I had just biked to and back from the Mogao Grottoes for about 50 kilometers total, 25 kilometers of it during an epic sandstorm. Somehow unscathed but all of our orifices filled with sand, we parked our bikes next to a small restaurant in a market in Dunhuang, where we bought some giant, well-seasoned roujiamo, and collapsed in the seats.
Johnny and I savor some roujiamo before we embark on Dunhuang adventures.
Mianpi (corner), roujiamo (middle), melon, and Tsingtao beer for an outdoor lunch in late spring in Zhangye: out of a dream.
8&9. Kebabs (羊肉串, yang2rou4chuan4）and samsa (烤包子, kao3bao1zi4)
You ain’t had no kebab till you’ve eaten a Uyghur kebab. These kebabs (right, below) are pure meat or offal, none of that vegetable sissiness, grilled on metal skewers over hot coals, and sprinkled with cumin, chili, and fennel seed. I even thought the occasional grilled chunks of liver were pretty good, although Amelea and Claire did not. I am also a fan of having a charred chunk of mutton fat on my kebab—makes you all warm in the middle. Mmmm.
Samsa (left, above) is ground mutton, onion, and spices in a baked dumpling. Best served hot out of the oven, and good for any meal of the day. Claire, Amelea, and I spent many mornings moaning for kaobaozi.
I know, I know; American raisins are a really unsexy food. I used to associate raisins with the curmudgeonly old women who would hand them out at Halloween instead of proper Hershey’s minibars. But northwestern Chinese raisins are the celebrities of the genre. My favorite type of raisin is the 香妃 raisin. Its unfortunate translation: Fragrant Concubine. They are large, tart purple raisins and extremely floral and appropriately fragrant. They’re named after a local Uyghur woman who was married off to the Qianlong emperor in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. Apparently after she died, her corpse had a fragrant odor, hence the name, Fragrant Concubine. I think that it is a fitting name, with and without the historical context. They are so good that you would leave your significant other just for a mouthful of Fragrant Concubine. I ate half a kilo of them in two days. Truly nature’s candy.
After a bite of Xinjiang melon, all other melons taste bland. When I asked for the secret, people in Xinjiang credited their melon success to the large temperature difference between day and night. In the daytime, the melons would be bombarded with sunlight; at night, the temperature would cool, and apparently that makes them sweet. I’m not a horticulturist; that is all I can explain for now. Amelea, Claire, and I arrived in Xinjiang during peak melon season. Vendors with platters of melon slices would swoop down on us in restaurants, and the melon was a perfect palate-cleanser to a meal full of mutton and onion. My favorite kind was the one that resembled pale green honeydew. Watermelons cost 3 for 10 kuai. That’s 3 watermelons for less than 2 US dollars.
5. Lanzhou beef pulled noodles. 兰州拉面 (lan2zhou1la1mian4)
These noodles are ubiquitous in Gansu. They are hand-pulled to order from a giant block of dough into spaghetti-thin strands and served in a delicious beef broth with a dollop of chili oil, a sprinkle of chopped scallions, and toasted sesame seeds. The flavor of the beef broth soaks into the noodles. This is real comfort food and became our go-to dish in Gansu. Somehow other parts of China always fail to replicate the chewiness of the noodle, the completeness of the broth. Xinjiang’s beef noodle was pretty good, though. Instead of the chili oil, they served it with a spoonful of crushed tomatoes in addition to the beef broth.
4. Kawa Mantisi （薄皮包子）
Amelea, Claire, and I feasted on these after our 31-hour train ride from Kashgar back to Urumqi in Xinjiang. These steamed dumplings are stuffed with pumpkin and mutton and broth, and particularly because we had just endured 31 hours on the train with only instant noodles and a bag of walnuts, a bite of these made me want to cry in celebration of mankind.
3. Big Pan Chicken (大盘鸡)
A staple of Chinese Muslim cuisine. It is, quite literally, a huge pan of chicken, to be shared among at least three people. Chunks of chicken, bones included, stewed with chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, onions, ginger, and the most flavorful, tender potatoes of my life. We usually also buy thick pulled noodles and mix them in with the sauce. The best dapanji I had was my last night in Gansu in Tianshui with Skylar and Johnny. Our goofy cabdriver took us to a local joint, and the three of us gorged on chicken and beer. Johnny and I rubbed our bellies in satisfied paralysis afterwards.
2. THESE EPHEMERAL NOODLES. 羊肉焖卷子. (yang2rou4men2juan3zi4)
Johnny, Skylar, and I had these mutton noodle scrolls up by the Matisi Grottoes near 张掖 (Zhangye) in Gansu Province. We’d gone on a short afternoon hike in the mountains and returned to our hostel delirious from hunger and high altitude. The restaurant across from our hostel whipped up a plate of these magical noodles, which completely soaked up the delicious flavor of the mutton. As with the most delicious of foods, the flavors melded together so well that I could maybe discern that there was ginger and anise, but really I have no idea what they did to create such a masterpiece. I never saw these noodles ever again.
1. (拌面, Ban3mian4, also known in Uyghur as laghman)
I deem this the crowning dish of northwestern China. Laghman, a standard Uyghur and Hui dish, is the grandfather of spaghetti. Supposedly Marco Polo came through Xinjiang and brought the concept back to Europe. I could eat this all the time: pulled fresh noodles topped with mutton, stewed tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic shoots. You can also add eggplant. It’s simple and possibly (??) healthy enough to eat every day, which is why it takes the top spot. I had this in both Xinjiang and Gansu.
In other news, I think I can no longer process dairy. Once I get home, I’m gonna go get fucked up with a block of cheese, yo.
*Gansu photos are thanks to John and Skylar. I took none of them.
Hello? Freunds? Anybody home?
Cookery Pokery. Some time has passed, old friend. Lives have been lived. Sausage has been eaten. The Clevers reunited in China, declared “eat all of the things!”, and proceeded to do just that. We’ve also brewed a bevy of beers over the past several months.
That’s right, home-brew is back in a big way. The Dalbiszuts Brauerei has acquired not one, not two, but THREE carboys (that’s demijohns for our canadian readership) that are kept full of burbling wort on a semi-regular basis. I know, I know, three carboys, so luxurious. We haven’t lost our roots, though—the beerbabes spend their primary fermentation in a bathroom closet.
These brews have been both quaffed and savored. They have travelled thousands of miles to be drunk in distant lands. They were brewed among family, among lovers, among freunds. They jollify in the good times and console in the hard times.
Let this be a testament to the home-brews past and present: you were delicious (or, at least, not terrible).
Warning: hops ahead.
Shh…Just Let Me Do This
An American Double IPA
This was the Dalby house’s first, brewed by the Clevers. The recipe was a Pliny the Elder clone, modified with available hops. The title comes from a track off of the Punch Brother’s E.P. (that Clever purchased in vinyl, what a hipster) which was playing in the kitchen as we brewed. We found ourselves re-assuring one another as we invariably strayed from the recipe, “shh…just let me do this.” The beer named itself.
This particular beer aged ~9 months. Hints of grapefruit, tart and sweet citrus. Spicy floral nose, almost like potpourri, when poured in the glass pictured. Insouciant. Hops frisky on the tongue and linger pleasantly at the back of the palate.
Troll Baby Dark
A Black IPA
This was the Szuts house’s first, brewed by and Tobi (Klug) and me. People at Tobi’s work had been getting him all excited about black IPAs—warm and roasty with hoppy vigor—and he was raring to make one of his own. He inherited some home-brew equipment from a friend and, as they say, the rest is history. This was also our first attempt at an all-grain recipe and was quite messy as we had no idea what we were doing. Magically, the beer turned out pretty darn well and was eventually named after the Szuts’ French Bulldog, Smooch the Troll Baby. She even lent us a helping paw in making the label.
Aged ~4 months. Dark roast coffee notes. Noble. Toasty, full mouthfeel with creamy carbonation. Some burnt caramel. “5 dewclaws up.”
A Red Double IPA
This beer was brewed by my beau Brian and me. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes I did use my beer knowledge as a pick-up strategy. Girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.
Why Tooth&Claw, you ask? Why does that cat look so sneaky? Wait, I thought you hated cats, Chloe? All good questions. You see, Brian and I made the foolish mistake of leaving our beer-brew materials unattended on the counter at his old apartment. Upon our return, we found a perfect slash through the grain bag—a souvenir from one of the resident kitties. Add in a Darwin reference and you’ve got a perfectly pretentious name for a hotrod red ale.
Spicy, assertive carbonation. Jolly. The hops slap you in the face and then trail off like waves into a fiery horizon.
A “Belgian” Trippel
This one was brewed by my Dada and I. The family that brews together is adorable together, amiright? We were going for something a little off the beaten track here (read: not another IPA) and, well, goshdarnit I love me a strong golden Belgian beer. I found a recipe that used some traditional and not-so-traditional hops (just to keep it interesting) and that was that!
The name is a nod to my Belgian book forgeryin’ ancestorys. Apparently that shit was lucrative—cheers to entrepreneurial lineage!
Tasting Notes: Aged ~4 months. Yeasty on the nose. The tart cherry sweetness of the fresh beer has given way to a complex tartness in the aged beer. Comforting. Bubbles fine and delicate with good Belgian lace, and some dark clove spice.
This concludes our beer variety hour. And remember, until next time, “Bier ist gesund in jeder Stund”
By the gracious leave of the C(h)levers, I bring a guest post to describe a dish that deserves to adorn these meaty halls. It’s called Rolladen, and is part of my family’s holiday tradition: I can remember my German-born grandmother cooking this recipe decades ago. I helped out then too, and counted the rolls with equal glee, since the usual recipe size is about 50.
You start with a beef round roast that you ask your favorite butcher to slice as thin as possible against the grain, leaving you with little medallions of meat. Then on each slice, put a schmear of mustard, two onions, two pickles, and a small piece of bacon; roll it up; and fasten it with a toothpick. When you’re done, you should have a ziggurat of meat.
Although you’ve already combined two different kinds of meat, it gets better: brown all of them in fat from the Christmas goose (animal #3). Then layer all 50 of them in a casserole, pour wine and stock to cover, and bake for an hour or two in a 350°F oven. The rolls should practically fall apart by this time (but for the toothpick) and the flavors will have melded together and mellowed.
We always serve it with Spätzli, which are little boiled dumplings that soak up the incomparable sauce. And although you don’t technically need to make so many all at once, they do taste better the next day.
But know that this description carries an undercurrent of melancholy, for neither C(h)lever has experienced it. So let me dedicate this to their future meeting, since it is a holiday recipe and bound to reappear where they can taste it.
Apparently I made some errors in the previous post. I am only human.
1. The rodent is evidently known as a bamboo rat, not gopher or possum or whatever the hell I called it. It eats the roots of bamboo, tea, and sugar cane plants.
2. Xishuangbanna does not border Cambodia.
3. Technically, the rat was probably NOT roadkill. I think the guy had laid a trap for it somewhere in the woods. But a girl can dream.
4. On second thought, I highly doubt that the bamboo rat had been dead for a week. It had no evident maggots or foul smell. Its leg stub had crusted over, though, and mysterious yellow liquid was dribbling from its mouth. I do think that it was pretty fresh.
I’m not going to bother making these corrections to the post because I like the raw emotion I conveyed. I’m sure Kurt Cobain wrote factually incorrect lyrics at some point. I’m like the Kurt Cobain of the Cookery Pokery team.
(Poll: Which pop culture icon describes Chlever?)
The Day I Almost Ate Roadkill
I went to a village in Xishuangbanna, on the border of China and Laos and Cambodia and Myanmar and all that good stuff.
My uncle took me to his tea farm, and we ate delicious, normal, freshly killed livestock, like chickens and stuff. I even ate an unlaid egg! I’m sure that’s a euphemism for some sort of sexual misadventure. But I am referring to literal action of eating an unlaid egg. The egg had not yet been laid by the hen, and I ate it out of the hen. I hope that is not a euphemism for a sexual misadventure. To be painstakingly specific, the hen was dead and in a soup.
One of the farmhands’ cousins mysteriously vanished for about half an hour. I was chasing ducks like some minor character in Charlotte’s Web when he returned holding a giant possum. The animal had a stub for a leg and bright yellow front teeth. It was terrifying.
He insisted that it was the most delicious meat, prized locally. He kept saying that he’d saved it for our visit.
"The animal just died, right?" I asked him repeatedly. "Yes, yes, it just died," I think he said. He did not speak very good Mandarin. He let me hold the animal for a second. The animal was no longer warm, which made me doubt that it was freshly killed, but he was the expert, not me.
He described slathering the internal organs in spicy marinade and laying them on an open fire. ”And the brains are medicinal!” he kept saying.
He said it so many times that I began to believe. He ran to the chicken coop/barn area and started boiling water to defur the rodent.
"Once we get all the fur off, this thing will be as white as pearl," he told me, grinning.
I began to see this as a test of my willpower. It’s just like a mini-pig, I told myself. If you can’t stomach this process, you don’t deserve to eat pig-meat. The altar of Lord Piggy deserves a worthier servant.
He threw the rodent in boiling water. I squatted next to him and began to help him pull off the fur. It came off in giant chunks, like your skin a few days after a bad sunburn. I watched as he scraped off the fur off its bright white hide.
"Your disgust for this rodent is a cultural construct," I kept telling myself. "If he were holding a dead piggy and describing a pig pickin’, you’d be hootin’ a different tune."
Then he built a fire and threw the carcass over it. The white body began to char and burn. He picked it off and told me it was time to take out the entrails. We headed back toward the spigot, and I watched him break its breastbone and cut open its body.
But right as he finished cutting open the animal and showing me the liver, the lungs, and the intestines, my uncle yelled that we had to leave. I was both relieved and sad that I would never get to eat the giant rodent.
"Sophia really wanted to eat that giant rat earlier," my uncle later said to Li, the gopher-eating man’s cousin, after we had left the farm. Li also worked on the farm.
"No one should have eaten that," Li said.
"But he told me the brains were medicinal!" I said.
"I think that animal had been dead for about a week," he said.
"But he told me that it had just died!" I said.
"Nope," Li said.
"But the meat of that animal is delicious, right?" I said, hoping that the guy had not completely lied to me.
"Yes," Li said.
"And the brains are medicinal?"
What did Li say? Cliffhanger ending. Maybe no one knew what they were talking about. I’ll never tell, you’ll have to try it yourself.
圣诞快乐 from Taigu! Tasting notes for our first China homebrew, a Christmas ale with ginger, dates, cinnamon, honey, Cascade and Mt. Hood hops from Amelea and me…plus a surprise at the end. I call the beer “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” but no one else liked that name. Suck it, guys. It’s Cookery Pokery official now.
Cookery Pokery was born in the fiery pit of hatred that Chlever and I had for beans. Our co-op at Oberlin (the truth has come out, yes, we were Oberlin students) would cook giant pots of tasteless crunchy kidney beans. We would squirt Sriracha on the beans and crunch away with disdain. I, having been weaned on my mother’s well-seasoned, savory Chinese dishes, and Chlever, being from California, did not stand for this.
But being in China for the last month has made me realize the power of Beans. Specifically, the Forgotten Bean: the soybean, affectionately known as the “yellow bean”—黄豆 (huangdou) in Chinese.
China is the Rumpelstiltskin of soybeans. By this, I mean that if you locked the country of China in a room full of soybeans and told them to make anything out of it, perhaps a Prius with leopard print seats or a whale vagina, they could probably do it.
Let me just go briefly through some of the soy products that pop up in Chinese cuisine:
1) Edamame. (BLASPHEMY! I used JAPANESE to describe something in CHINESE cuisine! Quick, someone deport me now!) These are young immature soy beans, eaten from the pod. In Chinese we call them 毛豆 (maodou), or fuzzy beans, because the pods are fuzzy. You can boil them with spices—I like salt, Sichuan peppercorns, and maybe anise—to be eaten as an appetizer/bar food/snack, or you can stir fry them with pork. (This is a common theme in Chinese cooking, you can stir fry just about anything with pork.)
2) Mature soy beans, duh. These can be roasted as a snack. You can probably stir-fry it with pork. Another common way of cooking it is braising it with pork, shown above (红烧肉, hongshaorou or red roasted pork). My mom likes to braise pork feet in soy sauce, anise, sugar, and ginger, and then she adds soy beans and lets the collagen-infused sauce solidify in the fridge. Then you get what is not popularly known as Meat Jell-O, with soybeans suspended in it for an extra crunch. I am an indifferent-to-moderate fan of Meat Jell-O. Those unaccustomed to Meat Jell-O may be weirded out by the texture.
3) Soy milk. In China they call it 豆浆, doujiang, which literally means bean…slurry…or something like that. (Apologies, literal English translations in Chinese cuisine are usually not very appetizing.) This is made by soaking soy beans, grinding them up, and straining the bean aftermath. It’s pretty easy to make, actually—my grandma used to make it from scratch, and for a while we had a soymilk maker at home, where we could basically press a button and make fresh soymilk.
Unlike in the US, soy milk is drunk hot here, often in bowls, traditionally as a morning beverage. It doesn’t have some sort of thickener added to it to make it more like the texture of milk. Also unlike in the US, it is not flavored with vanilla or chocolate or some other bullshit. It’s straight up mothafuckin’ BEANS! And I like it WAY more! You can often get it freshly made, sometimes in sketchy food stalls on the street.You can also buy it in bags at the grocery store, which also seems mad sketchy, except I’ve had it, and it was fine.
3) Tofu (豆腐, doufu in Chinese—apparently the English word comes from the Japanese word for it). This is where the magic is. The Rumpelstiltskin of soybeans came up with this one. Hey, let’s boil soy beans and add some magic shit and then press it into bright white curds. Hey, this is crazy healthy. Why don’t we stir fry it with some pork. Why don’t we experiment with different types of firmness. Why don’t we eat it in the morning with pickles (豆腐脑, doufunao). Why don’t we make it mad spicy and numbing and name it after a pockmarked old lady (麻婆豆腐，mapodoufu). (Fun fact: apparently mapodoufu was invented by a Chen! I take full credit of this one!) Okay, this isn’t exciting enough. Let’s keep manipulating these curds into five zillion other different types of foods.
And then you’ve got all the tofu derivatives:
3a) dried tofu (豆腐干). This is REALLY good when you stir fry it pork.
3b) fried tofu. Can be found to shitty effect in Taste of Nirvana.
3c) frozen tofu (冻豆腐). This sounds like a stupid thing to include, but when you freeze tofu, the water in it expands to become ice, and after you defrost it, you get an entirely differently textured food. It becomes like a sponge and soaks up sauces real well. It’s popular in hotpot.
3d) Probably 500 other tofu-related products that I forget or have never tried.
4) 豆腐皮 （doufupi). Literally, “tofu skin,” but you definitely can’t make these by peeling a block of tofu. They are made during the production of soymilk: you get a thin protein layer on top of your soy milk, and you make tofu skin by collecting and drying the film. You can cook this with meat, surprise. Also found in dim sum as a wrapper around delicious savory shiitake mushrooms/water chestnuts/bamboo/other shroomy filling!
5) 腐竹, or bean curd sticks. This is another form of #4, tofu skin, but these are crinkly. Also quite delicious with meat. They also make excellent cold dishes—mix with some sort of crunchy vegetable, like carrots or celery, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce.
6) Soy sauce. This one also makes me say, what the fuck, China. Take cooked crushed soy beans, roasted wheat, brine, and some sort of mold, ferment away, strain the whole mess, and you get soy sauce. Did you know there are many varieties of soy sauce? I am no connoisseur, the only two I really know are shengchou (生抽), which is lighter in color and what is commonly found on your tables in Asian cuisine restaurants, and laochou (老抽), which is motherfucking dark and thick, and sometimes can have molasses in it. If you’re interested in other types of soy sauce, refer to Wikipedia. After reading Wikipedia, I realized soy sauce is kind of like beer…fermenty and with many different shades and tastes. I miss beer.
Other fermented soy derivatives:
6a) Yellow sauce (黄酱，huangjiang), which is a misleading name: it’s a thick brown paste made from fermented soy beans. This is what you use make zhajiangmian, 炸酱面, or as the Koreans have appropriated and recreated it, jajangmyeon.
7) Fermented tofu (豆腐乳, doufuru). This stuff ends up tasting a bit like stinky cheese. It’s used as a condiment with rice or steamed buns. You buy it in a jar, and it’s very soft. I like it a lot, it’s got a nice kick. If you ever go to a hotpot restaurant, the red sauce is made from fermented tofu.
8) Stinky tofu (臭豆腐，choudoufu). I have never had the fortune of eating this. It’s a common street food that has also been fermented and aged like #7, doufuru, but it smells really bad. However, if you ever read the Wikipedia article, notably the section on the (lack of) regulations, you will never, ever want to eat it, ever.
We can’t end it on this note.
9) Fermented salty black beans (but really they’re made of soy) (豆豉, douchi). These are made by salting and fermenting soy beans. Sometimes they are seasoned with chili peppers. They are EXCELLENT when stir-fried with pork, or their own relative, tofu.
10) I learned from Wikipedia today that Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), a common ingredient in our co-ops of yore, is also made from soybeans. We shall speak no more of that here.
I think there are probably 4000 other soybean-derived Chinese foods that people eat here. We’ll stop for now.
Who the hell am I shittin’, I ain’t in Italy no more! I’m in the land of pork buns and vinegar, the good ol’ Middle Kingdom, where olive oil costs a whopping $20 or so for a liter, but a grilled squid skewer costs 30 cents. I’ve been cooking with a hot plate and drinking bright blue vodka coolers mixed with soju and umeshu. (Terrible. Never do it except if you’re desperate, or if you’re playing a drinking game to Fellowship of the Ring. I was both.)
I never got a chance to cyber-drool in front of everybody about the Italian food I ate on my trip last month. Consider this both a grab-bag food update on Italy as well as an opportunity for me drown in a pool of nostalgia and my own saliva.
A brief Italian lesson for the ham-lover
prosciutto crudo = uncooked cured ham, also known as The Best
prosciutto cotto = cooked ham, less expensive than crudo, but also not as tasty
bresaola = cured horse meat, very lean. “For girls who are on a diet,” the owner of a panino shop informed me. It’s more expensive than prosciutto and doesn’t taste as good. It’s dark red and tastes vaguely acidic.
pancetta = Italian bacon
mortadella = like American bologna but with fat cubes in it
porchetta = fatty savory pork roast. According to the panino man, this is the best meat for sandwiches. Unfortunately he told me this after I had already ordered my prosciutto.
salami = a wilted arugula salad
Bistecca alla fiorentina—a three-finger thick T-bone steak, grilled rare, in the Florentine style.
One of the best types of prosciutto crudo is prosciutto di Parma. Who knew that the second-best thing to come out of Parma (after Matt Furda) was ham? Ham-buying tips for the tourist: the charcuterie of Italy is called salumeria, and you order it by the etto, short for ettogrammo, which means 100 grams, and they cut it up for you, real thin, with a machine. They often sell bread (pane) as well, so you can ask them to make you a sammich (panino). While I didn’t meet any ham girls like we did in Munich, all the meat vendors were very amused by my attempts to speak Italian. The Italian phrase that I got the most mileage out of was “Un etto di prosciutto crudo, per favore.”
I can get behind Italian desserts
I like to tell people that I don’t like sweets, and then Chlever gets angry and starts listing all the times I ate sweet things and liked it. So, for old time’s sake: I don’t like sweet things. (Cue the Chlevalicious rage.) But fuck it, I love gelato. Surprising find: the cantaloupe (melone) gelato is my favorite. It comes with chunks of real cantaloupe, and it’s super refreshing, sweet, aromatic, and delicious.
Oh, the pasta
My momand I hit up a grocery store and counted the number of types of pasta. We counted up to sixty and decided that we needed a ham break. The fresh pasta is also amazing; I tried taglione (long ribbon-y pasta), bucatini (round spaghetti-like pasta with a hole down the middle), gnocchi (potato-flour lumps). They serve pasta as a first course in Italy, so for a full-blown meal, first you get your appetizer, then you get your pasta, and then you get your main course, and then you get your dessert, and then you get your espresso. Something like that. I may have left out some courses. I never ordered all the courses, but I thought about it, a bit excessively.
Good pasta is good pasta. One of the stupider sentences in this post. Can you spot the other ones?
Escapades as a Soulless Pagan
I drank Jeebus’s tears. More precisely, I drank a wine called Lacrima Christi, after a type of wine grape grown in the region of Campania, the capital of which is Naples. I don’t know shit about wine, but all I can say is that Jesus could’ve cried more, man.
An Offal Adventure with a happier ending
I ate lampredotto in Florence, which is a very deliciously seasoned cow stomach sandwich, bought on the street. Unlike tripe, which is usually made from one of the first three stomachs of a cow, lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach, the abomasum, which secretes rennet used in making cheese.
I doubt any of that sounded appealing to anybody, including myself. It is difficult to convert a non-offal eater, but I’m telling you, this sandwich was delicious. First of all, despite that my tour guide told me that it was stomach, I thought he had misspoken. It had the texture of flesh, not chewiness like tripe. Second of all, it is seasoned with celery, salt, red pepper, garlic, oregano, and the beef fat provides nice full flavor that soaks into the bread.
Berkeley Bowl and the Embarcadero had a love child in Italy
Near the Piramide stop on the Rome B Line Metro at Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492 is a monolithic eatery called Eataly. Despite its lack of clever punnery, Eataly was better than any food establishment I could have ever dreamed of. The place was four stories high, with a gelateria, a salumeria, a fuckin’ fried food bar, a raw seafood bar, a cooked seafood bar, a roasted meat section, a beer section (they had Gulden Draak, Saison Dupont, AND Sierra Nevada, among a bajillion others), a candy section, a pasta restaurant, a fresh pasta vendor, a cookie section, and an olive oil section probably the size of the first floor of my house. The ham section had prosciutto crudo, ibérico, and hams that I hadn’t even heard of. (Yes, there is such a thing. Though I am by no means a wide-eyed ham virgin, I do have a ways to go in terms of experience with ham.) Things that I must make/eat again: roast chicken stuffed with prosciutto and rosemary, raw scampi drizzled with olive oil. Jesus muthafuckin’ Christ, fresh raw scampi is delicious—it’s a little sweet, and it’s got that briny sea flavor without the occasional sketchy sandiness that comes with oysters. Plus the best part is the head—umami at its best, full and creamy and fatty like pork fat or marrow, but lighter, and with the fresh saltiness of the ocean.
My mom got too excited and ordered an entire plate of deep-fried fresh anchovies, which came out after we had finished the rest of our food. She couldn’t eat anymore, so my dad and I each ate about fifteen fried anchovies. It reminded me of the time Savannah and I ate 50 cocktail shrimps for breakfast.
If you are in Rome, you need to go to this place. I have included several pictures of the place in this post, but really, no pictures do it justice. It’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven, and then someone hands you a plate of fresh seafood and the most divinely seasoned ribs you have ever eaten. Shoutout to Andrea, our walking tour guide who told us how to get there.
I am tough and cool now
In other news, I have bought myself an Italian leather jacket.
COOKERY POKERY and the CLEVER BREWING CO. is very proud to present to you:
"Shh…Just Let Me Do This"
S…JLMDT is our third beer* inspired by and named in tribute to our favorite chamber music newgrassicians, The Punch Brothers. This particular track comes from the LP of their newest album, and is only available on vinyl. I’d like to point out that wewere hardcore enough to purchase the vinyl (sans vinyl player of our own) in order to listen to their sweet, sweet tracks.
But let’s get back to the beer! We brewed this together when Clever visited the land of plenty that is the Bay Area, and I have been tending to it since then with the help of my fam. A few weekends ago we all dedicated an afternoon to racking and bottling this baby, and now it’s just ready for consumption. “WHAT’S THE VERDICT?”, you say! Well lucky for you I filmed my brother in law’s discovery of and reaction to “Shh…Just Let Me Do This.” The film speaks for itself! Please try to ignore my giddy snickering.
A few tasting notes of my own:
Floral, almost like potpourri with spicy and rosy overtones. Fruity, stone fruit- apricots. And that’s only the nose! Poured a dark amber with a lacy head, balanced carbonation (maybe a *little* under carbonated, but that might get better with a few more weeks.) Packs a hoppy punch.
*In case you were wondering, our first two beers were:
"The Blind Leading the Blind" Ale (since none of us knew what we were doing,) and
"Don’t Need No" IPA (don’t need no recipe. We got this.)
I’m on my way to Beijing to spend 10 months in China studying coal power plants. I had a four-hour layover in Seattle on my way to Beijing, and I had Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation, talking in my head.
I don’t even remember the episode. At the end of senior year at Oberlin, Jacob was obsessed with Parks’n’Rec. I would watch it with him on the couch at Lite House on Kelly’s LCD screen. Man, that couch. I remember complaining with him for hours on end slumped on that couch, Dogfish Head in hand. The content of the conversations could usually either be summed up with “I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing in lab, or life, for that matter” or “Girls suck, except for me because I’m awesome,” but we managed to sustain them for hours. I watched Sherlock on that couch for the first time. I also bruised myself terribly on it at a dance party once in the middle in of the winter.
I think Tom Haverford was referring to clothes shopping. He was treating himself to some sort of high-end designer clothing.
I don’t give a shit about clothes. The average date of acquisition of my wardrobe is 2008. It used to be 2006, but I just bought some new clothes this summer. Me, I was ogling an overpriced seafood bar at the Seattle airport.
I think one of the stupidest things for a foodie to do is to splurge at an airport restaurant. But I really wanted to splurge at this airport restaurant.
I gave in.
I bought some seafood dish with salmon, Alaskan cod, mussels, and clams in a tomato herb sauce. It was pretty good. What I really wanted was a beer, an American microbrew. I’m not going to drink any in 10 months.
It hadn’t hit me that I was leaving America until that moment.
I ordered a Pike’s American IPA. I’d never had it before. They brought it to me in a glass shaped like a tulip that had mated with a stein. The first sip tasted like peaches and flowers. It wasn’t even that good of an IPA; I was just getting sentimental. The hops, the motherfucking hops.
“Nationalism is so stupid,” I thought to myself. I took a big swig. “Fuck, I love America.”
I overdid it, though. The beer snob in me was overtempted. I ordered an American Hefeweizen after that. It didn’t taste like a Hefeweizen. They served it with a fucking lemon wedge. No one serves good beer with a fucking lemon wedge. It reminded me too much of PBR without the lemon, so I squeezed the wedge over the beer. It tasted like college.
I had thirty ounces of beer. It was just enough that I wouldn’t throw up all over the airplane lavatory.