Last Friday I took a cooking class sponsored by the Shanghai Expat’s Association that included a trip to a wet market to introduce us to ingredients before we started cooking.
The class was about a half hour walk from our apartment. It was a bit drizzly, after a week of gorgeous weather, but I decided to walk anyway.
I found the lane without a problem, but finding the actual building in the lane was trickier. Fortunately another woman and her driver showed up at the same time and he was able to ask people in Chinese where it was.
Before we started cooking we walked to a huge wet market a couple blocks away. It’s called a wet market because it’s hosed down all the time, and therefore–wet.
It’s not as big as Reading Terminal Market, but it’s certainly the biggest I’ve come across here in Shanghai.
Apparently stronger tasting than American celery, it is chopped and stir-fried with chilies and garlic and sugar.
Only 6 or 7 should be eaten a day as more can be poisonous and handling them raw without gloves can give you a rash like poison ivy–but they’re supposed to improve your memory!
It produces a sticky sap when you peel it that makes you itch if you get it on your skin.
Chinese cooking is so dangerous!
I think I had yan on Sunday, boiled in chicken broth. It was a totally unassuming dish, and absolutely wonderful.
You know how you can spend mega bucks in the states for any mushroom other than the plain white or brown ones? Here? Dirt cheap. I bought a whole bag of the ones that look like oyster mushrooms last week at Carrefour for about a dollar!
In Japan, we kept finding small pieces of an orange vegetable in our dinner and lunch sets, and Meredith and I were both in love with it. I thought it might be pumpkin, but had no idea what it would look like (except I knew it had a green rind), so when we came back home I went in search of something pumpkin-y like. I bought one of these and it tasted the same and then Friday it was confirmed–it’s a pumpkin!
If you’re thinking, “Wasn’t there a candy called jujube?” you would be absolutely right. This is the fruit it was named after. Chinese women use it for “lady problems” according to our host and upon searching the web I also learned that it is another one of those “super berries” that is very high in lots of vitamins and minerals. It can be eaten as is, with other foods, dried or made into tea.
I mean that is one bloated cucumber. Except it’s not. It’s a winter melon. Which is eaten in the summer. Because it has cooling properties. It is diced up and put into soups. What, you don’t eat hot soup to cool you off when it’s 98 degrees outside?
These are various organ meats that have been sliced small to be used in appetizers–tripe, tongue, etc and the one on the bottom left–pig’s ears.
Moving on from the neat, tidy and dry vegetable section of the wet market we then entered the area that puts the wet into wet market–the land of blood and entrails.
You could also buy fish that was still swimming around in the water–they just don’t photograph well.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait, those are the whitest chickens I’ve ever seen. Is this like the winter melon trick?” Nope. Except for their feathers, these chickens are black, through and through. Black meat, black bones, and as you can see peeking out, black feet and beaks. They are considered a delicacy and of medicinal value and once again are used by women for female complaints. Either Chinese women have a lot of female complaints or they have none left because they’ve been cured by all these exotic plants and animals!
With a toss and a squawk they were thrown off to the right: the chicken’s final protest cut-off mid squawk.
Actually there must be a bunch of chickens running around without their feet because at the bottom of the picture you can see a whole pile of just chicken feet for sale.
Having thoroughly exhausted the wet market, we made our way back to the cooking school and learned how to chop and dice using one of those giant Chinese cooking knives.
As you can see, a bit on the fatty side! But we were told you only eat 3 or 4 pieces.
One mystery was solved in making this dish. Or at least a partial mystery: sugar in China. The Chinese aren’t really known for being sugar addicts like Americans are (our host even commented at one point that she doesn’t like sugar), but go to a grocery store and you’ll find one side of an aisle filled with more than a dozen different granulations of sugar! It starts extremely fine, but not powdered (that’s in the foreign section!); so fine you can’t imagine that it just wouldn’t absorb all the water in the air and become a big, hard lump with-in seconds in the summer. Then you’ve got different sizes and shapes of granules (sugar needles, anyone?) right up to rock sugar in several sizes, the biggest being almost the size of your hand.
I know a thing or two about baking and I know you have to be careful about your granulation, so finding the right kind of sugar has been a tough one here. Surprisingly, it’s not always available.
But back to the mystery. What do they do with rock sugar? Well, it was used in this dish. Apparently it isn’t as sweet as regular sugar, but it imparts a pretty gloss to the sauce. Mystery solved.
Problem is, it’s just as gelateanous and sticky as it looks, so cutting it horizontally with that big knife was like cutting a thin piece of sticky jello with a chain saw.
The exciting part of this dish was pouring water into the very hot wok. Would have preferred some long oven mitts for that step.
Mark and I both agree–hairy crabs are not worth the effort for what you get.
Interesting tip I learned for working with soft tofu. If you want to stiffen it up a bit, throw some salt on it and cover with boiling water for a half an hour or so. Drain before use.
One of the fun things about this class was that we didn’t measure a single ingredient. We just picked up a squeeze bottle and circled our wok the prescribed number of times–very Rachel Ray-like.
We made tons of food, and even after we all sat down and ate there was enough for each of us to take some home if we wanted to. Yeah! No cooking for me, and Meredith and Mark got to try it too.
And I was greeted by these when I got to Shanghai Centre: