...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Got a Chinese food craving!

I love, love, love Chinese food. It doesn't matter what cuisine it is (Sichuan, Cantonese, etc.). I'm pretty sure that I could eat anything. Except chicken feet. And frog's legs. And snakes. But you get the picture. As long as it's normal Chinese food, I'd love to eat that.

I guess I've been spoiled by the relative abundance of good, cheap Chinese food in Manila that tastes – as far as I could tell without ever having been to China, if that were possible – authentically Chinese. Chinese food in Sweden, in contrast, is... well, decent, but it just doesn't seem to taste Chinese enough. I'm not just talking MSG. Unlike the wide variety of Chinese food you can get in Manila, it doesn't seem to matter where in Sweden you eat Chinese because the menus are pretty much identical. The staples include chicken-and-vegetable noodle stir fry, beef and broccoli, and fried shrimp balls (yes, to my disappointment, not real shrimp!) with sweet-and-sour sauce. Most "Chinese" restaurants don't even specialize in Chinese cuisine but serve Thai- or Indonesian- inspired food with curries and peanut sauces along with the Chinese-inspired stir-fries. And only once, up in Ljusdal, was the dessert a familiar piece of buchi (bean paste-filled balls wrapped in sesame seeds, yum!), rather than vanilla ice cream, which isn't even particularly Asian.

Of course, it's great that we have Chinese food at all around here, but I just think that the Chinese food front here would definitely win from having a few specialists who really know their Chinese cuisine, instead of dishing out a standard line of Westernized Asian dishes. If you know of someone opening an authentic Chinese food restaurant (hopefully near where I live, pleeeease?), that would be culinary heaven for me and I'd be so thankful. Just make sure they also serve beef wonton soup and shrimp dumplings (hakao), okay? (See the links to the pictures? They're killing me!)

Since I don't personally know a Chinese cook or know of an authentic Chinese restaurant nearby, I'm my own best alternative. Sad, but I can live with that. Actually, I used to feel bad that there weren't real Chinese food around here (as in no steamed dimsum at all!), but until recently, it hadn't occurred to me to cook my own. Three of my MA classmates used to do that, cook their own Chinese food. They actually were Chinese, though. But still, it challenged the idea that cooking authentic Chinese in "the West" had to be complicated or watered down. It seemed that all one needed were some basic ingredients (i.e. a good Asian store) and a good "authentic" Chinese cookbook (my classmates used the Chinese Google, but not that I could understand the recipes).

Good "authentic" Chinese cookbook: check!

Because he really understands how my mouth salivates with the thought of Chinese food, Marcus gave me this book for my birthday: Kina, matens rike (China, the Kingdom of Food) by Linlin, a Chinese chef that, interestingly, hosts a TV show in China on how to cook "real" Western food. As I understand it, this is the author's first book on Chinese recipes, and it seems authentic enough: she travelled around China asking chefs to cook their specialties, and tried to put cup- and spoon- measurements into what chefs explained to her as a matter of intuitive judgement (Similarly, all housewives that cook well, including my mom, seem to claim that exact measurements are unnecessary, but obviously, we beginners have to begin with some basic measurements so as not to get things wrong!). The book has a good variety of recipes representing different regions in China (and has lots of interesting facts about both the food and the places), using ingredients readily available at a Swedish grocery, with only some speciality items that can be bought from a well-sorted Asian shop. Actually, stores here in town are also expanding to include more Asian vegetables and condiments – and not just those pre-made mixes in bottles – which is a great thing. So, I might soon be expanding my Chinese cooking from the stir-fry category. I can see my own dumplings coming out of the kitchen within the week! :-)

Chinese condiments: check!

One thing that Linlin, the author of Kina, matens rike emphasized, was that you don't actually need a lot of basic ingredients to cook Chinese food. Still, because I couldn't keep my excitement, I visited a well-recommended Asian grocery in Stockholm on a recent trip there. It's called China Market (Olof Palmes gatan 12), but actually they specialize in both Chinese and Thai condiments. I spent a good part of an hour browsing through both familiar and exotic ingredients, and I really had to help myself not to buy things that I didn't need but might one day have a use for. I had a basic checklist from Linlin's book, but the only thing I can't seem to take hold of is chili bean paste (I should really have asked the clerk if I missed it, but oh well!). Otherwise, the store seemed very well-stocked. Besides Chinese and Thai, they even had a fair amount of common Filipino condiments, so I indulged some on buying tapa marinade (tapa are thin slices of fried beef usually eaten for breakfast with fried rice) and caldereta mix (caldereta being a thick beef- or goat stew). There wasn't any bottled crab roe, unfortunately. But that just makes the hunt even more exciting – I'll definitely be back in the area browsing the Asian groceries there!

Oh yeah, I know. Some people just insist on eating the food they've always been used to when they're abroad, even if – let's face it – it may not really be practical because most ingredients are hard to find. Partly, the urge to cook the familiar may be because (as was true for me in the beginning) the local ingredients may be really new to one. Well, after years of learning what local ingredients are good for and learning to cook Swedish food (which isn't all that bad, actually, depending on what you cook), I think it's actually great to rediscover Asian cooking, even by the long route. Besides, if you've had "authentic" Chinese food, you know that you can't really blame me for my cravings! Since I still have the palate for it, I think the cooking experiments will end up quite good...

...Then again, I think I'd still be really thankful if someone opened a dimsum and noodle shop in town.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chowking! Chowking! Chowking!

10:56 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Causeway! Super Bowl of China! Ho-land brand of hopia!

(By the way, could you believe that I found hopia here for 35 kronor a PIECE? (that's like 200 pesos, CRAZY!) I didn't buy it, though obviously I'm still thinking about it. Huuu!

5:39 PM

Blogger Leplume said...

Egg drop soup!!

5:34 AM

Anonymous liz said...

Hi Joy! You should have these in your condiment stash to chinese-ify your dishes:

1. soy sauce
2. sesame oil
3. 5-spice powder
4. fresh ginger
5. chinese cooking wine (optional)
6. hoisin sauce (optional)

It's also useful to have some canned bamboo shoots or baby corn to jazz up your stir-fried stuff. With a variety of meat/seafood/poultry/tofu and fresh veggies, you won't believe how many different dishes you can come up with! Think sepo! Broccolli and beef! Steamed fish! The possibilities are endless....

That said, I think I'll go raid the fridge now :-)

10:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ho-land ang type mong hopia? Ayaw mo ng Pol-land sa Cubao?


9:38 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

@Leplume: Yes, hmmm! Now I want instant "just add one egg" Chinese soups to be my next Asian store find!

@Liz: I have everything in your list! I bought rice wine in my last Asian shop trip. 85 Swedish crowns a bottle? Really, they know how to charge anything with alcohol content in this country! I used canned bamboo shoots. Hey, one question: are the "black ear" mushrooms that they sell down there in Germany also furry on one side? (That's been part of the reason why I haven't been buying them here; is that furry side natural or is that a sign of staying too long on the shelf?

@Camillo: Actually Ho-land and Pol-land hopia all taste the same to me! My favorite flavor is mung beans :-) Yummm. BTW I saw another (cheaper) hopia today at another store... but they looked dry and sad. I guess that's because they don't have Swe-land brand of hopia, heheh! ;-)

9:31 PM

Anonymous Liz said...

The black tree mushrooms really are on the furry side - that's not mold.

Please send me the recipe for the dumplings! Got the cravings myself, but those deep frozen siu mai and shrimp dumplings are getting more expensive every time. I'm sure Ian and Rob will enjoy them too :-)

11:59 AM


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