Saturday, June 4, 2011

Serve the People - A Stir-fried Journey through China

It's not that I have stopped reading entirely. It's just that mental exhaustion limits me to reading simple English as much as possible, to rest my brain. So I have been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, where the English was simple, and the people lived a simpler life. 

But now that I am counting down to the end of my tour of duty to the trenches, I have returned to reading my favourite cooking books and romance novels, just too lazy to blog about them. 
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I read Jen Lin-Liu's memoir, Serve the People - A Stir-fried journey through China. Loved it. Solid read. The stoic, motherly manner of Chairman Wang shone through the pages, as she recounted her hard life without bitterness while teaching Jen how to cook Beijing dishes outside of the cooking school classes. I liked the recount of how Jen challenged herself to actually do the cooking during the certification exam, instead of taking shortcuts like the other trainee chefs. At this point, I would like to interject that I have seen such cooking certs (from Chinese cooking schools) of Chinese chefs posted on the walls of the eateries in Singapore, and now after reading the book, I am rather turned off... 

She then made her way to learn how to make dao xiao mian 刀削面, which is shredded very deftly and very quickly from the noodle dough planked on your shoulder into a pot of boiling water, from Chef Zhang. A very impressive sight. Chef Zhang is portrayed as a driven, hardworking man who tries very hard to balance between making a better life for his family with his need to maintain high quality in his cooking and desire to own his own business. Jen's chronicles ended with an adventure in a Shanghai's famous restaurant Whampoa by Singaporean chef Jereme Leung, occasional forays into culinary adventures like visiting a MSG factory, finding the perfect xiaolongbao 小笼包, and taking part in a rice harvest, before culminating in romance and starting her own cooking school, Black Sesame Kitchen. I find that the book is an excellent plug for the school, especially since I am heartened that she has taken Chef Zhang into employ/partnership(?). From what I was reading, he's not much of a businessman, his high morale making it for him to compromise culinary standards.
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All in all, an excellent read. I was looking for a 小笼包 recipe anyway, since I lost the one that I copied from my beloved, demised Gourmet magazine.

Oh stupidity, I returned the book without copying the recipe. Back to square one...

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