Monday, February 9, 2015

To China

Issa is working on her next big school project. Each student chose a country to study, and Issa chose China. At school, they are writing books about their countries; at home, they had to choose from a list of 15 projects to do to enrich their experience. Issa, our little chef, of course decided to cook.

Because I am my mother's daughter, there was no way we were making Americanized Chinese food. Thankfully, we have a cookbook that is very authentic. In fact, the recipes are written in both Chinese and English. Issa chose a couple that she can do (basically) independently, and we decided to try them out this weekend. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we also decided to take her to a real Asian market. This particular market also has a restaurant, so we decided to go to lunch and then do our shopping.

I was not appropriately prepared for this. My suburban norms don't play well at the market, and it was extra crazy because Chinese New Year is right around the corner. It took me ten minutes just to get my feet under me, but the rest of the family was immediately in love with the bustle. The cafe was way too crowded, so we decided to shop and then take our lunch to go.

It is absolutely one of the coolest markets I have ever been in, but I figured out that I can't just wander and pinch produce. I also figured out personal space is a myth. We did pick up a few produce items just to try. (Chinese yellow pairs are delicious; lotus root is tricky.) The kids fell in love with the fish counter. I have never seen so much fresh fish--including some still swimming--in one place. Evan was enthralled by the shark, and we bought some of the best shrimp I have ever eaten. We did about lose Issa, though, when she saw someone fish a tilapia out of the tank and clean it.

After a small debacle in which I learned glutenous rice, which is nonexistent, is also called sweet rice, which is super easy to find, we had all of our groceries. Thankfully, our book has pictures of the ingredients because the translations were a bit off for lots of things. We were finally in line, and Brad took the kids to choose lunch while I waited to check out. After the second person cut in front of me in line, a very kind woman behind me taught me how to do the check out there. She asked what we were making and I showed her our book. She actually had the same book, but she said the translations were off for us. She was so excited that we were making something truly Chinese, and she offered a few helpful hints. 

We were so proud of the kids! They tried some unusual items from the hot bar, including tripe! We didn't tell them what it was until after they tried it, and we all agreed it wasn't bad but it was a little chewy. I think we all fell in love with dried tofu--so much better than what we usually get--and Brad was quite tickled with his Peking duck. Issa really wishes they would take the beaks off, though.

On the way home, we realized we had way too much food for the four of us so we called Felicia. Ryan was out of town, but she came over to help cook and eat. She and Issa made her marinated cucumbers, which were delicious:

She is also making a fried cashew that is dangerously good, although it took all of us to actually figure out the recipe. A couple key steps seemed to be missing.

Brad attempted a rice stuffed lotus root with varying success. Some of it was really good; some of it didn't get done. We had awesome steamed shrimp, and we made a vegetarian steamed dumpling that Issa wanted to try even though she knew it wasn't a good option for school. It had the dried tofu and bean vermicelli inside, and they were really good. Brad also did a pork belly that was delicious, although we learned the sauce does kind of explode. We might have had to clean the fronts of my cabinets after we were all diving for cover as Brad tried to get the lid on it. Couple all of that with the phenomenal Oolong we got, and it was one awesome meal.

We are so, so glad Issa chose China, and I am quite certain we will be headed back to the market very soon.

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