Fresh tofu skin

I love tofu.

It has a bad rap in the States. Although things are changing, tofu is often seen as hippie fuel (though tempeh is thankfully replacing that status) and a bland, texturally-defiant foodstuff produced in a factory. But we Asians know what good tofu tastes like and how versatile it can be, which leads me to nominate tofu as my favorite food- no joke. As a testament, my embarrassingly juvenile AIM screenname is (and always will be) tofubrain13.

Tofu skin (豆腐皮) is one of my favorite varieties of tofu, next to puffy fried tofu and regular plain silky soft tofu.  Often wrapped around logs of gingery soy sauce-flavored ground pork, I still squeal with delight if my mother announces her plans to make the dish when I find myself at home.

Up until now, I’ve only seen tofu skin of the supermarket variety- dried into flat sheets, sometimes the size of legal paper, not unlike a huge sheet of pasta (think if lasagna pasta came in paper-sized reams).  I finally got to see fresh tofu with my own eyes, and even now this picture wants to make me lick the screen.

Once I get my act together, I’ll provide you with a recipe of my mom’s famous wrapped tofu dish.  But for now, only my profession for the love of the dish must do…

Dried Fish

Wow, I’m on a fish kick lately.

This is the last one for awhile, I promise.

I just couldn’t help but take a picture of this scene.  Where back at home we pickle and can and roast and smoke and cure to our hearts’ delights, here it seems that some take the DIY mentality to a whole new world.  Where some households have their underwear and bedsheets hanging on clothes hangers from their windowsill, this household has a few rows of fish tied up to dry.

I wish I was friends with this person.

Spring is in the air- a new hope for the market

For some reason, in the first couple months of being here I was a bit skeptical at the prospect of any change in the offerings of my local wet markets. As if China, because it didn’t observe Daylight Savings, also didn’t change its agricultural output!?

But as February turned into March, and small oblong mangoes that fit in the small of your palm replaced the tiny cartons of strawberries (yes, strawberries were abundant in January- how crazy does that seem!), my fear of a non-changing market has slowly evaporated. Just this past week, I’ve noticed more new produce springing up at my favorite vendors.  Stalks of asparagus the size of carrots, and vines of a leafy plant that might be bay leaves sold by the branch, all over the place (I plan to inquire about this bay-leaf-I’m hoping it’s basil-plant on my next trip).

Tomatoes and cucumbers have been at the markets since I’ve been here, and they’re still holding their place along the scallions, chives, daikon, corn, red onions (not a yellow onion for miles) and chinese celery.  I’ve gotten used to cooking with the vegetables that have been available so far, and am certainly looking forward to the new crops of goodies that are waiting to be revealed!

And now for your viewing pleasure, a fish-bludgeoning scene from the market, fit for a fish horror flick:

Dumpling surprise

What already seems like ages ago was a trip to Zhongshan and a visit to a Cantonese restaurant specializing in regional dishes like roasted pigeon, horrible meat cookies, and this- tiny balls of ground pork wrapped in thin sheets of fish.

It sounds crazy, I know- like some ultra-modern, Noma-inspired-science of cooking-meets-traditional-with-a-twist type of dish. But it’s not, it’s just plain traditional. Small filets of fish were rolled out using a blunt wooden dowel, pausing only to flour the surface by dabbing a large flour sac onto the increasingly thin filet of fish.  Eventually a paper-thin sheet of what was once a cut of fish (which you can see in the pic above) is producted. The ladies who do this job amazed me in their proficiency at rolling out each filet to the perfect see-through thinness. I imagine if I gave it a try, the result would be a disaster.

After the fish sheet was rolled out, it was sliced into small squares, and then a pork and green onion filling loosely wrapped inside.  These little “dumplings” were then boiled in a clear consomme-like broth, and served as a mild appetizer.  If you hadn’t seen the little fish filet being rolled out, I swear you wouldn’t have known it was just that.  This kind of stuff inspires me, and once I perfect the art of homemade dumpling-making (something on my culinary to-do list), I may venture to try this as a kitchen experiment.

Hello, China!

So, loyal readers (all ten of you)- You may have noticed a little change in the looks of my Peeps.  Whaddya think?!

I spent the first part of last week trying to figure out how to fluidly switch over from Blogger to WordPress, and then spent the latter half of the week not-so-fluidly making formatting corrections, CSS tweaks, loading (and unloading) plug-ins, and testing out dozens and dozens of themes.  Here, for better or worse, is the still-in-progress yet presentable blog.

Why the switch?  Well, most Americans in China subscribe to a VPN to get their fix of Facebook, YouTube, Hulu, and Google Reader- among hundreds of other sites not accessibile with the regular internet in China.  VPN for all you non-techies, is a subscription-based service which once loaded and keyed-in from a computer, allows a person to remotely log on from an American IP address.  Our VPN is hosted from a SF location, so we’re technologically close to home- it’s as if we connect and log-on via a router in San Francisco.  Anyway, VPN access, though amazing and inexpensive and easy to install, is just another step which slows down what is an already blazing-slow internet connection.  It’s really quite amazing.

As you’ve guessed, Blogspot (and subsequently all blogspot-hosted blogs) is blocked here in China.  Wordpress, surprisingly, has so far flown under the radar of silly government internet censorship rules, although me writing that probably doesn’t contribute much to keeping things under wraps.  Anyway, in an effort to reach my Chinese homies, I made the switch.  So really, whaddya think?!