Tag Archives: Chinese

The Best Chinese Food Ever

5 Aug

I have a quite long relationship with the Chinese cuisine.  When a graduate student (around 30 years ago) Chinese restaurants were my favorite ones, and for very practical reasons, they were cheap and didn´t charge for white rice. Thus, we used to go in small groups, usually three or four students, order one single protein dish and fill our adolescent and always empty stomachs with lots of starch.  By the way, the jasmine tea was also free.

After I got my first job and moved to Rio Grande I became friends with a Chinese family, the Chao (Labish, Lien and Don), who then introduced me to Chinese cooking.  With them I’ve learned to prepare several dishes, including a beef and pork dumpling which is a regular part of our family meals in very special occasions.  Once I even prepared a Chinese dinner for them, so that Lien could evaluate my cooking skills.  She approved my cooking, of course (I bet she did it not because they tasted good, but mainly because she was a good friend and didn’t want to hurt my feelings).

A couple of years ago we’ve received a Chinese exchange student, Becky Feng, who besides teaching me some authentic dishes also served as a judge of my Chinese culinary skills.

This continuous relationship with Chinese people and cooking has already produced two posts in the past: Chinese Style Chicken and Noodle Soup and Another Chinese Inspired Meal.

So, no wonder I had to visit a Chinese restaurant during my last trip to São Paulo, where Brazilian largest Chinese community lives.

A general view of the "Liberdade" neighborhood in São Paulo/SP/Brazil

A chose the restaurant Chi-Fu, at Praça Carlos Gomes 200 – Bairro da Liberdade, mainly because I’ve been told that the Chinese Mafia holds its meeting on the upper floors of the restaurant. If Chi-Fu food is good enough for the Chinese Mafia, than it’s good enough for me.

Front of "Chi Fu" restaurant, in São Paulo/SP?Brazil

Let’s make it clear from the start:  I don’t know if the Chinese Mafia meets at this restaurant, in fact I don’t even really care if they do, but let me tell you, I had my best restaurant meal ever.  No, not only the best Chinese meal, the best restaurant meal of any origin. The food was superb.

Choosing the dishes was a hard task, as a wide variety of mouth-watering offers are part of the menu.  After some discussion we (my wife, our friends Renan and Leila, and I) decided to play rather safe and ordered 3 dishes:  noodles with beef (the safest choice), sweet and sour pork and roasted duck (a special offer that day). Tea was already on the table, and bowl of white rice was also ordered.

Noodles and beef (Chi Fu Restaurant - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

The pasta was prepared in the house and cooked properly. The vegetables were crispy as they should be.  There was a nice smoky taste on the dish which I believe may be the result of toasted sesame seed oil.  Perfect.

Sweet and sour pork (Chi Fu Restaurant - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

I don’t really know how to describe this dish, as it was, as the name implies, made of perfectly batter coated  pork, with a very well balanced sweet and sour taste. The meat was so tender it nearly melted in your mouth. I could spend days eating this pork non-stop.

But for me the real star was the duck.

Roasted duck (Chi Fu Restaurante - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

Roasted to perfection… and the skin, oh Lord, the skin…crispy with a layer of fat underneath…shinning like the jewel it really was.  Just priceless.

As I mentioned above, I’ve had Chinese food prepared by a variaty of people, from humble restaurants when I was a student, to home cooking at my friend Chao home, I’ve also been to Chinatown in New York and London, but I had never had any experience like this.

I’m more than sure that the chef and cooks from Chi Fu will go heaven when they die, as that’s the food God will want to be served at his home.

Peking Duck

Sweet and Sour Pork

Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork

Another Chinese inspired meal

7 Jul

As a marine biologist I know that a prawn is a prawn, and not a shrimp. Prawns and shrimps, although quite similar, belong to distinct biological groups, separated by many characteristics, including differences in gill structure and the way the female carry their eggs.  Is this of any culinary or gastronomic relevance? As far as I know the answer is no.  Thus, I will continue calling my Farfantepenaeus paulensis (São Paulo or pink shrimp) a shrimp, even though I know it’s a prawn.  And the reason is simple, it sounds better.

In the Rio Grande region (southern Brazil) the shrimp fishing season lasts only a couple of months, from February until April (or May in some good years).  This year Vanderlei (a fisherman friend who surprised me with those wonderful tuna) gave me around 20 kg (around 44 lb) as a present, and I’ve bought another 20 kg of shrimp, which were then frozen (without the head but with the shells) for future use.

And the future has just arrived. I peeled (not all the 40 kg, of course) and seasoned them with minced garlic and ginger, fresh red pepper, sesame seed oil and soy sauce.  After about 1/2 h in the fridge they were fried in a wok with 2 table spoons of soybean oil, diced onions and red and yellow bell peppers.  Add some oyster sauce and they are ready to be served over white rice.

Shrimps, Chinese style

Shrimps, Chinese style

Prawn on Foodista
Shrimp on Foodista

Chinese Style Chicken and Noodle Soup

4 Jun

I don`t like even the idea of having a hot liquid sliding down my throat in a hot summer day, but everything changes during the winter.  It`s the only season I find a soup acceptable.  And since winter is back to the south side of the planet, lets make it tasteful and simple.

Prepare a good chicken and vegetable stock.  You can make one by boiling for 45 min to 1 h (depending on the size and type of the vegetables used – do not overcook) a chicken breast , some vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, etc) with the spices you like (cloves, black peppercorns, finely sliced ginger, etc).  I usually drop a small piece of star anise in mine. Don`t forget the salt. Pour through a fine strainer and you`re done. Separate the chicken breast and cut it into bite size pieces. You can keep the stock frozen for one week or two.

Interesting to mention that Chinese don`t really make their stocks spicy, as they believe that spicing may mask the flavor of the chicken.  Spices may be added later depending on the use of the stock.  Such thin soups are even employed as beverage during a meal (no, they usually don`t drink jasmine tea with their meals).  Also, employing the whole chicken, rather than specific cuts or the bones, to prepare the stock, as done in Europe, is much more common.

Put the stock back in the pot and bring it to boil.  Place a Chinese steamer over it and cook, for a few minutes, some sliced carrots, green beans, etc. Put the noodles in the stock and let them cook for a couple of minutes.

Place the noodles in a bowl and add the chicken breast and vegetables.  Some sliced red pepper (I usually unseed them) and coriander (or parsley) are added on the top.  Pour some hot stock in the bowl and add 1-2 spoons of soy sauce.  You`re ready to go.

My Chinese chicken and vegetables soup bowl

My Chinese chicken and vegetables soup bowl

After eating the chicken, noodles and vegetables with the aid of your chopsticks (筷子 = kuàizi) drink the stock directly from the bowl. By the way, a few words on chopsticks from “Study in China“:

When the Chinese began to use chopsticks as an eating instrument is anybody’s guess. They were first mentioned in writing in Liji (The Book of Rites), a work compiled some 2,000 years ago, but certainly they had their initial form in the twigs which the primitive Chinese must have used to pick up a roast after they began to use fire. It is likely that people cooked their food in large pots which retained heat well, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from Yin Ruin’s Tomb 1005 at Houjiazhuang, Anyang, Henan province, dated roughly 1200 BC.

The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse.

Simply a pair of chopsticks can fulfill all the functions at table, and compared with western table wares of “waving knife”, they have a sense of “harmony.” And chopsticks are seen as lucky items in ceremonies by many nationalities.

Chinese chopsticks are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. Bamboo has been the most popular material because it is inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, resistant to heat, and has no perceptible odor or taste.

Some Chinese bamboo chopsticks

Some Chinese bamboo chopsticks

The use of chopsticks requires some etiquette, with small differences among distinctive countries.  Some Chinese rules are:

  • Don`t  tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl, as beggars make this noise to attract attention;
  • Don`t spear food with a chopstick;
  • Don`t  point chopsticks towards others seated at the table;
  • Don`t stuck the chopsticks vertically into a bowl (specially of rice) as this resembles incense burning, which remindes death in general.
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