Monday, January 26, 2015

Stunning Embroidery of China's Miao People - a Photoblogger's Perspective

Guizhou is, for me, the most beautiful place in China. I'm very excited to be able to introduce this lovely part of the world to you in a series of videos created by British production company True North.

Guizhou's unique Miao culture deserves to be better known, and True North agreed - together we filmed four five-minute documentaries in all, with more coming up soon on Miao food and Miao silver jewellery.

True North were commissioned to develop a Youtube channel devoted to the discovery of China. Already massively successful since their launch late last year, China Icons gives viewers a China that is very different to popular perception - a young, vibrant, quirky, and interesting China, featuring the everyday voices of Chinese people and expats.

When True North approached me I admitted to them I had never filmed anything before, being much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. But this was a project I felt very passionate about, and so I put my performance anxiety aside and just tried to enjoy the process as much as possible! Filming happened over two hectic days and eight gorgeous locations.

Miao women of Diwu village, Guizhou
This first video was shot in the remote Miao village of Diwu, where the local women are regarded as master craftsmen. They wear a type of embroidery that takes months to complete, sometimes years, using a method of finely folded silk scraps sewn into patterns like fish scales or bird feathers.
Miao embroidery - bird

Here's a close-up of the Miao embroidery using overlapping folded silk pieces 

Embroidery is deeply meaningful to Miao people. Although Miao spoken language is rich and complex, no written language exists and so stories of their ancestors, their gods and their daily lives are told through embroidery.

It's a living art form practiced by every Miao woman from a young age.
Miao women embroidering sleeve panels
I look forward to bringing you the other three videos soon - it's a look into a world few have visited, but now everyone can enjoy vicariously!

More on Guizhou:

Guizhou - The Most Overlooked Destination in China (But You Need to go Now)

Ten Must-Try Foods in Guizhou

Miao New Year Guzang Festival

The Miao Sisters Meal Festival

Miao Farm-to-Table Feast

Shidong Market

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bali Street Food: Ten of the Best

Bali - a place of frangipani blossoms, lush humidity, and the scent of clove cigarettes and diesel. I spent the last week there relaxing, and of course, sampling as much street food as I could. 

Here are ten top Balinese street foods to try, exemplifying Balinese flavour combinations of ginger, galangal, coriander, fresh turmeric, white pepper, palm sugar and chili. I've deliberately tried to avoid typically Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng and gado gado and instead stick to those foods native to Bali. 

Enjoy the feast! 

Simple food terms:

babi: pig
ayam: chicken
bebek: duck
kambing: lamb

nasi: rice
mie: noodles

goreng: fried
campur: mixed

warung: small shop or stall

So... ayam goreng = fried chicken, mie ayam = chicken noodles. There you go! Speaking like a local already!

1. Babi Guling: Roast Suckling Pig
Babi ruling is roast suckling pig with crackling skin like shards of toffee hiding the tender, juicy meat. But it's also so much more than that. Every part of the pig is used to make several side dishes that accompany the pork in a harmony of tastes and textures.

Sides include: 
kuah nangka - a small bowl turmeric-heavy broth with pieces of cooked young jackfruit and pork

urutan - a dark air-dried sausage, made from the pig's intestines and stuffed with a mixture of finely chopped heart with grated coconut and spices. The sausage is then wound around bamboo to air-dry, then fried in pieces

fried blood - fried with shallot and garlic until set and firm

satay lillit - a single fish and coconut satay on a sugarcane stick, for contrast and sweetness

pork skin puffs - crouton-like crunches of puffed fried skin, they lend a great crisp crunch to the meal

fried chitterlings - fried intestines

sambal - chilli, salt, garlic and oil 

lawar - the quintessential babi guling side dish: see below

2. Lawar
Made to accompany babi guling, lawar is made from shredded coconut, minced pork, spices and chilli, with the addition of fresh pig blood to make the authentic red version. Both blood and non-blood versions are remarkably light and fresh, cutting through the richness of the roast pork.

3. Bakso: Chicken Ball Soup
Bakso is a simple dish of clear soup with noodles, chicken balls, tofu and egg balls. It's a snack for any time of day, and every street in Bali has a roving bakso vendor looking for business. Simple and satisfying, and very cheap - about $1 a bowl. You can add chilli sauce and kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) to taste.

4. Satay
Although satay originated in Java, every Indonesian island including Bali has their own way of cooking it. In Hindu-majority/Muslim minority Bali, the satay is usually marinated chicken or lamb (although pork satay is also available). The satays are char-grilled and served with a peanut sauce mixed to taste with kecap manis and chili.

5. Ayam Betutu
Ayam means chicken, and betutu is the method of cooking. The chicken is marinated in a blend of galangal, ginger, fresh turmeric, garlic, lemongrass and spices, then slow-cooked wrapped in banana leaves. 

It's the most tender way of cooking the meat - and packed with Balinese flavours of turmeric, galangal and pepper.

An alternat variation is bebek betutu - duck betutu, richer and darker.

6. Nasi Campur
Nasi campur, mixed rice, is a wonderful way to try tastes of several dishes at once. Like many Balinese foods the combination of textures is as important as the different tastes. Served on a round of banana leaf, a mound of rice is surrounded by (clockwise from top) - cucumber and spicy sambal, a marinated egg, satay ayam, mixed vegetables, ayam betutu (see above), and crunchy spiced tempeh. 

The extra crunch comes from a huge thick krupuk rice cracker - I became addicted to these in Bali!

7. Nasi Jinggo

Sold in a folded banana leaf pinned close with a toothpick, nasi jinggo is a pyramid of saffron rice served with a tiny palette of mixed tastes and textures - some soft wheat noodles, a spicy sambal, sweet toasted coconut, crisp-fried tempeh, and fried shallots. 

It's usually eaten as a night-time snack, and is full of flavour despite its simple appearance.

8. Balinese Sweets
The length and breadth of Balinese sweets could sustain a happy eater indefinitely. Most are made from sticky rice or casava flour and flavoured with pandan leaf, palm sugar, coconut or banana. My favourites were definitely klepon (seen covered with fresh grated coconut in the bottom left above). These green pandan-leaf flavoured parcels are stuffed with palm sugar that turns to syrup on cooking When you bite into them the golden syrup squirts into your mouth (or down your chin if you're unprepared). Utterly delicious.

9. Pisang Goreng: Banana Fritters

Golden crispy-fried fritters made with tart-sweet lady finger bananas. Enough said. The minimum purchase seems to be about ten fritters, which is enough for two (but only if the other person really doesn't like bananas). 

10. Es Teler/Kacang Ijo: Ice Desserts

Es teler translates loosely as 'ice intoxication', and it's a mad, colourful mix of crushed ice (yes, be careful) with red beans, coloured jellies, tapioca pearls, carnation milk and syrup. 

The traditional Balinese version, kacang ijo, looks rather plain by comparison - sweet green mung beans are mixed with ice, coconut milk and carnation milk. Refreshing.

Where to find Bali street foods:
Street food is everywhere in Bali! You don't have to go far to find a vendor selling something delicious. But if you'd like to try a lot of street foods in one place, you can't go past the Pasar Kereneng night market in Denpasar.

Pasar Kereneng Night Market
Open 5pm -11pm daily
Map here

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Shanghai Street Food #37 Tofu Pudding: Dou Hua 豆花

I consider this the tofu connoisseur’s breakfast. It’s a set-in-the-pan soy milk custard, warm and savory, as soft as a cloud, surrounded by a clear broth flavored with soy whey as it sets. You might have previously tried the sweet version with ginger and brown sugar syrup, popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Dou hua 豆花 (literally 'bean bloom') is made by pouring hot fresh soy milk into a dish containing a coagulant (usually gypsum - calcium sulfate) and dissolved corn starch. The starch gives duo hua its silken, just-set texture. After a few minutes, the tofu 'blooms', setting in the centre of the bowl in a quivering flower surrounded by yellow whey.

Dou hua is very delicate, scooped gently into a bowl to eat with a spoon. The flavour is subtle and mild, but this is a dish you enjoy for its soft, silky texture. Choose toppings like finely trimmed scallions, la jiao, or tiny dried white shrimp for a texture contrast. 

It's a popular breakfast food across Shanghai, usually from the same vendors who sell hot soy milk drinks and you tiao fried bread sticks. Definitely worth a try on a winter morning!

Shanghai Street Foods - The Complete Guide:

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi - a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian - hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing - fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi - steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing - the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao - street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai - sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick - fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao - deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan - egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao - street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua - exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu - stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha - crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang - puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang - cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi - fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing - homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian'ou - honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian - scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie - potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou - fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing - sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan - sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao - steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi - bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao - pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang - DIY spicy soup
Number 32  Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken
Number 33  San Xian Doupi - Three Delicacies Wrapped in Tofu Skin
Number 34  Jidan Bing - savoury egg puffs
Number 35  Shiliu Zhi - Fresh pomegranate juice
Number 36  Dabing - big crispy pancakes

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunday Street Style, Kaili

I love an octogenarian with attitude. I spied her one Sunday in Kaili Old Street, with her hair and specs rather eccentrically arranged. She was embroidering herself a new belt.

Sunday is no day of rest in China. In fact, it's often the busiest day of the week as families, groups of friends and workers head for the shops on their one and only day off. Kali, in Guizhou Province, is no exception as the Sunday Market gets into full swing, starting in the old part of town and spreading like topsy into the surrounding streets.
Kaili Sunday Market

Local Miao and Dong women wear 'everyday' dress but still look so elegant in their traditional hairstyles as they shop for embroidery patterns.

Sunday is also when the street barbers do their best business - a dollar a cut.
Not everyone is happy about having a hair cut.

The chicken vendors gamble at cards until the last live chicken is sold.

And the vegetable sellers bring home-grown roots, herbs and greens. At the end of the day they loop their wire baskets over each end of a bamboo pole and carry them home.

The la jiao guys pound dried chilies into powder. They're completely immune to the chili vapours and smells in the air, but as soon as I enter I'm coughing and wheezing and my eyes start to stream hot tears. I buy a bag to take home.
The spoon guy sells his hand-carved spoons from a sack on the ground. Eighty cents each. 

And the shoe repair lady sets up on Sundays in an alley off the main street. Her shop unfolds from a cupboard and a table to reveal a sewing machine and a hundred little tools for fixing leather. Nothing is considered too worn or too old to be resurrected by her clever hands.

Sunday is street life. Find yourself a corner in the market and watch it all unfold.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Farm to Table Feast, Miao Style

Farm to table. It's an well-worn phrase on city restaurant menus, but what does it really mean?

Many would say it means using seasonal ingredients, with the fewest delays and distance possible between farm and plate, and a high degree of transparency in this process. Others would say it means local farmers deliver directly to restaurants. In rare cases, it means that some items on the menu are actually grown in the restaurant's own kitchen garden. But that's pretty uncommon.

The appeal of farm to table is obvious - the food is fresh, local, and has maximum flavour because it's at its seasonal peak. I would argue almost all our food should be 'farm to table. The disadvantages of our current food supply are that we don't know exactly where our food comes from, how long it took to get to us, or what was done to it along the way.

As New York chef Pichet Ont says:

"Food travels a lot. The shrimp that you eat could have been caught a whole year ago and traveled around the world before it gets to your plate. I just don’t think that that’s what we should do. We should strive for a model where food travels a lot less."
Amen to that sentiment.

Two weeks back, in stunning Guizhou once again, I had a revelation. After eating four very special home-cooked meals in four different Miao homes, and watching the preparation of these meals, I realised that here was the fundamental essence of farm to table. 

The farm-to-table distance was less than fifty metres, the farmer was also the cook, and every single thing on the plate had been grown, raised or made by the person cooking the food. It was magic. It's also how Miao people eat every single day. 

Here's how they do it:
Miao villages are almost always on steep hills (Guizhou is all steep hills). Rows of homes are interwoven with terraced rice paddies and vegetable plots. Fish are grown in the rice paddies and chickens wander freely eating insects.

Every family raises one pig, on household scraps and dried corn. Aside from New Year, when fresh pork is eaten, the remainder of the meat is preserved to make la rou, or smoked bacon, to add a depth of flavour to dishes.

And every family grows their own rice supply for the year. Here: three generations of one family plant spring rice seedlings. Rice is also used to make rice flour, fermented rice, and rice wine.

Anything that can't be used fresh is dried or preserved - chilies, scallion roots (see below), summer green vegetables, pork, air-dried chicken, dried and salted rice paddy or river fish. 

What this means for a Miao family is an abundance of home-grown fresh foods in spring, summer and autumn, supplemented with dried and preserved foods in winter. 

Here's a typical Miao farm to table feast (and one I enjoyed enormously!):

Potato shreds stir-fried with garlic, scallions, and green chilies.
Chinese purple yam flavoured with pork and scallions
Chinese ingenuity at its best - washed and air-dried scallion roots, tossed with a little rice wine vinegar (home made)

Green beans, scallion tips, garlic
White corn, green chilies, pork, cherry tomatoes

The knock-out dish - sweet, fiery green chilies charred in a hot wok. 
Home made tofu, scallions,  red chilies. So full of flavour - the tofu and been partially fermented.
Rice paddy fish - crisp fried (also seen in image at top)