Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hutong Cooking in Beijing

One of the best events of my Beijing trip was a cooking class.  It took place in a Hutong, which are old clustered neighborhoods connected via alleys and with a traditional courtyard. 

Our instructor was Chunyi Zhou, a young, gregarious, and witty woman.  I first saw her in an article in Saveur magazine, which I didn't quite realize until I came upon her website in a Google search.  There are quite a few classes available in Beijing, and perhaps I will choose another when I visit again, but I chose mighty well with this class. 

There were 7 people in the class, each armed with an apron and a very sharp cleaver.  I mean, honestly, if this were taking place in the US, there would have to be pages of waivers signed.  But before I totally bust on my citizenship, I do have to give it props for making the rest of the world speak English.  In the class, there was a Chinese woman, her American boyfriend, three Germans, and us two Americans.  Everyone had to make do with the English, which is fine for the rest of the world because they all learn English as a second or even third language.  But it still makes for some entertaining situations.

While cooking the beef stew, Chunyi mentioned that you could cook it with bamboo.  "What's bamboo?" asked one of the Germans.  "You know, like what a Panda eats," said Chunyi in her very charming accented English.  "A panda?" I heard murmurings among the three as they tried to figure out what that might mean.  "You know, like a panda," says my coworker, as she starts to imitate what she thinks is conveying what a panda would do, which apparently is not much but some slow, waddling movements.  "Black and white, you know?"  "Ahhh!  A Panda!!" they cry in unison as the lightbulb goes off above their heads.  Hilarious.

Dry Stir-Fry of beef and chicken.  Not my favorite.  Anytime you cook a meat until it's "dry," it kinda gets dry...

A very simple dish - Blanched vegetables topped with a sugar and soy sauce concoction with sauteed spring onions and ginger

Rich and flavorful beef stew with Chinese radish.  After 2 hours of slow cooking, the beef tenderly falls apart and practically melts in your mouth.  And with all the different spices that braise and develop deep flavors, it's sumptuous.

Ma Po Tofu - spicy Sichuanese tofu dish with layer upon layer of flavors that are strong, and yet well balanced.  It's one of my favorite dishes to make now.

I took video of every dish, but to show them would be so rude.  Just go to Beijing and take the class, I say...

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