Opportunely, Betty Liu’s book, My Shanghai fell open at the page setting out a delicious-looking recipe for Soy Braised Duck Legs. I love duck! I read on. Further, my foray into her 288-page cookbook, made me realise that along with recipes there were also fascinating comments about the wonderful city of Shanghai. Not only do I love duck, I also I love Shanghai.
As I read the recipes, I was worried. I thought that I would never be able to cook any of them as the Chinese ingredients were going to be too difficult, if not impossible, for me to track down.
Tracking down ingredients
However, I decided to be sensible about it and start again; this time properly at the beginning of the book so as to learn exactly what the strange sounding ingredients were. (Betty has included an excellent chapter on ‘A Shanghainese Pantry’.) The next step was to check out the various UK supermarkets and see if they could help – a few items were indeed available.
Taking it one stage further, because I now shop online, I checked to see what I could buy online for home-delivery. But some ingredients were still out of reach, but by going on line I came up with several UK based Chinese and Asian stores who could come to the rescue.
In all honesty I am somewhat limited in the number of recipes I feel capable of attempting, however, Drunken Chicken cooked in Shaoxing wine is definitely possible. If the supermarket is out of Chinese cooking wine I shall simply do as Betty suggests and substitute dry sherry. I also spotted some interesting vegetable recipes and the Chestnut Chicken sounds delicious and doable.
Having discovered what Rock Sugar is I am confident I can cook the Rock Sugar Pork Hock; and if I take the recipe for Golden Egg Dumplings slowly, I see no reason why that one would not be possible either; and I can certainly manage Spiced Braised Beef Shank and the Tomato and Egg stir-fry!
Read the instructions
To get the most out of this superbly crafted book though it really is essential to spend time reading the Introduction and the following fascinating 23 pages which cover topics such as flavours of the region, cooking techniques, a Shanghainese pantry and the necessary equipment, before turning to the recipes. I also much appreciate the meticulous attention to detail that has gone into setting out the recipes and methods thanks to the clear point-by-point instructions.
Each of the recipe is prefaced with fascinating insights – maybe about Shanghai, the ingredients, Betty’s family, Chinese customs, or how the recipe came about. The book’s illustrations, chiefly, but not exclusively of food, are all a joy.
I have to say that I found Betty’s stories about ‘her’ Shanghai and the surrounding districts fascinating. She brought back my memories of a visit to Shanghai a few years ago and being captivated by the lovely landscape as we drove alongside the paddy fields; our visit to Hangzhou and West Lake and the wonderful day spent taking the very fast train to Suzhou with its canals and waterways.
Not forgetting, of course, our three very special days in ‘the City on the Water’ with its excellent shopping opportunities, the stunning Shanghai Museum, Jade Buddha temple, the skyscrapers of the Pudong district, the different architectural styles of the city, the bustling Huangpu river, and the wide choice of restaurants serving different styles of Chinese food.
Betty Liu’s My Shanghai deals with real Chinese food (not the sort served so often in restaurants for tourists), ie the proper food from Shanghai and the surrounding areas, recipes based on authentic street food, family food, every day food, food for a celebration in other words the food she and her family love to eat. As well as the recipes the book also makes for a fascinating read.
My Shanghai. Betty Liu. ISBN: 978-0-06-285472-8. £27. Harper Design – HarperCollins.