Fun in the kitchen

The “Good Friends” Restaurant near where I live – the daily menu


I’m slowly beginning to recover from one of the worst allergy attacks of my life. L.A. could be allergy hell, but the smog seldom made me feel like this. My friend informs me that this allergy is particular to Sichuan in May. You see, the farmers traditionally burn their fields – crop residue, or plant stubble that is left after harvest – during the month of May. Burning the stubble allows farmers to quickly plant their next crop and is a good tool for eliminating insects and disease from their fields, which can lead to less herbicide and pesticide use. This smoke, of course, settles into the Chengdu basin, with the result that people with allergies and respiratory difficulty suffer. The government officially discourages this practice, but there were days this week when I could smell the smoke in the air. Sometimes the heavy smoke actually prevents airplanes from landing.

A look at the Chengdu weather forecast for today, Monday 5/21, for example (Weather Underground reads:

73 °F / 23 °C
Mist Smoke
Humidity: 78%
Visibility: 0.9 miles / 1.5 kilometers

I now have Chinese medicines to help my scratchy throat, congestion, and headaches. For two days, though, I was without a voice, and I was barely able to finish my classes this week. Yesterday, Sunday, I only left the apartment once, keeping all the windows closed and the air conditioner on, but the toxins still found their way into my sinuses. I had my weekly Chinese lesson in the afternoon, but one of my students comes to my place to instruct me.

Funny thing is, my acupuncturist in Los Angeles, who was familiar with Chengdu, told me I would NEVER have allergies here. I’m tempted to send him a nasty email and to demand free medical advice.

Some more shots from the local open market. They remind me of the song:

You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto.
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto,
Let’s call the whole thing off.

On a lighter note

I made two major purchases this past week: a new pair of athletic shoes and a wok. I think I got the only pair of shoes in Chengdu that fit me. The largest size sold here is 44, and my foot is about 44.5. My friend and I visited a shoe store for “big” feet, but their sizes started at 45. What about the size in between? Story of my life: I’m always the square peg fitting into the round hole.

Some more photos from recent restaurant meals: Above, mashed potatoes with onions, herbs, and oil

Green beans with lots of red chilis

“Garden Beef” – beef slices with eggs and tofu

My new wok (锅 guō in Chinese) is iron, with a flat bottom and a large glass lid. I purchased it at the local Carrefour. After each use I rub it with a thin coating of oil, to prevent rust and to “season” it.

My first meal in the wok was chicken curry. The curry powder that I’ve found in the supermarkets isn’t to my taste, so I visited Sabrina’s Country Store, close to Sichuan University, where they sell imported foods. They used to have some decent curry, but the stuff I got this time has very little “kick” to it and was more on the sweet than the spicy side. I like my curry to be HOT and to turn the food a deep, yellow color. The coconut milk I found was very watery, so the curry didn’t turn out exactly the way I expected. Still, with two diced chicken breasts, sliced carrots, fresh green peas, and potatoes, it was very tasty. I also used the rice cooker in my apartment for the first time, which necessitated much cleaning and scrubbing to make it usable.

If you want to make your own curry, watch this video on “How To Cook A Chicken Curry In Ten Minutes:”

For today’s lunch for me and my friend I made some marvelous “French Fries.” There’s a restaurant almost next door to my complex called “Good Friends” (好朋友) that makes some killer fried potatoes with garlic, chili, and spices. I think mine were at least as good. To some oil in the wok I added long potato slices, Sichuan pepper, a little curry powder, garlic, slices of ginger, and even some leftover green peas. The result was a fried-food-lover’s paradise. We ate fried eggs with the potatoes, and had some lemon tea.

Now that I’m slowly learning the ways of the wok, I can begin to get more creative. I also did some internet research and learned how to make Madras curry powder, but I don’t know if all the spices are available here.

One of the local cats. We call this one “White Cat” for obvious reasons, and to distinguish it from “Black Cat,” who lives nearby. They both cruise up and down the street in front of local shops.

No photographs – please!


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