One of my favorite things to do when I travel is live with a host family and learn the local recipes. So while arranging a homestay in Hong Kong would have been slightly challenging during my four-day stay, I went for the next best thing- a home cooking class in a local home- Home's Cooking.
Visiting a Local Wet Market
My cooking instructor, Joyce, made me feel right at home from the start, and her impeccable English made communication easy.
When I first walked into the market I remarked, “Well, it's kind of similar to the markets in France. Just not as many flowers. And you probably can't pay with a credit card.”
“Really?” responded Joyce, with disbelief.
As I walked around, I realized that she was right. From the butchered fish on the table with their hearts still beating to the muddy lotuses roots in baskets, I admitted to myself, okay fine. It wasn't like France at all.
It was fun exploring the market with a local, as I was able to ask questions about all of the foreignness around me. When I pointed out durian, a fruit I've been warned against countless times, Joyce responded, “Oh yes. I love durian.” I was surprised- I hadn't realized that anyone loved the fruit that I'm told “smells like burnt hair and tastes even worse.” Fascinating.
Overall I loved the market: the hustle and bustle, the arguing in Cantonese, the uber-fresh and exotic produce. It was also fun interacting with the vendors, who kept asking me to take their pictures.
Learning How to Cook Chinese Food
After the market, we took the subway back to Joyce's highrise apartment. We started out by prepping the ingredients, which I soon learned is a lengthy task in Chinese cooking- no knives at the table means lots of chopping for the cook!
Joyce then showed me a few cooking techniques: steaming and stir-frying.
With stir-frying, Joyce taught me to heat the wok for about five minutes until it's extremely hot, and then you coat it with sunflower oil, making sure the wok is completely lubricated with oil. Then you had the ingredients and stir vigorously, making sure to stir the whole time. (As Joyce kept telling me- stir more!)
Next we steamed veggies with minced garlic and a bit of oil. One important thing I learned through the course was that everyday Chinese food is incredibly healthy. I come from a nation that thinks of Chinese food as deep-fried and covered with sweet and sour sauce but the meal we cooked was mostly vegetarian and low in fat- lots of steamed vegetables and tofu stir-fried in sunflower oil.
I also learned a lot about rice, China's staple starch. Chinese families often use rice cookers, and you should never put soy sauce directly on rice (um, I've been doing it wrong all this time). And you shouldn't flavor rice with anything. Just stick in rice cooker with water. Not even salt!
A few notes on seasoning as I'm a nerd: you should dress some dish with sesame oil, but never use it as a cooking oil. Sesame oil is too expensive to use as a cooking oil, and it loses flavor if you cook with it anyway. If a certain dish has less flavor, finish it with sesame oil and soy sauce. If the dish is already flavorful, leave it plain.
Okay, end nerdiness.
I loved the personal aspect of the course, and as the only student that day, I felt like one of the family. We waited for Joyce's six-year old daughter to get home from her first day of school, and in she came wearing a light-blue schoolgirl outfit and chattering in lightening fast Cantonese. As she ate, I noticed that Joyce chided her, “Pick up your bowl when you eat!” the exact opposite of what I was taught as a child.
It's moments like this that make you realize life is kind of the same everywhere. The overwhelmed mother griping about the syllabus requirements, the kid who just doesn't want to go to school.
When I didn't finish every grain of rice in my bowl, Joyce told me about how her grandmother used to tell her that the leftover grains of rice in bowl would become pockmarks in her future husband's face. I will now be finishing my rice, ha.
Our super-healthy final product!
Have you ever learned how to cook traditional Chinese food?
A big thanks to Home's Cooking for the complimentary cooking class. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are as always my own.
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