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Authentic Chinese? Authentic Disappointment

October 25, 2009

mapo_tofuWhen I went to China last November, our tour group was pretty much sheltered from local food.  The dishes we were served in the restaurants were very Americanized – basically the stuff you can order at any Chinese take-out place here.  Walking through the eateries, we noticed that the locals were not eating what we ate.  So I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t getting the full Chinese experience, but at least I didn’t get sick.

I recently borrowed a Chinese cookbook from the library in an attempt to create some of what I might have missed while in China.  One of the dishes that caught my eye was ma po do fu, or “Pock-marked woman’s bean curd.”  Seriously.  I’d seen chef Chen Kinichi cook this many times on the original Iron Chef – it’s a staple of Szechuan cooking.  So I thought I’d give it a go.  That meant hitting the Asian food market, since the recipe called for things that would have made the local grocery store clerk’s head spin:  Chinese rice wine, salted chiles, and ground Szechuan pepper among other things.  So with my authentic ingredients in hand, I began to invoke the spirit of chef Chen and looked forward to what my efforts would yield.

Eh, not so much.  It was spicy, but other than that, a little bland and boring.  I’ll give you the rundown of ingredients:

Ground pork, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, chili bean paste, salted chiles, chili flakes, tofu, scallions, pepper, and water.  And I guess I should have known that based on that list, it might be a little bland…it didn’t even call for salt (other than the salt in soy sauce and the salted chiles – but there was not much of each in the dish).  But then I started thinking, hey, maybe that’s representative of a lot of authentic Chinese food…yes, it was quite spicy, but it had no real flavor to it.  So maybe I would have been disappointed in China had I been served the same.  I guess I’ll never know unless I go back…or if I cook a lot more from this cookbook and they all turn out similarly.

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One comment

  1. […] basic stir-frying of meats or tofu and veggies, and then we moved on to more complex dishes like ma po do fu and other authentic dishes. But for the most part, we were never able to replicate what you would […]



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