Authentic Chinese? Authentic DisappointmentOctober 25, 2009
When 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.