I know I’ve been neglecting the blogosphere for a long time, but after feeling better from some health concerns that bogged me down, I’m thankfully full of motivation again and back in business! 🙂 And a lot of business I did indeed! Aside from healing, here’s what I’ve been up to lately.
Recently I discovered a great local organization in our backyard run by the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, called Fresh Choice Kitchens. Fresh Choice Kitchens is a resource and advocate for EVERYTHING community kitchen related. They run the Downtown Eastside Community Kitchen (DECK) program, provide a wealth of information and workshops on starting and running your own community kitchen and (happily!) share their knowledge and experiences in running community kitchens. I went to participate in the Community Kitchen Roundtable, where community kitchen leaders in Vancouver and beyond meet and share successes and challenges to their programs. If you’re not involved in a community kitchen program, but are thinking about starting one, I highly recommend the Community Kitchen Leadership Workshop. I had a blast hearing about others’ aspirations and experiences, and cooking together. Everyone was so supportive of my idea to start an Intergenerational Chinese Community Kitchen in Chinatown that it left me feeling motivated and inspired!
Which leads me to the second topic at hand. This past month I have been visiting the Strathcona Community Centre a lot and seen the many seniors programs held at the centre, particularly for Chinese seniors, who comprise of much of the surrounding neighbourhood. Naturally, I spread my community kitchen idea to the many seniors at the centre to see what they think, and they too are keen to pass down their culinary knowledge to young people. So, this summer, we’re starting a pilot program of the Intergenerational Chinese Community Kitchen! If you, like me, are a CBC (Chinese Born Canadian) who grew up eating Chinese food, but now have fears that you will never be able to eat those foods again, you’re the perfect candidate! If you just want to learn how to cook traditional Chinese food, you’re welcome to join us too!
What do you want to learn how to cook? What did you grow up eating? Let me know and we’ll have a knowledgeable Chinese senior teach you.
Last week, I got my mom to show me how to make zhongzi. A labourious but delicious food in Chinese culinary tradition which consists of glutinous rice and sweet or salty fillings wrapped in big bamboo leaves then boiled or steamed for several hours to cook. I won’t tell you the origins of why we eat zhongzi or give a recipe, those can be found a plenty on the Internet. Because of the wide diversity of ingredients and methods for making zhongzi, I wouldn’t want to give a recipe anyway. Even the shape of how they are wrapped varies depending on which region! Regardless, I thought I’d show you how my mom and I did ours.
No matter what your zhongzi looks or tastes like, first and foremost is the preparation of the bamboo leaves. The leaves can be bought across Chinatown, generally in the herbal shops, though you won’t need to search for them when it’s zhongzi season as they will be displayed right out front. When shopping for leaves, look for big thick leaves free of any rips or damages. Some people find it easier to wrap with small leaves. To prepare the leaves, they need to be soaked overnight, then boiled and drained, then some people soak them again. My mom even brushes each leaf to make sure they’re clean and malleable. When the leaves are wet, you get a taste of that aromatic tea smell that will help flavour the rice of the zhongzi.
Our fillings included glutinous rice, fatty pork, Chinese sausage, salty duck egg yolk, dried shrimp and either peanuts or split yellow mung beans.
Clockwise from top: glutinous rice, seasoned fatty pork, dried shrimp, boiled peanuts, salted duck egg yolks, Chinese sausage and split yellow mung beans
Our fillings tend to be quite simple but you can put just about any filling you like from Shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts and bamboo shoots to fancy fillings such as dried scallops and abalone. The selection and preparation of the fillings is where you find a big divergence in how the zhongzi is made. Some use rice where the individual grains can be seen after cooking, whereas some become a glutinous ball or wrapping around the filling. Some soak and season the rice first. Some cook the fillings first. Some marinate. You get the idea.
Next comes the wrapping part. Again, the size and shape varies based on preference and region. They can be flat and rectangular, long and cylindrical, short and pyramidal. Here’s how my family wraps our zhongzi.
Wrapping zhongzi takes lots of practice and skill. Mine were pretty lop-sided =/ It also reminded me of when my sister and I went to China in 2010 and visited Zhou Zhuang, often called the “Venice of the East”, where there were food shops galore filled with small local eats. Zhongzi is abundant since it’s portable and compact and one elderly woman was catching lots of attention with her impressive zhongzi wrapping skills.
And I shall leave you with that.
Remember that if you want to participate in the community kitchen and learn how to cook traditional Chinese food, email me! firstname.lastname@example.org or simply leave a comment here. Happy Eats!