Last week a few of us from school signed up for a cooking class. When we arrived we were greeted by the chef who took us on a tour of a wet market. At first my imagination thought of a Chinese wet market as a gross, smelly, crowded place filled with meats and unusual items. It wasn’t any of those things. The closest thing I can compare it to is a Farmer’s Market. The majority of things here were fresh produce… and the colours were so bright and vibrant. No waxes, colours or half ripened fruits or vegetables here. One thing I notice about China is the food has more flavour than I have ever tasted… a sign of freshness and not something that was picked early, shipped before it had a chance to reach its full flavour and then pumped full of colours and dyes to trick us into believing its freshness.
There were a few butchers with fresh fish, live chickens and ducks (that they would prepare for you while you wait – no messy work not to mention NOW THAT IS FRESH) and a “pharmacy” where dried roots, lizards and seahorses would be ground into a medicinal concoction. Interesting shaped jars held rice wine vinegar and another stall housed noodle makers. As we looked around wide-eyed and took it all in the locals viewed us with the same awe and wonder. We looked at a variety of interesting and different fruits and veggies including white radish and long skinny egg-plant.
When we had all our ingredients we returned to the kitchen and prepared to cook. Our chef quickly told us he was just like Gordon Ramsey and if we didn’t follow his lead or do a good job he would kick us out if his kitchen! We soon learned our Shanghainese Chef had a very good sense of humour, some sarcasm and understood Western jokes. It made the experience all the more fun as we giggled and joked.He tasted our work and awarded Cathy with first place. This was no surprise to us. Since she poured in 2 heaping tablespoons of rice wine instead of the 2 drops which she then switched her dish for the chef’s when he left for a minute, but before that she sabotaged mine and poured some extra in my bowl! Good thing there was no voting here or I may have been sent home ;)-
We cooked a chicken dish as well as mushrooms with Bok choy and Shanghai noodles. I don’t know if I could do it again on my own, but it was fun. The biggest problem may be finding the right ingredients since I can’t read Chinese! I won’t know if I am buying soya sauce, some black bean sauce or worse some fermenting fish sauce. Most of the cooking is done in a wok and it is fast, which is great with a busy work schedule. Most kitchens here do not have ovens and if your apartment does it must mean it was made to cater to Westerners or a Westerner has previously lived there. Out of all the school apartments we are one of the few that has an oven. Seems if you have an oven then you miss out on a bathtub. A simple thing I sometimes miss.
We eat out a lot since it seems to be cheaper than buying all the ingredients. We will have to start shopping at the wet market! Although there you must bargain for the best price and I am sure we will never get the same price the locals do.Sometimes it is just easier and faster to go to the supermarket where things are already priced out.
Everyone enjoyed the class and we all may sign up for more. Thanks Chef Mike — a shout out to you.
Stay tuned for more next time…