Friday, July 23, 2010

Mid-morning snacks and random ramblings

When I got back to Australia last week, it was a nice surprise to find good quality fresh lotus roots available at the Asian grocer. I am a huge fan of lotus, from root, to leaf, to flower and seeds. It's one of the few plants that can be used from root to tip.

One of my favourite dishes is glutinous rice stuffed in lotus root, a Shanghai classic. It's simple enough, with only a handful of ingredients, but a great test of judgment, skill, and of patience. Before anything, the right root must be chosen. It can't be too long, or too short; there can't be splits or cracks in the body. The length of the root must be complete, with no holes at each end where the rice may fall through. The rice must first be washed carefully, drained and allowed to dry; the root cleaned and the skin scraped off carefully with a sharp knife. A small section of the top is cut off, and rice patiently filled into the holes of the root. Too much rice, the root may burst or it won't cook properly; too little, everything will collapse and spill out of the root once it is cooked and cooled The top is then reattached, fixed in place with toothpicks, and the entire thing is boiled in water for several hours, until everything is completely cooked. Once cooled to room temperature, it is sliced, and served with a sprinkling of osmanthus sugar.

The entire process takes several hours, and the end result unknown right up until serving. Needless to say, I have had my fair share of disasters with this dish, particularly as I prefer mine to be more packed with sticky rice goodness than some others, making it more prone to undercooked bits of rice still being present in an otherwise healthy and filling dish.

Despite the simplicity of the ingredients, though, I am yet to discover a place in Australia that serves it, despite the abundance of Chinese (specifically, Shanghainese) restaurants here. Served as a "cold dish" or entree at the start of a classic Shanghai banquet, it is a dish that can be found anywhere, from the most humble of homes to the classiest of restaurants in the Jiangsu area. Then again, the 8 styles of Chinese cuisine is poorly represented here, despite the abundance of restaurants...a somewhat disappointing fact despite the importance of food in Chinese culture. (The 8 styles of Chinese cooking...perhaps that calls for series of posts on each? An idea for another day.)

And yes, I went on a holiday. Expect a few posts about it in the near future.