Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

27 October 2019

Cucinare a Chongqing

Appartamento con una camera da letto e salotto in un palazzo curvilineo che fa piacere guardare in mezzo a tanti casermoni grigi tutti uguali e squadrati. C'è anche un balcone con un tavolino e due sedie, dove mi sono goduto qualche bel sigaro durante tiepidi pomeriggi di settembre, quando Lifang era al lavoro. Si vedono tutto intorno 4 edifici simili al nostro (noi siamo il numero 3) identici.

Tutti usano i balconi per asciugare i panni (abbiamo cominciato anche noi) e per deposito di roba ingombrante, tipo valigie. C'è anche un lavandino per fare il bucato a mano, attività alla quale mi sono dedicato questo mese per la prima volta nella mia vita per i capi delicati di mia moglie!

Cucinino con attrezzatura tipica cinese: rice-maker, che non può mai mancare. Un wok, di ferro, solido e pesante, che è l'unica pentola in uso nelle cucine cinesi. Un coltello, più simile ad una mannaia, ma molto affilata, anche qui spesso unica lama per i cuochi cinesi. Qualche ciotola e due cucchiai da zuppa in ceramica. Ovviamente tanti bastoncini per mangiare.

Poi ci sono anche, forse per far piacere a qualche inquilino occidentale che potrebbe capitare di tanto in tanto, una-forchetta-una, un-cucchiaio-uno ed un-coltellino-uno da tavola" con manico di plastica.

Ho imparato a cucinare un po’ di tutto nel wok, per esempio a fare frittate, che vengono fuori un po' bombate ma buone. Mangiare le frittate con i bastoncini ha richiesto un po' di allenamento ma niente problema.

Tra le dotazioni della cucina una serie di salse di soia, ottime, e anche aceti che non mi hanno stuzzicato particolarmente. Invece mi ha entusiasmato un olio al pepe del Sichuan. Il Sichuan, di cui Chongqing fa parte culturalmente anche se ne è stata distaccata amministrativamente, è famoso per il pepe. Questo olio aggiunge un sapore pungente, titillante per le papille. La prima volta ne ho messo un po’ troppo in una frittata e il risultato è stato un po’ troppo aggressivo. Ma usato con parsimonia serve perfettamente a dar vitalità a piatti di ogni tipo.

Per colazione sempre fagioli di varie dimensioni, colori e consistenza. Preparati nel rice-maker, facile e durano anche vari giorni.

26 February 2019

Carbonara in China

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Easy day at home, packing and playing with my niece. She loves to play hide and seek and can do it nonstop for as long as it takes to exhaust me!

Dinner with family, mostly food from my in-laws' farm, pickles, bamboo shoots, dried fish. Mother-in-law has set aside two large bags of the addictive peanuts they grow to take back to Europe.

Tonight I used what was left of my guanciale to make some carbonara, thus taking my culinary proselytism one step forward from the gricia of the other day! My first time eating carbonara with chopsticks!

Again they loved it beyond expectations, much to my satisfaction. We even rang the bell at the neighbors and gave them some. Ayi (the auntie) later came over to thank and to say they had eaten it and appreciated it a lot! She looked sincere!

At night we go out for a little walk and my wife has a facial massage from a little shop inside the supermarket from which she bought some aloe vera cream. I found a massage machine: a large and supremely comfortable armchair with all kinds of moving parts inside which massage my whole body, from the neck down. However, it was necessary to have a special store card to use it and we did not have one. So my wife's masseuse kindly agreed to use hers for a 25-minute session, I think it was 15 Rmb and we had to insist to reimburse her!

Later at home chat with the neighbors, as well as catching my niece who continues to hide behind the curtains until I catch her! While we are doing this, the tv is always on in the background. Quite often my father-in-law put on serials about the war with Japan. There are quite surreal features. All the actors are very beautiful, without exception, also the hated Japanese. They all wear lots of makeup, and all the men sport perfect shaves. I doubt anyone was so presentable in the heat of war.

21 February 2019

Supermarket and TV series

I am pleased to see Italian durum wheat pasta of an unknown (to me) brand called "Sicilia" in the supermarket but no other Italian products. Not many foreign products at all actually. There used to be a few last year. In fact, there was a whole stack of shelves with pasta, olive oil, vinegar, and also lots of wines.

Every time I come here I get a kick out of seeing the live fish in the aquarium waiting to be hauled out with a net and knocked dead with a wooden stick before being weighed by the fishmonger. Weighed but not cleaned as the Chinese like to eat the skin as well as the guts of the fish, which by the way are delicious, silly of us to throw it all away.

Ground floor kids space all kinds of games and entertainment. You buy a card and top it up, then tap every time you play a game until you run out of credit. Our niece Cindy is very fond of this and whenever we are here she can't wait to drag us to the games.

An evening watching TV at home. There is a singing contest on CCTV (China state TV) with many Taiwanese singers. I suppose that is a good way to improve relations across the Taiwan straits.

Later on, there is one of many war series with Chinese soldiers killing many Japanese during the war of the 1930s. The subject touches raw nerves in China even eighty years later. Many Chinese soldiers are very pretty and immaculately manicured girls, but no less brutal fighters!

26 February 2018

Guiyang pork and paper

Breakfast with rice flour curd and sour bean paste. Interessante, non si finisce mai di imparare, e di stupirsi!

Oggi ritiriamo il "certificato di proprietà" del nostro appartamento. Ce lo da una graziosa impiegata del comprensorio. Funziona così, non si passa dal notaio a ritirare il passaggio di proprietà.

Supermercato. Faccio un po’ di spesa, mi compro la mia solita insalata e pomodori per il pranzo di domani, tanto per alleggerire la dieta di fritto e grasso di maiale della famiglia, che mi piace tantissimo ma è un pochino pesante per il mio stomaco. Vedo un bancone di costolette di maiale (credo) affumicato, una cosa nuova, e faccio per fare un paio di foto ma poi interviene una commessa e mi fa capire che sarebbe vietato fotografare costolette, chissà perché.

09 August 2017

Dim sum (jiao zi), e spa

Mattina a lavorare a casa, mi insegnano a preparare i ravioli al vapore, dim sum come termine generico o jiaozi questi in particolare. Sembra semplice quando guardo i miei familiari all'opera, ma poi tra il dire e il fare...

Dopo pranzo Ouyang, l'ex padrone di casa con cui abbiamo fatto amicizia, ci invita al suo centro di massaggi e spa preferito. Ci offre un trattamento completo, con massaggi alternati in acqua calda aromatizzata con un sacchetto di erbe e infusioni calde per idratare il corpo. Sublime! Le massaggiatrici sono evidentemente divertite dalla mia presenza, sono sicuramente il primo straniero che abbiano mai massaggiato. Forse il primo straniero che abbiano mai incontrato di persona. In questi anni non ne ho mai visti o sentiti a Guiyang.

17 July 2015

Book review: Catching Fire - How Cooking Made Us Human (2009), by Richard Wrangham, *****

Blogger learning to be human

Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the existence of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability. But in Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham presents a startling alternative: our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution.

Wrangham argues that it was cooking that caused the extraordinary transformation of our ancestors from apelike beings to Homo erectus. At the heart of Catching Fire lies an explosive new idea: the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food permitted the digestive tract to shrink and the human brain to grow.

When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be used instead to hunt and to tend camp. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created the household, and even led to a gender-based division of labor.

Tracing the contemporary implications of our ancestors’ diets, this book sheds new light on how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today. As our ancestors adapted to using fire, humans emerged as "the cooking apes".


Cogito ergo sum, said Descartes. Coquo ergo sum is the gist of this book. According to largely accepted scientific research, Homo erectus sprung up from the earlier Australopithecines by eating meat.The transition from homo erectus to homo sapiens, us, is owed to a major innovation: cooking.

Levi-Strauss, in his The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a science of mythology (Pimlico), wrote that fire marks the transition from nature to culture. Few would dispute that the cuisine of any nation is a major trademark of its cultural complexity and sophistication. And cooking, in its many diverse methods (grilling, steaming, boiling, baking etc) is an essential part of any major cuisine in the world.

Our bodies evolved because we learned to cook: besides a smaller stomach and larger brain, we lost our climbing ability (no need to climb if fire can protect camp on the ground) in favor of better running skills. And we have much smaller teeth compared to our ancestors who did not cook.

Cooking also played an essential role in making mankind a carnivore, as it makes it efficient to digest and store large amount of animal proteins in a way that would have been unthinkable with just raw meat. But for vegetarians there is some consolation as well: cooking made it possible to digest many more types of roots.

Finally, this book delves on the social implications of cooking: how it shaped the man/woman relationship in the house, and how it made it easier to use meals as a social event. Some cultures have peculiar (to us) habits: among the Bonerif of Papua, a woman will sleep with every man in the village except her brothers before finally getting married; but the moment she feeds a man she is committed and irrevocably considered his wife!

In the UK you can buy it here:

In France and Belgium

In the US and worldwide buy it here

If you feel inspired to become more human, consider buying one of these books about cooking!

05 October 2013

Bangkok Thai food cooking class

Food is an essential part of any culture, and when I travel I always make sure I taste local delicacies so as to be able to better appreciate the country that's hosting me. If you can learn a bit on how to prepare that food, instead of just eating it, all the better!

My Chinese girlfriend is usually not so keen on cooking, so she was a bit perplexed when I proposed to spend a half day with an apron around our waist, learning hot to cook Thai food. But she was game, I love her curiosity for new things.

After an internet search I opted for a half-day class at the Baipai Thai Cooking School. They promised to "introduce you to the wonderful world of Thai flavors allowing you to take your knowledge home with you so you can make authentic Thai dishes back home in your own kitchen." And they warned that their menu does not cater to vegetarians, which was fine by me.

Thai food, of course, is renown worldwide for its complexity, its lively taste and the careful blend of Indian and Chinese influences. This is not called Indochina for nothing. It can be quite spicy, but does not need to be soo spicy to be good.

I had had limited experience of eating in Thailand before. While I did try many Thai restaurants around the world, I am also aware that these usually cater to the local clientele of wherever they happen to be, often at the expense of the original recipes. This in not just true of Thai restaurants: I have tasted quite a number of inedible "Italian" dishes in many countries, until the day when I decided never again to eat Italian food outside Italy. (There have been a few exceptions to this rule and they are described in this blog!)

Our class was held at The Baipai Thai Cooking School. In their words, which I found to be accurate, it is "an ideal home-style learning environment that aims at cooking a style of Thai food that is different from most of the hotels and restaurants in Thailand".

We spent the morning learning to prepare 4 authentic Thai dishes: veggies, fish and chicken. First of all we visited their vegetable garden and learned about the spices and herbs we were about to use.

We later learned how to grate coconut meat from a nut, the fluffy white stuff that the Thais use in so many recipes.

We then moved to to their open space cooking area, where we had plenty of space and lots of equipment to implement the instructions that were imparted by the chef and her assistants.

At the end of it all, we ate the fruits of our labor together with the other course participants and were quite satisfied with the results. I am not sure I will ever even try to reproduce the results at home, but this was fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat when I am back in Thailand.

11 August 2013

Cooking class in Singapore at Palate Sensations

As a foodie I love trying most of the food I run into when I travel around the world. The only local delicacy I can remember ever running away from is skewered cockroaches in northern Laos. And even that, should I ever go back, is something I'd be curious to try. Anyway they say insects are the source of proteins for the future.

No such dilemmas in Singapore though. Lots of great food for any taste. This time Luca and I decided to go one step further and actually learn how to cook some local dishes. Not that we are likely to ever try and replicate them at home, though you never know. But cooking something helps you understand better what you are eating. A bit like learning to play an instrument, even at a very basic level, helps you better understand music.

Among the many options available in Singapore I chose to go for Palate Sensations, and was not disappointed. The kitchen was spotless clean (like everything in Singapore) and super equipped with the best of kitchen tools.

Even though there were only three of us they agreed to hold the class and we had lots of fun preparing savoury and sweet dishes. I personally prefer the stir-fried gastronomy in the wok to Asian sweets. We had a perfectly balanced mix of noodles, meats and seafood. At the end of it all, we ate the fruit of our hard labor in the terrace and went back to town for shopping very full and satisfied.

You can see more pictures from this trip to Singapore on my Flickr pages.

here is a video from our great cooking teacher Shih Erh

07 April 2013

Book review: Good to Eat. Riddles of Food and Cultures (1986), by Marvin Harris, *****

Eating injera with hot spices at Lalibela, Ethiopia
testo italiano di seguito


Why are human food habits so diverse? Why do Americans recoil at the thought of dog meat? Jews and Moslems, pork? Hindus, beef? Why do Asians abhor milk? Harris leads readers on an informative detective adventure to solve the world's major food puzzles.

He explains the diversity of the world's gastronomic customs: what appear at first glance to be irrational food tastes turn out really to have been shaped by practical, or economic, or political necessity. In addition, he sheds wisdom on such topics as why there has been an explosion in fast food, why history indicates that it's "bad" to eat people but "good" to kill them, and why children universally reject spinach.

Good to Eat is more than an intellectual adventure in food for thought. It is a highly readable, scientifically accurate, and fascinating work that demystifies the causes of myriad human cultural differences.


This is a highly readable account of why the world's diverse civilizations eat what they eat; why peoples in different parts of the world grow to abhor certain readily available foodstuffs; and why they usually don't eat each other.

The starting point of the book is man's generalized craving for animal food (meat, fish, milk, eggs), because it is a source of more and better proteins than vegetarian alternatives. Only soybeans approach animal food in this respect, though plant food provide indispensable fibers. Despite the evil effects of too much meat, grain eaters tend to live less. Top primates, including man, tend to be omnivorous, an obvious advantage over animals dependent on fewer food categories.

Harris explains why Indians don't (by and large) eat beef, though they did in the past. It was at the time of Asoka (3rd century B.C.) that once widespread animal sacrifices were stamped out to prevent loss of animal plow-pulling power, dung and milk. And yet, beef is eaten in India and calfs are regularly slaughtered when not needed.

In the Middle East, the problem with pork is not so much its being prone to carry disease in hot weather or if not cooked properly: that is not unique to pork or to the Middle East. Pork is a staple in hot climates from the Indian ocean to the Pacific. It is the fact that in Middle Eastern circumstances pigs need extra shelter, water and lots of plant food that humans themselves can eat. Pigs are sometimes seen as dirty, but given enough water they are anything but. In Papua, women will sometimes breastfeed a pig if somehow it gets separated from the sow.

Horses were banned from the grill in the middle ages because they were more useful alive to be mounted in war. A war horse was worth more than a slave. later, horses never became a main source of meat because cattle and pigs are far more efficient producers of proteins.

Dairy products are not eaten by most peoples in East Asia. They can not digest lactose. Why? Because the condition of their agriculture never required as much plowing as elsewhere and therefore not as much milk producing animals.

Most people in the world eat insects. Europeans and Americans are the exception rather than the rule. At least now: the ancient Greeks and Romans did eat cicadas and grasshoppers. That's because for us it is less efficient to chase insects than raise animals in a farm as a source of food. There are billions of insects out there to provide us with proteins, but they are small and mostly hard to get.

And the book goes on, discussing at great length why people, by and large, don't eat one another... but I'll leave that to the reader to discover in the book!

Highly recommended.

Buy on Amazon

Recensione italiana

Racconto molto leggibile sul perché le culture del mondo si sono sviluppate in modo molto diverso fra di loro. Il libro spiega perché mangiamo quello che mangiamo e perché aborriamo quello che evitiamo di mangiare.

Il punto di partenza è che il genere umano generalmente cerca cibo di origine animale (carne, pesce, uova) perché è fonte di proteine più che il cibo di origine vegetale, anche se le piante ci forniscono le indispensabili fibre. I primati più sviluppati, tra cui noi umani, sono onnivori, un evidente vantaggio su altri animali che sono dipendenti da un numero più limitato di fonti di nutrimento. Nonosante il danno che viene dall'abuso di carne, e culture che mangiano solo vegetali tendono a vivere meno di quelle onnivore.

Harris spiga perché in India (di solito) non si mangia carne bovina, anche se ciò avveniva in passato: i buoi servono di più a tirare gli aratri, e forniscono latte e sterco combustibile. indispensabili per le culture di quel paese. E comunque i bovini vengono macellati e mangiati in India più di quanto appaia a prima vista.

Nel medio oriente, il problema del maiale è che consuma molta acqua, che lì è scarsa e quindi preziosa.

I cavalli erano banditi dalla tavole nel medio evo perché più utili in guerra. Un cavallo poteva costare più di uno schiavo, e maiali e bovini fornivano la carne necessaria in modo più efficiente.

In Asia orientale non si mangiano latte e formaggi. Quei popoli non digeriscono il lattosio. Perché? Harris spiega che il tipo di agricoltura prevalente lì, a differenza che in India, non richiede aratri (e quindi buoi) e quindi i bovini diventano iù convenienti come fonte di carne che di latte e formaggi.

La maggior parte dei popoli del mondo mangia insetti, spesso perché, pur essendo piccoli e non facili da catturare, sono economici e non richiedono conoscenza di allevamento.

Il libro spiega anche perché gli umani, in genere, non si mangiano a vicenda, ma questo lo lascio scoprire al lettore...

Altamente consigliato!

27 January 2013

Saluti da Bologna!

Le tre "T" di Bologna

Da notare che i veri tortellini sono quelli a sinistra, della grandezza canonica dell'ombelico di Venere. Il ripieno può essere di prosciutto, mortadella, uovo, parmigiano e noce moscata. Quelli a destra sono cappelletti romagnoli, più grandi e di solito ripieni di carne bovina.

In particolare consiglio l'osteria dei Poeti e, fuori concorso per chi cerca la cucina locale, il ristorante spagnolo di Juan Alberto.

Chandra Raga a Bologna

Durante il mio soggiorno ho anche avuto la fortuna di assistere ad un bel concerto di musica indiana con Paolo Avanzo e Stefano Grazia. Il tutto preceduto da un'ottima cena indiana al Centro Natura. Questo è un estratto di un concerto simile dei due musicisti su Youtube.

A Bologna lo spettacolo è stato completato da danze Bharatanatyam di Alessandra Pizza.

In conclusione: tutto vero, le tre T sono un mito! Gran bel weekend a Bologna. Ho anche trovato in saldo due paia di stivali taglia 39, che faccio sempre fatica a reperire. Da ritornarci presto!