The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table. – Confucius
Disregarding Confucius’ advice on keeping well away from the kitchen, I decided to chronicle my cooking adventures here in China with an ongoing series of blog posts on Chinese food. Starting with the basics, obviously, like the utensils and ingredients needed, I’ll slowly progress to rice then fried rice then maybe some meat dishes down the road. Sound good? Feel free to follow along and join in! Comments and feedback is appreciated.
For this first Chinese Food 101 post, I list the basic cooking utensils that I’ve purchased and used so far. These are must-needs if you want to start cooking Chinese food, so if you don’t have ‘em, hit up your local thrift store right away!
1. The Wok
Essential to every stir-fried, pan-fried, or deep-fried dish in China! And it takes a master to master the wok. I’ve already had my fair share of spills and burns, but I love using it! I also enjoy watching the street vendors (read: masters) use their woks. True artists at work. Mine is made out of iron and has a handle for easy moving. PS I never knew how to properly clean a wok till I arrived here in China! My one in Minneapolis always had oil stains on it.
2. The Cleaver
A big knife for the big task of cutting the plethora of veggies and meat in every meal. We’re not talkin’ about the cute little pre-cut vegetables that you can buy in the foreign supermarkets… we’re talkin’ ’bout the freshly picked ones that you buy at the outdoor market as you walk home from work. And we’re not talking the packaged, frozen meat either. I absolutely love the cleaver. Its heavy blade can cut through anything from the smallest clove of garlic to chicken bones. Don’t get all Swedish Chef up in here, though, it takes practice to use it fast and safely. For my immature readers, this is not a toy! Did you know there’s a proper way to hold it? Don’t hold it like you’d hold a ping pong paddle – place your index finger over the top of the blade and place your thumb and middle finger knuckle on the blade’s two sides. I assume this is a given, but please use a cutting board with your cleaver.
3. The Rice Cooker
Note to self: before you move to China, learn how to use a rice cooker. I wish I had made that note months ago! It took a while to learn how to use this, but that’ll be for a future blog post. Mine came with a measuring cup (140 ml, I think) and a little scoop. The instructions were all in Chinese, of course, so I had to turn to my friends for help. Humbling, but necessary.
4. The Chopsticks
Not to be confused with the famous piano-based tune, these are eating utensils. I had a complete stranger say to me tonight, “You use chopsticks very well!” Oh? Thanks for noticing. (Apparently, people are watching me eat…) Used for most every meal, these little white bowls are filled with rice in front of you and the main dishes are set in the middle for everyone to share. A third of the world’s population use chopsticks to eat, and it’s not any less dignified than forks, knives, and spoons. If you don’t know how to use them, start practicing!