Chinese Street Food, a cookbook review

I grew up on simple, home-cooked Cantonese food.  I remember a lot of soups, stir-fried gai lan, fried rice, stir-fried noodles, stir-fried bok choy, etc.  If my mom was feeling particularly ambitious, she’d make squid or fried fish.  But there were somethings that my mom would never make like joong (aka zongzi) because “it’s too much of a pain in the butt.”  (Totally her words, not mine.)

In short, there’s a lot of Chinese food that I missed out on.  And now that we’re all older, my mom is honestly kind of tired of cooking the same recipes over and over again.  (But not so much that she’ll acquiesce to my requests to make joong together.  lol!)

I’ve been looking for some fun cooking projects that she might like and I think I might have finally hit the jackpot.  “Chinese Street Food”, by Howie Southworth and Greg Matza, is a collection of recipes that try to capture popular street food across China, food that is the equivalent of Western casual take-out.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • What’s in a Name?
  • Good Morning, China
  • Muslim Street
  • When Ma met La
  • You’ll Love This, We Promise
  • Simple Poetry
  • What Came With the Camels
  • Chinese Hospitality
  • Now That’s One Express Panda
  • Sweet Street

Personally, I’m not in love with these titles.  For the most part, I can’t remember what recipes are in most of the chapters.  But I’ll forgive it because I want to try all the recipes anyway.

The recipes probably most recognizable are mantou (steamed bread), biangbiang mian (table slap noodles), jianbing (pancake wraps), youtiao (fried dough stick), and (cong youbing (scallion pancakes).

But there are a lot of recipes that I completely don’t recognize and my mother doesn’t either.  The book is in English, but the recipes also come with titles in Chinese characters.  I’m not sure if they’re traditional or simplified characters, but I think they look more like traditional characters to me.  It’s enough Chinese that it sparked joy and interest in my mom.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her which ones she most interested in, but I really, REALLY want to make la niurou (cured beef), which starts off the Muslim Street chapter.  It’s basically corned beef but with Chinese seasonings.  As someone who was raised in Greater Boston and loves a good New England boiled dinner, this is a must!  (Fact!  I make corned beef every year.)

In fact, I was planning on making la niurou for this review, but I had trouble getting my hands on beef brisket in a short amount of time.  (But since the Jewish High Holy Days are around the corner, I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time of picking up some brisket this weekend or something.)

(Too bad though, I bet it would have tasted fantastic with the vegan ramen leftovers.  *blinks innocently*)

Anyway, some of the recipes that I want to make at some point are:

  • Steamed brown sugar-filled triangle buns
  • Baked sandwich buns
  • Sesame Millet Porridge
  • Red bean filled zongzi
  • Stewed pork sandwiches

While I did not make the cured beef, I did try out one of the simpler recipes in the book.  It was for peanut butter pancakes from the sweets chapter.   The ingredients were straight-forward: all purpose flour, yeast, milk, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, oil, peanut butter, and soy sauce.  I really liked this recipe!  I’m not a huge “condiment” person so I only made a half-batch of the peanut filling which kind of reminded me of salted caramel.  I’m also not a sweet and salty person because I’m weird like that.  So when I make this again (and I *will*), I’ll probably just fill the pancakes with peanut butter or almond butter.

The pancakes themselves were easy to make.  They do require a little bit of planning because they are yeasted pancakes and need 90 minutes before cooking to bubble and rise.  But that yeast gave it a spongy texture that I really liked.  The yeast also adds a bit to the flavor.

The only thing about the recipe that I didn’t like was I wasn’t sure how big these pancakes were supposed to be.  I only knew that the recipe served 4-6, and I was supposed to use a small skillet with a lid.  (Yes, a lid.  These pancakes are not supposed to be flipped over.  You use the lid to trap steam and help cook up the top.  That was something that took me a bit to realize.)  In the end, I used two small ladles worth (as in salad dressing ladle) and made about 8 pancakes.

My overall impression of the book?  I love it.  And once you have what I consider to be the pantry ingredients, you are pretty much set to make a lot of the recipes.  There’s a lot of repeat use of dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, sesame paste (or tahini), soy sauce, star anise, etc.  The recipes also don’t look too intimidating.

I think the next recipe I make, I’ll let my mom pick it.  (Well, if I don’t make the la niurou first.)

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of Chinese food, or someone who is looking for a fun new cooking project.

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Skyhorse Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

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