8 August 2008

Sichuan Awesomeness

With the Olympics officially underway, Japan seems to suddenly have a strong interest in everything Chinese.

Japan has a long and complicated history with China, but beyond the politics, Japan does owe a lot to China culturally, and the emerging Chinese youth culture seems to reciprocate to some degree, involving a large amount of anime, manga, video game systems and the odd C-pop singer adopting a Japanese stage name.

But, back to the sudden interest in the Sinosphere! (Note: doesn't "sinosphere" sound like an invention, possibly a space craft, that an evil genius might have in the not-too-distant future? "Put him in--- the SINOSPHERE!")

Mundanely, and yet very tellingly, just today they started some takeaway hamburger patties in the bento section of the Max Value proudly proclaiming "中華ハンバーグ", in that colouring, which would translate to "CHINESE HAMBURGER STEAK". I don't know what constitutes a Chinese hamburger, but it is interesting that this dish was conveniently invented to coincide with the start of the Olympics. I also casually watched some Mandarin lessons on local TV, distractingly food related. They showed this cho genki chef cooking up a storm and chatting away in this really animated Mandarin and effortlessly cooking some amazing-looking food. I made up my mind about dinner.

I went for "Sichuan-style braised shrimp", from a big Chinese cookbook/massive coffee table book that I found in my apartment when I moved in (note: and haven't opened once). I happened to buy shrimp earlier today, so I just browsed through the 300 some-odd pages looking for a recipe where I could use that and the tofu, and that wouldn't require me going to the grocery store again (note: the grocery store is directly across the street).

Maybe Sichuan cuisine is a bit of a strange choice for spontaneous cooking, seeing as how I've never cooked anything resembling Chinese food (note: that didn't come in a box) before and that I'm suddenly learning to cook Chinese food in Japan

Being the bastardizing bastard that I am, I read over the ingredients a couple of times, instructions once, and mixed and matched a bit, threw in some tofu, and finally served it over rice noodles. For the record, the most important part of the recipe was a paste made of soy sauce, rice wine, toban jiang and a pinch of sugar, and I stuck to the recipe for that as closely as I could. I actually already had a bottle of toban jiang -- a mix of hot chilies and miso paste -- in my fridge, which is a bit strange. It was right beside the mayonnaise and can of Guinness.

Anyway, here's the money shot:


Yay! It looks terrible with the camera flash, but it was really good! I promise!

Anyway, try googling "chili shrimp" or "Sichuan shrimp" if you get the chance. It was easy to make, and even to improvise with the recipe a bit, and even if mine wasn't exactly authentic, it tasted great and was easy to cook.

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