Vietnamese Rice Noodle salad with Nuoc Cham sauce

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Vietnam holds a very special place in my heart. I will never forget the first time I visited the country in the late-80’s. I actually flew to Hanoi without a visa and surprisingly was allowed to board the plane in Beijing. People were very nice in Hanoi and went out of their way to help me upon arrival.  I did not end in jail or being deported and fully enjoyed the trip and the people who are so very gentle, kind and warm hearted.

Today, one of my Chinese friends was celebrating her birthday. I decided to prepare “long life rice noodles” (a traditional dish on such an auspicious day in China) with a twist namely using a Vietnamese recipe used all across Vietnam from north to south. It is a marriage between cold and warm, soft and crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy.

For four people you will need:

Vietnamese Rice Noodle salad

400 gr of rice noodles

2 cups of shredded Beijing cabbage (instead of the traditional lettuce used in Vietnam)

1medium size cucumber peeled and cut in small strips

1 medium size carrot peeled and  shredded

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I used canola)

1/2 medium size sliced red onion

1/2 to 3/4 of a pound of fillet of pork thinly sliced

1 stem of fresh lemon grass thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 fresh red pepper thinly sliced

3 tbs of fish sauce

3/4 cup of roasted peanuts

Nuoc Cham sauce

3 cloves of crushed garlic

2 fresh red peppers chopped

2.5 tbsp of sugar

2 tbsp of fresh lime juice or 3 tbsp of white wine vinegar

4 tablespoon of fish sauce

1 cup of lemongrass infused water

– Cut the pork into thin slices and add the sugar, crushed garlic, lemon grass infused water, chopped red peppers including the seeds and fish sauce. Let it marinate for about an hour.

– Cook rice noodles briefly according to recipe on the package (normally 2 to 3 mn). When noodles are cooked drain and cool them.

– Divide the cooled rice noodles among four bowls and add the shredded cabbage (or lettuce), carrots and cucumber.

– Let is stand while you cook the thinly sliced marinated pork with the chopped onion for 5 mn. Then add the entire marinade and add water to make for one cup of liquid altogether.

– Cook for additional 2 to 3 minutes. Once done, divide between the four bowls, and sprinkle with roasted peanuts.

– Pour the Nuoc Cham sauce on top.

For the Nuoc Cham sauce, combine all ingredients listed. I made the sauce the day before and kept it overnight in the refrigerator. I was told in Vietnam that the sauce can be used for up to two weeks after it is made. It is normally found on every table in local restaurants as we find salt and pepper in western restaurants.

Enjoy!

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The Milu

The Milu at the Hubei Milu Shishou National Nature Reserve, China.

The Milu at the Hubei Milu Shishou National Nature Reserve, China.

Pere David’s deer, also known in China as Milu and as Si Bu Xiang, was discovered for western science by Pere Armand David, a French Lazarist missionary in 1865, in the Imperial Hunting Park south of Beijing.

The Si Bu Xiang means the four un-a-likes, as the deer has the neck of a camel, antlers of a deer, hooves of a cow and the tail of a donkey. Pere David initially thought the animal looked like a reindeer as both species have elongated, wide hooves producing a clicking sound when walking. The most striking features are the long tail, tasselled at the end and reaching up to 80 cm, and the forked antlers each with one backward pointing tine.

The Milu is a unique Chinese endemic species and it is believed to have become extinct in the wild at least 1500 years ago due to overhunting and encroaching on their habitat by humans. In the end of the 19th century, there was only one herd of Milu left in China of approximately 120 individuals at Nan Haizi, the former Imperial Hunting Park south of Beijing. All the animals were eventually killed due to floods and war. This marked the extinction of the species in China.

It was eventually reintroduced in the Middle Kingdom in 1985, thanks to the support of the Duke of Bedford family in the UK where the last remaining herd had been saved from extinction by Herbrand, the 11th Duke of Bedford in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, this is another story.

Stay tuned …..

Kale, Wild Mushrooms and Pink Grapefruit Salad

Kale, Wild Mushrooms and Pink Grapefruit Salad

Kale, Wild Mushrooms and Pink Grapefruit Salad

Since I can remember, whenever my Mother served kale or spinach for lunch or dinner I never managed to finish what was on my plate. One day, she prepared spinach topped with a fried egg, over and easy, and some potatoes on the side. I still remember vividly that I only ate the egg and the potatoes resulting in a major argument with my mother. My father was dragged in the feud and took my side which made my mother furious ……..

A few decades later and to my surprise, I now enjoy both vegetables. I look for new recipes and make my own interpretations. This week, I got crispy and fresh young kale at the market and decided to make a salad re-interpreting a recipe I got online some time ago.

Here is the recipe to serve four people:

3/4 kg of fresh young kale

1 pink grapefruit

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil

4 slices of smoked bacon

1 small red onion

2 cups of wild mushrooms (either fresh or dried)

juice of 3/4 of a lemon or a 1/5 cup of apple cider vinegar

juice of grapefruit segments

2 tbsp of honey

handful of chopped walnuts

handful of fresh parsley

sea salt and ground pepper

Wash the kale, strip it from the hard stem and cut into thin pieces and drizzle with the three tablespoons of virgin olive oil. Toss the kale firmly with your hands and once the kale is well oiled, put it aside and let it stand in room temperature while preparing the dressing.

Cut the bacon and put it in a saucepan and let it cook until it becomes crispy. Take it out of the saucepan and put aside. Add the thinly sliced red onion and mushrooms (if using fresh mushrooms, clean and cut thinly and if using dry ones, let them stand in water overnight) to the bacon fat and the remaining olive oil. When nearly done add the crispy bacon, stirring the mixture until the aromas of mushroom and bacon mix together.

Cut the pink grapefruit into segments. Make sure to keep the juice and squeeze the left over to get as much juice as possible. Put the grapefruit juice, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in the pan together with 2 tablespoons of honey. Taste the seasoning, add salt and pepper and mix well.

Mix the mushrooms and the kale and pour the sauce and grapefruit segments in the salad, and mix well. Add the chopped walnut and fresh parsley on top before serving.  

Serve with freshly baked home-made walnut bread and bon appetit!

UNESCO-listed Walled City of Pingyao

Jing's Residence

Jing’s Residence

A fascinating century-old walled city

The Ancient City of Pingyao in central Shanxi Province was founded in the 14th century and is one of only two ancient cities in China listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Its layout reflects perfectly the developments in architectural style and urban planning of the Han cities over more than five centuries. Today, approximately 40,000 residents still live in the old city and bicycles and walking are still the main means of transportation as cars are restricted in the city center.

Pingyao was located between Beijing and Xian – the start of the Silk Road,  and became the most important trading and financial center in China in the late Ming and Qing dynasties. China’s first commercial banks, as well as insurance and security companies were established there. At its heydays, there were as many as 20 financial institutions within the city comprising more than half of the total in the entire country. Pingyao merchants had branches all over China and connections in various countries/cities such as Japan, Singapore, Moscow, Calcutta, Paris and London.

Staying overnight in Pingyao is a magical experience. At night, dramatic street lighting with traditional old red lanterns enhance the almost palpable sense of time and history. It is like traveling back in time several centuries.

10 reasons to visit Pingyao

1. The city wall is one of the very few left complete and in its original state in China.

2. The wall has six barbican gates and the pattern resembles the shape of a tortoise earning Pingyao the nickname “Turtle City” with the two gates on the South and North representing the head and tail of the turtle and four gates on the east and west the four legs;

3. The ancient town had four major streets, 8 lesser streets and 72 lanes. The main street runs from north to south with the Market Tower located in the middle and was the center of banking and trading in the old days;

4. It is said that old Pingyao courtyards are some of the best-preserved traditional Han architecture in the whole of China and many original courtyards can still be visited to this day;

5. The Rishengchang Exchange Shop is considered to be the first bank in Chinese history and was established in 1823 during the Qing Dynasty. It had 35 branches in China and its business covered Europe, America and Southeast Asia.

6. The first checks/bank drafts in China were issued in Pingyao;

7. Following the Boxer Rebellion, Empress Dowager Cixi came to Pingyao and asked rich bankers and merchants to advance the sum of 200,000 taels of silver (traditional silver currency used in old China) to pay the indemnity demanded by foreign powers. This sum that would amount to hundreds of millions in today’s currency was never repaid;

8. There are several famous and well preserved residences clustered around Pingyao within a 25-mile radius including the 313-room Qiao’s compound that was the set for Zhang Yimou’s famous “Raise the Red Lantern” movie that put Pingyao in the international spotlight when it was released in 1992;

9. Similarly important cultural sites such as the 1,300 years old Shuanglin Temple and the 1,000 years old Zhenguo Temple are also within easy access from the city;

10. An international “Photography Festival” takes place every year in mid September in Pingyao and attracts thousands of visitors, Chinese and foreigners alike;

A unique hotel experience

Established in the former siheyuan (courtyard home) of a wealthy Qing Dynasty silk merchant, Jing’s Residence is named after the owner, Yang Jing, a successful woman entrepreneur who made her first visit to Pingyao in the early 90’s. She immediately felt attracted to the old city that has remained largely unchanged since the late Ming and Qing dynasties. She was also drawn to the local people who go about their business in and out of the old city as they have done for centuries. At that time she dreamed that one day she would have her own courtyard. Her dream came true with the opening of Jing’s Residence, a once in a lifetime project that took her several years to complete.

The Residence went through a remarkable floor to rooftop multi-million renovation and refurbishment. It is ideally located in the heart of the old city next to the historic “First Armed Escort Agency” compound on East Street and encompasses a series of grey-brick pavilions built around a set of five courtyards in the authentic architectural style of northern China. Unobtrusive landscaping features bamboo, water element, white stone from northern China and traditional brick-paved alleyways that connect the various courtyards.

A two-storey pavilion along East Street commands access to the Residence with, in addition to the reception area, an elegant dining room and a small bar and cozy adjacent library on the second floor. The unique character of the Residence is best reflected in the 19 meticulously renovated bedrooms and suites. The intention of award-winner architect and designer, Antonio Ochoa, was to respect the 200-year old architecture and preserve the spirit of the courtyard mansion while enhancing the facilities to 21st century international standards. Modern functional features are subtly incorporated in the rooms yet, at the same time, the hotel conveys the sense of being immersed in a historic environment.

Natural materials create a sophisticated yet relaxing environment. Decorative features range from ancient carved wooden window frames and timber structural elements to bamboo flooring and rice paper ceilings. Many touches pay tribute to local culture and traditional handicrafts: bed heads are made of lacquer or silk; beds provide modern comfort but they recall the design of the age-old kang; decorative ceramic panels are reminiscent of the shape of coal briquettes and antique Chinese wash-basin stands are completely at home in the luxuriously fitted bathrooms.

http://www.jingsresidence.com

Tokaj, The King Of Wines And The Wine Of Kings

In the wine cave

In the wine cave

The label Tokaj refers to only one special cross-border region of south-eastern Slovakia and north-eastern Hungary that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Only some 7000 hectares of land can produce wines under this label provided that strict winemaking process is followed.

In 2004, when Slovakia and Hungary joined the European Union, Tokaj was given “appellation controlée” or “protected designation of origin” status. Several European regions that used to sell Tokay (as it was commonly known outside its original area of production) made from different varieties of grapes had to stop selling wines under this label most notably Alsace in France and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy.

The Tokaj Region is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is well-known for its historical cellars which date back to the period of the Turkish wars. To a certain extent, they were built as shelters against invaders and some of them are carved 8 to 16 m deep into volcanic rocks. Legend has it that the fear of the Turkish invaders delayed the harvest in Lorantffy Mihally’s domain until the grapes had shriveled and the “pourriture noble” also known as Botrytis cinerea set in. Nevertheless, Pastor Szepsi Laczko Mate made wine from the late ripened grapes with high concentration of sugar and the unique Tokaj sweet wine was born.

Wine tasting in the cave

Wine tasting in the cave

Today, six grape varieties are officially approved for the production of Tokaj wines namely Furmint, Harslevelu (called Lipovina in Slovakia), Yellow Muscat, Zeta (a crossing of Furmint and Bouvier grapes authorized in 1990 that has a particular aptitude for early ripening and the ability to become botrytised), Koverszolo, and Kabar (a crossing of Harslevelu and Bouvier grapes authorized in 2006 that has the same aptitudes as the Zeta grape).

The production of Tokaj wines depends on the weather that influence the fermentation process and the development of Botrytis cinerea and the Tokaj region, although very famous for its sweet and semi-sweet wines now also produces fruitful dry wines.

In unfavorable years when the grapes are harvested before the development of Botrytis cinerea, the grapes are pressed and immediately fermented. Full-bodied, green-gold dry wines are produced under the label of their respective grape varieties (Mostly Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat).

In favorable years when the grapes can ripen for a longer time and Botrytis cinerea can develop, sweet wines are produced by blending different varieties of grapes. The wines are graded from one to six. A three-putna wine is slightly sweet and a four-putna wine is semi-sweet. A six-putna denotes the highest degree of sweetness for Tokaj wines, rarely produced nowadays, and is sold under the label “Tokaj Vyberova Essencia” in Slovakia and “Tokaj Aszu Eszencia” in Hungary. Today, the production of Vyber and Aszu is normally less than 1% of the total wine output of the region. The sugar concentration of essencia is typically between 500 g and 700 g per litre.

This nectar is said to keep its quality and drinkability when stored for 200 years or more should it be stored properly. In 1925, a remarkable collection of old Tokaj wines from the estate of the princely house of Bretzenheim was discovered and purchased by British wine merchants Berry Bros. A Tokaj Eszencia 1811 bottled in 1840 was sold and is said to have been of superlative quality.

Rich and complex Tokaj Vyber and Aszu perfectly complement blue-veined cheeses, goose liver or even poultry. They also make great pairing with selected desserts like cheesecakes, lemon tart, and fruit and caramel or nut-based desserts.

The statue of St.Hubert, patron Saint of winemakers

The statue of St.Hubert, patron Saint of winemakers

Over the past centuries, Tokaj wines received accolades from numerous personalities, writers, composers and artists in various fields from Beethoven and Johann Strauss to Voltaire and Goethe. However two of the most unique anecdotes concern royalties: Louis the XIV was so delighted by the golden nectar he had received as a gift from Francis Rakoczi II, Prince of Transylvania, that he called Tokaj “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum”, the king of wines and the wine of Kings. Two centuries or so later, Emperor Franz Joseph traditionally sent to Queen Victoria as a gift, every year on her birthday, one bottle for every month she had lived. In 1900, on her 81st (and final) birthday, she received 972 bottles of Tokaj Aszu.

Cheers!

La Cité du Chocolat

“La Cité du Chocolat” is located in Tain l’Hermitage, a notable Côtes du Rhône wine-producing commune south of Lyon in France. The contemporary building, established by Valrhona next to their historic production site, showcases the world of chocolate. It encompasses a museum and an adjacent boutique and the exhibition design is based on interactivity between the visitors, their five senses, and the various attractions on offer focusing on production processes, craft, taste and many other interesting angles.

The City of Chocolate opened in October 2013 and during a recent visit I had the opportunity to discover a unique blond chocolate. According to the story it was initially created by mistake by Frédéric Bau, Executive Chef and Director of l’Ecole du Grand Chocolat. One day, he accidentally left white chocolate in a bain-marie for around 10 hours. By the time he realized what had happened, the chocolate had turned blond and smelled of shortbread.

Intrigued, he decided to taste the unusual mixture. Amazed by the distinctive taste and colour, he decided that it was worth trying to recreate this discovery on a larger scale and to explore ways of launching a new line of chocolate. It took him eight years to succeed in his attempt and “Le Chocolat Blond Dulcey” was officially launched in late 2012.

Mostly sold in bars and individual squares, the warm golden colour chocolate is smooth and creamy. The first notes are buttery, toasty and not too sweet, gradually giving way to the flavours of shortbread and light caramel with a pinch of salt. Dulcey is still new and on my visit, only two Dulcey bonbons were available among their otherwise large selection of ganaches and pralines in the adjacent boutique.

Positioned nowadays as the “fourth” chocolate alongside dark, milk and white, Dulcey is a creative option and pairs well with caramel, coffee and hazelnuts as well as yellow, mildly acidic fruits such as mangos, bananas, apricots and persimmons. It is opening up a new world to pastry chefs and chocolatiers. I had the opportunity during the same trip to discover the creations of Chef Christian Têtedoie at his Antiquaille one-star Michelin Restaurant on the Fourvière Hill in Lyon, and the desserts featured a memorable Dulcey chocolate composition!  Heavenly …..

Chinese Tourists And Luxury Goods Consumers

The Tourist Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released a report in January 2014 confirming that China’s outbound tourists reached 97 million in 2013 generating 75 percent of overseas travelers in Asia and Europe.

Outbound Chinese tourists became the world biggest spending travelers in 2012 with US$102 billion spent overseas and the 2013 figures, when available, will confirm this trend making Chinese consumers increasingly important in the luxury goods market that reached € 217 billion in 2013 with an estimated 330 million consumers.

A study conducted by consultancy Bain & Company (in collaboration with Redburn and Millward Brown) targeting 10000 luxury consumers worldwide was recently issued and attracted my attention as it highlighted an unprecedented fragmentation of buying behavior with seven types of luxury goods consumers identified.

The study mentioned that nearly 10 million new consumers enter each year in the luxury market but that only 45% of all consumers are “true” luxury buyers accounting for 90% of global spending.

Two of the main luxury consumer categories highlighted in the study are important in China namely the “Omnivores” and the “Wise”. The Omnivores with an average spending of 2,350 euros per annum are younger, often females, and they target brand stores and buy a lot during their travels. The “Wise” with an average spending of 1750 euros per year are receptive to information, online advertising and social networks and have a strong presence in Western Europe, the United States and dominate some large Chinese cities.

Courting rich Chinese consumers is the name of the game not only for brands and retail stores but for tourist destinations as well. In this spirit, a flurry of luxury publications in Chinese language have appeared over the past couple of years. “Paris Chic” was launched by Le Figaro and is distributed every quarter in China and France as a “true” guide for fashion, beauty, accessories and gastronomy. Italy’s “Excellence Magazine” serves the same purpose. Harrods now uses Weibo to lure Chinese customers while Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris now provide Chinese customers (and others) with the opportunity to get their VAT rebates on the spot immediately after their purchases.

Never in history has the tide of Chinese consumers been so desired and courted. However, success can be tricky. A very well-known French luxury brand is facing an image problem in China. Perceived by the super rich as too “popular” and tainted by a profusion of fake goods in many Chinese cities, it appears to be steadily losing its luxury appeal. A first in this country!