Cultural Ambassador of Seattle

Mayor's Art Awards 2014Recently, Alan Chong Lau, the artist for The Hakka Cookbook, received the Mayor’s Arts Award for Cultural Ambassador in Seattle.  Alan, who is my brother, is an artist and poet. Also he is Arts Editor for the International Examiner. Here he posts events so artists get recognized for their work. Hear his thoughts on art in this video.

As a longtime supporter and promoter of the arts community, he has earned their respect and support. I saw evidence of this community love at our book signings in Seattle. Book signings are not easy to set up. Many stores are not interested unless you are an established best seller. Once you get an event scheduled, it’s difficult to predict if anyone will be in the audience. Due to Alan’s contacts, many stores and galleries hosted book signings for The Hakka Cookbook. His many friends showed up at our events. We got the biggest turnouts and book sales for events in  Seattle. No doubt, it was due to Alan’s good will. Even in other cities, often someone in the audience would stop by and say “I’m a friend of Alan’s.”

Congratulations Alan! You deserve to be Cultural Ambassador of Seattle.

In the news

Hakka t-shirtAlthough it is almost two years since The Hakka Cookbook was released, we are still getting noticed by some press, even international.  Thanks to the writers and editors. Check out:

July 24, 2014. Global Times. Sweet and sour cooking classes by Li Ying. This is an English online version of Global Times from Beijing. In the article, the writer quotes teachers and authors about teaching Chinese cuisine. Scroll to near end of article to find my photo and quotes.

2014 Number 92. The Art of Eating. Short List, page 46. In this magazine that calls itself the Authority on Food, Wine, and Taste, the editor listed The Hakka Cookbook on his Short List of books. Only available in print.

 

Asia Society Hakka dinner

 

Martin Yan at Asia SocietyA few days ago, the Asia Society Northern California sponsored an event on Chinese Soul Food: Hakka Cuisine at M.Y. China in San Francisco featuring Chef Martin Yan, who wrote the forward for my book, and me. Robert Bullock, Assistant Director for Programs Northern California, proposed the idea almost two years ago. When we got a date from the globe-trotting celebrity Martin Yan, we were able to pull together an off-the-menu dinner program. So many people helped–Asia Society, M.Y. China, and A.F. & Co. They organized and publicized the event. Hanson Li of Saison Restaurant donated wine.

M.Y. China vegetable carvingMartin Yan and his chefs Tony Wu and Kin Fong and I collaborated on the menu. I was impressed that the chefs had studied my book and were able to convey an authentic Hakka flavor to the dinner. Even the intricate vegetable carving by Executive Chef Tony Wu reflected the mountain home of a Hakka village. With the exception of the bitter melon palate cleanser and the dessert, the menu reflected recipes from the book. Let me share the evening with you.

M.Y. China Pork BellyAfter Martin and I talked about Hakka history and cuisine, the meal opened with a Hakka classic, Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (kiu ngiuk moi choi). This dish epitomizes traditional Hakka characteristics: robust flavors, hearty satisfaction from the rich pork, and salty savoriness from soy sauce and preserved vegetables. M.Y. China’s rendition melted in my mouth. Individual portions were presented in small clay pots. To make this dish at home, see pages 42 to 44 in The Hakka Cookbook.

Bitter Melon M.Y. ChinaFor a innovative palate refresher, M.Y. China chefs created a new dish made from bitter melon, a popular vegetable in Hakka cuisine. I was a bit surprised when Executive Sous Chef Kin Fong suggested serving the bitter melon raw. Traditionally the bitter vegetable is cooked. It is often stuffed with a meat filling, then braised or poached. Slices may also be stir-fried. The chefs shaved raw bitter melon into paper-thin slices, blanched them briefly, and served them cold in an ice bowl. A scattering of edible flower petals and a dressing of acacia flower honey and wasabi elevated a humble vegetable to royalty status. The bitterness of the vegetable was toned down by blanching and balanced with the sweetness of the honey. Although Chilled Bitter Melon is not a traditional Hakka dish, it fit the meal beautifully, refreshing the palate and cutting the richness of the preceding pork belly.

Salt-baked Chicken M.Y. ChinaOne of the most famous Hakka classics is Salt-baked Chicken. In China, the chicken is rubbed with seasonings, wrapped in paper, and cooked in a hot salt. The chicken emerges juicy and aromatic. Outside of China, most restaurants and home cooks do shortcut versions, either rubbing the chicken with salt and steaming or poaching the chicken in salted water. The results more closely resemble Cantonese white-cut chicken. M.Y. China took no shortcuts and cooked the classic version in salt, a rare treat. They showed the guests the whole chicken, partially wrapped in paper and nestled in the hot salt. Then they returned to the kitchen to cut the chicken and brought it out with a ginger and scallion sauce.  For a recipe for the home cook try my version on page 64.

M.Y. China cumin beefCumin Beef is creation of Hakka chefs from India who created a new fusion cuisine to appeal to their Indian customers. It blends Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients with Indian spices. In this dish, beef is stir-fried with cumin seeds, chile, and soy sauce for a cross-cultural fusion of enticing flavors. M.Y. China used American Kobe beef in their version. This is an easy dish to make at home, see recipe in The Hakka Cookbook on page 183.

M.Y. China gai lonThe simplicity of the Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with Sweet Rice Wine (page 230) balanced some of the stronger flavors of the meal. The same basic recipe could be used with other vegetables.

 

 

M.Y. China almond royaleM.Y. China ended the meal with Almond Royale with Ginger Syrup, a sophisticated variation of the Chinese pudding. A fresh zesty ginger syrup floated atop and seeped into an almond-scented panna cotta-like base.

The evening ended with noodle dances by the M.Y. China chefs. Imagine pulling noodles Gangnam-style.

Heartfelt thanks from a very grateful author to all who made this event so special and help me share the taste of Hakka soul food.

 

 

Happy holidays!

2013 was a wonderful year for The Hakka Cookbook. Thanks to the many people who supported the project, reviewed the book, sponsored events, and bought the book. A few highlights:

  •  Named “Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World” by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris.
  • Appeared in the New York Times in a story by Mark Bittman.
  • Within a year, a second printing of The Hakka Cookbook was ordered.
  • The greatest reward of all was meeting so many Hakka all over the world (chee gah ngin).

Thank you all.  I wish you and your families Joyful Holidays!  May 2014 be filled with Good Health, Good Food, and Good Friends!

 

Salt-baked shrimp

The Hakka Cookbook appears in Flavours July 2013 issue.

The Hakka Cookbook appears in Flavours July 2013 issue.

Last month a beautiful magazine arrived in the mail from Malaysia. A bookmark stuck between the pages of Flavours, a lifestyle magazine published in Kuala Lumpur, marked “The Hakka’s traveling kitchen,” a ten page story about The Hakka Cookbook. The writer, Julie Wong, interviewed me in Paris at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards where The Hakka Cookbook was recognized as the Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World.

The beautifully designed and photographed story featured five recipes from the book, adapting the recipes to their Malaysian readers, many who are Hakka.

I was curious about their version of salt-baked shrimp. I had eaten the shrimp in Beijing and Hong Kong. The shrimp version is likely adapted from the Hakka classic, salt-baked chicken. With no ovens, the Hakkas buried the chicken in a pit lined with hot rocks and salt. The salt absorbed the heat from the rocks and transferred it to the chicken. A chef from Beijing, suggested  the technique was invented by a clever Hakka who sold salt. Since the recipe requires pounds of salt, he could make a lot of money.

Hakkas who lived near the sea, likely created the shrimp version. Today’s chefs have replaced the pit with a large pan, and a flame under the pan for the hot rocks. The chef inserts a long skewer down the length of large head-on, unshelled shrimp. He buries the skewered shrimp in the pan of hot salt. The skewered shrimp are dramatically served in a wood bucket of hot salt as seen in the painting on the book’s cover.The Hakka Cookbook (med)

To adapt the recipe to a western home kitchen, I tried both the stove-top and the oven. On the stove, I found it was difficult to heat the salt evenly without stirring the heavy mass often. The salt also scratched the pan. So I decided to bake the salt in the oven in two pans. It takes longer, but requires no attention. Once the salt is hot, plunge the skewered shrimp, head first, into the salt in one of the containers, then pour remaining salt around shrimp. Return to oven, and shrimp will be done in a few minutes.

In Malaysia, a western oven is not so common, so the editors adapted my recipe to a technique of baking the shrimp (without skewers) in the salt on the stove top. Since the Flavours’ story is not available online without a subscription, they agreed that I could share their recipe and photos here. This recipe is for readers who live outside of North America and prefer to use a stove top.

For my oven technique and American measurements, please see page 62 in The Hakka Cookbook.

Original photos by Yap Chee Hong & various sources. Food prepared by Debbie Teoh.

Original photos by Yap Chee Hong & various sources. Food prepared by Debbie Teoh.

Salt-baked Shrimp (from Flavours July 2013 pg. 63)

Makes 2 to 3 servings as a main dish or 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer

500 g shrimps (16 to 20), in their shells

2 tablespoons minced spring onions

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing) or dry sherry

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced red or green chilies

 3 kg rock salt, or as needed

With scissors or a small sharp knife, cut through the shell of the shrimp along the centre of the back and make a slit about 1 cm deep into the flesh. Remove the vein, if present, Rinse shrimp and drain.

In a bowl, mix shrimps, spring onions, wine, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Rub some of the marinade into the slit of the shrimp. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

To bake on stove top: Place the salt in an old wok or claypot, cover with lid, and heat until the salt is very hot, about 10 to 15 minutes. The prawn should turn pink immediately when it is buried in the salt.

Open lid and bury the shrimps in the hot salt. Put the lid back on and cook for about 1 minute, or to desired doneness. Remove shrimps from the hot salt.

Need a Chinese cooking teacher?

grokker videoA few months ago I was asked by Grokker.com to be one of their experts on their website which features cooking and fitness videos. It seemed a perfect fit for me since I love food and yoga. We spent four long days shooting cooking segments in my kitchen. This week three of my videos were released. I demonstrate some variations of recipes from The Hakka Cookbook and also show how to prepare some other popular Chinese dishes. I always loved developing recipes, especially for the home cook.

If you are interested in learning how to cook Chinese food, click on the following links. You will see about two minutes of the video and then it stops. To see the complete video, you will need to register (it’s free and easy). Once registered, you will be notified of my upcoming cooking demos. You can also view videos from other cooking and fitness experts. Since grokker.com is in beta stage (testing phrase), it is a great opportunity to register and visit the site now for free. Get recipes and lessons from cooking experts from gluten-free to ethnic.

I demonstrate some Hakka recipes in these videos. Click here to learn about the Hakka.  I tasted Chinese Eggplant with Pork (click here for video) in a  tea house in the Hakka village of Beipu in Taiwan. A Hakka woman from Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, shared her recipe for Chicken Fried Rice with Tomato Chutney; click here for video. Since Mauritius has a multicultural society, people often blend cuisines. She paired Chinese fried rice with an Indian-style fresh chutney to add a spicy hot taste.

Want to know how to cook Chinese broccoli like served in many restaurants? It is really easy, check out Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce. Click here for video.
Or see a short overview of my Grokker eggplant video. Click here for video on youtube. Join me at Grokker.com to learn how to cook Chinese food, my way.  I believe in realistic, simplified recipes for the home cook with authentic tastes. Share with your friends, especially those who love to eat but need some help in the kitchen.

 

The Hakka Cookbook, a year in review

With book artist and brother, Alan Lau, at Book Larder in Seattle

With book artist and brother, Alan Lau, at Book Larder in Seattle

 

Just one year ago on September 29, 2012, I officially launched The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was a bit like giving birth in public after a seemingly endless pregnancy, more than seven years. The long labor was worth it.

What a great year! The press has been good to the book, gaining attention even at some of the big names such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and Martha Stewart Living.

Cooking with Mark Bittman, NY Times writer.

Cooking with Mark Bittman, NY Times writer.

The Hakka Cookbook was recognized as “Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World” in Paris, I’ve talked about the book on the radio and cable television and many book signing events. Bloggers wrote very thoughtful and appreciate reviews. Best of all, I have connected and met with Hakkas from all over the world. Just shy of its first birthday, the book is in its second printing.

Here’s a quick summary of year one for The Hakka Cookbook. For details on this list, visit this page.

"Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook of the World"

“Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook of the World”

  • 21 Printed articles and reviews
  • 24 Digital and blog articles
  • 5 Best or Favorite Cookbook Lists
  • 3 Radio interviews
  • 1 Television/youtube interview
  • 1 Cookbook Award
  • 26 Book signing events

Thanks for all your support. Hope to meet you at a  future event.

 

Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World

A couple of months ago I was notified that The Hakka Cookbook was the USA finalist and on the shortlist for the Chinese Cuisine category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. The award ceremony would take place in Paris. At first, I thought Paris seemed an expensive trip to go for an award I was unlikely to receive. Yet, I might never have another chance for this experience. Any excuse to visit Paris seemed good enough, win or lose.

Last weekend we sat in a ballroom packed with people, some dressed in backless gowns, Japanese kimonos, or Russian costumes. Finalists were from all over the world— Malaysia, Australia, Mexico, Ireland, China, Turkey, India, South Africa. People were just as excited as if they were at the Academy Awards. As the awards were announced, the winners came to the stage, received a large certificate (sorry, no golden statue), and a brief chance to thank their supporters.

Shock, disbelief, joy–these emotions flooded through me as I heard the host of the ceremonies announce, “We have a tie for first place for best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World.” I looked at the screen on stage and my book, The Hakka Cookbook appeared alongside China’s finalist Da Dong Artistic Conception of Chinese Cuisine. I couldn’t believe it, my modest book, which took years to find a publisher was awarded Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World for 2012. My husband was so shocked, he almost forgot to take photos as I walked to the stage to receive my award certificate.

The day after the awards, I compared the finalists in my category. Interestingly, the two first place winners were complete opposites. I would almost consider the book from China an art book. Big and beautiful with glossy pages of lush color photos of stylized dishes, it seemed to be made for the coffee table rather than the kitchen. Recipes were chef-oriented. The Hakka Cookbook, the only finalist without color photos, used duo tone paintings by my brother, Alan Chong Lau, to illustrate the pages. Detailed recipes for comfort food was written for home cooks. Yet the book also contained history, and stories about the Hakka, a people and cuisine rarely written about. Perhaps the judges awarded both of us for innovation in different ways, we both explored new territory in unique presentations. Whatever the reasons, winning made my trip to Paris, even sweeter.

Dedicated to the Hakka around the world

I dedicated this book to Hakka all around the world. That’s why I was so touched to read a post on Maya in the Morning by Maya Leland, a fellow Hakka who received The Hakka Cookbook as a gift.

In Roots uncovered, she writes about our shared history and most importantly she relays her own family story of migration from China to British Guyana to Jamaica. Her daughter-in-law even cooked one of the more exotic dishes in the book, Spiced Goat Stew with Preserved Lime Sauce, a recipe from a Hakka Jamaican who now lives in Toronto.

Reading blogs and reviews like this fulfills one of my goals for writing The Hakka Cookbook. Hopefully the book makes Hakkas as well as the world to be more aware of who we are, our unique history of migration, our strong character, and our food.

Thanks Maya.

Save your culinary history

Natalie Com Liu cooks her Hakka dishes in her kitchen in Lima, Peru as I record her recipes.

Zester Daily invited me to write a piece for Soapbox.  I struggled over the subject and wrote several different drafts. Eventually I settled on “recording your culinary history.” I was inspired by a blog post written by Pat Tanumihardja for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook a few months ago.

A few days after I filed the post, I learned about the unexpected death of one of my Hakka contacts in Toronto. That reminded me of another contributor, a young chef from Beijing who had also passed away a few years ago. Life passes quickly. I’m so glad I was able to record part of their history while they were still here.

If you always wanted to know how your grandmother, father, or great-aunt cooks their special dish, ask them now. With Chinese New Years coming up soon, it’s the perfect opportunity to capture some of those special dishes. Spend some time with them. Watch them cook, take notes, shoot photos or a video, and taste their food. Record their stories and history. They will be flattered and you will be able to pass on their culinary legacy. Pretty soon, you will be writing your own family cookbook.