In My Shanghai, Betty Liu dives into the home cooking of the “city on the sea”

“Each family has their own way of cooking, but that’s my family’s perspective and our experience,” says Betty Liu.

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Our cookbook of the week is My Shanghai by Betty Liu. To try a recipe from the book, check out: noodles in scallion oil, mom’s red-braised pork belly, and seasoned steamed eggplant.

Pig’s trotters make a fantastic stock. but it is not the only reason Betty liu used the cup every week in the fall of 2017. It turned out that baby walkers are also ideal for perfecting suturing techniques. After practicing on two pig’s feet, which she bought every week for a dollar a piece, she made a soy soup on the foot. The recipe, which was a family favorite in their first cookbook, My Shanghai (Harper Design, 2021), represents a rare fusion of his medical and culinary careers.

“Honestly, practicing on those pig’s trotters really helped my technical skills,” says the Boston surgical resident, photographer and author. “They give us these faux rubber squares that are supposed to mimic skin, but the feel is really different. I apologize for being awful, but pork organs feel very similar to human tissue, so it was much better to practice.

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Liu started writing about food on his blog, bettysliu.com, in 2015. She had left Oregon to attend St. Louis University and found herself craving for her parents’ seasonal and home-style Shanghainese cuisine. She called and texted for instructions on how to prepare various dishes; on visits to the home, she took videos of her mother packing dumplings or zongzi (sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves) for reference.

His family’s cuisine, rooted in Jiangnan cuisine (the region includes Shanghai and the neighboring coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang), has found a loyal following. The success of his blog led to a book deal for My Shanghai, which she wrote during her medical studies and the first two years of her residency in general surgery.

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Writing, testing recipes, and photographing a book while training to be a surgeon can seem like an overwhelming workload, but for Liu – who turns to cooking for stress relief – the timing has worked perfectly.

“With medical school, your time is a bit more flexible; these are classes rather than having an actual job of 60 to 80 hours a week, ”she says. “It was a lot of time management, but it was great. And I had the option of going to China before the pandemic. “

My Shanghai by Betty Liu
Author Betty Liu is a general surgery resident-in-training in Boston. In My Shanghai, she celebrates the seasonality of Shanghainese home cooking. Photo by Harper Design

Seasonality is at the heart of My Shanghai, and Liu planned his research trips for the four seasons. She paid close attention to the changing daily offerings in local fresh produce markets, visited farmers, pickers and producers, and set out to transport readers through her photographs and evocative stories.

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Liu’s parents are from Shanghai, and her husband, Alexander Xu, has relatives in Nanjing, Suzhou, and Wuxi. Her research for the book was also family time, and loved ones helped connect her with farmers and other food producers.

Tracing the progress of the year, she writes about visiting a hairy crab farm in Yang Cheng Lake during the fall harvest, rejoicing in Shanghai’s bountiful winter fruits and vegetables, foraging bamboo in the spring. and eating ban mian, “dry noodles in sauce” as an antidote to the summer heat. Taking a seasonal approach to the book was her goal from the start.

“Even before I came up with the exact list of recipes, I knew I wanted to organize it by season. When I told my mom and dad about it, they said, ‘Well, sure. Why wouldn’t you do it seasonally? because it’s so much a part of how we eat at home, ”says Liu. “And yet, this is something that we haven’t really talked about and it’s something that is not really associated with Chinese cuisine.”

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In the West, Chinese food has long been considered a monolith, says Liu: a generic category of dishes including mapo tofu and sweet and sour chicken. In recent years, however, the number of regional Chinese restaurants has increased, as has their representation in cookbooks.

Seeing an increased interest in regional Chinese cuisines and a greater curiosity for what characterizes Shanghainese cuisine has been gratifying, she adds, as people learn more about the distinct palette of “light and refreshing” flavors and signature techniques such as hong shao ”).

  1. My Shanghai Shallot Oil Noodles.

    Cook this: Noodles with Shallot Oil from My Shanghai

  2. Mom's Red Braised Pork Belly from My Shanghai.

    Cook this: My Shanghai Mom’s Red Braised Pork Belly

  3. My Shanghai Seasoned Steamed Eggplant.

    Cook This: My Shanghai Seasoned Steamed Eggplant

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The moment of My ShanghaiThe early March release brought unexpected layers of meaning to a very personal project. Liu had not expected that he would have such nostalgia for people who, due to travel restrictions, were unable to visit their families. Hearing so many readers in the face of a growing number of anti-Asian attacks was also particularly significant.

“It’s been another way to connect with the community and celebrate something positive in the midst of everything that’s going on,” Liu says. “Some of the messages I received were very moving, and that’s something I wasn’t really expecting when thinking about the reaction I would get.”

Jiangnan’s flavors may be more subdued than those in other parts of China, says Liu, but the food is vibrant, deep, and pure. The strength of Shanghainese home-style cuisine is its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Soy sauce, cooking wine and vinegar are the main seasonings. And although the cooks use a few herbs (green onions, ginger, and garlic) and subtle spices, the emphasis is on enhancing the natural flavors rather than masking them.

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“Each family has their own way of cooking, but that’s my family’s perspective and our experience. And I feel very honored to be able to share this with people in one of the first Chinese cookbooks about this region written by a Chinese, ”Liu said.

One of his goals with the book was to give context to Shanghainese cuisine; to incorporate an element of travel and illustrate what the “City on the Sea” looks like in each season. When she can return, Liu can’t wait to indulge in her favorite street foods, to which she devotes a final chapter in My Shanghai – pork bao breakfast and fan tuan (stuffed sticky rice roll) – visit family and stroll through the markets.

“There are local markets every day,” says Liu. “A lot of people, including my family and my husband’s family, start each day with a trip to the market to buy just enough produce for that day or maybe the next day as well. Everything is so micro-seasonal depending on what is available in the markets. I love to walk around and see what’s cool.

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Linda Jennings

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