My entire trip in Vietnam was centered around food: the first thing I would do before going to a new city was doing research on what and where to get the best food. And before taking the train and bus to Hanoi I had already booked two cooking classes to learn how to make some of the refined Vietnamese dishes the cuisine is known for.
I was eager to learn, but unfortunately I was a bit disappointed. The cooking classes, not surprisingly though, target audience are tourists who are looking for a fun activity during their travelling, not necessarily people who love cooking and do it regulary. So in the “hands-on” cooking classes I barely did any cooking myself, but luckily I learned a lot of new things, like the big spoon is called a tablespoon and the small spoon is called a teaspoon..
Last winter when I was all homesick and feeling down I bought a new cookbook to cheer myself up, even though I knew I had to wait at least half a year before having the opportunity again to be back in the kitchen.
This Heston Blumenthal cookbook has recipes that are, compared to his other recipes, quite doable to prepare at home, but almost all the recipes require various complicated steps and fairly advanced cooking skills. So to play it safe I started with the easiest recipe from the book, it’s actually so easy that I’m a bit embarrassed that from all the adventurous and challenging recipes in the book I chose this recipe that even the biggest douche could make in his sleep.
But I know why I chose this recipe to be the first one: Heston Blumenthal calls this his secret vice. And if one of the best chefs in the world, someone who can create the most amazing and complicated dishes, calls a simple prawn cocktail his secret vice, all the adventurous recipes have to wait cause this will simple salad had to be put on top of the list.
I love the food in Beijing: hearty, comforting food, often deep fried and swimming in thick sauces. Come to think of it, this kind of food might be the reason why my jeans shrunk a couple of sizes this year. Anyway, I mostly love these meals during the fierce and very much hated winter in the Chinese capital, when you’re freezing sitting in a restaurant and not even your thick down jacket can warm you up, only a steaming hot dinner that is both body and heartwarming.
Now that I’m back home and it’s summer (not that it’s noticeable) I’m craving more subtle flavors and lighter meals. Something like these shrimps that have been stir-fried with garlic (the more the better), chili and topped with fresh lime juice and coriander. This is the meal I want after a day of sunshine, with surroundings preferably our little balcony or in the grass next to one of the pretty canals.
Next Friday I’ll be home again. My plane will land around dinner time after a 13 hour flight, so I bet I’ll be hungry and ready to eat an embarrassing amount of food. People have asked me what I would like to have for my first meal back on Dutch ground, but, to my own surprise, I don’t really care. Some dumplings or noodles would be fine with me. I do know that after I wake up the next morning, I’ll go to the farmers market that is just around the corner of my house and I’ll buy a crusty sourdough loaf and some smoked eel and I’ll enjoy the heck out of this sandwich.
To some people smoked eel sounds disgusting, but to me this Dutch delicacy is one of the best foods in the world. It’s meaty, fatty and full of flavor. You don’t even need butter or anything other than a couple of pieces of this yummy fish on some nice bread. The only thing bad about it is that it’s ridiculously expensive, but I guess that I can treat myself on my first day back home.
A couple of weeks ago my parents came to visit me in Beijing. And if that wasn’t special enough, I picked up my friend at the airport a minute before saying goodbye to my parents when they went back home again. It was really nice seeing them, catching up and showing them the city where I’ve been living for the past nine months.
One thing was a bit hard though; my guests were quite the picky eaters, so I always had to keep their demands in the back of my mind while ordering food. My parents didn’t want to eat spicy and they felt a bit uncomfortable in the back alley places where I love going, so we went to the little bit more fancy ones (not complaining, thanks for all those dinners, papa en mama). When my friend was here I took her to those back alley places and the canteens on campus and she loved them, but then she turned out not to be a fan of my all time favorite: noodles. There’s such a big variety of noodles available in Beijing and I eat noodles almost every single day, so I thought it was pretty difficult to give them up for two weeks.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved having my parents and friend over, but I’m glad I can eat whatever I want now. This means that I’ve been filling my belly with all kinds of noodles every single day since they’ve been gone.
It often happened that when I told friends and family that I would do my two-year masters in Beijing, they would react amazed, carefully telling me that two years is a long time and that it would be hard; being away from friends and family, in a country with a completely different culture and language and.. the list goes on and on. Every time this happened, I would react totally casual, like I knew what I was in for. Oh boy, what was I naive. Looking back on last year, on my preparations for the big trip and the expectations I had, there isn’t anything that turned out like I had expected. The experiences I gained during my first semester have learned me a lot about myself and of course I’m still learning more every single day. There are parts of me that I’m proud of, I’m doing things that I never thought I would be capable of, but I also discovered parts of me that I’m not too pleased about. We (except for Hermione of course) might not be able to turn back time and make things undone, but we can learn from our mistakes and make sure to never make the same mistakes again.
In case you’re wondering why I’m being so dramatic instead of just telling you how incredibly flavorful this fish is – no, I’m not drunk and it’s not the time of the month – it’s because the first semester has come to an end, there are two big trips coming up in the next three weeks (more on that another time) and I have all the time in the world to think about all my sins and fortunes.
One of my favorite experiences in Beijing so far has been learning to cook Chinese food. Firstly because food is such a big part of Chinese culture and secondly, who am I kidding here, because I love eating it and I want to be able to cook it myself. Before attending the cooking class, I thought this fish would be difficult to make, but just like so many other things in life, you just have to give it a go and you’ll see that it isn’t as hard as you thought it would be.
When my friend and me had a cooking marathon two weeks ago, we finished the day with these dumplings. Although they don’t look appetizing, they tasted pretty good. We had much fun cooking all day long, the only thing was that we got a bit tired after making a croque monsieur, a rocky road, a banana cake with caramel sauce and cookies that we kept reading the recipe over and over again without actually reading the words. So of course we added the wrong ingredients, but other than their ugly appearance and not so authentic outcome, they were still very delicious.
There’s no cooking involved in this light and healthy dish, just some chopping and adding ingredients to taste. For me this is an excellent meal when it’s already hot outside and I don’t feel like heating things up by using the oven or the stove. It’s not the cheapest meal around, but sometimes you just have to give yourself a little treat.