Friday, January 21, 2011

Falling leaves return to their roots

As any Chinese person would tell you, family is the most important thing. The second thing they might tell you is that they have a very big family. My dad has a MASSIVE family.

My father has two siblings, each of whom has one child -this is quite easy to count. Then we go into the extended family. My poppa has two brothers -the oldest one has 7 children (who then go on to have about 2 or 3 children each) and the youngest one has 10 children (who also go on to have 2 or 3 children) and when you count the fact that their children have even more children, you give up counting and just say there are a lot of Chinese people everywhere. Keep in mind that I haven't even started on my nana's side of the family.

Anyway, the purpose of this trip to Fuqing(福清) was to visit the extended family and see my poppa's resting place and eat lots of food (because, after all, we are in China). We arrived just before lunch and, already, we could hear the sounds of people being busy in the kitchen. We only had a brief window of opportunity to greet everyone before we were quickly ushered into the kitchen for lunch -they must have been waiting for us for quite a while!

Baby oyster soup, Squid, Tiger Prawns and "Haku"

 We started off with a selection of seafood caught fresh that morning and cooked straight away. None of the flavour was lost and it was really nice to be able to eat seafood from the deep ocean instead of the farmed stuff we'd been getting in restaurants. See those things on the bottom right? I don't know what they're called in English -or even Mandarin! All I know is that they're pronounced "Haku" in Fuqing dialect and are a type of small lobster. My cousin tells me they're called "slip lobsters" but I am unable to find it on Google or Wiki (and that's the extent of research I'm willing to do). These little buggers taste wonderful but are amazingly hard to eat -there are countless amounts of little hooks designed to cut you should you try to get into the shell but you will be rewarded with delicious lobster meat if you succeed. 

Sweet Dumplings

Scrumptious peanutty center

Next we had a bowl of sweet dumplings (who cares that we had dessert at the beginning of the meal?). These are one of my winter favourites. They have a soft and chewy outer layer made of glutinous rice flour and have a sweet, peanut center. Heavenly. I immediately forget that there are other dishes coming and have three bowls..

Deep fried frost fish
Battered Prawns
 What do they put in their batter?? It's delicious! It was light. Very light. Each piece of fish/prawn was surrounded by the most heavenly, lightly salted crunch -my mouth is actually watering as I type this..

The chefs
 After eating what seemed like half my body weight in food, I was full and decided to have a wander around the house -oh, did I mention that it's 10 stories high? Anyway, I stumble upon the cooks (great uncle's wife and his eldest daughter) and beg them not to make any more food. They just laughed and told me to keep eating..

Stirfried Vermicelli

"This is the last one, we promise!" said my aunt as she brought this out. They certainly left the best for last. The vermicelli had soaked up the flavours of the pork, oysters and chinese cabbage and, as you can imagine, was simply delicious!

This, my friends, is apparently a snack. Xien Mien with fried egg, prawns, baby oysters, pork and fried seaweed
 After lunch, we visit my poppa and great-grandpop and a few of dad's other cousins. Then, apparently, it's time for a snack. This is one of Fuqing's specialties -Xien Mien are very very thin white noodles cooked in a chicken broth. Everyone who lives in Fuzhou would have grown up with this. You can have it for breakfast, lunch or/and dinner and are consumed in almost every occasion such as birthdays (no matter what age you are), weddings and when you're about to go traveling. The topping is the best so I give in to peer pressure but leave most of the noodles as I'm sure my stomach has not fully digested lunch yet.

Roasted Watermelon seeds
  So what does one do immediately after having a meal sized snack? Rest? Let it digest? No -we go straight to dinner. I'm not even kidding. We literally left the house and walked to the restaurant. We start off dinner with a few plates of watermelon seeds which are the most moreish little snacks ever! They are marinated in soy based sauce before being dried and baked. It was quite enjoyable listening to the loud click of the shells cracking open while the adults talked.

Prawns and Haku

Stirfried Octopus Tentacles

Close up of Haku- little lobster thing

By now I'm sure you all get that seafood is a big deal here. A meal is not complete without a plate of prawns, fish and (note I said and, not or) oysters -don't you worry, the oysters are coming later. The octopus tentacles were very juicy and had a little bite to it and was covered in a light garlicky sauce while the prawns and Haku tasted like they should (yeah, I'm sick of describing seafood now). I get a little bored and start playing with my food -does anyone remember the freaky aliens from District 9 by the way? If not, click here.

Beef and Veggie Stew
This soup was a very welcomed change to all the seafood I'd been having lately and tasted very clear despite the amount of ingredients in the bowl. The pieces of beef had been coated in cornflour before cooking so the meat wouldn't get too tough and the bits of celery added really added to the taste.

Oyster fritters

I told you oysters were coming. These were, by far, my favourite dish of the day. No one can resist the smell of oyster fritters! They were so fragrant and tasty -we even took some home with us for the next day!

Steamed Crabs

Crab Scented Cellophane Noodles

Razor Clams

 The normal person would be full by now. Apparently my family are just eating machines. It's their specialty. The cellophane noodles taste wonderful and, even though my stomach is on the verge of exploding, I have a bowl and savour the taste of the crab meat. The razor clams were fried with golden needle mushrooms in a ginger and garlic sauce which really complimented its natural flavour.

Rex's dad having a ball with his Gongfu tea set

Dried Persimmons
As if feeling a little guilty for feeding us so much today, we are taken back to my cousin, Rex's, place for some Gongfu tea (工夫茶). I have a less modern set at home if anyone wants to try. The black tea we are served is meant to cleanse the body of fatty oils so it is perfect to have after the massive dinner. We also have some dried persimmons to accompany the tea -I couldn't help it, they taste like angels. I've never seen these sold in New Zealand but, if you ever get the chance, please try these. Dried persimmons are sweet, dense and chewy -much like dates but more juicy.

Supper (aka feast)

During after tea time I notice that Rex's mum is not present but keep quiet just in case she's just retired to bed because dinner has rendered her too full to move. Little do I know, she's actually doing the opposite. It seems that she's not yet full and prepared a massive supper for everyone as a pre-sleeping snack. Supper consisted of fried fish, fried baby oysters, baby oyster soup, congee, xien mien and sweet potato dumplings. Sweet potato dumplings are also a Fuqing specialty -kumara flour mixed with glutinous rice flour to form a soft, sticky shell for a center of pork, prawns, seaweed, cabbage and baby oysters (they really like that combination here!

Delicious savoury center -I can help but eat a few
 I leave them to their supper and conversation at about midnight and drift off as I wonder why no one here is obese..

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