I used to think that the food of China was broken into eight cuisines (kitchens), Sichuan and Cantonese being the best know. The eight cuisines represent the characteristic food of eight of China’s 22 provinces. The food of the other 14 provinces (not to mention autonomous regions and municipalities) was not deemed sufficiently distinguished or desirable to be included in the official government list. But I suspect it’s more about the remaining provinces having too many culinary influences and thus harder to distil into a short description.
Yunnan province is a shining example of this conundrum, because it is home for 51 of the 56 ethnic minorities recognised in China. This diverse south-western province is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) to the west, Laos and Vietnam to the south and Tibet to the north.
The customs and traditions of some of these minorities are under threat, as modernization and tourism creep in and the aim of The Yunnan Cookbook is to help preserve their culinary traditions and diversity.
This collaborative cookbook by Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia, mixes recipes with insightful vignettes giving the reader a real flavour of the many ethnic minorities and styles of cooking that make up the province of Yunnan.
As always when I review a cookbook I try at least two recipes to help make my review more practical and useful to potential buyers.
And following this review I will the republish a recipe from the book with the kind permission of the publishers Blacksmith Books so you can “try before you buy”
Despite the difficulty in defining it, Yunnan food is becoming more well known as dozens of chic Yunnan restaurants have sprung up throughout various Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Even many U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, now boast Yunnan restaurants. Indeed there is even one called A.Wong in London close to the Victoria railway station.
Even so the availability of ingredients usually comes after people discover the dishes at a restaurant or TV show and thus create a demand. Therefore you may need to be creative and look for substitutes when you can’t find what the recipe calls for, at least in the short term.
But if you’re like me and like the journey almost as much as the destination then this book is well worth purchasing. Yes, the hunt for some ingredients may prove challenging, but just like a good “whodunnit” novel there is something about this book that keeps you turning the page.
The great thing about cooking is there is always something new to learn, as was the case when I found out that this province actually produces several types of cheese or that there is a potato and rice dish. Or that a much prized mushroom of both Italian and French cuisine the Porcini or Cèpe as the French call it is also treasured and used in Yunnan dishes. Or finding out that Australians call butternut squash Butternut Pumpkin.
The vibrant colours chosen for the outer sleeve continue inside the book reflecting the vibrant human story that is told. About the rags to riches story of the Naxi restaurant owner or the story that explains the dish called Toasted Duck. This isn’t like other cookbooks, destined to sit with all the others, it deserves to be left on the coffee table to invite more people in.
Twice Cooked Belly of Pork with Kumquats by Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia
This recipe is a sample from the cookbook The Yunnan Cookbook and is reprinted here with kind permission from Blacksmith Books and the authours Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia.
This dish works best with top quality organic pork. Browning locks in the juices and flavour of the pork.
Prepare the dish at least 4 hours in advance-or even the night before.
1 kg (2lb 4oz pork belly, cleaned (any whiskers removed)
3 cloves of garlic,crushed
2 slices ginger
4 shallots chopped
4 dried chillies
2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns crushed
6 fresh kumquats
2Tbsp soya bean paste
110ml dry white wine
1 tsp black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
- Heat some oil and fry the pork skin down, pressing down in order for the fat to render. This can take up to 15 minutes. Repeat to brown the four sides, which take about 20 minutes in total. Finally, turn down the heat and gently brown the bottom.
- Add garlic,ginger,shallots and chillies with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and allow to sit for 1 hour (or cool down) and store in fridge overnight.
- Over a medium heat, add peppercorns, kumquats, soya bean paste, half the wine and honey to the pan. Bring to the boil. Place meat skin side down and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the rest of the wine to keep the sauce half way up the meat.
- Turn the meat over and simmer for a further 30 minutes.
- Remove the meat from the pan and allow to rest before carving.
- Remove the kumquats mash and reserve.
- Strain the sauce into a small saucepan and stir in a little of the kumquats. The rest of the kumquats use to garnish the plates.