Freshness is probably the single most important element in Chinese cuisine. When I walk around my aunt's neighborhood, I often see people on their way back home from the neighborhood food market, holding just enough groceries for a meal or two (unlike here in the US where we come out of the supermarket with a week's worth of groceries). My aunt shops at the food market at least once or twice a day.
The neighborhood produce market near my aunt's home is large and airy, easily the size of half of a football field. The good part is, I did not see any refrigerators so everything was fresh. Look at all the fresh produce!
My aunt and me...
Chinese ham vendor, Chinese ham is so much more flavorful and textured than American ham. It's really more akin to European proschiutto...
Now I know why eels are called eels cuz you wanna go eeeeeewwwweee when you see them.
I saw this chicken at the market, poor thing, it seemed resigned to its fate... please forgive us humans :-(
Lin Jiaos (lin horns), these are kind of like taro. They were once used to make a type of starch called lin flour.
Fresh pea shoots!
These are called Tsengzi in Shanghainese and my aunt picked out the best and the chubbiest ones. So cute!
Next up, we went to my aunt's go-to Dazha crab vendor.
Here is how you pick out the best Dazha crab (they are about 10 Yuan each so better pick carefully). Make sure the back is full and chubby and turn the crab upside down, a fresh crab should flip over immediately.
Lastly, my aunt got some fresh pig kidneys from the butcher to make kidney flowers, one of my favorite dishes.
When we got home, the tsengzi...
and the pea shoots were soaked in water to rid of any impurities...
While my aunt washed the crabs one more time...
The hard part with kidneys is you have to carefully cut off the portions that store urine (the whitish parts). Dont' worry, they don't smell of urine or anything, but you need to cut them out. It's kind of complicated, then you need to score the kidney to give it a "flower" appearance.
The kidney slices are then thoroughly rinsed to rid of any impurities and are blanched in hot water.
Now, homemade sauce is drizzled on top. The sauce consists of sauteed spring onions and ginger, bean paste sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar... somehow my aunt mixes them perfectly. If I were to do it, it'd be like the witch's brew or something.
I cannot tell you how delicious this is. The kidney slices are as tender as can be and the sauce complements the dish perfectly. I couldn't stop eating it!
Tsengzis are lightly sauteed with ginger and spring onions.
Look at them...
A close up... what I like most about tsengzis is that they are so tender, there is no rough or chewey spots at all.
This is no ordinary sauteed pea shoots. When I ate it, I noticed there was this extra fragrance to it... I asked my aunt for the secret formula and it is... maybe I'll tell you later, hehehe, I am evillll...
Oh yeah, the Dazha crabs are ready too! Look at the golden colors and the fat bellies, hehe, all mine!
Mmmmm, yummy crab roe and mustard, droooool... oh always remember to eat crabs with some ginger as crabs are cold in nature and you need something warm to counterbalance. Our sauce of choice is a mixture of Chinese balsamic vinegar, minced ginger and sugar.
We washed down all this yumminess with some home brewed grape wine -- btw, this has been aged for two years and is very strong (tasted 50% brandy, 25% wine and maybe 25% port). I felt all warm and fuzzy inside afterwards. Mmmm, time for a nappy. Life is so good!