During our visit to Sichuan, the first day was dedicated to cooking. Sichuan cuisine is so unique, that the only way for the kids to fully appreciate (and maybe tolerate) the various spices was to learn how to prepare a traditional Sichuan dish or two. Grandma was also very pleased to have new exotic recipes to bring home.
On the menu: cold noodles, cooked greens, meatballs, ma po tofu, and kung pao chicken.
The class began in a local market: what to buy and how to buy it. Speaking the language helps and in our case, that task was left to the cook, Qiao, and the kids (the only Chinese speakers of the family).
We needed noodles, tofu, greens, ginger, chili, chicken and the kids picked up pig tail and ears just try it out – yikes
Next, we went to Qiao’s flat where the class took place. It felt very special to go to his home, meet his dog, drink tea and experience a little slice of Chengdu life.
We immediately set to work, Qiao had planned the course very carefully with easy dishes for the children followed by the spicier and complicated ones for us grown-ups. Little did we know how engaged our children would be with the cleaver and the spices. In the end, most of the prep was done by the kids who would not let go of theirs tools and condiments. I wish they were that eager in the kitchen at home 🙂
For each course, Qiao explained the steps and then the kids got their hands dirty with garlic (plenty of it), ginger, tofu and the infamous Sichuan pepper in one shape or another. After much chopping, mixing and cooking, we sampled each dish just as it came out of the pan before moving on to the next.
Lessons of the day:
1. You need to listen to the peanuts to figure out when it’s time to take them out.
2. In order for the tofu to keep its shape and not dissolve, there is a very important step that cannot be overlooked: after being boiled for 5 minutes, the tofu is to be plunged in cold (iced) water.
3. There are many different types of Sichuan pepper.
4. I know it’s scary, but kids can be trusted with a cleaver, as long as they are properly taught. And you can cook an entire meal using just that cleaver and a few measuring spoons – kitchen knives are totally overrated.
5. Cooked lettuce might be your best bet for greens with children provided you have the proper spices and plenty of garlic.
6. The tastiest ma po tofu is the one we made with Qiao and to be sure, we ordered ma po tofu in every single restaurant during our stay in Sichuan.
7. Ok, we had the pig tails and ears. Now let’s move on.
We came home with recipes, the best ingredients possible to duplicate our favorite Sichuan dishes and new cleaver skills for the kids.
For more information about Qiao’s cooking classes, check out his website: chengducooking.com.
For the rest of our amazing trip to Sichuan, the Lightfoot travel team gets all the compliments.