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Fresh and Local Chinese Cooking - Goodbye Bottles and Pastes

  • m

Some of us have been discussing how when cooking American or European food, we demand freshest ingredients, yet when cooking Chinese, we submit to our cookbook recipes and use the jarred chile bean paste, chile paste, bean sauce, the cheap rice wine from the Asian market, and so on. Why not subject our Chinese cooking to the same standards of fresh, non-processed (or at least not overly-processed) foods as the other things we cook.

We seem to agree that we are interested in this, and some of have started experimenting. None of feel like we're "there" yet. So here's the thread to share our trials and errors. Post up on how you are making your favorite Chinese dishes your own, and upping the quality in the process.

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  1. Woo!Hoo! A shiny new thread to post in. I'll start. I would like to try using a locally-made kimchee, rinsed, in lieu of tianjin preserved vegetable.


    17 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Great one. I didn't mention this in our previous conversation, but I have subbed in homemade pickles. I have a fermented pickle I make with chiles and lapsang souchong tea, that is kind of smokey and spicy. I use that, diced, with excellent results.

      1. re: MelMM

        Mel, where do you buy smoky tea? In Asian stores?

        ETA: Please tell me if I am annoying you with my simplistic questions. Not just MelMM but everyone.

        1. re: herby

          Lapsang Souchong is an "English" tea. I grew up having tea at 4pm with my Aunt, and this is the tea she always served. We always drank Wagner's but it appears that the company was purchased and then disappeared. But I did find this: http://www.twiningsusashop.com/lapsan...

          It is great for smoking meats as well!

          1. re: smtucker

            SMT, I remember a while back you recommended a stovetop smoker and I didn't write it down at the time or maybe I did and can't find it. Would you please post the brand of that gadget again? TIA !

            1. re: herby

              I am using a heavy cast iron smoker inside branded Emeril's 5-in-One, but I don't think it is available anymore. A good substitute would be a Cameron smoker. They are much lighter; aluminum maybe? but seem to have good reviews. I have not actually used one however.

                1. re: smtucker

                  I ordered Cameron tonight and hopefully will have it by Labour Day Weekend. It is endorsed by Emeril but I care more about your endorsement:) It is SS, by the way, not aluminum. Can't wait to smoke salmon and chicken. Wonder if it is possible to do cold smoke as well as hot...

                  I'll start a "smoking" thread when I am settled back at home later in September.

            2. re: herby

              You should be able to buy it anywhere loose leaf tea is sold. It is a Chinese black tea, where the leaves are dried over a wood fire, imparting a smokey flavor to the tea. Sometimes very smokey. I order my teas from Upton Tea Imports, and their Lapsang Souchang selection is here:

              The one I buy is the Imperial grade (not the organic). It is quite smokey, like barbecue in a cup.

              1. re: MelMM

                Thank you, SMT and MelMM ! How did I never noticed this is beyond me. There is a new tea shop that opened near me a few months ago. The owners are Chinese and I must stop by and talk to them and buy the tea of course :)

                1. re: MelMM

                  So when I've had tea-smoke duck, is this what they're using. I have a Cameron smoker.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    No, they are probably using a regular black tea for that. When you tea smoke, the smoke is created from burning the tea leaves, but you don't need to use a smoked tea.

                    1. re: MelMM

                      Thanks. I have a couple of ducks in the freezer so should give this a try.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        And please keep us informed when you do!

              2. re: MelMM

                And tea qualifies as a fresh non-processed ingredient?

                1. re: paulj

                  There are always going to be some processed ingredients, it's just a matter of degree, and more importantly, a matter of the ingredients that comprise the final product. Drying leaves over a fire, I would say counts as pretty minimal processing.

                  I don't anyone on this thread is trying to eliminate all processed foods, and we can argue until the cows come home about what is meant by "processed". We are just trying to bring our Chinese cooking more in line with the way we cook the rest of our meals.

              3. re: The Dairy Queen

                I have posted in a LOP thread about using raw, lacto-fermented, no vinegar or sugar added, 100% MOFGA Certified Organic organic red cabbage sauerkraut instead of Tinjian. It worked perfectly and I probably should continue to do that. Only one thing bothered me a little though. While the taste of the sauerkraut was wonderful it needs some heat so I'd add red pepper flakes next I use it or a fresh chopped chili..

              4. I cook more Korean, Viet, Indian and Thai at home (more than Chinese). I make many ingredients from scratch. Many Asian essential purchased/jarred ingredients are fermented. I think getting comfortable with fermenting is critical for cooking from scratch, in most Asian cuisines.

                Fermented bean pastes, fermented batters,fermented tea, vinegar, fermented vegetables, are all things that can be either purchased or made at home. I always have small glass jars and bowls bubbling away on my counter..... makes me look like a mad scientist ;)

                4 Replies
                1. re: sedimental

                  I like to ferment stuff too! If you could share your techniques/recipes/sources for information on fermenting Asian ingredients, it would be much appreciated here.

                  At the moment, I have two barrels of vinegar and some pickles fermenting on my counter. I'd love to expand into the bean pastes, so if you have any experience with this, do share. Many people have become interested in fermenting at home in the past few years, so I think you will find a receptive audience for whatever you are willing to share.

                  1. re: MelMM

                    I've been thinking about starting a small batch of vinegar but have not investigated the process yet. I believe that "mother" is required to ferment it, is this correct? I have local wine/beer making store and wonder if they sell "mothers".

                    Recently I made very simple turnip pickle, the kind you'll get with a Shwarma but have not tried it yet. Cooks beautiful - pink and firm.

                    I took a few minutes and pulled the Art of Fermentation off the shelf. Instead of "mother" I can use Bragg's vinegar as a starter because it is not pasteurized. I am going to give it a try since I have all ingredients.

                    I read about black bean ferment too. In my ignorance I always thought that the sauce/paste is made from black beans. In fact soy beans are used to produce either Chinese or Japanese fermented beans. The process is simple enough if you have soy koji (culture) and dehydrator. The later is not necessary as beans could be dried under the sun (or lamp I assume) but convenient. The fermentation takes six months and maybe be the reason that people are not attempting it at home. I would be willing to try!

                    1. re: herby

                      I bought a "mother", which was a gelatinous square in a jar of vinegar, but I have heard of using Bragg's. There are also some other vinegars I have bought that had a mother in them. I can't recall the brands, right offhand, but higher-end stuff. But you wouldn't want to waste you hard-earned $$ in case you were sure, so I'd go with the Braggs if you don't want to buy a mother. There is also a fermentation group on Yahoo... maybe if you were active someone would send you a mother. I lurk there, but do not post. The vinegar does take patience... a few months, to convert. Mine is just there.

                      Those Chinese black beans are black soy beans... confusing to we Americanos who are used to another kind of black bean. Plus they look similar, which makes the confusion all the more understandable. It's not my highest priority, but if you want to take this on, I'll do it too, to make it more of a group effort.

                      1. re: MelMM

                        The book actually says that you can use any kind of soy bean and they will turn black during the molding/fermentation/drying processes. They sure look similar to black beans and I thought they were :) I have dehydrator at my daughter's house and could bring it back just to try beans. I also want to dry apples, pears and maybe tomatoes this fall for winter snacking.

                        I will be done with my family obligations by mid-Sep. Let's plan to start by the end of Sep - great to have company and maybe someone else will join us.

                2. I have to admit that I have never thought twice about going straight for a jarred paste, sauce, etc. when cooking Chinese. But I'm intrigued at this notion of doing it from scratch.

                  Where to start? Where are the recipes for these things?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tcamp

                    From what I've seen, and I have looked, there are not many recipes out there. That's why this thread will be very exploratory in nature.

                    1. Love that you started this thread, Mel... Just last night when making a Grace Young recipe and prepping the mise en place I discovered we were out of hoisin sauce. So I googled, read through some homemade versions, chose a simple one from RecipeSource.com and made it on the spot. But right now when I re-read it I see that although all the ingredients are natural it did call for 20 drops of Sriracha. Now that's not at all acceptable.. Must rethink this.

                      25 Replies
                      1. re: Gio

                        It's perfectly acceptable!

                        When I've been out of hoisin sauce, I've gone online, looked at the ingredient list from a jar, and thrown the components together (or close substitutions) to mimic the stuff the best I can. All's fair in a cooking emergency!

                        You can make your own sriracha... I've done it.

                        1. re: MelMM

                          This is really too funny.. in the '70s I made my own yogurt, sourdough starter, breads of all kinds, etc. All organic of course, before organic was "cool." Don't tell me I'm about to regress... The hoisin was delicious and oh so easy!

                          1. re: Gio

                            Regress, progress, it's all a matter of perspective.

                            I guess I'm a bit younger than you. In the 70's, I was still a kid, but at that time my Mom was growing all our vegetables, pickling, canning, raising chickens and so on. She would have fit in really well in certain hip locales in the US today.

                            She was not a hippie earth-mother type (actually too old for that), she was more of a throwback - a Mississippi farm girl raised in the 20's and 30's. She showed me how to make butter the old-fashioned way, a process which started with her procuring raw milk (illegal in the state we lived in at that time), and clabbering it. In the 80's when I was on my own, I followed in her footsteps but also on my own path... gardening, of course, but also making my own tofu, brewing beer, etc. None of that was really "cool" at the time.

                            Not sure where I'm going with this... but a lot of people my age and younger think that during the 70's, everyone was eating TV dinners. Not so. Younger people were exploring natural foods, and some older people, like my mother, had never given them up. Karen Hess wrote pretty much everything Michael Pollan did, only 40 years earlier. And she could cook.

                            1. re: MelMM

                              Thank you, thank you , thank you, for mentioning Karen Hess. John and Karen Hess are in so many ways the unacknowledged saints of today's home cooking. For one thing, they were among the bigtime supporters initially of the New York City Greenmarket - in fact John was the only former New York Times food person to push for it - also worth pointing out that Craig Claiborne and Julia Child were among the non-enthusiasts. John Hess was kind of the Andy Rooney of the (left-leaning, community oriented) Pacifica radio network in the last ten years of his life, doing the end-of-news-broadcast opinion piece each night.

                              The Taste of America is a wonderful book, if you can find it. But Karen Hess's The Carolina Rice Kitchen is my own favorite of their books - get ahold of it if you can.
                              And of course one of the opinions that ended up getting John Hess fired from the New York Times food desk was that Chinatown had the only decent fresh food market in Manhattan.

                              1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                John and Karen Hess don't get mentioned enough these days. I think The Taste of America should be required reading. I also have The Carolina Rice Kitchen, and it holds a special place in my collection.

                                1. re: MelMM

                                  Just looked at Amazon description - it is more of a food history book than a recipe book, right? Sounds very interesting and tempting :)

                                  1. re: herby

                                    Right, it's not a cookbook. It talks about the history of American food, and was a commentary on contemporary food.

                                    1. re: MelMM

                                      Another point -- very apropos to this thread.

                                      Ketchup (the Hesses cite the OED for apparent origin as Amoy-Chinese "kétsiap," and that the Malay "kechap" may also come from Chinese) was standardly, including in US cookbooks I have up until about the mid-1900s, a class of condiment, often made at home, from various materials (like mushroom, walnut, or oyster ketchup). Not containing sugar.

                                      The altered way Americans now perceive "ketchup" is not just different from how most of their ancestors did, it's also representative of commercial forces at work on American food and how they can shift its culture. The same forces that gave us "French" salad dressing that's now sweet, red, and artificially thickened (it meant something else, of course, in the US until around 1980 -- vinaigrette, the same as it still means in many English-speaking countries) and Alfredo "sauce," another recent US commercial concept.

                                  2. re: MelMM

                                    I just spotted this sub-thread.

                                    No kidding, MelMM -- I've been telling people about the Hesses' famous book for many years, and sometimes pressing copies on them since it became easily available in the paperback re-issue around 1999. (To the person who wrote "if you can find it," it was pretty available used, even before the 1999 re-issue, but that newer paperback is very easy to get now online, either new or used.)

                                    It's especially valuable as a sourcebook for perspective on food history popularly unknown today in the US. The Hesses themselves (she is or was one of the leading US scholarly cookbook historians, and also wrote much of the book's content) cited example after example of modern food celebrities badly mis-stating cooking history, or celebrating, as new (late 20th century) breakthroughs, ideas actually mainstream and commonplace until US cooking culture started becoming dumbed-down and commercialized in the 1900s.

                                    Such misrepresentations continue today. McNamee, author of the recent Claiborne biography "The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat" and clearly someone who is fairly new to the subject of food history, committed various faux-pas about it, and even characterized one detail in Claiborne's own food experience as a mystery -- though it's in the Hesses' "Taste of America," which McNamee even cited in his own reference list (getting the date wrong). He also omitted to examine some of the less flattering details of Claiborne's work that the Hesses documented.

                                    That touches on a possible factor in the Hess book's longtime status as more a classic among experts or enthusiasts than the general public. It pokes sharp jabs at several late-20th-century food celebrities. Never mind that the jabs are well founded (mostly, they're quoted comments by the celebrities themselves) -- if people grew up learning all about food from Claiborne or the Joy of Cooking, then any writing impugning those familiar icons can be unwelcome, no matter how well founded. (I do think some of the personal remarks about Julia Child, added in the reissue 20-odd years after the original 1977 edition, will come across to almost everyone, experts and enthusiasts included, as unnecessary and petty; and yet the original Taste of America is among very few books at all, bios included, to look searchingly at JC, rather than gushing about her as if something more than human.)

                                    1. re: eatzalot


                                      One reason I think it is so important for younger cooks to read this book, is that Karen Hess (and she is the one responsible for this part) refutes the notion that American food needs to "catch up" to the rest of the world, or that it is better now than it ever was. If she were still alive (unfortunately she is not), I have no doubt that she would still claim that American food reached it's heyday around 1800, mostly in the Southeast. And it all went downhill from there, from her perspective. The thing is, she makes a VERY strong case, well researched, for her perspective. And it isn't just that American food then was better than American food now, it's that American food then was really great, even compared to other "great" cuisines.

                                      In the "Carolina Rice Kitchen", you learn how rice from South Carolina was exported all over the world, and was, at the time, the most sought-after rice in the world. I recall running across a recipe on Michael Ruhlman's blog for a Scottish shortbread, based on a recipe from 1920, which called for rice flour. A food blogger who claims to be an expert in historic recipes questioned whether there would have been enough of an Asian population in Scotland for them to have rice flour!!!! This person obviously had no idea that in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, rice flour would have been imported, not from Asia, but from the US. In the Carolina Housewife, first published in 1847, there are more baked goods made from rice flour than wheat flour.

                                      Well, I could go on and on, about our current ignorance of our true food history. Karen Hess was the best of any writer I know of documenting our American food history and how good it really was before we screwed it up.

                                      Your point about the Hesses skewering some icons of modern food world is a good one. They said what they thought, and they did not care who they offended, and they offended a lot of influential people. Which is surely why they do not get the credit they deserve.

                                      Richard Olney was another personality who openly criticized the Julia Child's of the world. Now, he probably had some issues of his own, but he certainly had a huge, huge influence on people who became very important in American food and wine (Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, Kermit Lynch, and more), and is arguably a much greater influence on our current food scene than Julia Child. And yet, he is also not well known by many home cooks.

                                      1. re: MelMM

                                        Olney is among late-20th-century cooking writers the Hesses cite admiringly. Others include Elizabeth David (who, like Olney, influenced some very important modern US chefs), Marcella Hazan, Diane Kennedy, Paula Wolfert. But (they complain), these people's books were succèses d'estime, rather than best-sellers. The best-sellers, acc. to the Hesses, have tended to sport "the seal of approval of a well-known institution," be it the Boston Cooking School, McCall's, or Time-Life. They see this as evidence of insecurity among American home cooks.

                                        Other late-20th-c. US food historians, with different interests, similarly bring out evidence of decline in US cooking culture, especially in the 20th century; also that what mainstream media hailed as recent breakthroughs were, rather, rediscoveries. Root & de Rochemont comment to the effect that "farm-to-table" could be novel only in recent generations: until about 1900, most Americans lived on or near farms.

                                        Couple more samples of pop icons en brochette, to give readers further flavor of "The Taste of America:"

                                        James Beard ("who has helped promote Pillsbury products") rationalized the modern addition of sugar to bread in his 1974 bread book. He dedicated it to Elizabeth David, "who loves bread," yet ignored her writing on this particular issue. David had already concluded that "the sugar and milk business" added nothing good; even small amounts gave "a sweet or soft taste to the bread," not her idea of a good loaf.

                                        Among many points they call Claiborne on (for the Hesses were true scholars, and actually checked and compared sources) is a NY Times recipe, a sauce that (Claiborne wrote) "we recently contrived" for smoked fish. Escoffier's "Guide Culinaire" (1921) has the same recipe, give or take a little dumbing-down; and Escoffier didn't even claim to've "contrived" it. Five weeks earlier, Claiborne had bragged in his column about his familiarity with Escoffier. (Many such anecdotes are in the Hesses -- largely ignored by McNamee in his recent Claiborne biography, despite its citing the Hesses as a source.)

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          In general the Hesses always, always had the perspective that INGREDIENTS were more important than TECHNIQUE. This is why they pushed so hard for the Greenmarket - it was their experience living in Paris and doing their food shopping there that underlay their advocacy. John Hess always maintained that if the French were eating better than Americans, it was because they were cooking with better, fresher, less adulterated ingredients.
                                          This was maybe the most basic aspect of their disagreement with Child, Claiborne, et. al. Julia Child really did tend to think that Cordon Bleu level technique could help you polish a culinary turd - the Hesses did not. Also in keeping with this idea, they were much more focused on the importance of home cooking - that you could learn much more about cooking (cooking generally, and the history of it) from home cooking than from restaurant cooking.

                                          1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                            <from home cooking than from restaurant cooking.>

                                            Age old debate. Not just food, but music, art and literature. What represent a culture? The professional or the average people. Romantically speaking, you would think the folk music and everyday writing represent the culture. However, historically speaking, it has been proved that it is the elites (in positive tone) products have far greater staying power.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Speaking of home v restaurant cooking

                                              "18 Countries That Love To Eat, Drink & Smoke More Than The U.S."

                                              19. United States of America -- $4,431 per person in 2012
                                              Spending on food at home: $2274
                                              Spending on restaurant meals: $1485
                                              Spending on tobacco and alcohol: $673

                                              15. France -- $4,760 per person in 2012
                                              Spending on food at home: $3037
                                              Spending on restaurant meals: $964
                                              Spending on tobacco and alcohol: $760

                                              1. re: paulj


                                                Very interesting information. I guess two people can look at the same data and draw different conclusions. For me, I only see that the French spend more money at home, while the us (Americans) spend more money for restaurant meal. I am guessing that the French actually eat out even less than the number because I believe French restaurants are much pricier than US restaurants. So even if they spend the same, they probably still eat out less.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  There's also the book with photos of a week's worth of groceries - for families from different countries. Some of those pictures appear on line.


                                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                "However, historically speaking, it has been proved that it is the elites (in positive tone) products have far greater staying power."

                                                In practical terms those are the products that are more likely to be preserved, in books, museums, libraries, tombs, etc.

                                                1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                  "that you could learn much more about cooking ... from home cooking than from restaurant cooking."

                                                  Not unique to the Hesses either, of course, and related to a broader issue about temptations to overreaching and pretentiousness in home cooking (temptations that some commercial interests aggressively encourage).

                                                  By the 1960s, Elizabeth David was warning home cooks in her native England away from the commercial hustles and pretentious magazine recipes that implied the point of cooking is to dazzle guests via the exotic and prestigious. Rather than learn valuable basics like making bread, or finding good tomatoes. Similar to advice in the Hesses, and still relevant.

                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                    Do French cooks know the basics of making bread? I thought they bought that from the neighborhood bakery.

                                                    Homebaking is one area where Americans have (traditionally) been ahead of most of the world. Not just bread. Biscuits are an American specialty.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      I hadn't thought about French home cooks (previous posting referred only to British and American).

                                                      Random sample of Elizabeth David perspective (from the collection "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" -- recommended, though not mainly a recipe book):

                                                      "As soon as any dish with a vaguely romantic-sounding name ... becomes known you find it's got befogged by the solemn mystique which can elevate a routine leek and potato soup into what the heroine of a recent upper-class-larks novel refers to as 'my perfected Vichyssoise'. Then a semi-glamour monthly publishes a recipe in which the original few pence-worth of kitchen garden vegetables are [replaced by] cream of chicken soup and French cream cheese. With astounding rapidity the [processed food firms] move in, and launch some even further debased version which in a wink is turning up at banquets and parties and on the menus of provincial hotels." (1961)

                                                      I actually have a commercial catering cookbook from such a firm, with details on how to make banquet Beef Stroganoff (certified to last 10 hours on the steam table) using condensed cream of mushroom soup, wine (the combination imitates a sour-cream effect), and precooked beef chunks.

                                                  2. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                    Yeah, I was thinking about that too. Painters from the palaces are the one which survive the best. As for cuisines, there were just much more written records for the royal recipes than farmer's foods.

                                                2. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                  "In general the Hesses always, always had the perspective that INGREDIENTS were more important than TECHNIQUE."

                                                  On the other hand, many specific quibbles in "Taste of America" concern technique.

                                                  Jula Child criticized for an amateurish approach to roasting turkeys (in "From Julia Child's Kitchen"), which ignored the importance of meat drippings. Repeated harangues about over-floured sauces, where even Escoffier later in life (post-"Guide Culinaire") had backed off considerably from thickeners; be it noted those were long controversial in France, centuries before Gault and Millau and their "Nouvelle Cuisine." The Hesses do go after JC for suggesting, e.g., that adding ingredients to canned meat stocks disguises them from being canned meat stocks.

                                                  More generally JC's recipe sensibilities and details are consistent with her own history of having started cooking essentially upon studying it in France around age 40, rather than growing up learning everyday domestic cooking in the US as many people of her era did. Having lived overseas in the 1940s and 50s, she even comes across, in her biographies, as unconscious of the various authoritative cookbooks published in the US while she was away that helped bring French cooking canon into US households. Her own unawareness of it may have helped promote the persistent mythmaking about JC "introducing" French cooking to US homes, although I think the bigger factor in that is TV.

                                                  Authenticity was such a near-obsession in the Hesses that it might well have brought criticism of this very thread. JC upbraided for inauthentic lasagne. Vic Bergeron ( who was a restaurateur rather than a cook, but grew up with cooking-obsessed parents who improvised and grew many of their ingredients, as my own parents did) lambasted as a "dedicated enemy of authenticity" because his restaurants featured adapted Pacific-Asian or Mexican cooking that his customers liked. (Bergeron was around too early to glibly dub it "Fusion," as today.)

                                2. re: Gio

                                  Reading through this hoisin discussion recalled to me a Chowhound thread from way back when, not because it elicited an answer to its OP's quest for a recipe, but because I have never forgotten the first reply (and thankfully, neither has Google): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/288765

                                3. jumping in to post a link to a recipe for pickled mustard greens from the hakka cookbook:

                                  i haven't tried it but it looks easy enough and could be substituted for store-bought preserved mustard greens, as an alternative to locally made kim chee or sauerkraut.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Westminstress

                                    Interesting book! What do you think of it? I lived in Singapore for some time and would love to find some really authentic Hakka recipes.

                                    1. re: Westminstress

                                      In my area, there are local sources for fresh salted xue cai / xue li hong, as well as (sometimes) suan cai when the right type of mustard green is in season. These are also pretty easy to make at home, though it's a lot of work compared to buying it.

                                      However, none of these are really good substitutes for salted preserved mustard tubers (zha cai / ya cai) or radish, nor is kimchee.

                                      Plain salted fermented "black" beans are available, and are somewhat less processed than the jarred pastes with fermented beans and other ingredients. But I don't think you can really reasonably substitute for fermented sauces like doubanjiang, nor would you be able to find a locally sourced one (fresh and local isn't really important in terms of fermented / aged ingredients, since they're by definition not "fresh"). If you really want to try to apply this ethos to Chinese cooking, I would just try to focus on recipes which don't use these kinds of ingredients in the first place, of which there are many, unless you're also going to exclude things like soy sauce, cooking wine, and vinegar.

                                      I feel like a lot of cuisines, not just Chinese, make use of preserved and pantry ingredients, so while I get what you're saying (and while it makes sense to source these ingredients carefully), there's a point where you just can't reasonably substitute something and get a remotely similar (or authentic) result.

                                      Many of the ingredients you're talking about can be sourced from producers that make them in a fairly traditional way, though you may need to look online if you don't live near good sources.

                                      On a related note, check out "A Bite of China" online, while you can bet your Lee Kum Kee sauces aren't made this way, watching the traditional methods of production for some of these food products is really interesting.

                                    2. With regard to the adulterated cooking wines ubiquitous in Asian markets, I just buy real Shaoxing wine. I used to have to buy it in liquor stores in Chinatown, but now my local liquor store carries it. By the way, there are some high end, pricey Shaoxing's that are strictly for sipping. The parents of my former sister-in-law used to give us small, beautifully glazed ceramic bottles of Shaoxing as gifts. Man! that stuff packed a wallop.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        I have never been able to find the real stuff, in my neck of woods. You are lucky to have a liquor store that carries it!

                                        1. re: JoanN

                                          Joan, which liquor stores in Chinatown carry it? I would like to try it. I haven't opened my supermarket bottle yet but to be honest I'm kind of scared of it (it only cost 2.99).

                                          1. re: Westminstress

                                            Sorry, Westminstress. Just now seeing this. I shop most often at Marks Wine & Spirits @ 53 Mott Street because I usually pass it on my way to other Chinatown errands. They have a good selection of sake and soju, also. But I've found the Shaoxing in other Chinatown liquor stores as well.

                                            1. re: JoanN

                                              Thanks this is very helpful! I finally finished off my bottle of sherry so I'm ready for something new. Perfect timing!

                                              1. re: Westminstress

                                                Joan, I went to that liquor store last week and picked up a bottle of real shaoxing wine. Used it over the weekend and preferred it to the sherry I was previously using. Thanks for the shopping tip. How do you store your opened bottle?

                                                1. re: Westminstress

                                                  Sorry, Wm. Am out of the country and only just now seeing this. (I seem to keep saying that, don't I?) Once I've opened the wine I keep it in the fridge.

                                            2. re: Westminstress

                                              Joan, which liquor stores in Chinatown carry it? I would like to try it. I haven't opened my supermarket bottle yet but to be honest I'm kind of scared of it (it only cost 2.99).
                                              Your $2.99 bottle has added salt. The Shaoxing sold in liquor stores is a better quality with no added salt.

                                          2. Five-Spice Tofu

                                            So here's an ingredient I never seem to have on hand when I want it. I have to go to an Asian market to get it, which is inconvenient, as there aren't any nearby. Wouldn't it be great if I could just make this out of plain tofu that I can find in any supermarket? Well, it turns out I can! And I found I like the resulting product much better than the pre-made version.

                                            I did a little googling and found a few recipes, then decided on this method: I started with a 14 oz block of Nasoya extra-firm tofu. I cut it vertically into seven rectangles (each a little over 1/2" in thickness). I pressed it by putting paper towels down on a baking sheet, putting the tofu slices on top, then another layer of paper towels, covered that with a second baking sheet, and put a book on top of that. I probably pressed it for about an hour, and changed the paper towels once during that time. I made a mixture of soy sauce, a little sesame oil, and five-spice powder. Whisked that together and poured into a baking dish large enough to hold the tofu in one layer. I placed the tofu in the marinade, flipping it to make sure both sides of each piece were covered. I used just enough marinade to coat each piece - no extra liquid in the pan. I let that sit for a bit (maybe 30 min). I then baked it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, turning the pieces once halfway through. At the end of the cooking time, I turned off the oven and let the tofu sit in the oven while it cooled. I then sliced the pieces into strips, as specificied by the recipe I was going to make.

                                            I used these in a stir-fry based on a Dunlop recipe. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they came out. The tofu had firmed up quite a bit, and had a nice brown patina on the outside. Unlike the stuff you get in the store, this had a pronounced five-spice flavor. It was delicious! So one less ingredient I have to worry about getting - no more trips out of my way to buy five-spice tofu! I wish I'd taken some pictures of the process, but I didn't think to do that. I did, however, get a shot of the finished stir-fry.

                                            18 Replies
                                              1. re: MelMM

                                                Nice report! I don't like to buy the five spice tofu because it always contains MSG and other weird chemical ingredients. I've been subbing "baked tofu" from the natural foods store but this is another good option.

                                                1. re: Westminstress

                                                  I believe MSG is a natural ingredient, isn't it?

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Well, it is if it's in seaweed (IIRC it is present naturally in seaweed), but I don't know that I would call the bottle of white powder "natural.". And it's not just MSG -- there are other additives too. I know some people don't mind, but I prefer to avoid that kind of thing.

                                                2. re: MelMM

                                                  This is good to read, Mel. I want to make Grace Young's "Vegetarian 5-Spice Tofu" recipe from her "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge" but cannot locate the tofu at my local Asian market (mainly because I can't read the language). I found a recipe for the tofu at 'chowvegan.com' and I'll compare the two. Yours sounds a little simpler. And, of course, you thought yours was delicious. That's all I need to know.

                                                  1. re: Gio

                                                    And thanks for pointing out that recipe in Sky's Edge. I do believe you just chose my dinner for me!

                                                    1. re: MelMM

                                                      Hi Mel... did you make the Five-Spice Vegetarian Tofu? I did, after baking the marinated tofu. I used a combo of soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, and five spice and followed your baking directions. At first tasting of the 5-S V T recipe it wasn't appealing to me. There was an off flavor I didn't like. However my husband loved it and had 2 large servings. After sitting in the fridge for 2 days I tasted it and thought it was fantastic! I gobbled up every last crumb. I think that sometimes the medicine I have to take interferes with my sense of taste.

                                                      Grace Young is involved with a FB group called Wok Wednesdays. We are working our way through her Stir-Frying book. Last week we cooked the 5-S V T recipe and I posted my results.

                                                      Grace came back with this advice, ..."you need to start with very firm tofu and press it between paper towels with a heavy weight for several hours. After you've removed as much moisture as possible, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, star anise and 5 spice and simmer the tofu in it for about 15 minutes. Then set it overnight so the flavors can really soak in. And then bake it. to dry it out." So, I think simmering in the mixture, resting overnight then baking sounds worth trying. I'll let you know. I ain't finished with this yet.

                                                      She also advised getting Andre Nguyen's "Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home." which I just did.

                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                        Gio, please post your impressions of Asian Tofu. I was very excited about the book and bought it last summer not for making tofu but cooking with it. Nothing inspired me for some reason - the same case with several books this last year :(( - and the book is still gathering dust. In the mean time tofu has moved to a "not so good for you" category... I am thinking about starting a thread about all these foods that are becoming sort of a taboo these days.

                                                        1. re: herby

                                                          I think the tofu taboo is only if you eat tons of it.

                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                            I wish it was that simple. Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how foods are digested, what effects GM products are having on our bodies, what pollutants foods that come from far away places bring with them and so on. My five-year old grandson had severe allergies with regular trips to emergency room and now is off soy, dairy and most grains. He has not have any emergencies since this diet started in May. I think this is very complex and require scientific studies which are not being done.

                                                          2. re: herby

                                                            Yes, herby, I'll post my thoughts about the tofu book when I receive it, probably in a week or two.

                                                            I haven't read anything about a "tofu taboo". We only eat it once a week if that anyway so I'm not worried about over indulging. The only thing I'm concerned about is the GMO factor. That's why I'd like to make my own. if possible, but that may just be a pipe dream in my case.

                                                            As an aside, I have a few disparate vegetables cubanelle/zucchini/wax beans, to cook before tomorrow's CSA pick-up and I'm going to use the same Five-Spice Vegetarian Tofu recipe to stir-fry them, except it will be sans tofu. We'll see how that goes.

                                                            1. re: Gio

                                                              Thank you, Gio! I'll wait your report. In the mean time I am tempted by 5-spice tofu that you and Mel are talking about. I have two packages of extra-firm in the fridge and need to use it up.

                                                          3. re: Gio

                                                            I did make it. I didn't post about it because I altered the recipe a bit to fit the produce I had on hand. As I recall, I used only green bell peppers, and no shitake mushrooms (because I didn't have any on hand), and added yellow squash. And went heavy on the water chestnuts. I think I also added some chile flakes for a little heat (I really don't remember at this point). But I know I did take a picture, so I'm including that on this post.

                                                            I wonder if you might have had more liquid in your tofu marinade than I did. I did not use rice wine for example. I had just enough of the marinade to barely coat the pieces of tofu after turning then a few times. Mine came out pretty dry.

                                                            Apropos of this thread, while making this recipe I looked at the ingredients on my tub of pickled ginger. It contains aspartame, of all things. So there's another item to go on my make-at-home list.

                                                            1. re: MelMM

                                                              My tofu, after baking and cooling was very dry. No extra liquid to be seen. That wasn't an issue. It was the taste of the whole finished dish that I didn't like at first. But then after it sat in the fridge and the flavors melded the flavor was wonderful.

                                                              I'll have to look on the label of my jar of pickled ginger now. And a few days ago G brought home an entirely different tub of the ginger so I'll have a look at that as well.

                                                              1. re: Gio

                                                                Forgot to mention that I have the Nguyen book on tofu, but haven't done anything with it so far. Back in the '80s, I used to make my own tofu. I used the Shurtleff and Aoyagi book, "The Book of Tofu" as a guide. The homemade tofu was stunning. The only problem was, it never got to the firm stage, because it was so good soft, with a little soy sauce on top, that I would just gobble it up.

                                                                1. re: MelMM

                                                                  Tofu isn't hard to make (it's a lot like making cheese), even starting from soybeans. (I've heard some point start with soy milk...)

                                                                  Like MelMM, I used The Book of Tofu as my guide. It was before Nguyen's book was published. The biggest problems I had with making my own tofu is 1) there seemed to be a ton of by-product waste that I felt incredibly guilty throwing out (a liquid I can't remember the name of right now and the okara/soy bean solids) and I was never that happy with the suggested uses for said byproducts (okara cookies and fritters and mashed potatoes etc.) And 2) it seems to use a ton of dishes that leaves your kitchen a sticky mess.

                                                                  I suppose starting with soy milk instead of soy beans would do away with some of my waste and sticky mess issues, but I'm not really sure starting with commercial soy milk is any better than buying commercial tofu.

                                                                  Silken tofu is super easy to make.

                                                                  If you make it yourself, you can also do fun stuff like flavor or dye your tofu or add shredded vegetables, etc.


                                                                  1. re: MelMM

                                                                    I was one of the testers for that book (I regularly test recipes for Andrea). There is a recipe on page 94 for a soup with triangles of tofu that you hollow and fill with a shrimp and and pork mixture, pan fried until brown and a bit crisp. It is served in chicken broth with spicy greens and cellophane noodles. I really like that dish and am just waiting for cooler weather to make it.

                                                                    1. re: MelMM

                                                                      Like little puffy clouds, right? I'm jealous.

                                                        2. >>" jarred chile bean paste, chile paste, bean sauce, the cheap rice wine"<<

                                                          I don't make my own broths, and I sometimes use onion or garlic powder if I'm in a hurry. I guess it just seems like the first three of your four examples would be pretty difficult to make from scratch, but I do try to buy the best quality I can find at an Asian market.

                                                          Re the rice wine............. Our local Asian markets sell rice wine from around $4 to almost $20 a bottle, all side-by-side in the cooking section. I'd use a $5-$10 Cab or Zin in cooking, so I don't see the need for the high-end rice wine. I guess my palate isn't as discriminating as some.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                            The thing with the rice wine at Asian markets is that, at least in my area, none of the Asian markets are licensed to sell liquor. Which means that the rice wine they sell is the equivalent of the stuff called "cooking wine" in your supermarket. It's got salt in it, and is very poor quality. Not something you could drink. I'm fine with the idea of using a cheap wine for cooking, but I always use a drinkable cheap wine. The liquor I substitute for the rice wine is not high-end stuff, but it's drinkable. The rice wine from the Asian market isn't (and that may be different in your area).

                                                            1. re: MelMM

                                                              I gotta check mine cause I know I bought at the Asian market. Thanks for the tip.

                                                          2. I've made my own jarred chili oil and sauces based on the recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice cookbook.

                                                            I also mix my own Chinese powders and sauces - five spice powder is really easy to make, hoisin sauce, etc.

                                                            Fermented sauces aren't something I've tried because I'm scared to ferment them wrong and end up with food poisoning :P

                                                            1. I've made homemade hot sauce with my pressure cooker and blender - it came out fantastic. You could probably make a homemade sriracha style garlic chili paste in the same fashion.

                                                              Stuff like soy sauce and rice vinegar I wouldn't attempt to make on my own since they take so long, but you can mix them with some garlic and brown sugar for a homemade teryaki sauce.

                                                              On the weekends make some big batches of homemade chicken or shrimp stocks.

                                                              Or perhaps make some homemade apricot preserves to be used in a homemade sweet & sour sauce.

                                                              Roast some pork and make your own char siu.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Atomic76

                                                                I've made the sriracha from this recipe:

                                                                It was excellent.

                                                              2. Even though I've done nothing about it, I've had this thread on my mind for a while. My favorite Chinese jarred product is black bean chili past with garlic. I googled and found this:


                                                                Looks pretty easy. I need to get my hands on fermented black beans and garlic flakes (have never seen those), then I'll give 'em a go.

                                                                Regarding tofu, I'm not terribly worked up about GMO soybeans but in my area, we have these tofu makers - organic, non-GMO, etc. Their tofu is delicious:


                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: tcamp

                                                                  Years ago when I started to cook Chinese, there weren't many prepared sauces (no LKK). I bought a small packet of salted blackbeans, and used them a few times in dishes like


                                                                  When we spent a year traveling, I gave the blackbeans to a friend who also cooked Chinese. We moved back, and she returned the beans. When used a couple of tablespoons at time, 8 oz lasts a long time.

                                                                2. Easy to make from scratch ... Black bean and garlic sauce.
                                                                  Thai chili oil. Chicken and beef stock. Would like to try Sriracha sauce but with Shark Brand so outstanding and cheap .. why bother?

                                                                  1. Though resonating with the spirit of this thread, and welcoming the recipes, I wonder sometimes about overdoing it. The quip about making your own soy sauce brought that point home.

                                                                    MelMM: "Post up on how you are making your favorite Chinese dishes your own, and upping the quality in the process."

                                                                    "Quality" has multiple meanings in food. I think it was the American Institute of Wine and Food (which I was once briefly affiliated with) that tried to lobby the US gov't to include "tasting good" among merits considered in public dietary advisories. And to some home cooks, authenticity is part of quality too.

                                                                    Case in point: dou ban jiang, Chinese spicy bean paste, a backbone and signature flavor in Sichuanese cooking especially. (In Sichuan they even use it as the stewing condiment in "red-cooking," where much of China uses soy sauce.) I know some people may need to circumvent it for some dietary incompatibility. But for the rest of us, substitution will produce a DIFFERENT dish, different flavors. And making the real sauce faithfully from scratch leans toward the making of your own soy sauce, or your own fermented black beans. Those are the implications of pursuing this concept very far.

                                                                    Meaning no criticism of those who choose to do so; only that a little pragmatism can go a long way. I once (being accustomed to baking breads etc.) made some authentic English muffins from scratch -- and they looked, felt, and tasted exactly like decent commercial ones that go on sale for a dollar or two a package. An interesting experience, and of course the results were "my own," but at a very real cost in time.

                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                      I think it depends on so many factors. There's a book out there called "Make the bread, buy the butter" where a woman attempts to weigh all kinds of factors including time, effort, delicious, price, etc. to determine which things are "worth" making from scratch and which aren't.

                                                                      Sometimes you don't know until you try. Personally, I thought tofu wasn't work making from scratch, but then I also have a source of locally-made, fresh tofu. But, if I didn't, I suppose I might consider making my own once in awhile.

                                                                      In my case, I'm particularly concerned about food safety issues related to certain imports and introducing certain risks to my young child. For instance I'd read somewhere (and can't find the right now) that there were a bunch of batches of Tian Jin preserved vegetable were tainted because industrial salt, instead of food grade salt, had been used to preserve the vegetables. I personally don't mind taking those kinds of risks at my stage of life, but I am very careful about what I feed a small child.

                                                                      ETA: Here's a link to that piece I read on the preserved vegetable. Granted, I have NO IDEA if this WND is in any way a reliable source. But, there has been a lot of info about food safety concerns in Chinese products in the traditional media, too. http://www.wnd.com/2007/07/42500/

                                                                      And China of course, isn't alone in this problem. The U.S. has had recalls of ground meat, spinach, and peanut butter just in the past year that I can recall. It's just one reason I think a little more carefully these days about where the food I feed my child comes from.


                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                        On most matters WND is a far right-wing tabloid.

                                                                        From more recent, and reliable sources, the FDA is worried about salmonella contamination of spices, which are mainly imported from India.

                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                          Thanks for that, paulj. Obviously 2007 was awhile ago (though, I sort of wondered how much of that industrial salt was in the preserved vegetables I bought in early 2008 when Dunlop's books were first COTM because I have a very vivid memory of this thick layer of salt blanketing the vegetables), but concerns over tainted imports from China continue even into 2013 according to more mainstream media: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/20...

                                                                          These kinds of issues are not limited to Chinese imports, as I previously mentioned, and I've been extra cautious about my food sourcing in general since my child was born.

                                                                          Chinese is the one cuisine I really enjoy cooking that seems to depend on a lot of imported products in order to achieve certain flavors or textures and, therefore, one cuisine where I've been on the lookout for alternatives to imports.


                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                            "And the overwhelming odds are that none of those foods were inspected by the Food and Drug Administration when they arrived in the U.S."

                                                                            This is a bit ironic because food inspection in the US is also notoriously lax in its own right.

                                                                            But I agree with your point. For the last 10 years, no one in my family purchases food produced in China. We spent a lot of time in Asian markets trying to figure out where a product was produced and only purchase products made in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and/Thailand. The concern over food quality is real.

                                                                            On a side note, Japanese products always topped my list in terms of quality but now because of the nuclear meltdown, I have grown more and more concerned.

                                                                            1. re: mielimato

                                                                              I thought that comment about the FDA was a bit ironic, too.

                                                                              And, yes, I've grown reluctant to buy products from Japan, too. So sad in so many ways, that tsunami, the most minor of which is my personal food concerns. But, still...


                                                                      2. re: eatzalot

                                                                        Quality and authenticity are two different things. I am willing to give up the latter for the former, if need be.

                                                                        But I think you can also have different definitions of "authentic". I'd rather use high quality substitutions than low quality imports. I've been playing with this a lot, using good ingredients native to my area, with minimal "imports", and in every case, my adaptations have been better food, to my taste, than following a recipe using "authentic" ingredients from the Asian market. I like to think of this as following the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law (or cuisine, I suppose).

                                                                        So for me, this might mean using imported soy sauce and fermented black beans, but using homemade chile oil, local liquors instead of rice wine, and a mix of fermented peppers and black beans instead of buying a chile bean paste. The results I get are better than what I get using the jarred pastes, and they are also better than what I get at restaurants. Once again, to my palate. But then, I'm the one I'm cooking to please.

                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                          I had the same experience as you with the English muffins when I tried making ketchup. I no longer recall what recipe I used; I just recall I wasted a helluva lot of beautiful homegrown Jersey tomatoes, had splashes of tomato all over the kitchen, and ended up with something I could barely distinguish from Heinz. In retrospect, the recipe I used may well have been using Heinz's flavor as a guide; but that was a flavor I was trying to avoid in making my own. Never made it again. Don't use it anymore, either--except with meatloaf sandwiches. Don't know why, but that's just about the only time I'll eat ketchup.

                                                                          1. re: JoanN

                                                                            I made worcestershire sauce from this recipe
                                                                            It was good, but not so superior that I've done it again.

                                                                            I can, and do, make Mexican salsas from scratch, but I also have a good collection of bottled ones.

                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                              I'd considered starting another thread, "Basic foods that really AREN'T worth making from scratch," but the examples here illustrate the situation pretty well.

                                                                              I didn't even mention the case of making chocolate from scratch. When I was a kid, a coffee/tea/spice importer opened up within walking distance, a man named Mr. Peet (years later he sold the business and, two owners later, Peet's is a premium coffee-house chain). Sold me raw cacao beans in his first year or two in business, which I roasted and extracted cocoa nibs from. Again educational more than practical.

                                                                              Be it said, my family made our own breads, pizzas, yogurts, pickles, sauerkraut, preserves of course, including chutnies; beer [illegal to make at home then, and dangerous when overfermentation led to some bottles exploding], grew vegetables, and kept livestock [in town, where it was unheard-of], including a charming goat for milk.

                                                                              Some basic foods like breads have inherent features to recommend making them fresh (today there are far more quality local non-commodity bakeries, but handmade loaves or rolls fresh from the oven are still unique). But it pays off more for some foods than others.

                                                                        2. I have yet to read the rest of the responses. I think the reason is that many Chinese sauces take awhile to make. For example, it is not easy to make soy sauce and that is a major ingredients in many other sauce.

                                                                          < jarred chile bean paste, chile paste, bean sauce>

                                                                          Here is the thing. I can and have made bean sauce and chili bean paste, but I still use the commercial fermented beans. I do not ferment my beans and have never tried. I made my own sauce just because I want to try and want to prove that I can do it. However, it is far cry from using fresh ingredients since the major ingredient (fermented beans) was bought and it is the aging product -- intentionally so. Since a lot of Chinese sauces are based on fermentation and aging, it seems counter-intuitive to be fresh at the same time. It will be like trying to get fresh Scotch whisky.

                                                                          That being said, there are plenty Chinese sauces which can be made fresh, and easy to do, like ginger green onion paste.

                                                                          <Why not subject our Chinese cooking to the same standards of fresh, non-processed (or at least not overly-processed)>

                                                                          There are plenty non-overly processed Chinese sauce with minimal or no preservatives ....etc.

                                                                          Now, in term of food ingredients, Chinese food ingredients are prized for freshness. This is why Chinese in Asia do more frequent grocery shopping. They buy vegetables almost every day or every other day. Meat is usually bought within 1-2 days as well. Most meats are not frozen. Meat is butchered and sold in that day and straight:


                                                                          This is one of the criticisms which many people have for Asian supermarket in US. They noticed that the produces are almost always ripped and cannot be placed too long after bought. This is exactly because the Chinese customers have the different shopping pattern as mentioned. They buy and usually cook within 2-3 days, and then they buy again....etc.

                                                                          25 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                            Preserved items, both condiments and main ingredients have been a traditional part of Chinese cooking. Preservation lets you collect food when it is abundant (e.g. summer, fall) and use it when it isn't (winter, spring). Preservation also develops flavor. Drying, salting, fermenting are all means of preservation.

                                                                            Where was this preservation done? In rural districts I imagine most was done at home, by a large extended family. But in town, most was bought and sold; in effect artisanal products.

                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                              <Preserved items, both condiments and main ingredients have been a traditional part of Chinese cooking>

                                                                              Agree. I think this is the part which we need to appreciate. Some of the Chinese cooking can be done with fresh ingredients, but some of the ingredients are intentionally not fresh. Of course, this depends on the definition of "fresh" as well. Fermented bean is an important ingredients for southern Chinese cooking.

                                                                              <But in town, most was bought and sold; in effect artisanal products.>

                                                                              I think most are made this way. Afterall, they have companies and stores which specialize these products.

                                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                              You make many good points. For the record, I'd like to point out that I am not one of those people who thinks homemade is always better, and is opposed to all processed products. But I do like to know what is in my food, and also maintain a certain quality standard.

                                                                              I am fine with buying soy sauce and fermented black beans, as compared to other products, these are pretty simple, have a limited number of ingredients, and it is possible to find high quality examples. With other sauces, in which soy sauce and the fermented black beans are just two of many ingredients, things aren't so clear. I don't think the versions we get in the US qualify as "artisinal" products at all. Many have additives that I prefer to avoid. I also have to avoid gluten for medical reasons, and many of these have wheat added.

                                                                              We can use Sriracha as an example. It contains xanthan gum, which is an additive that really, really does not agree with me. For many people, this additive is not a problem at all, and it wouldn't be worth the time to make their own sriracha. But for me it is, as I can eat my homemade stuff with impunity, while the commercial stuff causes problems.

                                                                              Chile bean paste is almost always made with wheat, and the very, very few that aren't are not good quality. Plus they contain MSG, which I don't have a problem with from a health perspective, but I can taste the stuff and I don't like it.

                                                                              Fermenting chiles at home is not hard and gives a superior product, imho. Every person will have to decide for themselves what is worth it to them. I like to ferment my own dill pickles too, and find them far better than grocery store pickles, most of which aren't fermented at all, and even if they are, the beneficial bacteria in them are killed when they are canned for long shelf life. Same goes for sauerkraut.

                                                                              1. re: MelMM

                                                                                I see. You made some excellent points. I think the words fresh can be interpreted so many ways. Allow me to give an example. Let's say soy sauce.

                                                                                One way to say "fresh" soy sauce is that the soy sauce is made with fresh and prime ingredients PRIOR the fermentation process. The other way to say "fresh" soy sauce is that the soy sauce has just been broken the seal and it has not been oxidized much -- kind of like a newly opened red wine bottle. Finally, one can say "fresh" soy sauce because it underwent shorter duration of fermentation. Just so many way to use that term I suppose.

                                                                                <nd many of these have wheat added>

                                                                                I am sorry to hear that. Most soy sauces have wheat in them. Can you use them? Or you have to look for special soy sauce?

                                                                                I really like simple ingredients sauce as well. I like Koon Chun products. They are inexpensive, simple and high quality. Here is an ingredient list of its soy sauce. It is simple: water, soy bean, salt and wheat flour -- no coloring or chemical preservative. Nevermind the ingredients, Koon Chun soy sauce is the best I have tried -- better than much more expensive brand in my humble opinion. Unfortunately for you, it has wheat flour.


                                                                                <Fermenting chiles at home is not hard and gives a superior product, imho>


                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                  The blue and yellow Koon Chun label is a familiar one from my early days of cooking Chinese (before mainland opened up). Now I'm more likely to have LKK products on my self.

                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                    <Now I'm more likely to have LKK products on my self.>

                                                                                    Wooooooooooooow, we are oppose. I moved from LKK slowly to Koon Chun. What is wrong with me? What is wrong?

                                                                                    By the way, I do find LKK products to be very high quality. It is just that their ingredients usually are more complex and not as simple. I do like LKK oyster sauce very much, and many other of their products like BBQ sauce...etc.

                                                                                    <before mainland opened up>

                                                                                    You from mainland?

                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                      "Koon Chun label is a familiar one from my early days of cooking Chinese (before mainland opened up). Now I'm more likely to have LKK products on my self."

                                                                                      FYI paul, that is a transition I also went through, around 10-15 years ago (Koon Chun indeed is a venerable label, readily available in the US already 30-40 years ago, as discussed in past threads on US-Chinese cooking history) before realizing the very serious limitations of the (aggressively marketed) Lee Kum Kee condiment line.

                                                                                      LKK makes dozens of hokey ("convenient") condiments with label recipes suggesting you too can be a master chef with a jar of the stuff and one or two ingredients. In the spirit of US quick-fix convenience condiments (possibly LKK's marketing prototype).

                                                                                      LKK routinely includes (here it is vital to consider the "Nutritional Facts" labeling and correct for portion-size differences, which are frequent) vast amounts of crutch ingredients, like sugar and salt. If I want gaggingly oversalted effects in my Chinese cooking, I can always add salt.

                                                                                      For hot fermented bean pastes -- LKK puts out a couple of versions, e.g. "Toban Djian" (dou ban jiang), -- there are MANY, MANY independent competing labels with good flavors, and sometimes as much as 20 times less gratuitous salt and/or sugar.

                                                                                      I've gotten superb results with, for example, Fu Chi [?sp] brand chili paste w/fermented soybean (green/white label w/red camel), Lian How brand (multiple) hot bean sauces, and the very hot, harder to find, but flavorful products of the irresistably named Har Har Pickle Food Factory (Taiwan).

                                                                                      I keep one or two specialty LKK products, like Guizhou Black Bean Chili Sauce. But after going through dozens of others for a few years, I gave up most of LKK a decade back. (That some of them, even the Hoisin, lean hard not just on sugar and salt but the overused five-spice powder, was extra incentive to quit. Again if I want everything to taste cloyingly of starc anise, it is easy enough to do deliberately.)

                                                                                      I now liken LKK roughly to Kraft Foods in the US (the firm possibly responsible for shifting and corrupting US perception of what "French dressing" means today).

                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                        Currently, I see LKK heavily used by home cooks, whereas the commercial Chinese kitchens still prefer Koon Chun. I think this is because Koon Chun products are slightly cheaper and they come in big restaurant size. Lastly, Koon Chun sauces are more raw and more basic. This gives the cooks more control and freedom to alter. In other words, Koon Chun provides intermediate sauces.


                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                          In my part of the US (northern California), LKK is very heavily promoted to home cooks. It is sold not just in "Chinese" markets and supermarkets (where also Koon Chun and many independent labels can be found) but in traditional US supermarkets like Safeway/Vons/Raley's, where it may be the sole representative of Chinese condiments in the "Asian Foods" aisle. I have noticed this when traveling around even to regions with very little Chinese-related population.

                                                                                          Rather as the Chun King brand (created by an Italian-American Minnesota bean-sprout producer as a marketing label) did 40-50 years ago.

                                                                                          So I see LKK's pervasiveness as being about marketing science, not food merit.

                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                            Erp, did someone say Minnesota?

                                                                                            The story of Jeno Paulucci, who died relatively recently (in 2011) is kind of fascinating, actually, though one could certainly say he hasn't done anything to improve the quality of the food in America:


                                                                                            I love (from an ingenuity perspective, not a chow perspective) how he tweaked his Italian mothers herb mixture to develop his recipe for chow mein, and how he figured out he could undercut his competitors' prices by using celery trimmings:

                                                                                            "Realizing that celery was a principal ingredient in chow mein, he paid a visit to Florida farms, where he discovered that celery was trimmed evenly to fit into crates for shipping. He was able to contract for the cut-off celery trimmings at a major price break, which made him the low-cost producer of chow mein in the market and gave him the money to advertise his product. " (from here: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/compan...)

                                                                                            He basically replaced a primary ingredient in (Americanized) chow mein with a waste product!

                                                                                            And how after he sold Chun King, he turned his egg roll expertise into pizza roll expertise.

                                                                                            Great ingenuity. Not so great chow. Mein. No pun intended.


                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                              I get that California marketing at my local 99Ranch. The LKK single dish pouches, and small 250g jars, make it tempting and easy to try new sauces. I probably have a half dozen of those jars in the back of my fridge.

                                                                                              LKK was the first brand of XO sauce that I saw.

                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                LKK XO sauce is better than the other few competitors which I have tried. Not as good as the home made ones, my mom did many years ago -- but that is really apples and oranges comparison.

                                                                                          2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                            Har Har is the brand of hot bean sauce that I currently use. Still has MSG and preservatives in it, but it's the best I've found. (And hey, I said I want to stop buying these things; I never said I HAVE stopped)

                                                                                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                          The wheat in soy sauce is a matter of controversy for those with celiac disease (me, and yes, it sucks) and gluten intolerance. The proteins in wheat are broken down during fermentation, and the question that remains unanswered is whether or not the fragments of the proteins that remain will cause damage to the intestines. It is very much a matter of dispute, but I will say if given the opportunity to try a really good, artisanal soy sauce, I will try it even if it has wheat (here is where I get blasted by every other celiac on the board). But almost all of my food is cooked at home, and there, I prefer to play it safe and use a wheat-free version. The good news is that there are some high quality soy sauces available without wheat. Technically, they are mostly in the category of tamari, from Japan. There are also Thai soy sauces (in all their glorious variations) that are wheat free.

                                                                                          1. re: MelMM

                                                                                            <The wheat in soy sauce is a matter of controversy for those with celiac disease (me, and yes, it sucks) and gluten intolerance. >

                                                                                            Yeah, in that case, you should try to avoid it. I don't have Celiac or Crohn's diseases, but I know gluten can potentially trigger the onset. Now, everyone is different. Some are triggered by gluten, some are not.

                                                                                            <The proteins in wheat are broken down during fermentation>

                                                                                            That is true, but I suppose you can always go for gluten free soy sauce. I think San J is most famous for it:


                                                                                            <there are some high quality soy sauces available without wheat.>

                                                                                            Agree. Best wishes.

                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                              San-J is definitely the most well-known and available brand. But there are others out there, like Oshawa, that make a wheat free tamari. Even Kikkoman does, now, but they also claim that their regular soy sauce is safe.

                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                The stuff is named, after all, "soy sauce." AFAIK, wheat is just a cheap food for the fermenting yeasts, a diluent. Like the US practice of using rice or corn in cheap beer (horrifying people from Bavaria, where I believe it would be illegal). Wheat-free soysauce has always been available, just costlier.

                                                                                                Inicdentally MSG occurs naturally, abundantly, in almost all fermented condiments discussed here. It also occurs abundantly in you (in its dissociated form of glutamic acid, the same form your body gets if you ingest synthetic MSG). Glutamic acid is a common protein component in food and part of one essential nutrient (PGA or "Folic Acid").

                                                                                                It's also part of some of the most durable and stubborn public myths in a larger field crowded with others -- despite decades of readily available basic biochemical information, relentless clinical testing disproving "MSG allergies" despite self-diagnoses, etc. etc. etc.

                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                  Just for the record, I do not claim to have an MSG "allergy" or any problem with it from a health perspective. But, when refined and added to a food (which is a much more concentrated application that what you find naturally) it does have a "taste", to me, and it is not pleasant. I'm all in favor of foods that have natural glutamates.

                                                                                                  This is completely unrelated, but a funny story: One time in a restaurant I asked the waitress to ask the chef if the frittata contained any gluten (because sometimes chefs will do strange things and put flour in places where it does not belong). She comes back and says that the chef says there is naturally occurring gluten in the tomatoes. Um, no, there is not. He was confusing gluten with glutamates. Not the same thing by any means.

                                                                                                  1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                    Yes, pure MSG is hokey shortcut stuff -- zombie umami, like meat or mushroom broth without its soul. (It is, actually, made commerically from naturally occurring food glutamates: deliberate fermentation akin to soysauce or fermented black beans, but without the flavor angle)

                                                                                                    Using pure MSG is like adding pure sugar to savory stews and sauces (where I always find much more interesting flavor from adding sweetness that has a soul, as in caramelized onions).

                                                                                                    That is not, however, the common pop-culture hang-up over it.

                                                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                              Oh, and Chem, you said you've made your own bean sauce and chile bean paste... care to share your recipe/method? Or heck, even a rough outline will do. It would be a great contribution to this thread. Even if it was just combining "less processed" (however you want to define that) ingredients, it would be of interest to many who are following this discussion.

                                                                                                1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                  I think all I did is to buy:

                                                                                                  1) Fermented bean -- again, I like Koon Chun black beans. They are moist. Other brands are dried so I have to soak them up.


                                                                                                  2) water
                                                                                                  3) garlic
                                                                                                  4) ginger
                                                                                                  5) salt

                                                                                                  Ground the fermented beans or chopped them up to your preference. Some like really smooth paste. Others like more texture. Mixed with small amount of water and heat them up just a bit help soften the beans -- if the beans were not soft to begin with. I would say probably 10 part beans and maybe 1-2 part of water maybe. I add salt last -- I add it to the taste. That's it.

                                                                                                  This is pretty much the so called black bean garlic sauce:


                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                    This is the way my grandmother made black bean/garlic paste for stir fry recipes that now call for black bean garlic sauce: Rinse 1 tablespoon of fermented black beans to get the exess salt off. Place in mortar. Add one clove of garlic and (optional) fresh peeled ginger and use the pestle to make a paste which can be as chunky or smooth as you want. Add paste to ingredients being stir fried. ( She adjusted for salt and liquid in wok, rather than in the paste)

                                                                                                    1. re: honu2

                                                                                                      < Add one clove of garlic and (optional) fresh peeled ginger >

                                                                                                      Yes, you are right. Ginger is optional. In fact, I don't add ginger most of the time or very small amount. Not sure why I put down ginger as my ingredient.

                                                                                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                      Thanks to both of you, Chem and honu2. This is great information. As someone who will grind cumin in a mortar and pestle when a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of the ground stuff, this black bean paste is a no-brainer for me to do.

                                                                                            3. I think there are two different points that you are making in your original post (I haven't read through all the other posts so forgive me if I repeat anything). One is about processing and another is about quality of ingredients.

                                                                                              For me, processing is what makes East Asian cuisine more sophisticated relative to most Western European cuisines. By processing, I don't mean the modern day version of processing that cuts corners, uses artificial ingredients, simplifies flavors and is generally bad for your health. I means processing in the form of fermentation. Take for example, what the Chinese have managed to do with one ingredient--the soybean. Look at how many derivatives have come out of that one product. Through various forms of fermentation, a simple bean is transformed into so many different types of complex flavors. That's hundreds of years of innovation. The only comparable item that has come out of Western Europe is the fermentation of grapes into wine.

                                                                                              The second point is about quality of ingredients. I think Europeans cuisine has the upper hand there, especially with respect to quality in terms of meat and fish. Japan aside, there is an emphasis on locally sourced and organic products that you tend not to find in most Asian cuisine/Asian markets. In part, I think this is an income effect and as China become more developed greater emphasis will be put on quality versus quantity.

                                                                                              In any case, I love your attempt to bring artisan high quality standards to Chinese sauces. I have been experimenting with mala sauce because like many of you, I have grown suspicious of many of the products coming out of China. It has never occurred to me to make my own bean paste but how cool! Love this post!

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: mielimato

                                                                                                The definition of "processing" does seem to be a big question in this thread. I am a big fan of fermentation, and a long-time pickler, daughter of a pickler, who was in turn.... you get the idea. When I was growing up, when we got cucumbers from the garden, there would be a crock of pickles fermenting on the kitchen counter. But a shelf-stable "pickled" product you buy in a store, whether American, European, or Chinese, is not the same as something you ferment at home.

                                                                                                We can debate all day about the definition of "processed". Some will argue if you dice a tomato, it's processed. To me, something is fermented is not necessarily processed, at least not in the negative sense of the word, although in the strictest sense of the word it is, as is the diced tomato. If you then can the fermented pickle, so it is shelf-stable, it is more processed. If you add preservatives, even more. Where to draw the line is a personal choice.

                                                                                                1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                  Preservatives - like sodium chloride and sucrose? Or are you thinking of ones with more exotic names? Like sodium benzoate?

                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                    I do realize that salt and sugar are preservatives, but that is not what I mean.

                                                                                                    I do like to avoid additives that contain a benzene ring.

                                                                                              2. This past weekend I made an adapted stirfry from Dunlop's EGOR -- the stir-fried beef with black bean and chili. The dish calls for laoganma black bean sauce but I didn't have that. As a sub, I rinsed fermented black beans and chopped them finely and mixed them with a bit of sugar, sriracha and peanut oil. This seemed to work pretty well, though of course I have no idea what the laoganma sauce actually tastes like!

                                                                                                21 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                  < The dish calls for laoganma black bean sauce but I didn't have that>

                                                                                                  It is a bit too "specific" to recommend a brand. Anyway, Laoganma is a popular brand. It has MSG added in it, so I am not a big fan.

                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                    "It has MSG added in it, so I am not a big fan. "

                                                                                                    Why not? Any fermented bean product in this class (including whole fermented black beans) will be loaded with naturally occurring MSG and other glutamates and their congeners. That is why they taste so good.

                                                                                                    It's certainly a bit hokey, cheap, for a manufacturer to add simple MSG rather than more black beans etc., for more flavor. But the reason I question singling out this brand is that the practice is just one small example of the underlying philosophy in most commercial condiments, which routinely -- and with very little objection from consumers -- use sugar, fat, etc. as inexpensive stand-ins for more real flavor ingredients.

                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                      First, there is no naturally occurring MSG. Natural glutamic acid, yes, but not natural MSG. Second, it is exactly because the fermentation process can induce various amino acids (including glutamic acid), it seems rather repulsive to add MSG.

                                                                                                      To me, this is like adding ethanol (alcohol) to wine. Why?

                                                                                                      Is it because the fermentation was not done enough? Is it because the traditional product is not good enough?

                                                                                                      <the underlying philosophy in most commercial condiments, which routinely >

                                                                                                      I don't think most commercial black bean sauces add MSG. I will say that LaoGanMa is an exception, rather than the rule.


                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                        1.  "there is no naturally occurring MSG"

                                                                                                        I'm surprised at such a comment from someone signed "chemicalkinetics," because awareness of assimilable glutamates' pervasiveness in natural foods has long been a point that separates the technical world from the general public (unfortunately -- because this awareness would be useful to many people). Soluble glutamates were used for centuries in Japan in the natural form of kombu seaweed, until extracted from that source about a century ago, and MSG soon manufactured deliberately (by processes based on fermenting vegetable carbohydrates "such as sugar beet molasses" -- Merck Index, 10ed.). The researcher who first popularized MSG, Ikeda, also coined the word "umami," to describe the effect of naturally occurring glutamates on food flavors.

                                                                                                        The statement "there is no naturally occurring MSG" is seriously misleading, because soluble glutamates of any kind dissociate to glutamic acid in saliva etc., and natural glutamates are common in food, especially certain foods (grape juice, peas, and many fermented products, such as we are discussing). Again: they're among the common natural flavor enhancers, they are why some foods taste so good.

                                                                                                        That's all longstanding public information. Yet public obsession over MSG as an additive leaves some people unaware that MSG is just a commercial form of a common natural umami mechanism. Food processors have even taken to using different glutamate salts, and boasting "no MSG" to a gullible public that is still getting the same stuff once they ingest it.

                                                                                                        2. My point on the philosophy of commercial condiments is that they routinely use MANY cheap substitutes for real flavor ingredients. Glutamates are just one example; others are salt, sugars, commercial fats. All of which (like glutamates) also occur naturally in foods, but are added explicitly.

                                                                                                        Therefore, I was agreeing strongly with the sentiment "this is like adding alcohol to wine," but questioning why you single out the particular case of MSG, when so many condiments add other simplistic flavor props too, rather than adding more real flavor-bearing ingredients. To carry this principle to its logical conclusion would be to reject most brands of bean pastes, unless you see something unique about MSG.

                                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                          Umami was coined in Japan, but but Japan is not the progenitor of glutamate usage.

                                                                                                          Soy sauce, fermented soy paste, fermented fish, seaweed, mushrooms, fermented beans and other natural sources of glutamic acid were all used in Chinese cooking and all predate usage in Japanese cooking. :) Soy sauce alone has been used in China for over 2,000 years, back when Japan was still tribal.

                                                                                                          1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                            Yes, certainly. All consistent with my postings here. Glutamates (as the active umami principle, which could concentrate in certain foods or be developed in fermentation -- cheeses are another famous historic source in places outside East Asia, and fermented fish sauce was famous in ancient Rome, also over 2000 years ago) were extracted explicitly, and developed for practical purposes, in Japan in the early 1900s, specifically starting with kombu. Early patents include US 1,015,891 (Ikeda and Suzuki, 1912).

                                                                                                            I still wonder why single out this particular shortcut commercial condiment additive, out of all the others. Glutamic acid, after all, occurs in our own cells naturally, whereas some of the others that commercial foods lean on, like sodium generally, and sugars, UNLIKE glutamic acid, are associated with endemic health problems today.

                                                                                                          2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                            <The statement "there is no naturally occurring MSG" is seriously misleading, because soluble glutamates of any kind dissociate to glutamic acid in saliva etc.,>

                                                                                                            The statement is still technically correct. In my opinion, nothing misleading about that statement. On top of it, the MSG you buy is almost always racemic. Not true for naturally occurring glutamic acid.

                                                                                                            <but questioning why you single out the particular case of MSG>

                                                                                                            That is a different topic all together, but I think adding sugar and adding salt to condiments is different than adding MSG. I don't believe MSG is harmful, but I think it is not traditional. People have added additional of sugar and salt in condiments for centuries, so I have no problem with these.

                                                                                                            <Glutamates are just one example; others are salt, sugars, commercial fats....unless you see something unique about MSG.>

                                                                                                            Compare to sugar, salt, vinegar....etc, yes, I do see something unique about adding MSG to condiments as opposed to adding salt to condiments.

                                                                                                            For example, if you look at this ingredient list, you will see sugar, salt, oil, rice wine, cornstarch, and I personally certainly do not think they are the same as adding MSG.


                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                              "I don't believe MSG is harmful, but I think it is not traditional. People have added additional of sugar and salt in condiments for centuries, so I have no problem with these."

                                                                                                              That makes sense. That was my original query above: wondering why the distinction. Though people HAVE added free glutamates too in condiments, for millenia (examples upthread).

                                                                                                              OTOH, though traditional folk cooking does use things like sugar and salt as seasonings, I notice the distinct role such ingredients have as flavor props in commercial foods. One 1970s commentator captured the situation in a context of commercial "soup mixes": if you removed sugar, salt, fat, and synthetic flavor enhancers, what little was left would taste like dishwater [when prepared as a soup]. Which cannot be said of traditional homemade soups.

                                                                                                              That spirit of tarting-up a little real flavor with a lot of props captures the essence of many commercial condiments.

                                                                                                              (People unaware of food history may not realize that tomato ketchup in the US didn't even routinely have sugar until it went commercial. For most of its history it was a class of homemade condiment, from tomatoes or other ingredients, unsweetened.)

                                                                                                              The point about "No naturally occurring MSG" might be formally correct, but remains badly misleading, as you surely know, so I wish you would not press it. The specific source of glutamates is unimportant to the fate of free glutamic acid once ingested, so the body doesn't "know" any difference between free glutamate from fermented beans and free glutamate from MSG -- which likely came from a vegetable ferment anyway (standard commercial MSG preparation).

                                                                                                              Free sodium too of course comes in MSG, but that's a separate issue, and irrelevant to comparison in the many cases (cheeses, soy sauces, fermented bean pastes) where natural glutamates come along with other sodium sources anyway in the food product.

                                                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                <The point about "naturally occurring MSG" might be technically correct, but remains badly misleading, as you surely know,.>

                                                                                                                I guess we must be coming from two angles, because, with all due respect, I think your statement is misleading to claim that MSG is the same as naturally glutamic acid, while you think I am misleading by saying they are not the same.

                                                                                                                <so I wish you would not press it>

                                                                                                                I wish the same from the opposite direction.

                                                                                                                < The specific source of glutamates is unimportant to the fate of free glutamic acid once ingested>

                                                                                                                No, they are not the same. One is racemic, and the other is not. One has sodium, and the other does not. One can have significantly higher level than normal preparation, and the other does not. Yet, this is far from my main objection. My main objection has to do with preparation. Even if MSG is 100% the same as glutamic acid, I will still have problem of adding it like that. Just like I have problem with adding ethanol to wine. Ethanol is ethanol, but I object to that for food preparation

                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                  See above re ultimate irrelevance of free glutamate source, and sodium co-occurrence (I was still editing the post when you replied). As far as human effects go, it is surely academic whether a _given dose_ of both glutamate and sodium ions came from salted soy sauce, Chinese salted fermented black beans, Parmesan cheese, or MSG. That has been my only point on the subject, throughout.

                                                                                                                  If you object to adding ethanol to wine, do you likewise object to adding sugars to tomato ketchup (where they also occur naturally), or very heavy salt or fat levels added to commercial condiments even where those materials are already present from the other ingredients?

                                                                                                                  (Ironically, I've read that the Romans used fermented fish sauce as flavor enhancer partly because it extended the effect of salt, which at the time was scarce and expensive.)

                                                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                    <If you object to adding ethanol to wine, do you likewise object to adding sugars to tomato ketchup>

                                                                                                                    The short answer is a "no objection".
                                                                                                                    The medium answer is that "Small objection, but not the same reason for objecting adding ethanol to wine".
                                                                                                                    The longer answer is that "I view adding sugar not to disrupt the ketchup making process, whereas I view adding ethanol as an "insult?" to the wine fermentation process"

                                                                                                    2. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                      Here's a recipe for Black Bean Sauce from "The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook:"

                                                                                                      "Combine the following in a small bowl for the basic black bean sauce mixture:
                                                                                                      2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed and mashed
                                                                                                      2 cloves of garlic, minced
                                                                                                      1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use dark)
                                                                                                      1 teaspoon oyster sauce
                                                                                                      1 teaspoon sugar
                                                                                                      2 teaspoons cornstarch
                                                                                                      2/3 cup chicken stock"


                                                                                                      I've made it just once and it worked very well.

                                                                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                                                                        Thank you, Gio! Into the pepperplate it went in preparation for trying Irene Kuo's Broccoli with Black Bean Sauce tomorrow. Bought some veggies to pickle using her pickling instructions. Feel very adventurous :)

                                                                                                        I have a jar called "Preserved Black Bean" - the label is in Spanish and Chinese, looks like there are black beans, oil, water, salt and sesame oil. Should be fermented, right?

                                                                                                        1. re: herby

                                                                                                          Yes, I think the fermented beans should be in the sauce, herby. That's the "flavor profile" after all. Having said that I also think that preserved black beans and fermented black beans are the same thing. Although my fermented black beans are in a package. Shall I yell HELP right now?

                                                                                                          Thanks for that Kuo broccoli mention. Sounds like something I'd like.

                                                                                                          1. re: Gio

                                                                                                            Gio, how would I know that they are fermented? Would they smell sour-ish? I guess once I open the jar I should taste them.

                                                                                                            I am in love with Kuo book! Love her voice; she is very encouraging and logical. My dinner club's next dinner is Chinese and I am hosting - imagine! Kuo says that pickled veggies could be stir-fried and are very tasty that way. Going to try.

                                                                                                            1. re: herby

                                                                                                              @ herby: The fermented/preserved black beans are very salty so be sure to rinse them very well and drain them,.

                                                                                                              @ Chemical: Thanks for coming to the rescue!

                                                                                                          2. re: herby

                                                                                                            Yes. In this case, the phase "fermented" is suggested in the phrase "preserved"

                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                              Thank you Gio and ChK! I am making Black Bean sauce per Gio's instructions tomorrow and broccoli in this sauce. Hopefully will start pickled veggies too. It is a strange combination of cabbage leaves, broccoli stems, green beans, carrots and cucumbers in a somewhat spicy brine. I have a tendency to analyze but this time just trusting Kuo:)

                                                                                                              1. re: herby

                                                                                                                <I am making Black Bean sauce per Gio's instructions tomorrow>

                                                                                                                <I have a jar called "Preserved Black Bean" - the label is in Spanish and Chinese, looks like there are black beans, oil, water, salt and sesame oil. >

                                                                                                                A jar of Preserved Black Beans, you said? And it has oil and water...etc in it. So how does it look? Individual beans or paste?



                                                                                                                I don't have Irene Kuo's book, so I did a google and found this:

                                                                                                                "The recipe is from “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo (Knopf, 1980).

                                                                                                                1 bunch broccoli, about 2 pounds
                                                                                                                1 heaping TBS fermented black beans

                                                                                                                Rinse fermented black beans briefly in water and shake dry in a colander, then chop them coarsely. Prepare and measure out other ingredients."


                                                                                                                Just keep in mind that many of these recipes assume you start with the dried (semi dried) individual fermented black beans, and not the paste. If yours is in paste form, then just make minor changes accordingly.

                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                  Thank you for taking you time to educate me, ChK! Everyone has been so very helpful and encouraging; it is very touching :)

                                                                                                                  My beans look in between the two pictures that you sent. I have not open the jar yet but it is glass and I can see inside. The beans look a bit mushed - some whole and some smooched. Unfortunately, I left my camera behind at my daughter's and my old phone doesn't have built-in camera (or it does and I am not aware) - can't take a pic. I'll taste it tomorrow for salt and even if it is super salty, I can't see the dish being too salty since this is the only source.

                                                                                                                  You have correct recipe and I won't be following Gio's directions because the recipe has instructions on making sauce out of fermented beans!

                                                                                                                  1. re: herby

                                                                                                                    Your welcome. These blackbean dishes are fairly easy to make, so don't put too much pressure on yourself. Fermented black beans sort of make everything taste a bit better.

                                                                                                                    < I have not open the jar yet but it is glass and I can see inside. The beans look a bit mushed - some whole and some smooched>

                                                                                                                    I see. Yours are probably in paste already, and you can slightly adjust Irene Kuo's recipe. For one, you can just use scoop out 3 to 3.5 tbps of the black bean paste, and skip the step of "Rinse fermented black beans briefly in water and shake dry in a colander, then chop them coarsely." The rest of the steps are really the same.

                                                                                                                    < I can't see the dish being too salty since this is the only source.>

                                                                                                                    You can most likely use the paste as it is. The thing which Gio mentioned about oversalted is true for some of the dried fermented black beans. Many of those are stored with extra salt to help to further preserve them. They can have salt crystals all over them like this, and definitely should be rinsed:


                                                                                                                    Now, not all of them are like these. Some of the fermented black beans can be used directly.

                                                                                                                    Have fun.

                                                                                                      2. Isn't this post a bit misleading? The Chinese food I eat is cooked with the freshest ingredients, no less so than American or European food. Prosciutto? Salami? Cheese? Wine? Vinegar? Do you raise your own pigs and hang them and cure them? I say that with all mildness. Seriously though, when millions of people make stuffing during the holidays, how many bake their own bread, then make the crumbs, make the chicken stock from scratch? I see "foodies" at Whole Foods buying boxes and boxes of organic chicken stock or organic bread croutons, etc. during the holidays. These items are highly processed.

                                                                                                        I've eaten more processed food in my friends homes (mac & cheese, hamburger helper) than I ever have in my own home growing up. Food was bought fresh from the Chinese groceries and the vegetables far better than any American grocery.

                                                                                                        21 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                          What's surprised me most about this post is how many have come on here, not to contribute in any way, but to tell us we're being ridiculous, and to point out all the processed food they *assume* we eat.

                                                                                                          When I make Thanksgiving dinner, the whole thing starts with me making a big pot of turkey stock, which is what moistens my dressing. I'm from the South, so my dressing doesn't have wheat bread in it, just cornbread, which I do make from scratch. And all the herbs in it are fresh from my garden. I also do make all my own bread. I have never purchased a box of croutons in my life. Nor have I ever had mac and cheese from a box (or hamburger helper). That just is not the way I eat.

                                                                                                          I make my own dill pickles and sauerkraut, so why NOT make my own sichuan style pickled vegetables? And yes, believe it or not, I have two barrels of vinegar on my counter right now.

                                                                                                          The nearest Asian market is a 45 minute drive from me, and the quality is not great. I do not live in a city with a Chinatown. I get terrific vegetables from my garden and from my CSA. Making some of the Chinese condiments at home rather than buying them will mean fewer time consuming trips to the market for me, and most likely result in a better product than what I could buy. It makes sense for me.

                                                                                                          The lines between unprocessed, minimally processed, and very processed foods are blurry. And we all get to decide for ourselves what we are willing to eat, what we want to buy, and how much effort we are willing to put into making something at home. This is a home cooking board! I think it might be expected that many people on this board would lean more on the side of making things at home, that perhaps other people would rather buy. And I can't see why anyone would object to that.

                                                                                                          1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                            Do you see the hypocrisy in what you are writing? You are talking about how you make American/European foods from scratch with fresh ingredients and ASSUMING that Chinese cooks don't.

                                                                                                            I related my specific experience where I have witnessed far more use of processed food in American/European cooking vs. Chinese, you didn't address that, instead went into how YOU make your own stock and pickles. My mother ALWAYS makes her own stock because the stock sold in stores are not right for many Chinese soups, and she makes her own pickles, do you understand my point?

                                                                                                            Furthermore, do you make your own prosciutto, pasta, wine and cheese, your own mustard, bacon, buttermilk and mayonnaise? If you do, you're in the 1% of 1%. There are plenty, plenty of things that are processed that are used by many many American and European cooks. When you write "subject [Chinese cooking to the same standards of fresh, non-processed as American/European food]" it is unnecessarily pejorative, offensive and limited to your specific experience. Instead of generalizing about how the people who cook American/European food use such fresh minimally processed food vs. the processed, canned products that Chinese cooks use, you could have stated how you personally wish to use fresher, less processed food in your Chinese cooking.

                                                                                                            It's not about you being ridiculous or assuming what you eat, it's about YOU assuming how others cook Chinese and doing it in a way that is frankly offensive.

                                                                                                            1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                              Generalizing about how American, European, or Chinese people cook was not what I was doing at all. I was referring to how "we" cook these foods, and by "we", I meant a group of us who were discussing it on another thread.

                                                                                                              You write, "Instead of generalizing about how the people who cook American/European food use such fresh minimally processed food, you could have stated how you personally wish to use fresher, less processed food in your Chinese cooking."

                                                                                                              I think if you re-read my OP more closely, you will see that that is exactly what I was saying, although I was talking not just about myself, but about myself and a few others on this board who wished to do this. Thus the "we" instead of just "me". I wasn't claiming that Americans or Europeans use less processed foods, just claiming that many of us on this board who do make our homemade versions of American and European pantry staples, don't do the same when cooking Chinese.

                                                                                                              I'm sorry that my OP was worded in a way that offended you. I'm not trying to generalize about Chinese cooks. If anything, I'm generalizing about Americans trying to cook Chinese food. Like your mother, I always make my own stocks. When making European style pickles, I make my own. So doesn't it make sense that someone like me, and others on this thread, would want to do the same when making Chinese pickles? If I have made my own ketchup, which I have, why wouldn't I want to try making my own chile-bean paste?

                                                                                                              The problem is that most cookbooks assume you will go with the pre-made product, so finding out how to make the Chinese condiments is a lot harder than finding information on making ketchup or vinegar. If your mother made these things, then why don't you share with us some of her techniques? This is exactly the kind of information we are seeking.

                                                                                                              There are some people upthread who might argue that by making our own versions or making substitutions (of say, a better quality product that is available locally, versus an imported product), we are sacrificing "authenticity". That has never been my claim. I've been convinced from the get-go that by using the best ingredients we can obtain locally, we will be sticking to the true "spirit" of Chinese cooking, rather than the "letter of the law" laid out in some cookbook.

                                                                                                              1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                I am sorry I misconstrued your post, the "we" threw me off, especially in the context of the internet where I'm bombarded every day with "Chinese are no good,etc.".

                                                                                                                My family doesn't have any Chinese cookbooks so I don't have a reference point for that, but my mother does use jarred fermented beans, soy sauce, chili oil, fermented soy paste. There are many ingredients that are too time consuming to make. My maternal grandmother used to do prep work the night before, then wake up before dawn to make soy milk from scratch, she would make tofu from scratch, dumpling wrappers, filling, spend the day cleaning vegetables and making dumplings, marinating meats, making stocks, etc. My mother still will make certain things from scratch, all stocks (fish, pork, chicken, beef) she knows how to make the things my grandma used to make, but she won't make soy milk or tofu, or dumpling wrappers, she just doesn't have the time. As for pickles, she makes a few different kinds, I don't have specific recipes but she'll chop up cucumbers and throw them in vinegar with smashed cloves of garlic, she uses a little sesame oil or she'll take thin strips of carrots and chinese radish with some sugar, vinegar (sometimes peppers) and lets it sit out, to be honest, I haven't paid enough attention to the details. My paternal grandma was a pickle maker. She used to make lots of pickled vegetables and unidentifiable pickled meat and tofu for congee, but I was never in the kitchen. Sorry can't be of more help. I personally would love to learn how to make the dried shrimp for things like zhong zhi. I know how to make many things my mother makes, but I don't know how to make the pickled, fermented or dried things that my grandmas would make.

                                                                                                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                  What incredible food you grew up eating! Your grandmother was a treasure. I do hope you stay on this thread, and contribute what knowledge and memories you have.

                                                                                                                  Back in the '80s, I used to make my own tofu. It is easy to make, but time consuming. But OH, man, it tastes so much better than what you can buy! Especially back then, when in the US, the tofu at supermarkets and even Asian markets tended to be not so good. These days, more Americans eat tofu, the turnover is better, and there are more regional producers, so you can get much better tofu in the US now than you could back then. But it still doesn't compare to when you make it fresh.

                                                                                                                  Things like what your mother and grandmother made are exactly the kind of thing I want to learn more about. I realize it is not practical for everyone, with our modern lifestyles, to make everything from scratch, but we need to keep the knowledge going. Home cooking, the way your grandmother did it, was really something special.

                                                                                                                  1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                    The older Chinese women I grew up with "Aunties", all would make wonderful yummy things from scratch and it was commonplace to always bring food when you visit someone. One of my real aunts makes ro-song which is dried shredded meat that you would put on congee, from scratch, but I know it's very time consuming because she always used to drop hints about how much effort and time it took to make it and the beef jerky she makes and the drunken chicken, and well everything :). Chinese beef jerky usually comes in sheets as opposed to sticks or strips. I'm not sure how she makes it, but it's addictive, watching movies with some beef jerky, dried squid or seaweed sheets is wonderful. She used to also pound her own rice and make her own red bean paste but now that she is older, it's too much work. Most of my aunts have careers and a lot of information was not passed down from my grandmas because of varying levels of interest and/or time. I find that the homemakers in my extended family cook much more and make much more from scratch. This thread actually makes me want to call my aunt because she makes these wonderful dried silvery fish things that she moans about because she individually cleans the little fish. It's really delicious but I have no idea how she prepares them.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                      Call your aunt!!! Call every relative you can think of! Start a blog, write a cookbook...

                                                                                                                      But share with us here first, OK?

                                                                                                                      1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                        My husband's mother died a few years ago and was a phenomenal Indian cook, raised in the north on a large farm and boy did she know her grains, vegetables, etc. In the household in Bombay, where they eventually ended up, they had a family cook, as is tradition in India. She was there for at least 15 years but left recently to pursue something new. The cook learned everything from my mother in law and now she's gone. No one in the family has taken the time to record any of the old recipes or techniques and it has been heartbreaking for us. We asked other family members for years to write some of these things down, take some pictures, etc. as mother in law got older (she didn't speak much English) but no one ever did. So we now rely on my husband's memory and are trying to create some of her dishes and techniques ourselves. These things are important and tell so much about a family. So my advice, pokipichu, is to make time for it. You will never ever regret it. PLUS you will get the enormous satisfaction of sharing with your Chowhound buds who will be eternally grateful :-)

                                                                                                                          1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                            I'm so glad you did! It's heartbreaking for each of us individually, but also for us as a society, to let our collective family food memories slip away before we have a chance to document them.

                                                                                                                            My understanding is that Grace Young started reaching out to her aunties for recipes and techniques, which ultimately led her to write "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen." Maybe you'll write a book someday!


                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                              I'm thinking now of making youtube videos, because sometimes it's very hard to capture cooking with just words. My aunt that cooks the best lives in a different state unfortunately but I will keep everyone updated if we are able to make something.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                  Please do!. and don't imagine that I wouldn't welcome a printed book either, just because I wrote that cookbooks are for people who don't have your family resources. That's just what I meant - that's what books are for. I hope you DO write a cookbook or post videos for the benefit of the rest of us. Cheers! and Thanks!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                    Brilliant. YouTube videos would work very well.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                                      Just an update, my auntie finally called me (apparently they check their email every few days :P) We're working out a time for her to come to NY, she's freaked out about being on video though lol and warned me "but I don't measure anything, I don't know how much goes in things, I would be the worst teacher of cooking".

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                        That's great! I'm looking forward to hearing more about this and what you learn. The part about her not measuring things is exactly why you need the video...

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                      My auntie has not emailed me back yet. In the meanwhile, I was thinking about the OP's question regarding making things from scratch. Specifically, regarding bean sauce, I think I'm going to do some experimenting.

                                                                                                                                      Pu-erh tea is made by fermenting the leaves, I'm thinking I can use that as a starter for fermenting black soy beans. I'm also going to purchase some aspergillus and try to make a batch of fermented black beans with that. I can already sense a lot of work.:)

                                                                                                                                      If you want to give it a try we can compare notes :)

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                        Great idea! I have some pu-erh tea around here somewhere. If nothing else, it would be an interesting flavor! I just wonder if there are still living microbes in the tea. Let me know when you come up with a method, and I'll try to do a batch along with you.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                                          I was thinking of getting some black soy beans, soaking them overnight, boiling them the way you would get them ready for soy milk, etc. Draining them, mixing them with the tea leaves, putting them in a jar and covering them with muslin. Or instead of the pu-erh, mixing aspergillus, which would be the more traditional method. They sell aspergillus at micro-breweries or using raw fermented soy bean paste as a starter.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                          Everything you have written here - THIS is why there were no "cookbooks" in the modern sense until relatively recently. No one who had this kind of wealth of cooking expertise available to them in person (and in their own family, no less!) would waste time trying to learn to cook from a book. Hats off to you.

                                                                                                                          1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                                                                                            "No one who had this kind of wealth of cooking expertise available to them in person ... would waste time trying to learn to cook from a book."

                                                                                                                            A theme in the Hesses' 1977 critique "The Taste of America" (discussed upthread under Gio's Aug.-15 post) was how, in the 20th century, cookbooks displaced ancestors as the standard source of US home cooking wisdom.

                                                                                                                            They identify Fannie Merritt Farmer as a pioneering promoter of this change. "Before her, women wrote of cooking with love; she made it a laboratory exercise." Farmer was a Boston Cooking School graduate who stayed to teach, writing a cookbook/textbook in 1896. "She may have been the first person who learned cooking in a school and promptly began to teach it to others. This became standard American practice."

                                                                                                                            In the 2000 paperback reissue of their book, the Hesses wryly noted that in the intervening 20-plus years, handed-down home cooking skills had become a more distant memory; "like Mother used to make" was now "like Grandmother used to make." Where Julia Child fans had boasted of how bad a cook she'd been before discovering cuisine, now, fashionable experts boasted how bad their _mothers_ were.

                                                                                                                2. Homemade Mirin Recipe ! On her website Andrea Nguyen has reported her newly devised recipe for homemade mirin. It's exciting to see this. The recipe is incredibly simple, just a mixture of organic cane sugar and sake with the option of including pure cane syrup. Here's the link in which she explains the thinking that brought her to this recipe.


                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. Last night we made a recipe from Grace Young's Stir-Frying To the Sky's Edge: Spicy Long Beans with Sausage and Mushrooms on page 212. The sausage used is Chinese sausage and I made my own mix using the template of a recipe on the "Uncle Phil's blogspot web site.


                                                                                                                    Here's what I did:
                                                                                                                    Homemade Chinese Sausage..
                                                                                                                    1 pound ground pork
                                                                                                                    1/4 t Kosher salt - more if you want
                                                                                                                    1 t white pepper
                                                                                                                    1 t five-spice powder
                                                                                                                    2 T light soy sauce
                                                                                                                    1/8 c sugar
                                                                                                                    1/4 Bourbon
                                                                                                                    Mix all together very well. Place mixed meat in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, leave in fridge over night.

                                                                                                                    When the bowl comes out of the fridge the procedure is for any sausage; filling the casing and hanging for a certain amount of time till dry.

                                                                                                                    I used the mixture fresh the next night rolling the meat into small meatballs. I thought it was fantastic! It worked in the recipe beautifully giving just the right amount of sweet, salty, spicy flavor to the beans. Next time I want to use ground turkey. The bit I didn't use is in the freezer and I think I can get a couple of burgers from it. Gads but the flavor is haunting me.

                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                      Sounds great! I see you are on the bourbon bandwagon! The homemade Lup Cheong looks terrific, and since I can get excellent pork around here, and have a meat grinder and sausage casing on hand... well, no excuse not to try this one.

                                                                                                                      I've joined the Wok Wednesday group on FB, BTW. Thanks so much for letting me know about that.

                                                                                                                      1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                        Great all around, Mel... I'm JDP there, and elsewhere.

                                                                                                                      2. re: Gio

                                                                                                                        For the record, that's 1/4 cup Bourbon.

                                                                                                                      3. So it begins again.... prepping for Thanksgiving. I bought some beautiful bok choy from the farmer's market and cucumbers for fermenting in soy sauce brine. I tossed in some Hunan chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. Will ferment until Thanksgiving.

                                                                                                                        I bought some raw fermented soy paste and am making tofu to ferment.

                                                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                          Oh what beautiful purple-leafed bok choy. I've never seen that variety. Will the cucumber be a relish, a kimchi, or something else, Pookipichu?

                                                                                                                          1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                            The bok choy is really delicious, I was nibbling on it raw :)

                                                                                                                            I'm going to ferment the cucumber and then let it marinate one day with smashed garlic and toss it with toasted sesame oil. The pieces are going to be about 1/2 thick. I'm not sure if that falls under the relish category, it's just a simple pickled cucumber and it's not going to be served with chilis.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                              Bok choy and cucumbers have fermented, they smell wonderful. Just finished sorting organic soy beans by hand (keeping only the perfect ones) to soak overnight in spring water.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                Some photos from Thanksgiving prep

                                                                                                                                Crab broth

                                                                                                                                Chicken broth

                                                                                                                                Pan toasted rice with star anise

                                                                                                                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                  Fresh soymilk for tofu

                                                                                                                                  Rice steamed in bamboo leaf

                                                                                                                                  Steamed egg custard

                                                                                                                          2. How about Chinese bacon? Has anyone tried curing their own? Or know someone who does?

                                                                                                                            I had to get some for a recipe recently, and it was one of those things where I thought, I should make this myself. Especially since I have a ridiculous amount of pork belly sitting in my freezer, which I need to make into bacon or salt pork or... Chinese bacon?

                                                                                                                            If anyone has a recipe or rough instructions, they'd be appreciated here.

                                                                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                              I've never consider curing my own Chinese, or otherwise, bacon, Mel, but your question intrigued me so I looked and found this from EGullet:


                                                                                                                              The original thread is here:


                                                                                                                              1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                                Very helpful, Gio! Thanks for posting. I have so much pork belly, I'll be doing a few different kinds.

                                                                                                                                1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                                  Just a side note Mel, the pork I eat in Asia tastes different than US pork, I think different breeds are raised.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                                                                                    Well, no way for me to verify what Asian pork tastes like compared to mine. But this is pasture-raised pork from a small local farm, so it's not exactly what you'd find in the average American grocery store. It may not taste the same as in China, but it is very good quality.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                                      I'm sure it's delicious :) Nothing like pork from a small farm.

                                                                                                                              2. re: MelMM

                                                                                                                                My mom makes it at home.

                                                                                                                                All I know is she needed a tool that looks like a wooden mallet with metal spikes for piercing the skin/fat to let the marinade through. She hang it dry in the basement.