Wednesday, September 2, 2015

So You Think You Know Chopsticks?

This information was gleaned from a charming little book called Chopsticks! An Owner's Manual (Conari Press, Berkeley, Calif.) by Hashi-San.

Legend has it that chopsticks were invented in China by two poor, hungry peasants who had stolen a piece of meat. They beat a hasty retreat into the forest to cook their meal but didn't have time to bring knives. The clever thieves grabbed a pair of sticks each from the forest floor and used them to rip off pieces of the still-sizzling meat from the fire.

Confucius is credited with encouraging the spread of chopsticks by writing that "the honorable man allows no knives at his table." That is why food is typically cut into bite-sized pieces in Chinese cooking, and as the author says, "... out of necessity, a table without knives became a table with chopsticks."

Chopsticks have been used in China for over three thousand years. It is interesting to note that they were using chopsticks while most of the world was still eating with their fingers, and at least two thousand years before the invention of the fork.

The use of chopsticks spread from China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, To find out more detailed about how to use chopsticks with Hanoi culture. Don't hesitate to join Hanoi food culture by taking the hanoi food tour with locals. Here you will be taught how to use by guides. They failed to catch on, however, in Thailand and Cambodia, presumably because those countries drew their influence more from India, Asia's other culinary giant.

It is curious indeed that the great explorer Marco Polo--although he spent more than 20 years traveling throughout China--never mentioned chopsticks in his journals. But then he never mentioned the Great Wall of China either even though he would have crossed it several times.

The Japanese have a saying for a thing that is hard to understand. They insist that "understanding what you are saying is like ladling soup with a chopstick." No confusion there.

A Japanese Buddhist monk named Kukai, who lived in China for many years, is credited with introducing chopsticks to Japan. Apparently, he handed them out to everyone he met (the author calls him the "Johnny Appleseed of chopsticks"), telling them that if they used them, Buddha would help relieve the stress of their lives.

Chinese folklore says that people who use three fingers to manipulate their chopsticks are easygoing by nature. Those who use four fingers are well omened. Those who can manage to get all five fingers involved and still keep them under control are said to be destined for greatness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Asia on my mind

The Asian cookbook shelf has been expanding as fast as the grocery shelves in recent years. But Asian flavors and spices are also appearing in books that are not specifically Asian in concept, a trend that is mirrored on restaurant menus from coast to coast. Here are two excellent books by two intrepid cooks and travelers that are decidedly not Asian and yet offer some tantalizing dishes from that side of the world.

In Mark Bittman's newest book, The Best Recipes in the World (Broadway), he offers over 1,000 recipes from just about every corner of the globe, including Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the Americas. What seems to unite all the recipes is that they are unpretentious, everyday foods even though many of them are considered the classic dishes of Southeast Asian, Japan, and China, and many have new twists and subtle improvements. The recipes call for mostly common fruits, vegetables, meats, and so on, and even the spices and other exotic ingredients are not so hard to attain these days. This is a grand book that looks to have been many years in the making, and obviously is the product of a man with a wide-open palate and an insatiable curiosity about how the world eats.

Clifford A. Wright's new book, Some Like It Hot (Harvard Common Press), is a wonderful collection of hot and spicy dishes from Asia and around the world by a tireless researcher and avid cook. Wright himself points out in an introductory sidebar that this book probably would not or could not have been written as recently as 15 years ago. Many of the heretofore exotic ingredients would simply have not been available to the majority of American consumers. Wright offers 350 authentic recipes from the "hot zone," or a geographical band running around the globe that extends from roughly the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. The author also gives us a glossary of spicy ingredients and an exhaustive guide to online resources for all sorts of related ingredients. This is a must-have book for anyone interested in Asian cooking, chiles, chile-based cuisine, or world cuisine in general.

Another great book to have for reference is Ken Horn's Asian Ingredients (Ten Speed Press). It is both an extensive illustrated guide to the fresh and preserved products that make up the Asian pantry and a cookbook, It is an indispensable source of information on many of the exotic ingredients of the East, with delicious and relatively simple recipes to illuminate their uses.

The following recipes are from Nirmala Narine, a spice merchant and intrepid traveler who sells spices and spice blends from all over the globe. The dishes are to be included in her forthcoming cookbook that will focus on street food from around the world especially hanoi street food tour. Her web site is These dishes perfectly illustrate the Asian way of transforming simple foods with the use of spices, and can translate well to the prepared foods counter.