DALI | COOKING WITH RICE AND FRIENDS

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While living in Hong Kong, my cooking skills were well and truly neglected. The combination of small kitchens, abundance of affordable restaurants and generally busy lifestyle, made cooking at home a fairly rare occurrence. I vowed that upon returning to the UK, I would do my best to improve my skills in the kitchen.

The opportunity to do this came a little earlier than expected, on our last day in Dali we decided to give Rice and Friends cooking class a go, as recommended to us by our hostel.

To start with, Luxi brought us to the vegetable market near her home in Dali. A highlight of this market trip was a visit to the tofu stall. On this stall were the biggest slabs of tofu i'd ever seen, Luxi explained that in China, the tofu makers are much like the bakers of the west. They will get up as early as 4am to bake the day's batch of tofu.

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Rice and Friends is located in the home of owner, and teacher, Luxi. The cooking area is set up on her leafy roof terrace, which faces the Cangshan mountain. Luxi was a wonderful host, we started the day with some refreshments and a lesson on Chinese food.

Upon visiting China, it quickly becomes evident how very different the western interpretation of Chinese food is. It was interesting to learn a bit more about the diversity of the food within China. For this class we were cooking dishes from Luxi's native province - Sichuan.

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Our first dish was a dried tofu salad. I've never been a huge tofu fan, but this experience completely changed my perspective of it. Simple, delicate and delicious.

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Our second dish was fish-flavoured eggplant. I had seen this on menus in Hong Kong and around China many times. Although I love aubergine (or eggplant.. as it seems to be referred to in the East), the 'fish-flavoured' aspect did not appeal to me at all. As it turns out, this dish does not contain a single trace of fish. It is prepared using a sweet and sour sauce, which was traditionally used to prepare fish dishes in Sichuan cuisine - hence the misleading name.

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The third dish we made was Gongbao Chicken. Luxi chose this dish as a part of the course, as it is one of the few Chinese dishes which does not use the bones of the chicken (something which a lot of westerners are opposed to).

At the end of the course we got a recipe book to take home with us. A wonderful souvenir, I can't wait to try it at home!

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If you're in Dali and want to learn about traditional Chinese dishes, get in touch with Rice and Friends here.