Friday, October 28, 2005

Improvising, Part I

It seems an article of faith amongst aware travelers, that when traveling in another country, you should try to eat the local cuisine. I subscribe to this belief, but it's another matter when you live in that country. When you are there full time, as we are, then you want some variety in your diet.
To accomplish this, you must improvise, mixing specialty ingredients that you have brought across the border, and local, readily available foods, such as cilantro and jícama. Some imagination is useful.

Thus it was, two Sundays ago, that we traveled to the other side of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México to the lovely home of a Mexican-American couple. I had met them through various Internet fora and Blogger.

The reason for our social engagement was to visit them and to enjoy a Asian style meal together, made with local ingredients (not counting several dried fungi I'd brought from the States). Our house was too small, and not ready for guests at that time. Their house is notably more cómoda, besides being very atractively decorated.

Our dinner began with a Vietnamese-style Vegetable Soup. To make this, I'd first cooked a stock of water, dry-scorched onions and garlic; lemon grass, ginger, star anise and a bit of sugar and Vietnamese Fish Sauce. This made quite a heady and concentrated broth.

The next stage was to prepare and cut into soup-sized chunks several local vegetables; principally chayote, calabacita, chile Poblano, carrots, and Roma type tomatoes. We'd brought these vegetables, precut, to the house for on the spot cooking.

For that, I used a separate kettle, to which the aromatic stock was added and a judicious amount of the very useful Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Pollo powder. When the vegetables reached the tender but not mushy stage, and I corrected the seasoning with some more Vietnamese fish sauce and freshly squeezed lime juice. Cilantro and cut limes were place in bowls on the table, to be used at the pleasure of each diner.

The main course was Mu Hsu Pork, a Northern Chinese dish with a distant resemblance to burritos, but with a distinctive filling: shredded boneless pork, briefly marinated in wine, soy sauce and cornstarch; soaked and prepared dried vegetables, including black mushrooms, tiger lily buds, and "wood ears", a crunchy tree fungus and "bamboo shoots"—in this case, sliced jícama— seasoned with soy sauce, pepper and sesame oil.

Meanwhile, 3 eggs were cooked in a separate skillet to a soft-scrambled stage, then combined with the stir fried meat and vegetables. The seasoning was corrected, and a sprinkle of the aromatic sesame oil added.
Our hosts provided an attractive cazuela de barro from which to serve the dish at the table.

Meanwhile, my wife was putting a light film of sesame oil on white flour tortillas, then cooking them in pairs in a dry skillet. These were the easy way to substitute the traditional "po-ping", sometimes loosely translated from Chinese as "Mandarin Pancakes", but our method served very well, with much less labor.

When all was ready and on the table, we ate our soup (photo) and then after, each made our own rolls of Mu Hsu Pork and ate them out of hand. It was different, tasty, and importantly, fun.

Our beverages included Martinelli's Sparkling Cider and coffee of Uruapán with our dessert: a home made flan, and fresh pineapple and mango.

I hope that we can do something similar in the future, either here at our own house or again at the house of friends.

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