Reishi Mushrooms 靈芝

Daoist Elixir of Immortality
Performance-Enhancing Substance

How to use reishi mushrooms

Japanese reishi mushrooms

Chinese athletes are said to get a competitive edge from — perfectly legal — mushroom extracts to win more Olympic golds.  A leading Japanese politician takes three different kinds of Asian healing mushrooms for breakfast every day.

One of the most important of these mushrooms is Reishi. You see them in Chinese paintings of Daoist sages and also ancient Chinese emperors.

These are the gnarly, strange-looking fungi, often purple, sometimes shown as green, brown, black or red. Continue reading

Edward Schafer and Spice Route Travelers — III

The Manila Galleon and the Third Route
Tomatoes, Chili Peppers and Beche de Mer

“Tang cookery sounds like modern Japanese cookery — plain food, sometimes raw, with few savory mixtures or interesting sauces.” — Edward Schafer

 

“The best of modern Chinese cooking developed in relatively modern times under the influence of foreign taste and customs, in particular those of India and the lands of the Desert and the Isles.” — Edward Schafer

Malayan on the Silk Road

Curly Haired Man, Malayan
Silk Road, Tang Dynasty

We sometimes forget how many of the foods we associate with Pacific Rim cuisines today were not native to much of the region in the oldest times and have migrated back and forth along the ancient trade routes. Continue reading

Edward Schafer and Spice Route Travelers – II

The Southern Sea Routes
Before Marco Polo

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

“The Po-Lo-Mi (jackfruit) is the size of a pumpkin, its outer skin covered with nodules like the hair on a Buddha’s head.  Its color is green while growing, and turns yellow when ripe.  The pulp is of extreme sweetness.” — Zhao Rugua“Even in Dunhuang, further out on the camel road, grape wine was an expensive addition to an important celebration, like champagne for our festivals.” — Edward Schafer

 

Edward Schafer researched the movement of men, goods and ideas along the Silk Continue reading

Sea Cucumbers/Beche-de-Mer/Namako/海鼠

Sea Grub or Sea Mice?
Solomon Islands Currency

beche de mer or sea cucumbers

Beche de Mer
Frozen, Chinese Origin

You see them in Asian markets.  They do look like cucumbers, and are typically about six inches long in the fresh state.  Sometimes they are sold dried.  The dried form is usually black and rock-hard, and only a few inches long.Despite the name, they are not a vegetable and are not related to cucumbers.  They are a kind of seafood.

A common name is Sea Cucumbers, from their shape, also Trepang, or Bêche de Mer, from the French word for “sea grub.” Continue reading

Soy Sauce 醬油

The Indispensable Ingredient
Source of Umami

“With soy sauce, you can cook an untiring series of Chinese dishes with nothing but those foods you can get at any American market.” — Buwei Yang Chao [1]

How to use Soy Sauce

Soy Sauce

What Is Is: Soy sauce is a dark, salty, savory sauce of East Asian origin that is used in cooking and flavoring food, both in the kitchen and at the table.  Dr. Chao puts it very simply: “Soy sauce is the most important flavorer of Chinese food.” Continue reading

Edward Schafer and Berthold Laufer

The Golden Peaches of Samarkand
Chronicles of the Silk Road — Tang Dynasty

Crystallized Ginger

“Without coriander, saffron, mint, ginger and oregano, the foods of the Middle East and China wold be bland indeed.” — Kathie Webber [1]

Kathie Webber is right.  Who could imagine Sichuan cooking without hot red peppers?  And yet they are a fairly recent addition to the Sichuan kitchen. Continue reading

Coconut Milk

A Tropical Secret
Not Just for Candy Bars

“Coconuts are probably the most valuable fruit of the tropics.” — Kathie Webber [1]

The Coconut is a staple food throughout the tropical regions of the world. If you cook Southeast Asian dishes, you no doubt already use Coconut and Coconut Milk in making a number of dishes. [2,3]

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm

Coconut Milk is used in making curries, as well as sauces, soups, and as ingredients in a number of dishes in several Pacific Rim countries.

In recent years, some concerns have surfaced about possible health risks connected with Coconut, especially with the nature of the oil it contains.  On the other hand, there are reports that there may be a number of health benefits involved, ranging from cancer prevention to treatment of dementia. Continue reading

Litchi

The Honorable Concubine’s Favorite Fruit
First Food Shipped by Refrigerated Transport

“Eunuchs gallop up in continuous succession,
“Bearing delicacies for the Imperial kitchens.”
Tu Fu, “Ballad of Lovely Women” [1]

It was the eighth century.  The eunuchs were Imperial couriers, a kind of Chinese Pony Express.

Their saddlebags were crammed full of Continue reading

Lemongrass

Southeast Asia’s Not-So-Secret Ingredient
Citronella’s Cousin

“Lemongrass is one of the defining flavors of Vietnamese cooking.” — Charles Phan

Lemongrass has been called the not-so-secret ingredient of Vietnamese cuisine. But not just Vietnamese Thai, Cambodian, and other Asian cooks also use it to good effect.

Cooking with lemongrass

Lemongrass

What It Is: Lemongrass is the common name for a family of more than 50 species of a plant type native to India and tropical Asia.  Continue reading