On Monday evening, my old college roommate (thanks, L.!) and I took a cooking demonstration class by Grace Young, author of the cookbook Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge. It was a phenomenal class, with great recipes, delicious food to taste, and TONS of tips on stir-frying. Grace Young is truly The Wok Queen, The Poet Laureate of the Wok, and a Wok Evangelist.
She is also a wonderful storyteller, describing her adventures with airport security when transporting her personal wok around the country, with great humor. But my favorite stories, which are also shared in her book, were those about what she called "Chinese diaspora cooking." When the Chinese migrated to countries where they could not get familiar ingredients for traditional Chinese dishes, they improvised. So in Trinidad, a shrimp stir-fry would use rum instead of rice wine and the shrimp would be rinsed in lime juice according to Trinidadian tradition. In Peru, a beef stir-fry called Lomo Saltado is made with filet mignon and aji chilis, and served over french fries! In the Mississippi Delta, Chinese immigrants used local ingredients like rutabagas and turnip greens and fat-back to make stir-fries.
Chinese restaurant cooking outside of China would also be altered to meet the tastes and expectations of the locals. So in Jamaican Chinese restaurants, there'd be jerk chicken fried rice. And in Chinese restaurants in India, curried stir-fries are common. Dutch customers expected french fries with every meal, so Chinese Dutch restaurants stir-fried with french fries. And, of course, that explains the American-Chinese mess known as chop suey, which would be considered a foreign dish in China, made to appeal to mainstream American palates!
Young also tells a reverse-diaspora story; when a Chinese-American woman raised in Brooklyn moved to Beijing and opened a bagel store, her Chinese employees invented a stir-fry dish with the bagels (and, yes, the recipe is in her book!). She describes it as similar to a hot bread salad or a bread dressing.
All in all, a fun and fascinating evening! If you have a chance to hear Grace Young speak and taste her cooking, grab it! Click here for her website, which includes her schedule. I would also recommend her latest book, whether you cook or not, just for the wonderful stories of Chinese diaspora cooking.
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