Thursday, October 6th, Day 21
I found a recipe for steamed buns that looks pretty easy. It’s basically a French bread dough (leavened with yeast), stuffed with whatever you want inside, and cooked by steaming. I didn’t know the Chinese used yeast. It must be a northern Chinese dish, where wheat is grown (southern China is all about rice).
I went shopping, armed with my dictionary: dry yeast 干酵母, wheat flour 小麦粉. I started with the flour, because I knew where it was. I picked a bag that said “high gluten wheat flour” in English. It was the store brand, “Great Value”, the brand name also printed in English.
I pulled up the word for yeast on my tablet, looked around, and a nearby clerk came over to help me. I showed her the Chinese characters for yeast. She said the word in Chinese, then ran off. By the time I realized I needed to follow her, she was already two aisles up and disappearing around the corner. She headed to the back of the store, down the aisle where I had found the sugar on a previous trip. She reached up (I never would have found it so high up), pulled down two different packages of dried yeast, held out the larger, pointing to the prices. The bigger one was a better buy per ounce. I put it in my bag, thanked her, went to the end of the aisle where I would have more room to work with my dictionary.
As soon as I found the word on my tablet, the same clerk was there again. I pointed to the Chinese translation for “corn starch”. “Yù mǐ fěn,” she said, and was off again, down a few aisles. She pulled a bag of yellow corn meal off the shelf. “No,” I said in English as I shook my head. She looked at the word again. I tried to show her with my hands how I used corn starch to thicken my sauces. Right. She just stared at me as I stirred my imaginary liquid and added the imaginary corn starch. Then her face lit up and she was off again.
This time she ran across to the other side of the store, up the stairs, down a few aisles. When I caught up with her, she was asking another clerk something. She headed down a nearby aisle, pulled another bag off the shelf. I think it was corn grits? I shook my head again, pulled up my dictionary, and noticed that I had chosen the wrong word. I had shown her the Chinese for corn meal. Embarrassed, I tapped on the word for corn starch and showed it to her. “Yù mǐ diàn fěn,” she said, emphasizing the extra character, which made all the difference.
She ran back downstairs, back to the aisle with the yeast and sugar, and she pulled a bag of corn starch from the shelf. “Hai, domo,” I said, bowing, then grimaced as I realized I was remembering some Japanese. “Xiè xiè,” I said, unable to remember the phrase I had just read about to say thank you for your help “xiè xiè nǐ bāng wǒ.” We never did find the sweet red bean paste. But on my way out of the store, I passed the peanuts, so picked up a bag.
The peanuts were raw, shelled, but still encased in their red skins. I don’t have an oven, but I have a wok! So I roasted the peanuts in a teaspoon of soy oil. While they were cooking, I was thinking. I’m in Sichuan province. Everything is spicy. Why not roast these with some hot pepper paste?
I got the fan on, and the door open, leaned back, and added a teaspo0n of pepper paste. The fan did its job and unless I put my head right over the wok, I didn’t get pepper gassed.
I was stirring, thinking again. Why not add a little honey? Make a honey-roasted peanut, Sichuan style! So I squirted a little honey on the peanuts. The honey started to boil immediately, then thickened. I stirred faster. When there was no more sizzling, I turned off the heat, slid the peanuts on to a plate, spread them out to cool.
Yummy! I think I just invented another dish for my Cali-Sino restaurant: Sichuan-style peanut brittle!
The steam buns were remarkably easy to make, since I already knew how to make bread.
I filled them with some sweet stir-fried tofu, placed them in my steamer, waited 20 minutes for the second rising, then steamed them for 25 minutes.
After dinner I wrote a story about the hottest pepper I’ve ever eaten, in northern Thailand. But that’s a different trip.
PS: No more pictures of my bean sprouts. Did you see? I ate them.