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Stories of food: Having Chinese food in Paris

 





I love Paris. I always think that there are cities that one can visit in just a few days. But Paris is different for me; to understand Paris, one needs to live there for some time. Just hopping on and off the metro, walking in between the shops, getting lost in the streets… Probably you can then understand why it is the way like this, what made all the artists and writers came here and became famous, how the city with massive destructions and reconstructions in the past hundreds years still present a whole historical path from the very early settlement to now.




But coming to food… we lost. We are not big fans of butter, cream, cheese — so you can imagine.


Tonight, we had Chinese.


I know that the Chinese migrants in mainland Europe, are unlike the ones in England who are usually from Canton. In Paris, Chinese migrants mostly come from Central China. So, Chinese food in Paris is supposed to be very different from Chinese food in England.


We purposely got lost in the small streets in a district we didn’t know at all, and thinking whichever restaurants came up and looked ok, we would just go for it. Then we passed by this small window, and saw a chef hand pulling noodles — not very skillful, but enough to attract us to look at the menu and enter to give a try. — I really missed white plain boiled rice.


The menu was very simple, and mostly consisted of mainland Chinese dishes. I even saw ‘Di San Xian’ on the menu, which I have never seen ever before in a Chinese restaurant in Western Europe!


Today, I am sharing my eating experience in the restaurant, rather than cooking in the kitchen. We ordered two very typical mainland Chinese dishes – ‘spicy fish in soup’ and ‘ma po doufu’.


Spicy fish in soup’ is a landmark Sichuan dish, which  suddenly became famous and popular in Northeast China. It is normally seabass cooked in spicy soup.
The dish is normally presented in a big ( I really mean big, big) bowl, with the soup covered by red chilli pepper and sichuan peppercorn. After being presented in front of you, the waiter normally offers to help you take out the ‘top layer’ of chillis and peppercorns, so you can see the fish and vegetables in the bowl. :)) It is a bit ‘oily’, but with distinguishing sichan spiciness — don’t worry about the chillis, it is not chilli as it shows. Since then, it became a ‘must’ order dish for us. So if you ever go to China, and don’t mind spicy food, this is definitely recommended.


Second, because we both like tofu, after a few days haven’t had tofu, we really miss it. So I ordered ‘ma po doufu’ with stressing that I don’t eat pork, so either beef mince or no meat at all. — If you are ordering in China, this is never a problem, because the dish normally doesn’t contain meat, but since the food has been adapted many times, ‘ma po doufu’ always comes with meat. Famous ‘ma po doufu’ is from Sichuan as well, it is made from fresh tofu, (not fried), and normally with pure chilli sauce, no pickles or other ingredients. The colour is red, and this can be very spicy! If you don’t like spicy food, do not bother to tell the chef to make it less spicy, rather just order another way of cooking tofu, because the best of this dish is the ‘sichuan spiciness’.


At last, we ordered some mixed vegetables. Mix many different vegetables together is never a Northeast style. In stir frying leaves, the green leaves are normally still very juicy and crunchy, and the dish normally doesn’t come with ‘thick’ sauce. It is supposed to be light and fresh.


Coming back to our dinner in this small restaurant, these three dishes are definitely a good combination. But although the waitress claimed that the chef was from Beijing, the dishes… ok. It is a ‘hybridized’ Cantonese and sichuan style. I learned a lesson — never put too much soy sauce and corn flour thickening, and always try to keep the taste fresh. :))

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