During my recent trip to Beijing I had a free morning. I’d been to the major sights – Tiananmen Square the Forbidden city, and the Great Wall – back in March so this time I chose to do something a little different. I booked a cooking class and market tour through viator.com.
The class was at the Hutong cooking school run by Chao and Chunyi, a brother and sister. It was an awesome experience. I caught a taxi from the hotel to the school. It dropped me off at the start of the hutong, a.k.a. alley. I walked down the hutong until I got to number 35:
Not entirely what I expected but I rang the door bell anyway. Chao opened the door and took me to the kitchen that was part of a really interesting, presumably traditional-style building complex.
It was a quiet time of year so for the first part of the class it was just me. The class started with a review of soy sauces (light and dark), chinese vinegars (shanxi aged vinegar and zhenjiang vinegar), and shaoxin cooking wine. One of the key takeaways of the class was the importance of using the correct chinese vinegar rather than, for example, distilled white vinegar. They have very different flavors (think basalmic vs. malt) and key part of many chinese dishes.
The second part of the class was a walk along the hutong to traditional chinese market. The market was spread over two levels. The downstairs part was the fruit and vegetable section. Upstairs was the meat, fish, noodles and tofu. I wished that I had taken photos but I was too busy enjoying the sights, sounds and smells.
In the third part of the class, I was joined by a second student and we got to make lunch using the ingredients purchased at the market. The teacher demonstrated how to make a very simple yet absolutely delicious braised chicken with mushroom dish. After that we got to make from scratch three dishes: steamed prawn with minced garlic, spicy and sour green bean salad, and fish flavored, stir-fried pork. All three dishes were very easy to make yet very tasty.
Another key takeaway of the class was that the cooking style I learned from the Shun Lee cookbook where you first deep fry the meat and then stir fry it again with the sauce is (perhaps unsurprisingly) restaurant-style cooking. That’s not how dishes are prepared at home. Instead, the meat is stir-fried once.
This was an incredibly useful class. I will definitely go back for more lessons next time I’m in Beijing. Since getting back home I’ve bought the chinese vinegars and cooking wine and made a number of different dishes that have all turned out rather well (according to the family and neighbor). I’ve also bought Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. It seems to have the same kind of home-style recipes that I learned about in the class.