#3: China – Kung Pao Shrimp

Kung Pao Shrimp

In my first post, I reminisced about the trip that started it all. That trip to China in 1996 prompted me to step outside of my comfort zone when it came to food, travel, culture and forced me to think more about how to be independent in my thoughts and my actions. I spent two weeks traveling around to several large cities with a group of teens and adults through a Mission of Peace through the United Methodist church. I don’t recognize that version of myself any more as I left the church a long time ago, but I do recognize the compassion that these types of groups bring with them and I think while some of what we saw was through a different lens, it still opened my eyes.

Baby blogger in training on the Great Wall of China, 1996.

As I sit here, I’m eating an orange with my breakfast. Oranges appeared a lot during our trip and as I learned, those who hosted us in their places of worship, in their schools, often brought oranges as a gesture of good fortune and wealth, especially as you head into the New Year.

Decidedly not chicken, but one of our meals in Beijing, 1996

I also recall that we had an evening where we were paired with a Chinese student to learn more about their life in Beijing. While I do not recall his name off the top of my head, I do remember that he had a handheld video camera that he constantly had on me and the group activities. We kept in touch as pen pals for many years and he sent me a copy of that tape (which I’ve never been able to figure out how to convert). He went on to join the Chinese army and we lost touch shortly thereafter. But since this is a food blog, I must share what we ate that night. Because they wanted to provide something “American” they brought in McDonalds. Though I will say, there was definitely something a bit different about that Big Mac…likely a special sauce that wasn’t cheese. All in all, I did try some new dishes during my travels and found that food in China, at least in the mid-90s, was very different than what I had seen at home. So much more fish and vegetables which in hindsight, I hated at the time, but I imagine I would appreciate much more today.

To try to pick a dish from China was not an easy task. Should I focus on something that bridged that gap between Americanized Chinese food or something that I might have eaten during my time there? Of all the Asian cuisines, this is one that I still don’t gravitate to, but some recent experiences have opened my eyes (though teary) to the wonders of Sichuan cuisine. However, I decided to keep it simple and made a Kung Pao Shrimp dish from my “101 Asian Dishes to Cook Before You Die” cookbook by Jet Tila. You can find a take on that recipe here: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/kung-pao-shrimp-7112947

You may have noticed a tiny little duck with chopsticks next to the picture of my dish. I brought that adorable little chopstick rest and chopsticks back with me from one of the restaurants we visited and somehow I’ve managed to hold onto this little souvenir for more than 25 years.

Overall Level of Effort (Scale of 1-5): 1

Skill Level: Beginner

Would Make Again? No, but only because it wasn’t the most exciting of dishes. I was looking for something simple that week and I found it, but not sure I’d find again.

Additional Notes: This is a great recipe for someone trying to expand their horizons into simple Asian cooking. The ingredients are relatively easy to find and the cooking method is very straightforward. Very doable weeknight meal and you can adjust the spice level to your liking.

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