"What an experience!"
Excitement aside, it was a huge compliment to be invited by South Africa's Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to help with the South African Food and Wine week at the World Expo in Shanghai. Before we knew it Zandile Mchunu, who has worked with me for more than seven years, and I were winging our way to the Far East. The fair runs for six months and some 500,000 visitors come through the gates every day. Mind boggling numbers.
Our cooking adventure started with a desperate cry. "Chef, I have broken my arm!" We had been in Shanghai for exactly an hour and there was Zandile with a fractured wrist. The one-armed chef did a remarkable job. Her perseverance was admirable and a lesson in commitment. The South African food and wine events tested our skills to the limit because produce, equipment and kitchen space were extremely limited. It's amazing what a chef can pull out of the hat when needs be. Our traditional samp and beans, pap 'n vleis, Bobotie and Durban bunny chow featured on the menu we had created. They went down well, and we were proudly South African.
Between cooking, we managed to see and experience Chinese cuisine - nothing like I'd eaten back home. Every part of every animal is consumed! It made even me, an adventurous eater, nervous and squeamish! Language, as you can imagine, was an issue and we never knew exactly what was on offer. From my observations there was a lack of fresh, simply prepared vegetables and fruit. Tomato soup was my meal of choice most evenings.
I was astonished by the variety of Dim Sum - the many tasty Wontons, steamed buns and Spring rolls. Wontons are different in shape, size and filling depending on where you are in China and can be steamed or deep-fried. The steamed bun has a spongy texture unlike anything I have had before and it normally accompanies noodles or soup. Did you know the origin of the spring roll is associated with caterpillar breeders in China; hence its shape? It is considered an auspicious sign for a good harvest.
In between all the cooking and eating, Zandile and I made time to see Shanghai. The striking temples, ornate jade houses, Yu Gardens and the many close-roofed markets all screamed Chinese. We also had the pleasure of experiencing a proper "monk's" tea tasting. What an occasion! The irresistible tailored-made suits and a feather-light 100% silk duvet made my baggage a little heavier for the return flight.
Our exhilarating trip ended with us nearly missing our flight to Johannesburg. We got through Hong Kong airport in 20 minutes which must be a record! We were mesmerised by a world so removed from ours and we came away enlightened and with many foodie stories to reminisce about.
Take these recipes and try them.