Recipe Roundup / Unique Flavor Combinations

Life in the small tourist town of Xizhou is completely the opposite of my life as a student in Philadelphia, which is a nice change of pace. Most tourists stay in the larger neighboring town of Dali; Xizhou is just an interesting stop along their way to other bigger sites. Thus, shops here open late and close early, which gives me a lot of free time before and after work that I am not used to. I have already finished three books in the last week and a half, soaking up as much as I can about Chinese history and the local area. After a couple hours of reading in the evening, I go to bed almost as soon as it is fully dark out: around 9pm.

However, when I want a break from reading, I have been dreaming up all sorts of interesting flavor combinations I want to experiment with in future baking projects. Maybe it is because I am being exposed to such different, incredible foods (allllll the Chinese food + my Xizhou xiaochi project!), or because I suddenly don’t have access to ingredients/kitchen like I am used to. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pining over the new absence of blueberries or dark chocolate chips in my life. But I am already making a list, ranked by priority, of the things I am going to make at the end of the summer!

Here are some recipes with unique flavor combinations that I am feeling particularly inspired by:

Sichuan Peppercorn Blueberry Oatmeal Pie / Lady and Pups

Fig, Balsamic, and Rosemary Hand Pies / Local Milk Blog

Blueberry Lavender Pound Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Cream / The Kitchen McCabe

Strawberry Basil Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream / The Cupcake Project

Looking back, it actually looks like there is a common theme of fruit + herbs!


Side note – in case you’re interested, here are the books I have read so far:

  • River Town, Peter Hessler
    I keep catching myself narrating my life in Xizhou in the same way that he writes…. weird?
  • Travels Through Dali With a Leg of Ham Zhang Mei
    An interesting combination of travel, autobiography, recipes, and photos. I love that I am starting to recognize the places + ingredients she talks about!
  • Dragon Lady, Sterling Seagrave
    The real (?) story of Empress Cixi, one of the three empresses in Chinese history. Depressing and a little inspiring, but mostly just fascinating.

Xizhou Food Guide / Yogurt

Hello! I am very excited to be spending the summer working in Xizhou, a small town next to Dali, Yunnan (southern China, bordering Burma and Laos) When not working, I have set myself the goal to try as many of Xizhou’s specialty snacks (小吃, xiaochi, literally “small eats”) as I can.

Xizhou is a very small town (3,000 in the town itself), so secretly my real goal is to become BFFs with the shop owners as well. A lot of tourists pass through Xizhou so I make sure to be extra friendly and wave to the same pengyous (朋友, friends) every chance I get!

First up, it is important to note (the somewhat obvious fact) that the Chinese food in the US is not reflective of most Chinese food in China. China is home to 56 minority groups, each with their own unique cultures and diets. The Chinese food that trickles to America is only tiny part of the diverse range of flavors and foods. Xizhou’s population is 90% Bai minority, a group that is known for its dairy. While many Chinese people are lactose intolerant, the Bai people are famous for having lots of cheese and yogurt in their daily diets.

While yogurt is not a particularly exotic snack to begin this series, I don’t think that any guide to Xizhou xiaochi could miss it! Many stands in Xizhou sell yogurt in the bottles you can see below. Most of the yogurts contain fruit such as blueberries or strawberries. Before purchasing, you shake the yogurt really well so the fruit pieces blend in throughout. Unlike in the US, Chinese people like their yogurt so thin you can drink it. I did not include it in the photo below, but I drank my mango yogurt with a straw.

The yogurt is sweet and creamy, with the texture of a very thin milkshake. A refreshing alternative to overly sweet fruit juices or bottled ice teas on a very hot day!

Exploring Philly // Goldie

Michael Solomonov Beyoncé’d the restaurant world by opening Goldie, a vegan falafel + milkshake fast casual restaurant, without telling the press or, well, anyone. Solomonov, who won “Outstanding Chef” at the James Beard Awards this year, owns a wide variety of the most famous eateries in Philadelphia, including Zahav, Dizengoff, Federal Donuts, and Rooster Soup Co.

Goldie’s menu is short but so good. They offer falafel in pita or on salad, fries, (most excitingly) vegan tahini milkshakes, and that’s it.

I was most excited to try the tahini milkshakes. I tried the decadent chocolate tahini milkshake, which is topped with honeycomb and drizzled with chocolate sauce. While I couldn’t pinpoint the taste as tahini, the milkshake was nutty and rich. How this thick, delicious “milkshake” could be made vegan is beyond me.

Full disclaimer: I don’t love falafel. I’ve been to Israel, and I didn’t even really love the falafel there either. It’s fine, but it always seems dry, crumbly, and bland to me. Goldie didn’t make falafel my new favorite food, but trust me – as a non-falafel person, this falafel is pretty good. It is moist and flavorful, and is paired perfectly with the creamy sauces in the pita.

Overall, I have to hand it to Solomonov. He deserves all his awards and more. I’ll be back to try other tahini milkshake flavors, and for my new favorite falafel.