Did anyone read the recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Why Chinese mothers are better mothers? It was one of those topics that was sent to me by a friend and had me alternately cringing and laughing at the same time. In it the writer Amy Chua purports that raising children “the Chinese mother way” i.e. strictly and expecting better from them does them good in the long term.
The article was of course written to incite comment rather than reflect the tone of the actual book cherry picking the most controversial parts whereas the book discusses the mistakes and regerets that she had and that one of her children rebelled. One thing I remember having a chuckle about was when she tells us some things that her daughters were never allowed to do.
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin
Let me go through that list for me and my parents:
- attend a sleepover (I held and attended lots of sleepovers)
- have a playdate (I definitely had these)
- be in a school play (we didn’t hold school plays, is that an American thing?)
- complain about not being in a school play (I wanted to be in one so I may have complained about the school not holding one)
- watch TV or play computer games (I was allowed to do both although bear in mind a computer game was Pac Man and Space Invaders when I was a kid)
- choose their own extracurricular activities (well apparently food blogging for children hadn’t developed what with the internet not being around so with nothing else at my disposal I was allowed to choose homework)
- get any grade less than an A (well I did really let them down consistently here)
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama (lol again I must have been a huge disappointment although I upheld the Chinese child tradition of failing in gym)
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin (I did a couple of years on the piano but they gave up soon after_i was not going to break out with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, I was more a Für Elise gal-the abridged aka simple version)
- not play the piano or violin (my lack of talent decided my fate here)
This list was interesting to me because I felt that my parents were incredibly strict with me growing up. Yet from having a look at this list my parents were utter slackers! I then spoke to a friend Buxom Wench who told us that her child Clone No. 1 said “Don’t worry, mum, you’re a failed Asian mother, I’m going to get you a t-shirt that says so. On the back it can say, ‘I forgot to ruin my kid’s life”. And she mused aloud and said “Maybe I can wear it to Chinese New Year…hahaha”.
I do recall wishing that my friend’s parents were mine though. Another aspect that my parents were strict was more from my father’s side. He only ate Chinese food so we never got to try anything different for the first decade of our lives unless it was bought from my pocket money or eaten at a friend’s house. I hated it back then, all I wanted was something different but now, if I don’t have Chinese food for a couple of weeks I start to crave it.
These Xiao Long Baos were actually something that we didn’t grow up eating. Instead for us dumplings were the Cantonese yum cha variety. But when my mother asked me what I would like to have to Chinese New Year I suggested these. Both of our interests were peaked at watching them being made at New Shanghai but the restaurant weren’t willing to share their secret recipe so I looked for a recipe and found one at Steamy Kitchen which looked the part. It had the telltale gelatine broth that once steamed, turned into a lovely hot soup to be sipped from the dumpling.
The recipe was quite clear and we just adjusted it to add a little more salt and ginger. I made the dough in the bowl of an electric mixer but of course if you don’t have this you can follow the original recipe’s instructions of mixing it with chopsticks and a bowl. So what was the verdict? Scrumdiddyumptious indeed! They’re a bit of work yes but most of the time is taken up by the jelly broth but considering that it makes about 50-60 dumplings, it’s best made and eaten in a group of hungry, nimble fingered eaters. Good reward for good effort if you will (and doesn’t that make me sound like Amy Chua? ).
So tell me Dear Reader, what did you think of that article? And were your parents strict when you were growing up?
Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai Soup Dumplings
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen
- 2 quarts/2 litres of water
- 2 pounds/900 g chicken bones (wings/back/neck)
- 2 ounces/60 g of Virginia Smithfield ham (or cured Chinese ham if you can get it), cut into 4 pieces (Virginia ham)
- 1/2 pound/250g of pork skin & fat (you can ask your butcher for this, he’ll most likely just give it to you. you could also use pork belly, or just a fatty cut of pork)
- 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced into 4-5 ginger “coins”
- 2 green onions, cut into 3 inch pieces
- 2 large garlic cloves, smashed with side of your knife
- 2 teaspoons of Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 1 tablespoon powdered Agar Agar or 1 tablespoon of unflavored gelatin
1. Wash pork thoroughly. Take the pork skin and with the backside of your knife, firmly scrape the surface of the skin to clean it further. This will help you produce a cleaner soup. Rinse again. Place all ingredients in a large stockpot. When all ingredients come to a boil, immediately turn to low heat and simmer for 2 hours. Skim surface of impurities constantly to keep soup clean and clear. Or, you could make the broth in half the time. When the soup is done. Strain and discard solids. We will only use 4 cups of broth. (Save the rest for soup!)
2. Place 4 cups of the broth back in the pot, turn on the heat. When just about to boil again, turn heat off and add the agar-agar or gelatin. Whisk for 2 minutes until all powder is dissolved. Pour broth into containers to set. Refrigerate until set, about 3-4 hours.
- 1 lb/450 g ground pork
- 1/4 lb/125 g shrimp, shelled, deveined and minced finely
- 3 stalks green onion, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Mix all ingredients. Remember the broth gelatin above? When the broth gelatin is set, run a fork through it, with criss-cross motion, to break up into very small 1/4″ pieces. Take about 2 cups of the gelatinised broth and add that to the filling mixture. Stir to incorporate evenly throughout. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Mom’s Hot Water Dough
(makes about 50-50 dumplings)
- 400 grams of all-purpose flour (but please re-read the part above re: dough)
- 3/4 cups boiling hot water
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
1. Put 90% of the flour in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. One the lowest speed pour about a third of the hot water in the flour. Add the rest of the hot water until the dough begins to form. Add the cold water and oil. Add the remaining 40 grams of flour and knead on the lowest setting for about 4-5 minutes until the dough becomes elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.
2. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Take one piece (cover the remaining 3 pieces with plastic wrap) and roll it into a long log, about 1-1/4″ diameter. Using pastry scraper or knife, cut dough into 10-14 pieces. Roll one of the pieces between your palms to get a nice, round, smooth ball. Dust the counter top lightly with flour keep a small pile of flour to the side so keep the surface dry and floured. Roll each ball of dough out into a circle using a small, light rolling pin (I used a cannoli mold which is actually a wooden broomstick cut into pieces) and then using the end of the small rolling pin, roll out the edges so that they are thinner so that there is a thicker circle in the centre.
3. With your left hand (if you are right handed) make a C with your thumb and foirefinger and rest the pastry dics in there. Fill the centre with filling ensuring that you get lots of the gelatine bits. With your thumb and forefinger of your right hand pinch pleat the dumplings together. Cover any dough and made dumplings so that they don’t dry out.
- 1 head of Napa or wombok cabbage, leaves separated or circles of baking paper
1. Fill steamer with 1 layer of Napa cabbage leaves. Steam over medium heat for 2 minutes to warm up the steamer and to soften cabbage. Place dumplings on the cabbage leaves, leaving 1 1/2″ space between each dumpling. Steam for 12 minutes. Serve in bamboo steamer.
The Dipping Sauce
- a few slices of red chilli
- 1/2 cup black vinegar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of shaved ginger
1. Combine all of the above and serve as a dipping sauce and refrigerate until ready for use.
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