Jan. 28th, 2011

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
A white plate piled with a heap of potato slivers.  The potatoes are cooked just enough that they have lost their rigidity, but not enough to brown them.  A few pieces of sliced red chilli and spring onion are visible among the potato strands.

Hello! I'm back. Did you miss me?

First, I want to apologise for how abruptly I put this blog on hiatus a couple of months ago. Something came up without warning in my personal life, and I needed all my attention free to deal with it. Things have still not been put right, but at this point it seems unlikely they ever will be.

I'm bringing the blog back to life today, specifically, because the schedule was interrupted between a Wednesday (character) and a Friday (dish) post. On the Monday I posted about potatoes in Chinese cuisine, on the Wednesday I posted about 絲/sī/thread/fibre/shred, and today I'm posting about 土豆絲 (tǔ dòu sī), or shredded potatoes.

As I mentioned in the Monday post, potatoes in Chinese cuisine are treated more like an ordinary vegetable than like a staple carb, and so it would not be unusual to see a potato-based dish served with rice [see footnote]. For the same reason, the potatoes tend to be somewhat undercooked to Western tastes. Both of these characteristics apply to 土豆絲 — it's a fresh, crisp stirfry of very finely shredded potatoes that have been soaked in water before cooking, to remove as much of the starch as possible.

I've seen 土豆絲 on menus both as a cold dish (涼菜/liáng cài) and as a hot dish (熱菜/rè cài), and listed under a variety of names. Cold-dish versions I've seen include 涼拌土豆絲 (liáng bàn tǔ dòu sī) and 熗拌土豆絲 (qiàng bàn tǔ dòu sī); the former of these means something like "cold mixed shredded potato", while the latter replaces the character for cold (涼) with 熗, which has baffled me in the past, but may mean something like "pungent". Sometimes 嗆 is used instead of 熗; both are pinyinised as qiàng.

Hot dish/vegetable dish versions include 酸辣土豆絲 (suān là tǔ dòu sī), or hot (辣) and sour (酸) shredded potatoes; 香辣土豆絲 (xiāng là tǔ dòu sī), or fragrant-spicy shredded potatoes; 醋熘土豆絲 (cù liù tǔ dòu sī), or shredded potatoes with vinegar; and 青椒土豆絲 (qīng jiāo tǔ dòu sī), or shredded potatoes with green [青] peppers []. They pretty much all include vinegar, it's just that some mention it explicitly in the name and others don't.

Making this dish at home is quite easy, as long as you have decent knife skills — the hardest part is cutting the potatoes into those fine slivers. Alternatively, you could use a mandoline if you happen to have one. Do note that you won't need nearly as much potato as you would for a Western potato dish; around one medium-sized potato per person is ample. Like most of the dishes I post about here, this should be served with several other dishes as part of a meal; you wouldn't just eat a big bowl of it by itself.

As suggested by the plethora of names for this dish listed above, there are many variations on how to make it. Beijing Made Easy has a nice basic recipe containing just potato, dried red chillies, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and salt; while mmm-yoso's version adds Sichuan pepper. Charmaine Mok's version adds garlic, Travel China Guide's rendition uses ginger and green peppers (in addition to the chillies), while Sunflower's recipe even includes carrots and preserved vegetable (榨菜/zhà cài) for extra flavour. I can personally vouch for Charmaine's recipe, served either hot or cold, though I use groundnut oil for stirfrying instead of sesame oil, and add some ground Sichuan pepper just before serving.

Some of the above sources describe this dish as coming from Sichuan, others from Beijing. Recipes Tap mentions that Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook includes a version, and indeed it also appears on the menu of Golden Day, a Hunan restaurant here in London. There are more thoughts on the distribution of potato use within China in my previous post on potatoes.

Footnote: [0] See also 螞蟻上樹/mǎ yǐ shàng shù/ants climbing a tree, which is a noodle dish that's often served with rice rather than as a carb per se.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.


December 2012


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