Great dishes from my travels

Great dishes from my travels

Margaret Fulton
38 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Geoff Lung

I fell under the spell of travel many years ago – seeing new places, meeting new people and learning of their traditions. My eyes were opened by fascinating tastes, flavours, spices and different cooking techniques. Through my travels I have been privileged to learn what makes each culture unique and this knowledge has become an integral part of my work. It has given me enormous joy to share my understanding of these cultures with my readers over the years through a language we all understand – food and cooking.

Mastering chinese cooking

If you are able to shop in a big city, you will find each one has a Chinese quarter where the more unusual ingredients can be bought. In many country towns, a good supermarket will at least have tinned or dried Chinese ingredients. If fresh Chinese vegetables are not available, use local vegetables instead.

Chinese meals are usually planned around several dishes, so these recipes are not designed to feed specific numbers. But, if you remember that two or three dishes and rice are sufficient for four people, your catering will be easy. I believe Chinese food tastes better if eaten from Chinese dishes and bowls. Include tiny dishes for condiments such as soy sauce, chilli sauce, salt and five-spice powder, some china spoons and, of course, chopsticks. Fragrant Chinese green tea is the ideal accompaniment to Chinese food.

Chinese ingredients

Bamboo shoots: Fresh bamboo shoots are available fresh from Asian grocers. Also, they are readily available in cans. Drain before using.

Bean sprouts: The sprouts of mung beans, available fresh. The tails are best removed before cooking. In fine Chinese cooking, the heads are also removed.

Black beans: Small soybeans, fermented. If very strong, rinse in water several times. Black bean sauce is often served with crab, lobster, fish, beef or spare ribs.

Chilli sauce: A very hot sauce, used mainly for dipping.

Chinese pickles: A mixture of ginger, capsicum, leeks and melons. Use shredded in sweet and sour sauce.

Chinese rice wine: Also called shao-hsing, this rice wine is used in many recipes. Dry sherry can substitute.

Cabbage: There are various types available. They are sliced into lengths, using all stems and a little green leaf. Wash and drain well before using.

Shiitake mushrooms: Available fresh and dried. They are dark in colour on top and light underneath. Soak dried mushrooms for 20 minutes in hot water before using. Discard stem.

Five-spice powder: Excellent for flavouring duck, chicken or pork. Mixed with salt, it is served in a bowl for dipping pieces of crisp-skin duck or chicken.

Ginger: Use fresh green ginger to flavour food (mainly seafoods) and also to season oil for cooking many dishes.

Noodles: There are various types of noodles. They are sometimes boiled, or they may be par-boiled, then finished off in oil. Look for the many types available in supermarkets.

Peanut oil: Peanut oil is chosen for Chinese cooking because it has a very mild flavour. Substitute with a salad oil if liked but avoid using strong-flavoured olive oil for Chinese dishes. When heating for frying, season with a bruised garlic clove and slice of fresh ginger. Remove these before adding ingredients to be cooked.

Sesame oil: A very concentrated refined oil that must be used sparingly. A little is sometimes added to peanut oil for added flavour when frying.

Shrimps, dried: Use to flavour dishes like soups and meat dishes.

Soy sauce: Most important for Chinese cookery. There are many different grades, some light and some dark.

Water chestnuts: Mostly bought in cans, they provide a crisp texture in dishes. Fresh water chestnuts are available from some Asian grocers.

Cooking utensils

The wok, or Chinese cooking pan, is best for Chinese cookery. It has a rounded base and a handle on each side although some do have one long handle. This essential utensil is used for deep-frying, steaming, sautéing and braising.

Knives and choppers are heavy, thick and always of steel. Chinese-type ladles, with long handles, are useful. The flat type is used for many dishes, to turn all the ingredients in the wok. Another ladle has a scoop to hold the liquids for basting. Strainers are a necessary item when deep-frying.

Chinese food is eaten with chopsticks, and they are also used as cooking implements. When using chopsticks for cooking, be sure to use long wooden ones which can tolerate the heat.

A set of rice bowls and inexpensive Chinese plates will add to the enjoyment of eating Chinese food.

Cooking techniques

The main methods of cooking in the Chinese manner are stir-frying, deep-frying, braising, steaming, roasting or barbecuing.

Stir-frying: This is the most widely used method in Chinese cookery. The food is cooked in a small amount of oil in a wok or frying pan, and stirred continuously as the food fries.

Deep-frying: Cooking with or without batter, in plenty of hot oil.

Braising: Brown ingredients in a small amount of oil, add broth or water, cover tightly, and cook slowly over a gentle heat, until food is tender.

Steaming: Arrange food to be steamed such as fish or chicken on a heatproof plate and cook, covered, over a saucepan of boiling water for 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the dish.

Barbecuing and roasting: When this method is used, the food is usually cooked over charcoal, or hung from hooks in the oven. Barbecued pork and duck are cooked in this manner.

Cutting methods

Ingredients for Chinese cooking are cut into sizes and shapes convenient for picking up with chopsticks. If the food is served whole, such as sweet and sour fish or steamed duck, it is so tender that it can be easily broken off with chopsticks.

Each dish consists of at least two or more ingredients, which are always cut into uniform sizes and shapes. Preparation of ingredients involves more work than the actual cooking. The seasonings and sauces can be mixed together, meat and vegetables cut in readiness.

Terms explained:

Mince: Chop very finely, then crush with chopper.

Wedge: Cut into triangular-shaped sections.

Cube: Cut as for dice into 2 cm squares.

Dice: Cut into strips, stack, then cut the stack across into 0.5–1 cm cubes.

Chop: Cut into very small pieces with chopper or knife.

Section: Cut into 1 cm lengths, cutting diagonally. To cut an onion into sections, halve lengthwise, the cut each half into quarters and separate into sections.

Shred: Cut into 5 cm lengths, then shred into fine strips. To shred meat, cut into thin slices, then cut each slice into shreds.


Soup is always part of a Chinese meal. Most soups are clear with floating pieces of cooked meat and vegetables. Thicker soups, which can form a complete meal, are also very popular. A good stock is the base of any well-flavoured soup.

Beef and pork

Pork is more widely used in Chinese cooking than beef. Pork fillet, used for barbecued pork and sautéed dishes, is popular and cooks quickly. Tender cuts of beef are also ideal.


Whole chickens are sometimes simmered in soy sauce or deep-fried until crisp then served with salt mixed with five-spice powder. Chickens are cut with a cleaver into bite-size pieces with both flesh and bone. Duck is barbecued, roasted or braised until tender.


The Chinese make use of a wide variety of seafood, which they cook in many ways, always keeping the flesh juicy and moist even when the outside is crisp and golden. Crisp-skin fish is an example of this technique, as are prawn cutlets. Delicate, braised seafood dishes are also among the most popular Chinese dishes.


The Chinese cook vegetables until they are tender, but still crisp. They are served both as a separate course and as parts of a meal with other dishes. Braising is the most typical method of cooking vegetables. The prepared vegetables are put into a pan with a small quantity of hot oil and stir-fried for a few minutes. Stock or water is added with seasonings and the vegetables are allowed to simmer for a further 2–3 minutes with the pan covered.

Superbly spiced and aromatic curries

A curry meal with all its accompaniments has many devotees. Curry can be an adventure in good eating but, contrary to general belief, curry dishes need not necessarily be hot. A dozen or more fragrant herbs and spices combine in the unforgettable flavour and, of these, only chilli is hot. Using more or less of this fiery ingredient can control the heat of any curry.

Rice, which accompanies curries, may be simply boiled or steamed, or it may be cooked in stock, flavoured with spices and saffron, and have nuts and sultanas added. It is served first and placed in a mound in the centre of the plate. Curries are then served and placed around the rice. There should be one or two meat curries, such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry or seafood. In addition, there should be at least one vegetable curry.

Almost any vegetable can be successfully curried, and the curry can be dry or made with gravy. Either way, the addition of curry spices and herbs adds a new dimension to vegetable cookery.

Accompaniments are then handed around. As these are usually in small dishes, they may be arranged on a tray for convenience. Guests help themselves to small portions and place them in separate piles around the rice. Curry should be eaten with a spoon and fork, not with a knife and fork. Each spoonful is mixed separately and should consist of rice, curry and a different accompaniment. This way, the contrasting tastes and textures are appreciated and it is possible to adjust the hotness of the curry by the amount of rice mixed with it.

Sambals and other accompaniments

Accompaniments should be varied in flavour and texture, including cooked and fresh chutneys. Serve hot chutney or pickles and coconut sambal for extra bite, or cool the palate with sliced bananas, tomato and mint chutney, sweet fruit chutney, salads and cucumbers in sour cream. Crisp-fried pappadams are perfect for texture contrast.

Cooking with a spanish flavour

My enthusiasm for Spanish food may be somewhat prejudiced, but how could it be otherwise, for I spent some of the happiest days of my life in Spain.

The main ingredient in Spanish food is olive oil, or Spanish ‘liquid gold’ as it is called. Its advantages are known to experienced cooks. The flavour of pure olive oil gives distinction and finish to many dishes. Combined with butter it creates an excellent cooking medium, as the oil allows the butter to be brought to a high temperature, without burning, at the same time blending the two delicate flavours.

Another important ingredient is rice, which absorbs the aromas of garlic, capsicum, delicious seafoods and other riches of the world’s harvest, including one of the costliest but most rewarding spices, Spanish saffron. Add the lovely wines, sherries and brandies which find their way into the food, as well as on to the table, and you have the flavour of Spain.


My early visits to Japan taught me many things. Japanese food is unique. The quiet appeal and natural beauty of each ingredient is highlighted with special seasonings, soy, miso, sake or mirin and the presentation of each dish is something that true cooks pays a great deal of attention to.

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