Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cats in the Kitchen

I met my grandmother's tiny white kitten for the first time today.  Seven weeks new to the world, two days new to that house, and what energy!  Such a bundle of bounces compared to our two friendly giants, who are now quietly watching the rugby with us on TV.  (Go the All Blacks!)

From Cat by B. Kliban, Eyre Methuen 1979
Cats are only related to food in that they go crazy when they smell fish or chicken in the kitchen, or so I thought.  Imagine my astonishment when I opened a bilingual recipe book I'd brought back from Hong Kong several years ago, and every single page mentioned "catties" and "taels"!

Here, for instance, are the surprising list of ingredients for Shanghainese Sesame Seed Dumplings in Kitty Choi's Foundation Dim Sum Making (Food Paradise Publishing Company, sixth print 2008).  These black and white balls are my token nod to our national team:
    1/2 catty glutinous rice flour
    4 Tbsp rice flour
    12 oz. water
    1 1/2 taels sesame icing sugar
    1 1/2 taels white sugar
    2 taels pork fat

Quite apart from the fact that I had always assumed desserts would be vegetarian, I had never come across "catties" and "taels" before.  Wikipedia to the rescue: they are Chinese units of measurement.  In Hong Kong, 1 catty = 604.78982g and 1 tael = 37.79936375 g.

This knowledge doesn't solve all the problems with the recipe though.  Throughout the book, a catty is also given as 640g, which contradicts the Weights and Measures Ordinance of Hong Kong.  The author also assumes the reader is familiar with the cuisine: I can easily imagine someone being confused at seeing the black centres of these dumplings in the colour photographs, when the filling is made only from the last three ingredients.  (I still remember the time we made muesli bars at intermediate school.  I was tasked with bringing sesame to sprinkle on top, and we only had black sesame at home.  Everyone thought I'd burnt the tops of the otherwise perfect bars!)  Then there are the odd translations, that even the mighty Google could not help me with (what, for instance, is Lein wine, which appears in another recipe)?

I guess that's why I love buying books like this.  They have an authentic feel, they entertain you, they make you think, and in the worst case, well, you can get someone to translate it for you afresh from the Chinese.  Not to mention they generally cost a fraction of the price of the books written purely in English for the Western market.  And they help me learn Chinese.

By the way, if you like cats, you can get a fully Asian dose of them at the Anzac Street branch of Hulucat.  This bubble milk tea vendor is often full of students, who hang out playing games with their friends while giving their stomachs time to digest the giant cups of flavoured drinks.

You will find cats on every wall at Hulucat
A not-so-related but equally novel "catty" eatery is Kati Grill on K'Rd.  There you can buy what you might call Indian-style kebabs.  The Achari Paneer Kati Roll I tried months ago was delicious, though I found that it felt heavy, because of the cooked vegetables in place of a raw salad, so maybe I should have compared it to a burrito instead.

And that's the end of this tale, if you'll excuse the terrible puns.

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