Probably the most daunting professional kitchen of my whole world tour: this was an authentic Chinese restaurant in one of the historic areas of Chongqing, the largest city in the world. Head Chef, Mr Dong, created two perfect dishes in minutes on the gas-heated giant woks that sounded like jet engines – it was so noisy that I just couldn’t use my hearing to gauge the space and what was going on around me. But you can see his super-simple fish and prawn dishes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxH5YwjHF0U
The Garden Restaurant is part of a complex developed by young local entrepreneur Lee Bo. He’s supporting the traditional flower market, providing a library for residents and a shop for handmade arts and crafts. All of this is nestled amongst the narrow alleyways, steep steps and traditional buildings in soft stone and brick – a welcome contrast to the hard glass and steel of the city’s modern high-rise areas. People in China are realising that travellers from all over the world want to see and experience the charm and attraction of the city’s history, to capture a sense of how it is evolving without losing its character.
It was completely impossible for me to be involved in the cooking: all that noise; the risk of woks of boiling oil over the roaring flames; Julia from the Rotary Club trying to keep up with the translation; a busy kitchen full of chefs in the middle of a frantic lunch service. But it was fascinating to learn how just a few simple ingredients came together to create delicious fish in a light and crisp sweet potato batter and prawns redolent with black garlic. It was a true masterclass of Chinese cuisine that produced a memorable lunch.
We had another special treat: tiny shallow bowls just 3 centimetres wide of “puer” tea from the Yunnan Province with the reputation of being good for the digestion. The leaves of this very expensive tea are either fresh or have been dry-toasted in a wok before hot water is poured over them. Julia explained, “Chinese tea is like Western wine: it is a collector’s item and some teas improve the longer they are kept. Some teas cost tens of thousands of pounds.” I confess that my palate just wasn’t refined or experienced enough to recognise the uniqueness of this tea – but I certainly didn’t have any problems with my digestion.