Shananigans is back

I’ve been on holidays… a brief diversion for a week in Sicily, a land of magic and colour, of sunshine and history, of baroque cities, rugged coastline, rolling fertile landscapes and beautiful beaches all in a compact package.

It was a week to savour a combination of excellent food and wine, stunning cityscapes, the wilder northwest and the gentler south east of the island and to soak up the late summer colours, aromas, light and heat of this special island.

it was an opportunity to register the contrasts and, at times, the unexpected resonances with my trip to China in June. Scale was the obvious difference – the sheer size of China and its population was an ever-constant drumbeat to that visit along with the absence of colour and direct sunlight in the the misty, smog bound city of Beijing and the sense in Xinjiang Province of being part of a massive landmass with the sea a very, very long way away.

And yet, wander the food markets of Palermo or Siracusa and suddenly I felt  transported to the market in Urumqi in Xinjiang Province so similar was the array of vegetables, fruits and sea-food. Even the expressions on the faces of the stall holders were similar and their evident passion for their food and their trade as they went about the age old traditions of cooking food on street braziers and sharpening knives.

The food markets of Sicily – the difference is the € sign

It was striking that Arab influences caught up with me on both sides of the world – permeating the  cuisine of Palermo and northwestern sicily with its couscous and its aubergines and Xinjiang province, via Turkey with its lamb and naan bread. That’s a theme worth deeper exploration.

The similarity between noodle and pasta dishes, even at times in the spiciness of the dishes, was also evident – the Sicilians like their chilli heat. I found myself wondering what role Marco Polo might have played in all this.

Sharp knives and spicy pasta in two cultures

Much as I enjoyed the food in Sicily, I found myself missing the spicier notes and the relative quantity of vegetables in the Chinese diet. I’m always fascinated that the rich array of vegetables available in Italy doesn’t feature more prominently in the daily diet, often being confined to occasional platters of antipasti and as a base for sauces. The balance of vegetables, meat and fish in the Chinese diet already feels inherently healthier and easier for me to digest.

So I came back looking forward to the next stage of the Shananigans journey as I attempt to work my way through the different regional cuisines of China. I’m hoping to post more recipes soon and updates of my attempts to reproduce them using the best of Irish ingredients along with further tales from our experiences in China.

I’m loving the way this blog and the associated tweets are helping me discover how many of you here share a passion for Chinese and Asian food and the store of knowledge and ideas that is out there in Ireland and further afield. I get a great kick when you get in touch with a suggestion, a recipe or an insight and I am always delighted to pass them on. Yesterday alone I picked up ideas from Jacqueline Stedman (@Jaq_Stedman), Irish Food Guide (@IrishFoodGuide) and Ronan Farrell (@ronan_farrell) which I will pick up on in coming blogposts. I enjoy being part of this global conversation and learning from you all.

Meanwhile my sone Shane has found the diary he kept in his early days in China over 5 years ago which provides a fascinating insight to his initial and at times naive perceptions of the place, a moment in time in a country that is constantly changing. If I can convince him to give me guest posts it should provide an interesting counterpoint to his and our more recent experiences as he becomes increasingly embedded in the culture and lifestyle there.

So give me a day or two to get back into action and on top of my emails and workload and the Shananigans will continue…

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4 Comments

  1. Great comparison of the two food cultures, Julie. It’s really interesting to reflect on the similarities and also how similar products are used differently! I’m a big fan of Shananigans. Keep them coming! Majella

  2. I love your photos!
    It’s a shame you didn’t get to eat some of the famous vegetable dishes. At home, they make amazing stuff, but in restuarants, Sicilians want to eat lots of fish and don’t bother with veg much. Maybe that’s why you didn’t find much interesting veg to eat!
    They make sweet and sour pumpkin using balsamic vineagar which literally makes you drool when you smell it. They also make a rich veg dish called caponata.
    Anyway, enjoy your eating!

    • I loved the caponata and a few people have told me the best food is served at home. I will have to make a few Sicilian friends before I go back next year 🙂

    • I’ve just sat down to watch Sicily Unpacked with Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon which I managed to buy on line from Acorn. Bringing back happy memories 🙂

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