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.
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.
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…