Chilli in Hunan 2: The ‘School Field’
One of my great fascinations with China, ever since the first visit, has been with small, hardly noticeable, patches: We keep hearing about the quick urbanization of the country, and it is very visible. In the midst of China’s dense settlement, however, one still finds traces of its strong agricultural tradition.
Wherever there is room, be that actual fields left between houses or even just roadsides or larger planters in front of houses or shops, there vegetables will be grown.
Today’s example leads us back to the ‘field’ at the edge of the school where the welcome video was already shot. This school is where my wife’s dad works and where her family therefore lives. (As dormitories and apartments provided by the employer are still relatively common in China.)
As it turned out in later talks, it’s not this entire ‘field’ that the in-laws use, several people/families grow their vegetables here, they use two rows. Surprise: It’s the two rows one of which is used exclusively for chilli…
The other things they grew were long beans, eggplants and water spinach (KongXinCai); vegetables that grow well, produce quite well, and are family favorites.
Another reason why it’s popular to grow some vegetables oneself, unfortunately, needs mentioning. It’s not just that the home-grown ones taste good and don’t have to be bought, it’s also that this is the best way of knowing exactly how it was grown.
In China, the food one buys is in the news only too often, it gets faked, adulterated, or otherwise produced under dubious conditions. Add to this the widespread environmental pollution that is around, anyways.
This is one of the most disconcerting ‘discoveries’ about China: On the one hand, food and eating has an exalted position in Chinese culture, and the cooking is fantastic. On the other hand, pretty much anything you eat makes you wonder just what might be in there this time…
That’s not the note on which I want to end, though. After all, everyday eating makes one thing clear: Chinese cuisine is diverse and tasty. It produces wonderful flavors – and in Hunan, ones with a ‘heat’ that is not too great, but should not be underestimated, either, it likes to use meat but pretty much always comes with more vegetables, and it provides a great range of different dishes, aromas and mouth feels.