If, like me, you're always wondering about all those weird and exciting products in the Chinese supermarkets – here’s the website for you: Tokowijzer
I often go to the Dun Yong store on the Geldersekade, where they have little labels on the shelf explaining in somewhat adorable English what to do with their stuff. Like "Do not use this if you do no know what to do with it"; or "If you like dumplings, time to make your own use these wrappers!" But still, there are so many things there that just look plain scary (or even unedible...), and most times I leave with yet another bottle of sesame oil and some noodles, instead of trying out new things. I need Tokowijzer and I'm probably not alone! Not only do they tell you what everything is, they also explain how it tastes, give links to recipes, the best brands to buy, and how to use it.
One of the 2 founders of this website is kattebelletje (who, in real life, goes by the name of Alice) with whom I’ve been e-mail corresponding for a while now, about subjects as diverse as food, writing, language, dumplings and moving house. This weekend she sent me a message that she had some time to kill in Amsterdam and would I like to go shopping with her? We talked, had coffee, explored the little corners of personal life that don’t get touched upon in the public blogosphere, and then visited 3 Chinese supermarkets. She told me about Sichuan pepper oil, the best chili bean paste, these freakishly weird looking things, water caltrop
..why sweet bean sauce tastes better than hoisin sauce, what to do with tofu sheets and thousand year eggs, which brands of ready made dumplings to buy, and lots of other stuff that I can’t remember now.. I feel I should have taken notes!
I'm sure we'll meet again, hopefully for a jiaozie (dumpling)-making session. Right now I have to thank my personal Tokowijzer for introducing me to century eggs... something I never would have bought on my own. We had them as a side dish with dinner tonight, per Alice's instructions with some black vinegar and ginger and scallions. They were much milder tasting than I expected, but I did find them very rich - I liked the flavour a lot, but still could not manage more than about half an egg. It reminded me of my reaction to offal like kidneys or sweetbreads.
Oh and the water caltrop? The woman at the store said you could eat them raw, this article does not seem to agree, so I'm glad we only nibbled on the raw ones. I bought them more for their strange and beautiful appearance anyway.