Tea as a cooking ingredient is probably not the first item on most people’s minds. However, the addition of tea by a caterer in Beijing to his recipes has not gone unnoticed.
Sitting in the cosy and dim-lighted Nowhere Catering restaurant located in a hutong at Houhai, Che Gang, co-founder of the restaurant, reveals more about the mysterious tea cuisine.
“I love drinking tea so much, I want more people to enjoy it,” Che Gang explains. The puer tea fanatic grew up in Zhejiang province where people literally live through tea. He had already converted his friends into tea lovers, but this “teavangelist” wanted to do more by setting up his own business, something more than just a teahouse. In January last year, Che Gang opened Nowhere Catering with a friend, where a pot of great-smelling tieguanyin is just 10 kuai. More importantly, they also serves tea dishes.
Tea as a cooking ingredient has a long history in China, according to Che Gang. While most dishes in Nowhere Catering are not overly sharp in taste, they don’t belong to a particular category. Che Gang prefers the name “tea cuisine,” in which tea is not just for quenching thirst or served besides dishes, but can also be smelled and tasted.
Different kinds of tea lend themselves to different groups of people. There are tips for making good tea dishes. For example, in Nowhere Catering, puer tea is used when stewing pig feet to keep the meat from being too greasy. Biluochun tea can make aloe more appealing to girls with its special fragrance. Steaming perch in tieguanyin leaves can get rid of its fishy smell while maintaining its freshness. Tea leaves aren’t necessarily left in the dishes. They are used more as seasoning to add special flavor.
Chef’s recommended: filet of beef and pumpkin with Thai chili (35 RMB; cooked with puer tea)
You don’t have to be a tea drinker to enjoy tea cuisine, Che Gang says. Tea fragrances linger in the air and are plainly attractive. Some diners at Nowhere Catering, like a couple we met from New York with little experience in tea dishes, were fascinated by how much a roster of tea-oolong, black tea, puer, biluochun, jasmine tea, or rose among them-can embellish Chinese dishes.
Chef’s recommended dishes at Nowhere Catering:
red-cooked cherry duckling (68 RMB; cooked with black tea)
stir-fried crushed garlic, vermicelli and Chinese cabbage (16 RMB; cooked with biluochun tea)
filet of beef and pumpkin with Thai chili (35 RMB; cooked with puer tea)
fried beef on curry rice (28 RMB; cooked with puer tea)
Nowhere Catering has over 70 tea dishes on its menu. Red ones are the most popular among diners. The restaurant is also a place for drinking affordable and great tea. The 200-odd purple clay teapots (also known as zisha teapots) brew the most impressive tea ever.
Nowhere Catering (Yunqi Chayan)
Location: 43A, Mao’er Hutong, Dianmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng district, Beijing
Opening time: 10:30am-late
By China Daily, Sept 06
(Article URL: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/citylife/2006-09/26/content_696700.htm)