Eight Sichuan Street Foods for the Spring Festival

Peace Corps China Volunteer Blake Bergen is a talented photographer who documents scenes of daily life in Sichuan province on his Instagram account, and in the past few weeks he has shared his photo essays on dumplings and noodles.

Today, Blake’s last guest post showcases the incredible array of street foods available in his community:

‘Sichuan “small eats” (or street snacks) hold a big place in the local culinary culture. This part of China is famous for its food, like hot pot, kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, and yuxiang eggplant.

While each Sichuan dish is complex and delicious in its own right, you don’t need to go to a restaurant to have a good meal. Hit the streets and you’ll find heaps of good eats.

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牛舌饼 (niúshé bĭng) – This so-called “ox-tongue flatbread” gets its name from its shape, not its ingredients. It may originate from Yilan, Taiwan, but this version plays to local tastes. Sichuan is famous for its use of málà (hot and numbing) flavor, and this flatbread certainly delivers – stuffed full of ground pork infused with chili and Sichuan numbing pepper.

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糖油果子  (tángyóu guŏzi) – Fried glutinous rice balls are a sweet and starchy snack sprinkled with sesame seeds. They’re especially popular with children, but who can resist some sweet rice balls?

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伤心凉粉  (shāngxīn liángfěn) Broken-hearted grass jelly gets its name from its level of spice. The dish is considered so spicy that your taste buds will leave heartbroken from the cruelty you’ve subjected them to. These slippery noodles are relentless! Make sure to have a carton of milk handy. Or a gallon…

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烧烤 (shāokăo) Barbecue is an incredibly popular late night snack for night owls and party animals. You can choose from a wide assortment of veggies and meats to have grilled up, slathered in chili powder and cumin, and served up on small tin trays. The moment you get a whiff of Sichuan barbecue, your mouth will immediately begin to water.

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豆腐脑 (dòufu năo) Literally translated as “tofu brain,” this soft tofu dish is topped with all sorts of goodies – such as peanuts, chili oil, Sichuan numbing pepper, scallions, soy sauce, and fried sticks. Different parts of Asia have different styles, but the Sichuan take is a savory, salty, and spicy delight.

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蛋烘糕 (dànhōnggāo) Imagine if you could create a taco with a pancake shell. That’s the type of heavenly snack you’d find in these Sichuan stuffed pancakes. The sweet and fluffy pancake exterior is made in a tiny pan at high heat, and is then laced with whatever savory or sweet topping(s) you choose. Hot and numbing ground beef or cowpeas navigate the salty-sweet combo to perfection.

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牛肉卡饼/夹饼 (niúròu kăbĭng/jiābĭng) This street snack is like a Sichuan hamburger! The vendor will mix beef steamed in a hot and numbing ground glutinous rice with cilantro, scallions, and peanuts in a bowl before stuffing it into a small round bread that resembles pita. The whole thing is a masterful dance of flavors and textures that will blow your mind.

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狼牙土豆 (lángyá tŭdòu) Wolf’s fang potatoes are basically crinkle fries mixed with your choice of veggies and seasonings. It’s filling, nutritious, and cheap!

To follow Blake’s savory journey hour by hour, complete with more photos and tasty dishes, visit our Tumblr page.

Eight Bowls of Noodles to Warm Up Your New Year

Last week, we featured a mouthwatering guest post on Chinese dumplings by Peace Corps China Volunteer Blake Bergen. Blake is a talented photographer who documents scenes of daily life in Sichuan province on his Instagram account, and he has created a series of photo essays showcasing popular Sichuan foods in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year on January 28th.

Today, Blake’s guest post showcases the noodle dishes he has been able to sample during his service:

“Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year is right around the corner! That means it’s time for a new year, it’s time for a new you, and it’s time for some noodles.

While noodles aren’t a traditional New Year food, Spring Festival is the biggest human migration on earth, and what better to soothe your travelling soul than with a bowl or plate of noodles? If you find yourself one among billions of travelers this Spring Festival, then skip the instant noodles and keep your eye out for one of these eight magnificent noodle options!

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猫耳朵 (māo ěrduo) – Cat’s ear noodles are a specialty of Shanxi province, and are folded to look like a cat’s ear. They’re typically served cold.

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牛肉面 (niúròu miàn) – Beef noodles are famous all around China, but the Sichuan version is served in steaming spicy oil and topped with cilantro.

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重庆小面 (Chóngqìng xiăomiàn) – Chongqing’s small noodles pack in some big flavor. The broth is spicy and numbing, a unique flavor combination to the area, and the noodles are thin and slightly chewy. Most locals add meat or veggies on top as well.

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biángbiáng面 (biángbiáng miàn) – This noodle dish is perhaps as famous for its belt-shaped noodles and savory taste as it is for the two 58-stroke characters in its name: biángbiáng (which cannot be replicated in text). The flavors are certainly as complex as its name!

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燃面 (rán miàn) – Translated as “burning noodles” this plate of noodles gets its name from the number of different oils used to make it – so many that you can supposedly light it on fire. Originating from the less spicy Yibin classic, this Luzhou version adds its spicy heat to the “burning” name.

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干的豆花面 (gānde dòuhuā miàn) – The dry version of Guizhou’s traditionally soupy tofu noodles is topped with chicken, peanuts, a mild chili sauce, chopped mint, and extra soft tofu. It’s accompanied with a bowl of smooth soymilk to help wash it down.

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干的牛肉拉面 (gānde niúròu lāmiàn) – Another dry take on a typically soupy noodle dish, these pulled beef noodles are an everlasting dream come true. The way the noodles are pulled produces a continuous and unbroken line of noodley delight. Just like the deserts of Gansu, these noodles are never-ending.

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豌杂面 (wānzá miàn) – In Wanzhou, a rustic Yangtze River town, the powerful river ebbs and flows along the riverbanks. This bowl of wānzá noodles, a Wanzhou favorite, is flowing with chickpeas, minced pork, and cilantro; and will certainly ebb straight into your belly!

To follow Blake’s savory journey hour by hour, complete with more photos and tasty dishes, visit our Tumblr page.

Eight Dumpling Dishes for a Prosperous New Year

Blake Bergen is a Washington, D.C. resident and George Washington University graduate currently serving as an English Education Volunteer in China. He is also a talented photographer who documents scenes of daily life in Sichuan province on his Instagram account, and he has created a series of photo essays showcasing popular Sichuan foods in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year on January 28th.

Here is what Blake has to say about the mouthwatering assortment of dumplings available in his community:

“Around these parts, there’s a common dish on every Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year) table: dumplings! As you eat these doughy delights, it’s common to wish one another, ‘招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo),’ which roughly means, ‘May we usher in wealth and prosperity!'”

With Chinese being a homophonic language, it lends itself to lots of fun wordplay and puns. For example, eight (八, ) is a lucky number, since the pronunciation is so similar to the word for prosperity and wealth (发,).

Here are eight dumpling dishes you’ll be drooling over this Chinese New Year. 招财进宝!

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钟水饺 – Zhong dumplings, a popular sweet and spicy dumpling dish in Chengdu, Sichuan. Make sure to mix them in the sauce.

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猪儿粑 – Sticky rice pork dumplings are a local specialty in Luzhou, Sichuan. They’re sure to fill you up from the first bite.

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抄手 – Similar to wontons, chaoshou can be found all around Sichuan in a variety of styles – but it’s best in a spicy oil bath with some green veggies!

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包子 – Classic steamed buns, or bao, have found wild success all over Asia and recently in the States. Their soft bread-like outside and flavor-rich insides are a perfect breakfast option.

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灌汤包 – Guan tang bao are a variation on bao that includes a more fragile skin and ooze minced meat and gravy. These steamed dumplings come from Xi’An, a city filled with as much history as guan tang bao is filled deliciousness!

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酸汤饺子 – Suan tang dumplings come in a vinegary and savory soup, made even better with a splash of chili sauce!

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羊肉饺子 – Lamb dumplings, a hearty desert meal, is extremely popular in Gansu province. These are the perfect option for a cold winter day.

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烧卖 – Shaomai (or shumai) are usually associated with China’s southeastern areas and Japanese cuisine, but they can also be found in small and historic town in Sichuan. Leshan is a famous tourist destination for its Giant Buddha, but anyone living in Sichuan province is familiar with Leshan as a foodie heaven. What makes shaomai particularly unique is the cluster of dough gathered at the top of the dumpling.

To follow Blake’s savory journey hour by hour, complete with more photos and tasty dishes, visit our Tumblr page.

Planting Mango Seeds in Benin

 Planting seeds in Benin

Virginia has always been home base,” said Peace Corps Volunteer Meaghan Eicher of the state in which she was born.

In 2016, Meaghan was in good company during her service with 327 other Peace Corps Volunteers from the Old Dominion serving worldwide. As a result, the state of Virginia jumped five spots this year to rank No. 3 among the Peace Corps’ top Volunteer-producing states. This is the state’s third year appearing on the list.

Meaghan attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature.

Living overseas was not entirely new for Meaghan. Given her father works for the United States Foreign Service, she moved around a lot while growing up.

“By the time I was 11 years old, I’d lived in four countries on four different continents,” she said.

“Since my dad is based out of Washington D.C., we always came back to the area. My family still lives in Northern Virginia, and I have friends who work in D.C. and the surrounding area, so I moved back home after completing my service.”

As part of her Peace Corps service, Meaghan taught English as a Foreign Language in Benin. To this day, Meaghan still remembers a formative conversation she had with the vice principal of her school, where he compared her students to mango seeds. Teachers like Meaghan plant the seed, care for it and nurture it, and ensure it receives water and sunshine. Then, they watch it grow little by little, he explained. Meaghan Eicher

“He said that someday the tree will grow tall and strong, but we won’t be here to see it,” Meaghan said. “Someday it will grow much fruit, and it will feed many people.

“Our students were like those mango seeds,” she added. “Today we must support them and care for them to be successful, so that tomorrow they will grow strong and be able to support their families.”

Meaghan was proud to be teaching her students, and to contribute to education and growth in her Beninese community.

“The difference that I hoped to have made in the lives of my students was simply to have opened their eyes to the world around them, and to expand their horizons beyond the village,” Meaghan said.  “I don’t know what type of people they will grow up to be, I don’t know what their futures hold. But I can only hope that our community projects have provided the nourishment their minds needed to grow strong and to wonder what else is out there, to give them the desire to strive for a brighter future for themselves.”

Learn more about the Peace Corps in Benin here.

How This Vermonter Found A Place Where The Grass Is Just As Green

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Mikaela Perry of Orleans is currently serving as an Agriculture Volunteer in Tanzania.

As a fifth generation Vermonter, Mikaela Perry of Orleans became quite comfortable with her lifestyle in the brisk hilltops west of Lake Champlain. However, when she left Vermont to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania – an East African nation with much taller mountains – she still managed to find some sweet reminders of home.

“It is cold, there are cows everywhere, the stars are amazing, everyone is friendly and says hello in passing, and there is a strong sense of community, so it was easy for me to feel at home,” Mikaela said. “Through the transition, I have realized how proud I am to be a Vermonter, and nothing has made me more proud of my Vermont heritage and my home state than life in rural Africa.”

Growing up in the Green Mountain State – which retained its top spot on the Peace Corps’ list of top Volunteer-producing states this year – Mikaela graduated from Middlebury College in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in African Studies. For most of her life, Mikaela perfected her hand at farming as she worked to harvest and care for animals on cropland around the world, from California to the Dominican Republic. With such versatile education and work experience, Mikaela felt prepared to take on a new frontier by serving as an Agriculture Volunteer in Tanzania.

Through her Peace Corps service, Mikaela focuses on improving and providing food security for her community and spends her spare time facilitating programs that empower adolescent girls. While she strives to impact her community at an interpersonal level, Mikaela believes she has made the biggest difference by sharing special bonds with her neighbors.

“Being able to show pictures of my family and I working the land with horses and oxen and growing amazing food not only gives me credibility as an Agriculture Volunteer, it shows the villagers that I am not so different from them,” Mikaela explained. “America is not all about shiny things, new cars, and money – we grow food and work, too. Even though I come from really far away, nothing makes me happier than the sound of cow bells in the morning, whether in Vermont or Tanzania.”

Click here to learn more about the Peace Corps in Tanzania.