Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hutong Cuisine cooking class, Beijing

In Beijing I took a fantastic cooking class from Zhou Chunyi, who has a cooking school called Hutong Cuisine. Chunyi is remarkably laid back and funny, qualities on which my enjoyment of the classes usually hinge, and that I have found that are that are often lacking in cooking instructors.

She's from the Cantonese-speaking part of China, trained in Sichuan and lives in Beijing, so she's well qualified to teach on China's most popular styles. In the class I took, we made a Cantonese-style dish (said to be sweeter and more delicate), a Beijing dish (said to be heavier and saltier) and a Sichuan-style dish (spicy).

We cooked five dishes:
Stewed chicken with mushrooms
Stir-fried pork with broad bean chili sauce
Stir-fried pork with sweet flour sauce
Tiger skin peppers
Stir-fried cabbage with vinegar and chilis

We had some intense moments on the woks, but I managed to spend the majority of the class taking copious notes (I realize that I am not going to remember any of this by the time I go home) and eating the results of my classmates' labors. Because most Chinese food, especially the stir-fry variety, is meant to be eaten as soon as it is cooked, we were munching continuously throughout the class.

The classes are held inside a traditional Chinese courtyard house in a Beijing hutong. Hutong is the word that is used to describe the tiny little alleyway neighborhoods that are the remnants of old Beijing. The hutongs are picturesque but slightly squalid--many of them only have public restrooms.

The tiger skin peppers were so good. This isn't the sort of dish I'd ever been drawn to cooking on my own but will definitely try again now that I know how easy it is. I felt that way about Chinese food in general--all of the dishes we made were extremely manageable and many were versatile, you can cook many vegetables with vinegar and chilis, for instance, and it will usually end up tasting just fine. I came out of the class feeling like I would be able to recreate the whole menu at home, which isn't always the case.

This is the stewed chicken with mushrooms, which Chunyi says is always better a day later.

A high point of the class is Chunyi shrieking at her adorable dog (in a very affectionate manner) which almost made me homesick. Apparently unlike their sissy American counterparts, Chinese dogs can eat chicken bones without complaint. Chunyi threatened to send him to Korea a few times, which is apparently a new method of obedience training.

Tiger skin peppers (named because of their distinct markings?) cooked and ready to be cooked.

Although this class was most stir-fry, other classes focus on other cooking methods like braising, steaming, etc. My goal before I leave China is to figure out what it is they do to eggplants to make them taste so amazing.

Stir-fried cabbage with vinegar and chilis

If you're looking for a cooking class in Beijing, I'd enthusiastically recommend Hutong Cuisine. It's cheap and it's fun, and the menus appear to be very flexible. She also does private cooking classes if there's something you're dying to learn. If I had known then what I know now (namely, how little I'd actually accomplish in Beijing), I definitely would have scheduled more than one class while I was in town.


  1. I'm going to try "you're going to Korea" the next time Zoe bugs me. Think I should try chicken bones, too?

  2. Don't you dare! She's not Chinese.

  3. Please tell us what kind of oil is used, or does it matter.
    Is a lot of the cantonese style food bland, or just subtle?

  4. Most of was plain vegetable oil although peanut oil was used for some of it. We drizzled sesame oil on top of the peppers.

    Cantonese style isn't bland, it's just subtler and more delicate. Many of the sweeter Chinese foods are Cantonese.

  5. I was at the same class and loved it too! Here's my post about it: