Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Road to Perfection: Making Chinese Dumplings

The final product: Half-steamed, half-fried Chinese dumplings or Guo-tie. The wrap should be as thin as possible and the fillings must be tasty and succulent.

The two sides of a Chinese dumpling, it is both crispy outside and soft to bite at the same time.

The most challenging part: how to let them tuck and sit neatly together, fry them until they are slightly golden underneath, then you add water with flour mixture and let it steam with lid covered for a good 6 to 10 minutes.

In my almost empty flat, I have silently created a carnival of Chinese dumplings with keen interest from my Polish dolls on their festive Russian thrones.

The full view in order to count the number of dumplings made, I could count on them for survival for at least 3 days.

All you need: Flour or MUKA, pork or any minced meat, sliced cabbage with seasoning.


500 gram Minced meat
Sliced cabbage to your hearts' content
Chopped green onion
Shreds of chopped ginger
Chicken stock
Soy sauce
Seasame oil
Black pepper


2 cups of flour
1 cup of warm water, about 70 degree celcius
*How to begin:

1.Mix the ingredients of the fillings together and let it rest and season for at least 15 minutes. It should not be too watery, if too dry , you will not achieve the succulent quality of Chinese dumplings which you wouldn't find elsewhere.

2. Mix the flour with warm water, gradually knead it hard and repeatedly to create a dough. Leave it to rest and covered in plastic for at least 30 minutes.

3. Divide the dough and cut into small portion and roll into circular skin wrap and each wrap it with teaspoonful of filling.

4. Frying and Steaming : Tuck and let them sit neatly together on a non-stick pan, fry them until they are slightly golden underneath (do not flip them as a rule), then you add one cup of water with one tablespoonful of flour mixture and let it steam with lid covered for a good 6 to 10 minutes.

5. Freeze the dumplings when done, you could keep it for up to a week or two.

This is my second attempt since I came to Russia. Maybe out of loneliness, or boredom that I started to make dumplings again. However, they are still far from perfection but I will keep striving!

The first time it turned out to be too thick, as I was bored stiff to make too many dumplings all alone. Hence I made less and ended up creating giant dumplings, that look more like manty of Central Asian people. What an affront to the delicate feature of Chinese dumplings, that are meant to be dainty and feast to the eyes!

Today it turned out to be a wee bit too salty to my taste. I shall improve further!

I learned it from my Chinese friend in Singapore before I came here but then I realised in Russia, we are spoilt for choice with frozen dumplings! Nobody knows who created dumplings first, Italians have dumplings, or tortellini or squarish ravioli, depending on the shape.

So are Russians who called them affectionately as "пельмени" (pil-MEN-i). Amusingly, when I came here initially, I always mixed it up with the word "племянник" (pil-MIA-nik) which means nephews. If I am careless, I could end up saying, "I want to eat nephews", instead of eating meat dumplings. In Russia, dumplings are either meat dumplings, or vegetable dumplings, they never mix them.

Not to mention Chinese dumplings, we could easily produce an encyclopaedia on dumplings making, and the variety it could offer.

For a while I thought I didnt need Chinese dumplings, until I realise the weekends here are getting longer and longer, even after reading my Chekhov, doing my homework, labouring on the never-ending household chores, religiously cooking all meals and updating my blog.

And its pure happiness to revisit the art of perfecting the dumplings.

Last but not least, flour in Russian is "мука" (sounds MUKA in English) which stresses on "ka" while it also means torture (yes!! TORTURE!) at the same time, but with stress on "mu". Well, with the simple trick of turning flour with water into dough, and into my favourite dumplings, I have inadvertently turned the lingering 'torture' of loneliness into naught.

The slightest torture imaginable now, is that the fillings are too salty and demand more water to my Chinese tongue.

Yes, that is a good reason for my next attempt!

Response on Samovar: Spreading afar...

Samovar in Saransk, a Russian city located 630 km east of Moscow. Typical tea-time at home. (See Story 1)

Samovar "secretly" sent to Milan, Italy by a Russian samovar-lover, now teaching Russian language in the fashion city. (See Story 2)

After I posted my thoughts on samovar, I received photos of more samovars, not from websites but from real homes and real people. Russian friends whom I speak to are particularly concerned and started looking around for me, in Moscow, in Saint Petersburg, anywhere possible.

Story 1: Samovar from Saranck, Russia

Yuri is a Russian pal whom I have never met but have known for quite some time. He showed me his samovar through webcam and said that his family has not used it for a long time. I requested if he could take a picture of it.

But to my pleasant surprise, he not only took the trouble to clean it, to scrub it from years of neglect but to set up the table for the photo shoot. His little son Artem , who also appeared in the webcam with him sometimes, must be wondering why the samovar reappeared on the dinning table again.

He spoke to his brother Vladimir who lives in Moscow about the search for samovar, and they seriously discussed about where I could possibly find it.

Story 2: Samovar from Milan, Italy

My friend Elly, hails from Milan, ocassionally comes to Kaliningrad for studies, work and personal visit. This is her response, word for word:

"I read your blog this morning, you are right, Samovars are really beautiful! I am surprised Russians told you they do not value them much. Here in Italy, at my Russian course,we all like them.

The picture is from our last Christmas party, my Russian teacher took hers. She told us it is prohibited to export them, she got hers as wedding present from her brother."

I could imagine Elly's teacher must be very proud of her samovar, and what a beautiful ambassador of Russian culture this beautiful 'kettle' is.

With regards to taking samovar abroad, Yuri from Saranck took the trouble to ask related officials in Russia, their reply is that, as long as the consumer or seller could furnish a receipt to show the year the samovar is manufactured, proving it is not of antique category, all the rest of the samovars are good to fly all over the world!!

Elly will be coming to town next week, I cannot wait to see her again, and bring her to see the lonely samovar sitting in the shop! Maybe one more samovar will find its way to Milan!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Attractions in Kaliningrad Oblast: Zelenogradsk (Зеленоградск)

Travelling for the first time to neighbouring town in Kaliningrad Oblast. Heading to Zelenogradsk, which means Green City in Russian language.
Arriving at the bus-station which is next to the railway-station. The giantic words say Welcome!

A lonesome dog roaming the streets.

Another dog trapped inside the house.

The unforgettable Baltic Sea.

Russians respect memory. Many buildings bear the name and brief history of the someone who left an indelible mark.

A cheerful name for a shop that sells everything that children need.
A typical weekend market with flowers.
Flowers are part of every Russian's life. You see them, smell them in the air and soon this one on the bicycle will head home for the loved one.
Patriotism is etched in many ways, the trio colour of the flag on the building is one of them.
A Slavic small-town feel in this part of the town that I particularly like.

Symbol of auspicious birds from folklore.
Most complictaed version I have eve seen, but very romantic- the birds will soon come and sing on the wires.
Souvenir shops are rather dormant during early springtime.

Although small in size, the town is well-planned with clear directional signs.

Living in Kaliningrad, we have not been quite adventurous to venture into the large provincial or oblast area. However, one fine, day, my Mongolian classmate and I decided that we shall take a bus to find place of interest on the map. And the first attempt was to none other than Zelenogradsk, which means the Green City in Russian. Another well-known and more affluent seas-side town is called Sovetlogorsk which I visited last year, lined with beautiful villas and churches.

Most interesting to note, the area around the city of Kaliningrad was completely sealed off for fifty years because the Soviet Union had built huge military installations there and used the harbor as a year round port—it was one of the few Soviet ports on the Baltic which was operable in winter-time. With the fall of the Iron Curtian, the enormousness of the installations and the sheer magnitude of the environmental destruction has been exposed.

Before 1945, what is now Kaliningrad Oblast made up the northern part of East Prussia from the Baltic Sea to the east up to Lithuania and north of today's Poland. In 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin expressed his opinion that the oblast should be given to Poland (as was planned at the Yalta Conference in 1945 - originally the Germans were to keep Settetin while the Poles were to get Konisberg. However, when Poland asked for NATO accession in 1996, the offer was dropped. In 2004 the oblast became an enclave in another sense, being surrounded by members of the European Union and NATO.

Even not long ago, visit to some towns in Kaliningrad oblast requires passport or identification documents as they are heavily militarised but seemingly things have loosen a bit. And travelling to these towns couldn't be easier. Efficient bus and railway networks bring us to most towns on the map.

Вчера мы с Еркой в первый раз ездили в Зеленоградск. Я встала очень рано в семь часов утра. Я не спеша умылась, оделась, и позавтракала, и потом с хорошим настроением в десять часов ушла из дома.

Я подошла к автобусной остановке и недолго подождала. Вчера была суббота, поэтому на остановке было много людей. С понедельника по пятницу, я никогда не видела так много людей. Автобус скоро пришёл, я вошла в автобус и села.

Я проехала на автобусе шесть остановок до вокзала. Я вышла из автобуса и пошла к вокзалу. Ерка уже пришла туда из своего общежития и ждала меня. Мы спросили о расписании и узнали, что оно уже изменилось. В результате, нам пришлось ехать на автобусе. Мы подошли к автобусной остановке и купили билеты. Мы очень удивились, что стоимость проезда очень небольшая. Мы ждали автобуса 20 минут, и вот подошёл автобус. Мы наконец-то уехали из Калининграда в 11.20 часов.

Поездка продолжалась около одного часа. Я смотрела в окно постоянно, потому что я очень люблю смотреть русский лес и русские поля. Короче, я люблю широкое пространство, которого нет в в Сингапуре. Когда мы приехали в Зеленоградск сразу сделали несколько фотографий на остановке и на вокзале, который находится рядом. Одна добрая русская женщина подошла к нам, и сказала, что лучше бы мы обе присутствовали на фотографии и сфотографировала нас.

Мы спросили у людей дорогу до моря. Они сказали что нужно просто перейти дорогу и идти прямо и потом повернуть налево. Вот мы и увидели Балтийское море! Благодаря хорошей погоде, солнце сияло, море было голубым и мирным. Был такой прекрасный момент! Мы долго шли по берегу, то разговаривали, то молчали. Сначала я шла очень быстро, как всегда, но вдруг вспомнила, что сегодня у меня ни работы, ни урока, и я пошла медленно.

Нам понравилось слушать шум волн, и мы ещё сделали много фотографий на ярком солнце. Когда мы шли по берегу, то видели много пожилых людей, особенно часто встречались одинокие пожилые женщины. Мы здоровались с ними и поздравляли друг на друга с праздником Восьмого марта.

Скоро мы проголодались и сели на скамье, чтобы поесть бутерброды и выпить чай. Потом мы ушли от моря и пошли искать рынок, потому что там много магазинов. Мы ходили по магазинам и купили некоторые сувениры. В три часа мы захотели вернуться домой и пошли на остановку. Но перед поездкой, мне нужно было сходить в туалет. Искали мы долго и никак не могли найти. Мы вошли в одном магазин и спросили. Наконец, мы нашли где-то за рынком один маленький платный туалет.

Потом мы снова подошли к остановке и увидели там одну маршрутку. Мы сразу сели в неё, и скоро она уехала из Зеленоградска! Мы приехали в Калининград ровно на час позже. Хотя мы были там только полдня, но нам было очень весело!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chinese Cuisine and others (Pictorial)

Stir-fried squid with yellow pepper, too sweet to my taste, I prefer red or green.

To whip up a few dishes in Russia, some help is neeeded. I gathered all these from Singapore and Malaysia...which easily explained my habitually grossly overweight luaggage. Picture taken in Malaysia.

Curry chicken with rice, with help of curry powder, turned out fine.

A little digression. I tried to cook Hungarian Goulash. To achieve tender meat, I should have let it boil on low fire for two hours.

My "magic" rice cooker. I brought it from Singapore. I could not find it in quality of life was sadly compromised for a while without it when I first came.

For a lazy day, one could prepare chicken and some spices and leave it in the "magic pot" - rice cooker to steam together with the rice.

Typical stir-fried pork with onion, green onion and 40% (concentrated) abalone sauce, omelette and rice.

Chinese dumplings with minced pork and cabbage, my first attempt in Russia. It could be improved. The skin is too thick , but the filling was tasty.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Finding Samovar

The first time I saw a samovar in my textbook in Singapore (samovar means in Russian "self-boiler" or "Cам варить"), it boils hot water for tea. In the illustration, the contented man smiling from ear to ear said: I love pastry (stuffed )with meat and cabbage, tea with sugar and spice cakes (gingerbread).

From the most famous and simplest Russian fairytale, "Spotted Chicken" (Курoчка Ряба), the mice ran over the table and broke the golden egg of Grandpa and Grandma. Why on earth is there a boot on top? To be explained at end of story!

The traditional way of boiling a samovar with coal or wood. I have not seen it before! (Courtesy:

The more gaudy it is, the merrier for me. I will find one someday! (courtesy:

Yes!! By now I know what some Chinese are thinking, we Chinese have spittons of this shape too, but hey, the function is entirely different! (Courtesy:

This is the one I found in Kaliningrad at an antique shop. A part of the handle is missing...frown.

I like samovar, and I would like to have one, one fine day. Simply because I like it.

Some Russian friends think I am crazy, some of them still keep one at home, of course it is the modern version - an electrical one. They said it is only a kettle, why on earth you want it?

In life, there are many questions that you don't have to answer. I only need to find it. It is to me quintessentially Russian, looking awfully festive-like, not to be mention being aesthetically pleasing, and also underlines Russians' intimate relation with tea-drinking.

To Russians, tea-drinking is not only to quench thirst but almost a ritual to settle oneself for soul-searching, or savour simple quiet moment with tea.

It is also a symbol of Russian hospitality in relation with tea, which uses the name "чай"( sounded as 'chai' ) that is closest to the Chinese name of tea - there will be no samovar, if there were no tea.

What is a samovar?

Simply put, samovar is a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in and around Russia, as well as in other Central, South-Eastern, Eastern European countries, and in the Middle-East.

Since the heated water is usually used for making tea, many samovars have an attachment on the tops of their lids to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea concentrate. Samovars are said to have been invented in Central Asia , though their origin is a matter of dispute.
An 18th century samovar from Russia.

Tula, 180 km from Moscow, is the earliest and key manufacturer of samovars since 18th century. Well-known for producing weapons from the past, Tula provides rich resources on samovars in the form museum, merchandise and networking.

According to these resources, samovar is a "purely Russian invention" and its origin is connected with tea. Sent to Russia from the territory of West Mongolia in the 17th century, tea was used as medicine among the nobility.

Tea was then a competitor of sbiten, the most favourite drink in Russia. Its components are: hot water, medicinal herbs and honey.

There are different versions of the first samovars manufactured, they were produced in the Urals, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Tula, however the first samovar factory was founded in Tula by Nasar Usitsin in 1778.

Samovar manufacturing appeared to be very profitable. Handicraftsmen who used to be gunsmiths quickly became manufacturers, in 1826 there were eight samovar factories, by 1896 — seventy.

I was most delighted to see a bronze samovar at only 1500 roubles ( 30 roubles = 1 USD at an antique shop, but only to find that it is sadly slightly damaged.

The second one in Kaliningrad I found is in a shop, placed near the sky-high celing on the shelf, and coated with thick dust. Friends here told me they have either thrown it away or no longer use it, but they are keen to help me find a good one.

In TV programmes, I saw people living in the countryside during winter time play harmonica and sing songs surrounding a table with a samovar, teapots and teacups. And also a string of pies tied up like necklace is hung over the samovar, while the steam of the hot water filled the cold air, the ambience only gets merrier and merrier.

For Russians, the samovar has reduced into merely a kettle, gradually sliding away from modern life. At this point in time, I believe not only samovar is missing and faded away.

Likewise for my little country, Singapore. We are constantly in an excessive act of throwing, demolishing this, 'upgrading' that, knowingly and often unknowingly, have we lost more than we have gained?

Perhaps I am not actually finding a samovar, so as to invite friends to come for tea, sing songs, eat pastry and be merry. Could it be a desire to find a piece of the past - even from a distant and abstractly Russian one - that my own country has robbed from me?

I will now go drink tea - meanwhile without my samovar - and ponder over it.

*Why is there a boot on top of the samovar?

In the past when they need to kindle the samavor with fire, a pipe is needed to go through from bottom to the top. A boot conveniently posseses air-blowing mechanism. The faster you blow by pumping the boot, the faster the samovar will boil.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Attractions in Kaliningrad:3 (King's Gate)

Although located very near where I live, I have never been to the King's Gate, one of the most prominent remnants of Kaliningrad's Prussian past. I took a slow walk towards the gate and surrounding were fortifications, some entrances of which sinked deep into the ground.

As if inseperable from its past, even the antique shop opposite King's Gate has no shortage of curios that bear its former name, but most of the things appear pretty new to me.

The King's Gate ( Королевские ворота ) is one of the former six gates that were built during the 19th century around Kaliningrad, which was formerly a Eastern Prussian city, named as Königsberg'.

Designed by Friederich August Stuler, situated todat at a busy cross road in Kaliningrad, the west facade has three sandstone statues, made by sculptor Wilhelm Sturmer: nine metres above the ground to the left the Bohemian king Ottokar II is depicted, who was Königsberg's namesake. Frederick I of Prussia, Prussia's first King, follows the middle statue. To the right is Duke Albert, Prussia's first duke and founder of the Albertina university, holds an eye over the city. Beneath the sculptures the coat of arms of Samland and Natangena are shown.

The gate was damaged during the Second World War. Furthermore, as a first victory celebration, Soviet soldiers decapitated the statues. With the celebration of the city's 750 year existence in June 2005, the gate was renovated. Even a few months before the beginning of the festivities, the gate was still in a desolate condition.

Within a few weeks, however, the gate was restored to its condition before the war. Fully restored statues replaced the decapitated ones on the gate with this renovation.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Timeless in Russia

The famous Solyanka Cafe in Kaliningrad, they don't give discount on your bill, but they generously discount your age. A reason for my toothful smile.

(Fuschia Snails. Installation art in the Milan, December 2009).

Getting old is a state of mind, aging will start to crawl slowly if you put if off your mind and live your life fullest. Try to learn Russian language, all the difficutlies and complexities you encounter will activate your entire body and soul, you may stay young for a long long time.

At the Russian custom when I came in from Kaliningrad to Poland, they habitually took a serious and prolonged look at my passport. At one point the female officer summoned a male colleague to discuss what to do with me. In the meantime, several phone calls were made. The entire busload of passengers were waiting for me, sometimes, the entire plane-load of passengers waited for me. Sometimes I feel so bad, that I wished I could say thank you to them for being so patient.

After a good 25 minutes or so, she smilingly asked me in English, "You, 20?"

I smiled at her, and said, yes, 20 year-old but that was 20 years ago. Perhaps it is due to the rarity of Asian tourists in this part of Russia or their perception of a near-40-year old, differ greatly from us, that I tend to lose all the years that I have grown in my life, and became young, or impossibly younger again.

Hence, I am timeless in Russia, at least in their eyes.

Two weeks ago at a famous Russian cuisine cafe "Solyanka"in Kaliningrad, I placed a bottle of beer togеther with my favourite Solyanka soup (a kind of meat-based or vegetables-based Russian soup) on my tray and prepared to pay in a queue. The young and fresh looking cashier said ''Passport" to me in Russian which I did not register at all. I hate to admit it is not my bad listening but a flat refusal to expect this request to pop up straight at my face, first time in my life.

Then another young cashier came near to me and asked me "how old are you?" in English. Now I realised what was going on, and strangely I was slightly annoyed, and said to her in Russian - I am double the age of what is required, don't ask for my passport please. She was immediately embarrassed and took the one thousand roubles I pressed on to her. When she returned my change, I asked her to guess my age, she smiled and said, sorry, you really look very young.

I owed her a thank you, that I failed to give her there and then, for such a twisted compliment that I could not swallow.

My Mongolian classmate in her late twenties who likes to drink beer every now and then would be asked the same question in the supermarkets too. Trully embarrassing when there is a long queue. I would like to think that Russians in general are more cautious with foreigners, than to think I am or we are, really looking that ridiculously young.

My Russian teacher said to me when I first came to Russia, that I look no more than 25 years old in her eyes. Every now and then, she would ask me what is my secret. When my spoken Russian was still raw then, I would say simple things like, sleep well, eat well. Later on, she would pop up the question, and I would say things like always have positive outlook in life.

But that didnt satisfy her, when she came to visit me at my flat, she said there must be some secrets in your skin care products, maybe I can find that in your bathroom! Two months ago, she even trusted me entirely on the specific brand of anti
oxidants that I am taking, and requested me to get the same for her from Singapore. She said to me, why didn't you tell me earlier, you see, I know you have more secrets, before you leave Russia, you better tell me all. I believe that is Russian humour, nothing more.

By the way, I came home puzzled and slightly unnerved from "Solyanka" and checked on internet the legitimate age to drink beer in Russia.