I love cooking… so when the opportunity to take part in the ‘First Hangzhou Chilli Cook Off’ competition presented itself I was not going to turn it down!! Adverts for the event cluttered all the expat websites tempting budding chefs, not just Americans and foreigners who know what a chilli should taste like, but also local Chinese cooks. Let’s try to integrate and promote a sense of community, the message rang. Proceeds to go to charity! The leaflet did not exactly specify which one, but it sounded like a good cause nonetheless. Plenty of orphanages and disadvantaged children to be cared for, we thought.
Being in the company of Indians, we left the Chilli to the Americans/Europeans and plumped for the ‘Non-Chilli Spicy Food’ class, concocting an Indian curry instead. Our initial team of three shrunk to just two members on the day, we set off laden with ingredients, banners and bunting to jolly up our stall.
As the non-Indian member of my team, I focused mainly on chopping and stirring, leaving the adding of spices to the ‘One In The Know’ and kept fingers crossed. We were working on Indian intuition, not a recipe book in sight… And although P had tried out the curry before, she had not cooked it in the large quantities we were expected to produce… Neither were we prepared for the cooking conditions: a huge pot on a rather small burner giving off a paltry heat unable to cope with the vast amounts of onions to be sweated and browned…
So at the 10 am start of the event, our curry was still bubbling away and aromatizing, slowly gaining the optimum flavour to present to the judges and the public. Our next door neighbours, definitely in the right spirit and dressing the part, were keen chilli fans, the pleasant odours of their wares wafting across… We shared their beers, which was a lot cheaper than buying our drinks in the pub/restaurant run by an American who was clearly making a mint on the day…
Visitors came to our stall and sampled our curry, nodding their heads in approval at finally savouring a proper curry in Hangzhou, one that resembled Indian food, as eaten in India… We were confident…
The afternoon lingered on with plenty of tasters. And in the background, the obligatory ‘Eat the most hamburgers’, ‘Eat the most pies’ and ‘Eat the most cake’ (without vomiting) competitions carried on. We could have been at any Chilli Cook Off in the US of A… But the day eventually drew to a close when all the chillies had been consumed and everyone was eagerly anticipating the announcement of the winners…
I had looked around earlier and tried several of the chillies and curries entered by the other teams. Apart from the professional amateurs from the Americas and Europeans regions, a sprinkling of local Chinese and Indian businesses also cooked chillies and curries. And I was glad I was not the one to be judging the competition, although the Chicken Tikka Massala cooked by the chef of a local Indian restaurant had all the hallmarks of too much sauce, too much food colouring and too little resemblance to anything Indian that I have eaten in India.. You know the kind of Chicken Tikka Massala that comes out of a jar…
But we should have taken more notice of the local businesses sponsoring the event and their lavish contributions to the raffle prizes… Indeed when the winners were announced, not a single American entry was deemed the best. You would have thought they should have been able to cook up ‘The Best Texan Chilli’. The trophy went to the Chinese chefs of the restaurant that donated generous raffle prizes… And the best non-Chilli dish trophy went to the Indian chef of a restaurant supporting the event… And at the last minute, the organisers announced a surprise new category: the invention of a new chilli dish … which was given to a Chinese business selling chilli ice cream… And the charity we supported??? A local ladies football team….
Thank goodness we made our own fun that day, but I wonder how many non-Chinese entrants will be rushing back for the Second Hangzhou Chilli Cook-Off…. Maybe sponsors of the event should be in a separate category????
And if you wonder about the spelling of ‘chili’; blame the Americans…
What a cop out!! Still, looks as though you had fun and that’s the most important thing.
It was an interesting event, for sure… not quite the outcome we were expecting, but it all adds to the experience.
Lieve, did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams that you would be cooking Indian food…in China? Your time in Kerala has made you an honorary Indian!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you. I miss Indian food, especially the vegetarian dals. By the time I have finished my travels, I will have been so spoilt with all those exotic tastes and flavours, that ordinary British food will be very bland and boring indeed… How are your travels these days??
I’m in full travel mode LOL. Spent some time in France, visiting my Mom and 3 of my 6 sisters (the others are in Belgium). Now back in Abu Dhabi with my husband for the last week. July 1st he and I are traveling to Finland and hopefully St. Petersburg from here, and by the middle of July I’ll be back in Bhopal, where I hope to stay put for a good while.
Wow. That is some travelling. But it is so exciting to be able to see so much of the world. A lot of people can only dream of this, so it is a real privilege to be the ones making those dreams come true.