by Charlotte, age 12
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What’s a wokapalooza? A wokapalooza is when everyone gets together and people cook food like rice, noodles, vegetables, meats, shrimp and various other things in woks. There are a LOT of woks involved!
Let’s talk about woks. A wok is an Asian pan that’s kind of like a big frying pan except it has a really wide bowl shape. The sides are not steep at all. We made a lot of different kinds of food in the woks.
One thing all the dishes had in common was they were all chopped up first. There were knives everywhere!
(A NOTE ABOUT KNIVES FROM ZEBOT PLANET-DOOF:
Remember, kids and zebras should NEVER experiment with knives unless they’re working with a parent or other responsible, kitchen-savvy adult — Charlotte and I had the help of lots of expert adults, including professional chefs!)
I tried experimenting with different kinds of knives. Just for fun, I carved a kitty out of a carrot. It was never used as a garnish. I just felt like carving something, so I did.
Our friend Thy brought different knives from different places: China, Vietnam and a really light one with a weird handle that I think was from France.
What’s a good knife? That depends what you want to do. For instance, chopping vegetables or cutting meat or slicing toast is really different from carving a kitty out of a carrot. Knives are actually very specialized: there are knives for doing specific kinds of cutting jobs.
Ken and Thy actually used a big saw to cut green bamboo stalks. I think the bamboo stalks were my favorite thing at Wokapalooza, even through they were not cooked in woks. We put rice and coconut milk into fresh bamboo stalks, then roasted them in Andrew’s outdoor fireplace.
There were different types of rice: white rice and black rice (but it was really purple). Want to know a weird thing about rice? I tasted the white rice and black rice before they were steamed and they tasted pretty much the same. But I could tell which was which after they were cooked.
To me, the black rice had a darker taste. Of course, that could just be how I think of it. What you think can definitely have an effect on how things taste.
I’ve heard of experiments where they dyed sugar orange and purple, but it was all the same sugar. Still, people actually thought there was a difference in flavor, though.
So this brings me back to the rice. If you have preconceived notions about a food (like rice) and you think you won’t like it, it’s very doubtful that you will that food, because you’ve convinced yourself you won’t. My advice: don’t judge something until you’ve actually tried it.
I really wanted to know about the flavors of the rice and if they changed during cooking, so I asked Thy. She said the heat changes the taste and that heat can affect different kinds of rice differently. That makes sense to me. She also said that bamboo molecules might have been going into the rice. Heat makes molecules move around a lot faster, so that make sense.
I bet if we ate the bamboo stalks the bamboo might have a little of a ricey taste. But we probably wouldn’t notice it. But we probably wouldn’t be able to eat the bamboo in the first place so why does it matter? It’s funny to think about anyway!
Oh, and one other thing I learned about bamboo: the bamboo stalks can be really good cups! My mom told me about them, then I tried it. We drank lemonade out the bamboo cups it was really fun.
Another thing I liked doing at Wokapalooza was kneading the dough for homemade noodles. Some people think it’s really hard work, but to me it’s relaxing. You get into the rhythm and your mind kind of wanders.
I thought it was weird that when I was done kneading, my hands were floury and had dough on them, but the stone counter surface I had been kneading on was totally clean. I mean: how does that happen?
How did we cook the noodles? Well, they were boiled for a minute or so, then added them to a super-hot wok. First, they cooked chicken and shrimp with cabbage, chiles, garlic, soy. It was a bit spicy for me, but I liked it.
Here’s a weird thing about spicy foods: I’m fine with jalapenos and I’m fine with wasabi. But when I eat food with red chile peppers, I’m like “hot, hot, hot – waaaaay too spicy!”
I wish I understood more about how taste happens. Jalapenos and wasabi are just a good tingly sensation (as long as they stays on my tongue and not in my eyes). But even regular black pepper is too hot. Weird.
One last thing: dessert!
A really cool dessert was coconut-rice pancakes, which Andrew made out of rice flour, rice and coconut milk. The pancakes were cooked in a special griddle with round hollows in it so Andrew could make ball shapes.
He said we were having them for the party because people eat them as street food in Southeast Asia (where people use woks, but these pancakes are not cooked in them).
The pancakes were crispy on the outside, sort of like a marshmallow when you toast it perfectly and don’t burn it. The insides were soft and creamy. At the center were some green onions. I think the centers should have had mangos though. Then they’d really be amazing.
The dessert I enjoyed most was mango with sticky rice. Thy said people eat a lot mangos in Southeast Asia, so that’s why they were part of this party.
Mango is one of my favorite things. Even more than and I like lemon a lot. My brother thinks that’s weird. When I talk about how great lemons are, he just looks at me like “Are you okay????” I can be really obsessive about lemon. But mangos are even better.
Mangos are the ultimate end to the ultimate wokapalooza — even though they have nothing to do with woks!
If you’d like to meet our friend Thy Tran, check out her super-cool blog, Wandering Spoon — and for some of the world’s best wok recipes, visit the amazing website of our friend (and stirfry guru) Grace Young!