Fist of Kitchen presents… Eat it: China!

Recooking "The Art of Chinese Cooking" by The Benedictine Sisters of Peking, 1956 | Remixed by Fist of Kitchen 2013

book version

Asparagus Peking Style

asparagus peking style: p.57 Asparagus is a French import.
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • ¼ c. chicken stock
  • ¼ c. water
  • 1 tbsp. sherry
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 14 oz. can asparagus

Canned asparagus. Yeah it’s science! and the rules of the game that we’ve only just started but we just. couldn’t. do. it. Instead, we blanched a pound of asparagus in a lot of hot, very salty water, plunged it into very icy water when it was tender, and set it aside to be finished later with the sauce. This was good and probably could be done with any vegetable, especially strongly flavored ones like broccoli or peapods. This tastes pretty much how green vegetables are done in good American Chinese restaurants.

Something awesome I just learned: Asparagus is called “dragon whisker vegetable.” The kind that we eat, Asparagus officinalis, is very new to China. It was probably introduced by French occupiers of Cochin around 1862.


  1. Deena Nilston

    When my father and our family was stationed at Tachikawa AFB in the late 50’s and early 60’s, my mother took lessons from the Benedictine nuns. On one memorable occasion, she let me (at age 5 or 6) travel with her on the train into Tokyo and the cooking school. I still have her heavily annotated copy of the cookbook in addition to several newer copies.

    The lack of what we might consider to be truly Chinese ingredients could be explained by the fact that the nuns were generally teaching Americans in Japan at a time when the Japanese economy was not the powerhouse it later became. Both the nuns and their pupils had to make do with what was available either “on the economy” or in the military commissaries.

    It might seem amusing to poke fun at the lack of exotic ingredients but the simple truth is that cooks haling from the United States were not generally interested at that time in being cosmopolitan, as much as they were entranced by the advent of convenience foods and mixes. Those who took lessons from the nuns were quite adventurous by comparison. Bill Bryson, an expat now living in England, tells a hilarious (and over-the-top) story of Jello salads in “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”.

    As for the recipes themselves, they’re good. Maybe not “authentic” Chinese, but delicious nonetheless. And the book’s illustrations are charming. What’s not to like?!

  2. Miriam

    Hi Deena!

    Thank you for writing–what a nice memory to share. I’d love to hear more of your stories of that time.

    …and just to be clear, that in absolutely no way do we intend any fun-poking here; neither at the famine conditions of Occupied Japan, and especially not at the Sisters. They were very brave women who accomplished great tasks in the face of insanely perilous situations, and we remain completely in awe of their work. And any women who had travelled so far to become their students were certainly, admirably, thumbs-up adventurers!

    Thanks for the tip on the Bryson book–I look forward to reading it! You might enjoy China to Me, by Emily Hahn, as another look into pre-war and wartime life in the vicinity. (The Sisters published their own memoir, but I can’t find a working link at the moment…)

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