Is the Chinese food served up in our restaurants or roadside shacks the real thing? Find out from Discovery Travel & Livings popular host and chef Kylie Kwong, who rediscovers her Chinese heritage by exploring the food and culture of China in her new series Kylie Kwong: My China, which beams every Tuesday at 10pm. This nine-part series is a culinary travelogue that follows Kylie to nine cities as she explores the homeland of her ancestors. The 40-year-old restaurateur based in Sydney, Australia, speaks to t2 about distinct flavours and textures of Chinese cuisine and its health quotient.
How is your third series different from earlier ones?
The first show was on the different types of food that I love to cook, shot in Sydney. Only two episodes of the second show were shot in China, the rest being shot in Sydney. This is as much a travel show as it is on food. We have covered history and information about the different provinces that we have visited. The food of rural China is quite textured. The show has also used a lot of text and recipes from my book called My China.
Chinese food is very popular in India. You also must have seen Chinese cuisine served in Australia. How authentic is the food served as Chinese in countries outside China?
I have seen Chinese cuisine in UK, France, Italy, Germany and the US as well. Chinese people live in each of these countries and they cook according to what they think is the local taste. On visiting China, I discovered the amazing array of vegetables that is cooked in the provinces. But they use a lot of preservatives. Also the seafood, meat and poultry have a different flavour there than what I, being born in a less polluted physical environment, am used to.
How do you purge the food of the unhealthy influences?
My passion is organic food. So I cook using the same recipe but with organic ingredients. I believe your cooking is only as well as the produce. Also I avoid using monosodium glutamate (MSG) that I found people using in China. The cooking methods for Chinese cuisine — smoking, braising, master stocks — draw on a five-thousand-year-old culture. One can always improve upon them. We have such beautiful flavouring agents — Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut oil. So why use preservatives? MSG gives a dish an instant sweet and salty flavour. One teaspoon of that and every dish tastes the same. I call it the Chinese restaurant flavour.
Why is MSG to be avoided?
Many people are allergic to MSG. I get all brashy. One can also get headache and feel thirsty.
Do you tell traditionalists not to use MSG on the show?
We have covered food served in restaurants as well as by vendors on the streets. I watch their cooking and respect what they do. Then I cook the same thing my way, commenting on what I liked and did not like about what we saw.
What is the best dish that you learnt on the trip?
The discovery this time has been Stir-fried Pumpkin in Black Bean Sauce that I picked up from my great grandfathers village in Guangdong province of south China. In China, a lot of dishes are made with everyday inexpensive ingredients. Our ancestors were so humble and versatile. In fact, all Asian food, mine and yours included, is so creative that one need not waste anything. Western cuisine wastes a lot. Such habits are linked to climate change and other evils.
Finally, why did you choose cooking as a vocation?
I love eating. My mother cooked beautiful food. My childhood memories are about food, family and parties at home. Even now, I am happiest when shopping at a food market.