Past, Present and a Bit of the Future
Ma La Market, a mother-daughter business owned by Taylor Holliday and Fongchang Havighurst, has pretty much changed my life. Living in a rural area during Covid, and hungry for Asian flavors, I kept thinking how lucky urban people were. They could just order Chinese takeout whenever they wanted.
Out here in the country, we were stuck with whatever I could manage to make. Thanks to Ma La Market (and a few other terrific sources I’ll be sharing later), my Sichuan cooking improved by leaps and bounds. Just about everything they sell would make a very welcome gift.
Where to begin? The four products I use most often (after their chiles and Sichuan peppercorns) are the 3-year old Pixian Chili Bean Paste (doubanjiang), which is so so superior to the black bean paste with chiles I’d been using that it has absolutely transformed my version of Mapo Tofu. They also sell real Oyster Sauce (most commercial oyster sauces contain no seafood), which makes almost every savory dish taste better. The minute you toss a couple of tablespoons of their roasted rapeseed oil into a hot wok your kitchen starts smelling like a Chinese restaurant. It has a deliciously toasty aroma unlike any other oil I’ve encountered. I never want to be without it.
But the product I am most seriously addicted to is their zhaicai, pickled Sichuan turnip greens. One of my favorite lunches is a couple tablespoons of the salty, spicy pickled vegetables over rice. It doesn’t hurt that it comes in such beautiful packages (I often send them in place of birthday cards).
Can’t decide? Ma La Market has a number of different kits. But be warned: once you start using their products, you’re never going back.
This was the first of the dozen or so articles I’ve written about women chefs. I’m still stunned by the barriers some of these women faced, and astonished that so many of them are still hard at work.
But back then we thought that things would be very different by now, and to me the real story here is that forty years on, not nearly enough has changed. Time Magazine’s Gods of Food story is only 8 years behind us, and in most of the big deal kitchens of the world the men are still in charge. Let’s hope that forty years from now this will seem like very ancient history.
And speaking of women chefs….I’ve got a slew of vintage menus from Chez Panisse — all wonderful meals I remember with great pleasure.
But these special menus — birthdays for friends, a wedding, a New Year’s celebration — demonstrate the depth of Alice Waters’ ambition. She was very far ahead of her time — and never afraid to try new things.
As you can see from the Gift Guide, I’m a condiment slut; my refrigerator shelves are filled with dozens of hot sauces, oils, pastes and potions all waiting to make my dinners more delicious. What’s your favorite condiment?