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Cooking kungpao chicken in Shanghai

There’s something fun about learning to cook a dish in the country of its origin. Imagine making pasta in Italy, pad Thai in Thailand, tandoori in India, burgers in America… (Here’s my post on making poisson cru in Tahiti>>)

Shanghai wet market

The crazy wet market. Appearances are deceiving!

So it was that I found myself enrolled in the Chinese Cooking Workshop in Shanghai. I was part of a media group on an Air New Zealand famil (that’s what we call familiarisations when we go to a fancy destination to write about it and entice you to go) and with our local guide we weaved through the busy back streets of this city of 23 million people to the very inconspicuous entrance, 4 journos and our hosts.

English was barely spoken and we were a few minutes late so chef seemed a bit out of sorts. Suddenly we were trailing behind him back out the gate and striding down the path again not entirely sure what was going on. The market!

Righto, looking left and right and trying to keep up while not getting bowled by passing vehicles, we crossed roads and marched on and suddenly came upon what looked like an office block.

I was not prepared for the wet market. “Stick together like sticky rice,” he shouted to us through his translator then proceeded to do his best to lose us in the melee inside.

With barely time to take it all in, we passed counters groaning under the piles of fresh veges, so many types of tofu I never knew existed, and meat. Meat of all types. Some of the meat was still alive. (Don’t spend too long with the caged chickens or you’ll be scarred for life, or even with the live fish and frogs. CHOP.)

Cooking class

We squeezed into the tiny kitchen to toss our woks

Then we were racing back down the road to our classroom where bowls, chopping boards and knives were laid out. We made two dishes, kungpao chicken and spicy tofu (which also had minced pork, much to the vegetarians amongst us dismay). So here’s how to make the tasty and quintessential kungpao (aka kongbao) chicken:

Ingredients: (these portions look a little on the teeny side to me, so I guess it’s just for 1 serve. Your help is welcome in the comments below!)

100g chicken breast, peanuts (to add later), 1 tsp sugar, 2 tsp rice wine, 2 Tbs dark soy sauce, 1 tsp chili paste, 1 tsp vinegar, 1.5 tsp corn starch, 1 Tbs ginger, 1 Tbs garlic


Bash chicken breast with a mallet, then dice into 1 cm cubes. Season with salt and combine with sugar, cooking wine and starch.

In a wok fry ginger, chopped garlic, chili paste, cooking wine until fragrant. Add diced chicken, a little water, sugar, dark soy sauce, vinegar and some starch. Toss around and add fried peanuts and chopped dried chillies to serve.

Kungpao chicken

Kungpao chicken with chillies

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!