Friday, September 23, 2011

Toffee Potatoes

I have waited until now – just in case you thought this blog was going to be all about toffee  – to mention another savoury toffee dish I have encountered on my travels.

Also in Asia.

Actually China is very fond of toffee. We saw beautiful glass-like shards enclosing pieces of fruit in the justly famous Wangfujiang Street night market in Beijing. Many other roadside stalls offered skewers of Chinese dates also dipped in toffee, much like my much-loved toffee tomatoes of Taiwan, but they were just too sweet for my taste.

But it wasn’t until we were high on the Tibetan plateau that we encountered this unusual dish. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw it, and although it sounded so unusual, it was quite delicious. I guess it’s only a few culinary steps away from the much loved US Thanksgiving dish of sweet potatoes in maple syrup.

Geographers, if you are correcting me here and saying that Xiahe is not in Tibet, you are right … and wrong. The plateau extends far beyond the recently-drawn borders of modern Tibet. It was in Xiahe, referred to by many as Little Tibet, that we discovered a huge Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and in nearby Lanzhou, a tiny cafĂ© with this interesting dish which I just had to try at home.

My Chinese extends to hello and thank you so I couldn’t ask if this was a traditional Tibetan dish, but it was on the menu and we enjoyed it twice here.

1kg potatoes
3-4 tablespoons cooking oil, butter or ghee
salt to taste

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Boil until tender then drain thoroughly. Heat oil, butter or ghee in a large heavy frypan and, when hot, add the potatoes, stirring until they are browning well. Season to taste with salt. Meanwhile make toffee by placing the sugar and water in a small heavy pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until it becomes golden. Place potatoes on individual plates or a serving dish and immediately pour some of the toffee lightly over the potatoes, enough so it is attractive but not so much as to form a hard shell. Think of using about the same amount as you would if generously sprinkling grated cheese over the dish. Serves 4.

Has anyone else eaten this delicious dish?