Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World: the podcast that visits the great places on Earth to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.
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Now displaying: August, 2018

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Aug 31, 2018

BONUS EPISODE!  In March 2018, Drew Vahrenkamp appeared on Stephanie Craig's History Fangirl podcast to discuss what was once the largest city on earth, in area at least: Angkor, Cambodia. For the upcoming holiday weekend in the US, we are honored to share this episode with you.  Please check out more of Stephanie's interviews with travelers, historians, bloggers and podcasters at

Angkor, along with its most famous temple Angkor Wat, is one of the most unique places in the world. The French claim to have discovered it when Cambodia was part of French Indochina, but like so many “lost” places the locals always knew about it. However, much of what we know about the ancient city comes from inscriptions and other artwork on the temple. And because the jungle climate much of the other information we have about the city may be lost forever, but we do know that it was the largest pre-industrial city in the history of the world.

My guest today is Drew Vahrenkamp of the Wonders of the World podcast. We chat about the ancient history of Angkor, how tourism in the city has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and how history lovers grapple with the ancient past of Cambodia, and the more recent reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Aug 25, 2018

Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, is justifiably famous for this dish, a delectable, spicy beef broth served over hand-pulled noodles, with layers of beef and daikon radish on top.  Restaurants all over Gansu ladle out this dish as a pick-me-up breakfast.


You can’t make the real thing, because some of the actual ingredients are only available to restauranteurs in China and because hand-pulling noodles is incredibly challenging — they even have schools for it in Lanzhou.


So this is a legitimate home version from the terrific cookbook All Under Heaven.


Really exciting: it’s an excuse to use that InstantPot you got for the holidays and have been struggling to find uses for.  Woot!  You can do this without a pressure cooker, of course, but it will help to have one.


The challenge here is getting all the ingredients.  It will be hard to do if you don’t have access to an Asian grocery. 


One last note: this dish will taste much, much better if you let it rest for a day or so to let the flavors blend.  Prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, then reheat on the stove.


As usual with red meat, I won’t get to make this at home, so if you can get the ingredients and try it out, please let me know!


Serves 4



  • 1.25 - 1.5 lbs (2-3 kg) boneless beef shank (or 3 lbs (5.5 kg) with the bone)
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) thinly sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 large leek, cleaned, split lengthwise, sliced into 1 in (2 cm) lengths or 1 medium yellow onion, cut into eighths
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (50 ml) bean sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) mild rice wine
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) rock sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 lb Chinese radish, sliced and quartered
  • 10 cups (2.3 liters) unsalted beef stock (feel free to make your own, of course)
  • Spices:
    • 1 small black cardamom pod
    • 2 tsp (10 ml) fennel seeds
    • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Sichuan peppercorns
    • 1 tsp (5 ml) white peppercorns
    • 3 pieces sand ginger
    • 3 pieces licorice root
    • 1 piece aged tangerine peel (1/2 inch/2 cm diameter)
    • 1 stick cinnamon
    • 5 pieces star anise
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro as garnish
  • black vinegar as garnish
  • Chile oil as garnish
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) fresh noodles



  • Beef shank - Brisket would work well here, as would short ribs.
  • Bean sauce - This is not bean paste, which is mostly wheat.
  • Soy sauce - Chinese soy sauce is different from Japanese soy sauce (which is often more widely available in the US).  Japanese sauces tend to be lighter and saltier, so don’t use as much or it will be super-salty.
  • Rock sugar - Chunks of crystallized sugar; you can substitute equivalent amount of brown sugar or white sugar.
  • Chinese radish - Looks like a turnip, actually a radish. You can substitute daikon; western radishes are a bit spicier.
  • Sand ginger - A variety of ginger that is a little more aromatic than regular ginger.
  • Licorice root - Dried licorice root. It is what it sounds like.
  • Aged tangerine peel - You can dry your own and it would work fine, or in a pinch, peel an orange and remove the pith. It won’t be as concentrated so you might use a bigger piece.
  • Black vinegar - I love this stuff; you can use a blend of rice vinegar and balsamic to replicate.
  • Chile oil - available at most markets or make your own by soaking chile pepper flakes in hot (but not too hot) oil.



  • Pat the beef very dry.
  • In a pressure cooker or wok, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat, then add the beef and the ginger.
  • Brown the beef on both sides, adding the leek.
  • Tricky: scootch the beef and veggies to one side of the pan, lift it so the oil collects in the other, and add the bean sauce, cooking for 30 seconds to release the aromas.  With a regular pressure cooker or wok, this is no problem, but with an InstantPot, you’ll want to lift the pan out of the machine (USING A POTHOLDER) to do this.
  • Pour in rice wine, then add soy sauce and sugar, stirring well to combine.
  • Spread the radish around the beef, and cover with beef stock.  If your cooker/wok isn’t big enough, you might not need the full 10 cups / 2.3 liters.
  • Now, onto spices.  Using the flat of your knife, crack the cardamon pod. Put it and the other spices into a cheesecloth bag or a mesh ball and add it to the soup.
  • Cover and seal.  In a pressure cooker, you’ll want to cook for an hour.  In a wok, you’re looking at three hours after you’ve brought it to a boil, adding more stock as you go if the levels drop.
  • Once it’s done and the pressure has dropped enough that it’s safe to open the pressure cooker, or after three hours braising in the wok, check the meat.  It should be really tender.  If not, give it another 15 minutes of pressure or 30 minutes of simmer.  Regardless, add the rest of the stock if you haven’t already.
  • Taste the seasoning and adjust if needed.  Remove the spices and the beef.  Refrigerate everything.
  • Go to sleep, go to work, do whatever it is you do.
  • When you’re ready to serve, skim the fat off the soup, and reheat.  About 10 minutes before dinner time, boil water and cook the noodles until they float.  While they cook, slice the cold meat against the grain - it will keep its shape better when cold.
  • Take the noodles out with a Chinese spider or tongs and place them in each bowl.  Put the meat on top, then ladle the soup onto that.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and have the oil and vinegar available.


Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips

Photo from user N509FZ on wikipedia

Aug 23, 2018
A great trade route connected China to the West: the Silk Road. No place in China better illustrates the value of that route than Dunhuang, site of the Mogao Caves, grottos carved into a cliffside which hold the largest collection of Buddhist art anywhere. In Gansu province, Dunhuang was the site of the Jade Gate, where the main road left China into the lands beyond.
Nathan Cherry of the Silk Road History Podcast helps tell the story of these caves, their city, and the route, starting with the expedition of Zhang Qian, China's Lewis (or maybe Clark?) who first traversed into the unknown.
More stories follow: the son of immigrants who translated the sutras, the daughter who went to war, the crown prince who saved countless artifacts.
The caves are remarkable; the town is too, nestled against giant sand dunes at the edge of the desert. To eat, try Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup, the perfect breakfast, if you like soup for breakfast - Westerners might find this a perfect dinner instead.
Selected Sources:
Keay, John. China: a History
Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt L. Idema. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts
Lagerwey, John and Lü Pengzhi, editors. Early Chinese religion. Part 2, The period of division (220-589 AD)
Lonely Planet China
Stephan, Annelisa. "14 Fascinating Facts about the Cave Temples of Dunhuang" from The Iris from the Getty Museum
The Dunhuang Academy's website (
Aug 14, 2018

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