Indonesia: Work, Eat, Pray in Malang

Group Photo

Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference

Attending the Seventh Biennial Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) Conference in the city Malang in Indonesia was a mind-blowing experience. The conference was held at the Catholic Seminary STFT Widya Sasana and lasted from the 16th to the 20th of July, 2018. About 88 biblical researchers from around the world (mainly from Asia) flocked to this “Bible Belt” of Indonesia, where a dozen theological colleges and seminaries from various denominations make their home. This incredible journey managed to stimulate my mind (work), spoil my tastebuds (eat), and let me observe the spirituality of others (pray).

Work

The diverse topics presented at the conference blew my mind. I especially enjoyed the session on the Malaysian/Indonesian Bible translations. Dr. Kar Yong Lim from the Seminari Theologi Malaysia and Dr. Daud Soesilo from the United Bible Societies in Indonesia presented an overview of how the Malaysian ruling government considers the Arabic loanword “Allah” a sort of proper name of the Muslims’ God, and thus prohibits the use of “Allah” by the non-Muslims. Some of the country’s Christians, who understand “Allah” as a common noun “God” in their Malay language Bibles, are particularly affected by this prohibition. Dr. Anwar Tjen from the Indonesian Bible Society, on the other hand, presented another kind of motivation that leads some Indonesian Christian communities to reject the use of “Allah” in their Bible translations. As he showed, these Christian groups, under the influence of the Sacred Name Movement in the US, think the term “Allah” is too Arabic and seek to rediscover the Jewish root of Christianity by simply transliterating the Hebrew term אלהים/אל/אלה into “Elohim.” At first sight, two different groups of people in two different countries seek to reject the use of the Arabic loanword “Allah” in the Christian Bible translations for two seemingly different reasons. On closer inspection, both groups actually are motivated by the same desire to sharply delineate their religious identity from the surrounding peoples. One (the Malaysian government) seeks to restrict the term “Allah” for the Islamic God, while another (some Indonesian Christians) strives to distance itself from the Arabic flavoured “Allah” and to highlight the Judeo-Christian origin of its own religion, by adopting the transliteration “Elohim.” The result is a starkly dualistic contrast between the Islam and the Judeo-Christian traditions. The question remains if an extra space can be created for those Christians, who wish to maintain both their national/linguistic and religious identities by using the Malay term “Allah” in their own Christian Bible translations.

I was privileged to preside at the session, where Prof. Koowon Kim, Prof. Zhenhua Meng and Dr. Kwan-Hung Leo Li utilised a comparative/dialogic approach to contextualise different parts of the Hebrew Bible for the Chinese people. The other sessions also include some stimulating analyses of the biblical texts from the Japanese and Korean perspectives. One of the highlights of the conference is the session on the queer readings of the biblical texts in Asia. Homosexuality is still a taboo in many Asian countries and in the traditional monotheistic religions. Therefore, the presenters, including Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman, Ms. Pearl Wong, and Prof. Yeong Mee Lee, should be applauded for bringing their research on this difficult subject to the table. All the above sessions have introduced me to so many lights that can be cast on the Bible through reading it in different modern-day societies. I cannot claim to have grasped or concurred with all the discussions appearing in the conference, but I sincerely think that all these different discussions in the academic context are necessary and even beneficial, since they allow us to temporarily jump out of the comfort zones and critically examine our commonly held beliefs.

In addition to learning from the others’ perspectives, I also presented a paper entitled “Seeking a Way Forward: Reflections on the Scholarly Imaginations of Good and Evil in the Book of Esther.” As seen from the above, most of the conference papers focused on reading the Bible in modern-day Asian societies. On the other hand, my paper explored how the Christian and Jewish commentators had used to characterise the book of Esther in their contemporary European, Northern American, Israeli, and African societies. At the end of the presentation, I concluded:

Reading the Esther story from the commentators’ own historical contexts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the commentators’ prejudices can lead to distorting the textual ideology. On the other hand, the commentators’ own circumstances can also resonate with the narrative, so as to shed light on some textual elements that have been ignored, marginalised, or misunderstood.

Perhaps, such a historical survey of biblical scholarship in the other parts of the world can provide some food for thought for the Asian biblical commentators, who are now appropriating and analysing the biblical texts in their own social contexts.

Remember, if you are interested in the abstracts of any of the other papers, you can always find and download them on the SABS official website.

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Photo Credit: Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference

Eat

Hospitality seems to be at the core of the Indonesian lifestyle. One of the many ways the Indonesians honour their guests is by inviting them to meals. All the meals (including breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner) during the conference were graciously provided by the host institution. (Photo Credits: Gio and Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference)

 

Each dinner, especially the end-of-conference party, was also accompanied by the fascinating cultural performances (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference).

 

After the conference, I was able to explore a greater variety of the Indonesian cuisines. The choices seemed endless and the rich aroma of the spices just chocked me with happiness 🙂

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Nasi Rawon: Rice Served with Black Beef Soup

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Breakfast @ Hotel Tugu Malang

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Pho @ SaigonSan Restaurant

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Bakso: Renowned Indonesian Beef Balls Soup

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Fresh Juice!!!

The Indonesians I met during this trip were extremely warm and friendly. When I asked for a “Bakso” and fresh juice with my very limited knowledge of Malay, the above young man and lady got very excited that they decided to converse with me completely in Malay for another 10 to 15 minutes. I could not understand more than half of the conversation, but I got the part when the young man asked for a photo shoot 🙂

Pray

Apart from food, religions also play an important role in the Indonesian society. Everyone here seems to belong to either Islam, or Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or a syncretism of any of these religions with the folk beliefs.

Christianity 

Christianity, comprising about 10% of the country’s population, is not the main religion in Indonesia. Even then, the actual size of the Indonesian Christian population, according to one of the conference organisers, is roughly equivalent to the whole of the Australian population. Despite the fact that our conference was hosted at a Catholic seminary, the neighbouring Protestant seminary “Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara” also cordially invited us for a lunch. After the lunch, the Protestant seminary students gave us a tour around their beautiful campus.

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The Main Entrance of the Southeast Asia Bible Seminary (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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The SEABS’s Vision. According to one Indonesian participant, this seminary adopts a maximalist approach toward the Bible.

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An exhibition displaying the history of the Christian missions in Asia (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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English translation: “This one is truly the saviour of of the world.” Beautiful sculptures pepper around the campus.

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The founder of SEABS, Rev. Dr. Andrew Gih, and his wife. For a brief history of the seminary, click here.

Islam

The main religion in Indonesia is Islam, and the Muslims make up about 87% of the population. Some Indonesians told me that the Muslims in Malang are moderate, and they get along with people from the other religions very well. These Muslims also take their praying rituals very seriously. In every hotel room I stayed during the trip, I could find an arrow on the ceiling indicating the prayer direction.

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Can you find the “Kiblat” sticker?

Hinduism

Mt. Bromo, the active volcano near Malang, is a sacred site for the Hindu believers. According to this website, the name Bromo “derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.” A lecturer from a neighbouring charismatic Christian seminary kindly offered to take some of the conference participants to hike Mt. Bromo at a small price. We set out at midnight and arrived at Mount Penanjakan when it was still dark. We waited patiently at the lookout point until the sun rose gently over Mt. Bromo at around 05:30am.

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Mt. Bromo above the clouds/mists

Then we waded through the “Sea of Sand” (Laut Pasir), while the sand and dust were blown all over our face.

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Getting ready to wade through the Sea of Sand.

We climbed along a rather steep slope of mountain.

Finally, we reached the smoking crater of Mt. Bromo.

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Mt. Bromo’s Crater

Some Hindu believers would throw offerings into the crater to appease their gods.

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A statue of Ganesha in front of the crater

The view from the crater to the bottom of the mountain was incredible.

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The Hindu temple was lying beneath the translucent mist in the midst of the “Sea of Sand”

Syncretic Religions

Some people in Malang practice a form of syncretic religion, combining their own religious traditions with the beliefs of their partners.  For instance, the hired driver who took us to Mt. Bromo with his Jeep was a Muslim married to a Hindu lady. Therefore, he, despite being a Muslim, made his offerings to various small Hindu shrines sprinkling at the feet of the mountains. The syncretism of various cultures and beliefs is perhaps best captured at the boutique Tugu Hotel Malang, which also acts like a museum of the Indonesian antiques and artworks. The great-grandfather of the founder of Tugu Hotels & Restaurants Group was a Chinese Indonesian tycoon known as the sugar baron. He then married to a local Javanese woman named Raden Adjeng Kasinem (1857–1935). Therefore, you can find a fusion of the Chinese ancestor worship and the other local/international cultures in the midst of the hotel. The whole place can be quite eerie but also magically beautiful especially after dark.

It must be quite challenging but also exciting to negotiate one’s identity amidst so many other cultural traditions. This trip was an eye-opening experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot, and I definitely want to visit Indonesia again when I save more money and time. Selamat tinggal, sampai jumpa lagi 😉

Resource: Two Great Books on the Textual History of the Hebrew Bible

For those interested in the textual history of the Hebrew Bible, I would recommend these two great books, from which I learn a great deal:

1. Ernst Würthwein and Alexander Achilles Fischer, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (3rd ed.; trans. Erroll F. Rhodes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2014). 20959398

This is an awesome introduction to the extant textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, including the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, etc.). The book, which is a revised expansion on Würthwein’s fifth edition published in 1988, gives a clear and systematic explanation of the differences among these textual witnesses, and thus stresses the importance of textual criticism to reconstruct the historical development of the Hebrew Bible. As the author(s) write: “Textual criticism is the doorway to exegesis, and there is no back door. It is all too rarely observed that neither the church nor scholarship possesses a single biblical text, but only a copy that has been transmitted through a particular historical tradition. As a consequence the text not only provides the basis for interpretation, but the text itself is subject to historical study” (p.157).

 

2. Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd rev. ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

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The framework and a lot of ideas in the foregoing book are also reflected in this monograph, which was first published in Hebrew in 1989 and has become like the “Bible” in the field of textual criticism. Currently, I only have the second revised edition. This monograph contains much more concrete and detailed background information about various manuscripts and translations of the Hebrew Bible. Particularly useful is chapter 3, which features different scholarly approaches to grapple with the textual variants. In the rest of the book, the author then makes use of concrete biblical examples to surmise and explain how different types of textual variants came about. Throughout the book, the author has demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of biblical texts. The content of the book is dense and requires careful reading, but the outcome of learning this book would be rewarding.

Presentation: “The Dynamic Textual History of the Hebrew Bible” at Fudan University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

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Photo Credit: history.fudan.edu.cn/7816/list.htm

I was overjoyed to receive an invitation to give a small presentation at the Department of History at Fudan University in Shanghai! I spoke on the “Dynamic Textual History of the Hebrew Bible” (《希伯来圣经》的文本流传与历史变迁) on 08.05.2018.

The first part of the presentation was an introduction to the medieval manuscripts of the Masoretic Text (group) and some late antique manuscripts of the Septuagint. The second part of the presentation traced back to the even earlier biblical manuscripts uncovered around the Dead Sea. I used some examples to illustrate how the Proto-Masoretic Text from the Dead Sea can contain features that differ and predate the medieval Masoretic manuscripts, and how some Hebrew manuscripts from the Dead Sea can reflect the Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint. The third and last part of the presentation explored the impact of the concept of Urtext on the scholarly analyses of the relationship among different text groups.

With the kind assistance of a friend, I managed to sharpen my arguments and deliver the whole presentation in Chinese Mandarin. This is my second visit to China and I do cherish the new-found friendship during this brief visit 🙂

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My abstract in Chinese Mandarin!

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One of my favourite parts in Shanghai: Yuyuan Garden. This is where you can find beautiful folk artworks and delicious food 😉

 

News: Chinese Tourists Arrested in Germany after Making Hitler Salutes in Front of Reichstag

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Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Breaking News from Haaretz: “German police on Saturday arrested two Chinese tourists for making illegal “Heil Hitler” salutes in front of the historic Reichstag building that houses the German parliament.” Read more.

There are times when I am truly ashamed of the ignorance of some of my own people. They idealize and even idolize everything that has ever happened in Europe/Germany. Don’t they have any ideas of the sordidness embedded in history and culture of this continent/country? Here they are obsequiously emulating whatever the West did and do. Yes, I agree these people deserve punishments and further education.

Feel free to read my 2015 tour into Berlin’s past: “Berlin, a City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present”

Presentation: Unravel “Gog of Magog” in Seoul, South Korea

The Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting will take place in Seoul, South Korea during July 3-7, 2016. I am so excited that I will deliver a paper entitled “Gog of Magog within and beyond Ezekiel 38-39” in this conference on July 4, 2016!

 

 Photos taken from Allez Savoir! 39 (2007): 34-41, here 37, the website of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, and Joseph Moo’s  “Gog & Magog War Coincide With the Coming 4 Blood Moon”

According to the French report “George W.Bush et le Code Ezéchiel” by Jocelyn Rochat in Allez Savoir! 39 (2007): 34-41, the former US president George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by saying that “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.”

A Palestinian cartoonist Baha Boukhari painted a cartoon depicting the USA and UK as Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog). According to the website of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, the cartoon appeared in the Arab newspaper Al-Ayyam on April 4, 2003.

One Singaporean Joseph Moo, following the footstep of Ronald Reagan and many others, published a series of slides entitled “Gog and Magog War Coincide With the Coming 4 Blood Moon” in May 2014 and claimed that Gog is Russia.

Who then is Gog? Come and discuss with me on July 4, 2016! 😉

Here is the abstract of my paper, which is also available on the SBL website:

The most extensive descriptions of Gog and Magog in the Hebrew Bible appear in Ezek 38-39. At various stages of their political career, both Reagan and Bush have linked Gog and Magog to the diplomatic and military enemies of the USA, identifying them either as the “communistic and atheistic” Russia or the “evil” Iraq (Halsell 1986, 45; Eichenwald 2012, 459). Biblical scholars, however, seek to contextualize Gog of Magog in the historical literary setting of the ancient Israelites. Galambush identifies Gog in Ezekiel as a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, who acted as Judah’s oppressor in the sixth century BCE (Galambush 2006, 259-260). More generally, Klein concludes that Gog, along with its companions, is “eine Personifikation aller Feinde, die Israel im Buch Ezechiel gegenüberstehen” (Klein 2008, 131). Despite their differences in detail, these scholars, like Reagan and Bush, still work under a mindset of animosity, considering only the features of Judah’s enemies incorporated into the characteristics of Gog. This paper argues that Gog and his entourage display literary attributes previously assigned to not only Judah’s enemies, but also Judah’s political allies, especially Egypt. Internal evidence suggests that the Gog oracles are a much later insertion into the book of Ezekiel (Tooman 2011, 72-83). Therefore, Ezek 38-39 apparently draws from omnifarious biblical elements and themes, so that all foreign historical nations, whether friends or foes, are all combined and transformed into a metahistorical symbol of chaos or evil, standing in opposition to YHWH and the restored Israel in the eschatological era. Brief remarks will also be made as to how the literary process within Ezek 38-39 that relegates all foreign elements to one eschatological symbol of evil is mirrored in the Septuagint (Num 24:7; Deut 3:1, 13; 4:47; Esth 3:1; 9:24) and continues to evolve in early Jewish and Christian traditions.

The paper will be presented in the Prophets Section. Here are the details:

Prophets
7/04/2016
2:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: B104 – Theology Hall (Yonsei)Chwi-Woon Kim, Baylor University
The Negative Attitude toward Abraham and Israel (Isa 63:16) in light of the Literary Development of the Prayer in 63:7–64:11 (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Sehee Kim, Boston University
Parallels in Concept and Plot between Ezekiel 16 and Unfaithfulness (Sumerian Myth) (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Lydia Lee, North-West University (South Africa)
Gog of Magog within and beyond Ezekiel 38–39 (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Kristin Weingart, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
My Father, My Father! Chariot of Israel and Its Horsemen!? (2 Kgs 2:12; 13:14): Elisha’s or Elijah’s Title? (20 min)
I look foward to meeting you all there! 😀

 

Resource: Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity

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English:

Christianity has evolved beyond Acts of the Apostles, not only taking root in the West, but also spreading to the East. When I was a child, I often heard the adults cite the following saying from Hudson Taylor, the nineteenth century British Christian missionary to China (1832-1905): “If I had a thousand pounds, China should have it – if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him?” Having watched the Chinese film “the Soong Sisters” (see below***), I come to take an interest in Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China (1866-1925). He was a Chinese, a Christian, and a supporter of the Zionist movement. Their lives show how multifaceted a Christian can be. Now, their stories are included in this informative “Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity” (in both English and Chinese: http://www.bdcconline.net/en/). Friends doing Church History might be interested in writing a contribution to this online dictionary? (See the “Contribute” section in the webpage.)

Of course, we must also not forget the other side of the coin. Some of the imperialist Christians could have been quite unreasonable that they had suggested military interventions in the Republic of China, which prompted one Chinese Christian intellect Hu Xue Cheng (胡学诚) to write the following admonition on 30.12.1923: “We Chinese have not asked you to come here and to evangelize. Your arrivals are due to your passion for your faith. You are here because you have been called by Jesus to become his messengers, and to share the gospel with many peoples. Prior to your arrival, you should have already known the political instability, the material and cultural deficiencies in mainland China. Therefore, if you have decided to come to China, it should not be for complacency, but for sacrificing and sharing the burden. Under this kind of situation, there are only two actions you should take: 1. If you are not willing to share the burden or to sacrifice, buy yourself a ticket and sail back to your home country. Why do you wish to stay here and be tormented daily? 2. If you have the burden to share the gospel with us, please consider the sufferings experienced by the apostles and followers of Jesus throughout most of the church history. Please suffer with the Chinese.”
Note: This is my own English translation, excerpt taken from胡学诚,〈对西国传教士们说几句不客气话〉,《真理周刊》,第1卷,第40期(1923年12月13日),第4版;cited in李宜涯《圣坛前的创作:20年代基督教文学研究》(台北,2010),pp. 26-27.

中文:

基督教在使徒行传以后继续发展开来,不仅在西方世界扎根,也在东方世界传开了。当我还是小孩,就常常听大人们引用19世纪来中国传教的英国宣教士戴德生的 一句话:“假设我有千万英镑,中国可以全数支取;假设我有千条生命,绝不留下一条不给中国。不,不是中国,是基督。我们为祂做的怎么能嫌多呢?” 后来我看了电影《宋家皇朝》 (如下所示***),就开始对孙中山感兴趣。他是中国人,是基督徒,也是支持以色列复国的一位政治家。他们的生命告诉我,基督徒的生命可以很多面 化。现在,他们的生平事迹也被记载在这个不错的网站《华人基督教史人物辞典》(http://www.bdcconline.net/zh-hans/)。对教会历史感兴趣的朋友,也许你们知道其他队华人福音事工有贡献的人物?你们也可以写下他们的故事,并投稿给这个网站的负责人(参见“投稿”页面)。

当 然,我们也不忘记人性的另一面。一些持有帝国主义的基督徒也曾经很不讲理的想要用军事行动来控制中华民国的局面。这让一位中国的基督徒知识分子胡学诚义愤 填膺地在1923年12月30日写下了以下几句话:“我们中国人并没有请你们来做佈道事业。你们的来,是因为你们对所信宗教的热忱,受耶稣的选召,作他的 使者,传福音给万民听的。你们未来以先,中国内地的不安宁,物质文明的不发达,是你们所已经知道的,所以你们来中国,并不是要得安逸;乃是要牺牲受苦。那 末,在这种情形之下,只有两种方法, 是你们所应采取的:一、你们若不原牺牲,不能受苦,最好买船票回国去享平安幸福,何必在此日夜担忧地受苦呢?二、你们既抱了宏愿,来传福音,这样请你看看教会的历史,福音的使者,是多半经历人间痛苦的。请你和中国人一同受苦。”
参见胡学诚,〈对西国传教士们说几句不客气话〉,《真理周刊》,第1卷,第40期(1923年12月13日),第4版;摘自李宜涯《圣坛前的创作:20年代基督教文学研究》(台北,2010), 第26至27页。

***The Hong Kong historical drama film “the Soong Sisters” (with English subtitles) was directed by Mabel Cheung and released in 1997. I am not saying that the film is historically accurate as a documentary, but it does provide another perspective to ponder upon early modern Chinese history.

***这部1997年出品的香港电影《宋家皇朝》(英文字幕)是由张婉婷执导。我并不是说这部电影像纪录片那样地精准地描绘历史,但是它给我们对中国近代史的另一个思考空间。

Recipe: 手撕鸡

周日在教会的厨房第一次当主厨,我老公当帮厨。大家都说我做的手撕鸡很不错哦~~~

想当年,初到德国,我可是连饭都能煮糊的人儿呀!还好陈师母教会了我做这道菜,大家都来学学怎么做手撕鸡吧!

材料: 鸡大腿肉、姜黄粉、青葱、姜、辣椒油、生抽、老抽、蒜头、盐、芝麻

  1. 冷水下锅,青葱切段,姜切片,加点料酒,煮鸡大腿肉。
  2. 鸡腿煮沸去泡沫后,加姜黄粉入锅内,再煮到鸡不出血水即可 (用筷子捅鸡肉,能顺利插下,通常就表示鸡肉熟了)。
  3. 捞出鸡腿肉,手撕鸡腿肉,放在一个碗待用。
  4. 放多一点的辣椒油在炒锅里。你也可以自己炸辣椒油,但是我比较懒,所以就直接用李锦记的辣椒油了。
  5. 爆蒜,加生抽,老抽,蒜青,盐(各一汤匙)入内。
  6. 浇在备好的鸡丝上调味。
  7. 另炒香芝麻,撒在混和好的鸡丝上。

这样,就可以吃啦!我下面这张没放芝麻,辣椒油放得有点多了,但是味道还是不错的哈!

手撕鸡