Tag Archives: Chinese home cooking

Things I didn’t do before moving to China

28 Jan
What to write next?  Who knows?

Do you think I look Asian?

This post was inspired by a post by Girl in Florence about how she has changed since moving to Italy.  To check out her post please click here.

China has changed me.  When we got our wedding pictures back people started to say I looked Asian.  I’m not so sure that’s true, but there are certain behaviours that I know are different.  After reading my cousin’s thoughts on moving to China as a newbie, it made me think even more about those changes.  Here are a few.

  1. Drinking hot water – this is a very Chinese thing and something I do now on a regular basis.  I understand now it is actually very healthy to drink warm water, especially in the morning.  This is something I’ll do in warm and cold weather now, much to the surprise of my family.
  2. Wearing my coat when eating – Shanghai does not have central heating and many small restaurants are cold.  I have gotten used to eating wearing my coat in situations like that which never would happen in Chicago or Michigan.  It doesn’t throw me at all.  This is the time of year when it becomes a regular occurrence.
  3. Cooking over a gas flame – growing up and when I moved to Chicago the ranges I cooked on were electric.  No one has an electric range here – how would you use a wok?  It took a while to get the hang of it, but I really enjoy the control it gives me and both western and eastern flavors.
My first independent fried rice - eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

My first independent fried rice – eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

  1. Using a squat toilet – I had used squat toilets before moving to China, but now I will use them without a second thought.   In train stations, airports, restaurants – sometimes they are the only option and often they are the cleanest option.  A nice clean western style toilet is something I notice now – and am pleasantly surprised when there is toilet paper.  I don’t take it for granted any more.
  2. Working on weekends – Not working overtime – this is the quirk of the Chinese calendar when they reshuffle standard work days and Saturday or Sunday becomes a normal work day.  I understand why they do it to give people more consecutive days off, but this is one change I don’t like.  I do it grudgingly, but I do it.
  3. Being obsessed with blue skies – Regular readers know how I love blue skies.  This started from my first trip back to the US after I lived in China for 9 months and is still going strong.  I have rubbed this off on my coworkers as I post on WeChat sunsets and blue skies – which they are now doing too!
A snap out of a cab window - the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

A snap out of a cab window – the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

Those of you who know me – have you noticed any other changes?  I tried not to pick the obvious answers like speaking in Mandarin or traveling to many Asian countries or eating parts of animals that I had never even heard of.  When you have lived somewhere for a while – how has it changed you?

Expanding my Chinese cooking repertoire

26 May

Earlier this year I posted on two classic dishes that I can make with ease – fried eggs and tomatoes and peapods with sausage.  They remain favorites, but slowly I am experimenting with more techniques and Asian flavors at home.

Two dishes that I have recently been repeating are egg fried rice and Chinese cabbage with tofu in soup.  Both of them are basics, taught to Chinese kids as they prepare to head out on their own.  I’m a little late in learning them – but better late than never!

For the egg fried rice the list of ingredients is pretty basic – you have to have oil, day old rice, eggs, salt, ginger and garlic but then the rest is up to your imagination.  For my first solo rice (when Li wasn’t home to supervise) I added a Taiwanese sausage and chopped red onion.  The order for cooking is the key – first the egg, then pull it out, then the sausage and onion, then add the rice, then add the egg back in.  It really doesn’t take very long and since I am frying it at home I can control the amount of oil that I add.  Now whenever I make rice I want to make extra so I have the option for fried rice the next day.

My first independent fried rice - eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

My first independent fried rice – eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

For the soup it’s even simpler – Chinese cabbage, ginger, a soup cube and a package of semi-firm tofu.  Cook cabbage in soup with ginger until soft, then add tofu, warm through and serve.  A simple, good balanced dish with protein and vegetables that will also keep in the fridge for a couple of days after.

One of the reasons that I think it is getting easier is that because I have eaten so many Chinese dishes I am starting to guess when things will taste good together or to notice the order in which to do things.  That was emphasized last week when I attended a cooking class arranged by one of my colleagues.  About a dozen of us went to a cooking school to learn how to make some basic dishes.  The cooking school focused on traditional Shanghainese food and had a basic menu for us to experiment.

Listening to the teacher before cooking

Listening to the teacher before cooking

The main dish that we focused on was sweet & sour ribs (糖醋排骨).  The teacher gave information about how to choose ribs, about the order of ingredients and then we all tried to duplicate the dish.  Our group did ok with taste, but we boiled them just a little too long during the last step after adding the final vinegar and our sauce turned hard as if it were a sour caramel sauce.  That’s not ideal for sweet and sour ribs, but we did give it a good try and they were excellent to eat.

糖醋排骨- A traditional Shanghainese dish

糖醋排骨- A traditional Shanghainese dish

The teacher also demonstrated a couple of other dishes, how to stir fry crisp veggies – the secret is to blanch them first, then stir fry quickly with just a little bit of oyster sauce – and how to make a perfect egg drop soup.  That trick is to stir the bottom of the pot when dripping in the eggs to get perfect shreds into the soup.  I plan to use both of those tricks when I experiment in the future.

Stir fried veggies

Stir fried veggies

A professional egg drop soup

A professional egg drop soup

So I’m slowly expanding my repertoire – which of these dishes would you like to try?

Nanjing specialties

19 May

We had visitors at the end of March and were lucky to spend a couple of days in Nanjing with them.  Nanjing means “south capital” and it was the center of Chinese government for many years.  It is also known for the horrendous atrocities that were committed there by the Japanese during the Rape of Nanking (Nanjing) during the Japanese occupation of China.

One hundred years ago it had been full of historic buildings and cultural relics – many of which were destroyed or stolen during that period or the following cultural turmoil.  The mountains and tombs though are still there as is a somber museum to the massacre itself.  Nanjing is a city that to me appears very livable and at less than two hours from Shanghai a very possible weekend trip.

The first time I went to Nanjing was almost five years ago – it was the first time I road the train by myself or attempted to travel anywhere within China alone.  I remember getting lost on one of the mountain tomb areas and trying to get my way back to the downtown area.  Now my Chinese is much better and I was with Li so I didn’t fear getting lost at all.

This time I also had a secret up my sleeve –  I have one colleague who is originally from Nanjing.  She recommended some restaurants for us to try and I found out that one of them was very close to the hotel (walking distance) or where we were staying so we explored until we found it inside a very high end shopping mall.

Ambience in the restaurant - the lights and tables like a traditional eatery

Ambience in the restaurant – the lights and tables like a traditional eatery

Panels on the walls telling traditional stories

Panels on the walls telling traditional stories

The restaurant mimicked a historical style with the waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional garb and the dishes being real home cooking.  We stuffed ourselves with way too many specialties of the house.

A large luscious pork meatball - one for all of us!

A large luscious pork meatball – only one for all of us to share – it was that big!

Nanjing's famous salted duck - not my favorite actually

Nanjing’s famous salted duck – not my favorite actually

Sticky rice with pork belly

Sticky rice with pork belly

Water greens with pressed tofu

Water greens with pressed tofu

Getting ready to dig into our crayfish!

Getting ready to dig into our crayfish!

Steamed crayfish - a house specialty

Steamed crayfish – a house specialty

Tofu cooked Nanjing style

Tofu cooked Nanjing style

Which would you like to try?  I think my favorite was the large meatball and the crayfish. The plastic gloves added to the experience too.

Peeking through after eating way too much!

Peeking through after eating way too much!

This restaurant made us all happy and we practically rolled out the door ready to explore some more in Nanjing.

How do you get restaurant recommendations when you travel?  Who are the most reliable sources?

Chinese favorites at home

15 Nov

The happy and colorful trio

I don’t cook very much during the week.  Even though I am doing better balancing work and life – weeknights are still tight.  I have had more time lately though to cook on the weekends.  Typically I cook western style food – pasta, macaroni and cheese, tuna melts, omelets, crepes are all familiar dishes that  I can cook by rote.  Recently I have attempted two free form apple pies and baked muffins and brownies since I now have an oven!

If I eat Chinese at home it’s typically Li playing the chef.   He makes great Chinese style pork ribs and has a shrimp dish that I crave occasionally.  He makes stir fries look easy and so I let him do that part and I am the prep cook.  With all of his travel though, I don’t think he’s actually cooked a full meal at my apartment since I moved in September.

This led me to a weekend night where I didn’t have plans and was craving Chinese food.  I didn’t want to go to a restaurant and so, I dug in and made two favorite dishes – myself (with only one call to Li).

The first dish is the only one that I make regularly – it’s fried eggs and tomatoes – Chinese style.  The ingredients are basic – oil, ginger, garlic, salt, tomatoes, eggs, ketchup and a little chicken bouillon powder.

I learned the hard way that you cook the eggs first to a runny level, then pull them out of the wok, then add the tomatoes, ketchup, bouillon and salt, cook until soupy and then put the eggs back in.  It’s comfort food.

A mini-portion of the eggs and tomatoes – one tomato, two small eggs; luscious the next day as well

The second dish is not one I typically cook myself, but at the supermarket I picked up a “ready meal pack” with pea pods and Chinese sausage included – all ready for frying.  I’ve watched Li do it before, but still called to confirm if I cook the sausage first (you do), then pull it out.  I remembered to add salt and a little more chicken bouillon and just a shot of water to steam the peas.

The luscious green of the pea pods accented by the salty sausage

It was a delicious dinner with lots of leftovers and in honor of my first multiple dish Chinese dinner – I snapped a couple of photos.

Getting ready to chow down.

Have you tried cooking the food of another country after a trip?  Sometimes I try recipes – I remember one quite unfortunate African peanut soup that I attempted a year or so ago.  Wouldn’t recommend that one.  If you’d like more exact recipes on the dishes above let me know and I’ll be happy to share.

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