How to Make Scrambled Eggs and Fried Tomatoes


Fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs – yum! This is one of the first dishes I learned how to order in China. The Chinese name is xi hong shi chao ji dan (say: she hung sure chow gee don). It is a simple and classic dish, but requires a little practice to get just right. Here are the steps.

Fried Tomatoes and Eggs
Fried Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs - Yum!

Step 1
Set out your ingredients. They are: three eggs, one medium red tomato (sliced), cooking oil (vegetable or peanut), salt, sugar and vinegar. You can also add sliced spring onion and minced garlic. Utensils include a wok, a spatula for stirring and a couple of bowls.

Step 2
Put a little oil in the wok and heat. While the oil is getting hot, crack your eggs into a bowl and scramble them slightly. Pour them into the hot wok. Throw in some  sliced spring onion if desired. You can scramble the eggs a little more in the wok if you wish.

Step 3
Remove the scrambled eggs and set aside. Next, fry the sliced tomatoes. While they are frying add a dash of salt and perhaps some minced garlic.

Step 4
When the tomatoes are almost done, add back in the eggs and stir a little to mix. Not too much, though. A lot of Chinese cooks add sugar at this point. Try it both ways and see which you like best.

Step 5
Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can double the recipe and try it out on your family or guests. Watch for more classic Chinese recipes… coming soon!

How to Become a Stir Fry Hero


Be a Stir Fry Hero

If you’ve fallen into the rut of turning on the stove and opening the ‘fridge to see what’s for dinner, then mastering the art of stir-fry may be just the thing you need to snap out of it! No time to check e-mails or answer the phone when the heat’s on, but you may find yourself eating better, losing weight, saving money and taking bows with this delightful Oriental cooking style. Here are the basic steps.

Step 1

Being fresh is a good thing. Every chef knows the tastiest dishes begin with the freshest ingredients.  Head for the produce aisle of your store, or better yet your backyard garden. In a pinch you can rely on frozen, but it’s just not the same.

Step 2

Be prepared. It’s not only the Boy Scout motto, it also applies in the Asian kitchen. The basic tools are a Chinese knife (cleaver), one or two cutting blocks or boards, and an assortment of dishes to hold the prepared ingredients. Cut all of your ingredients into bite-size bits; try to make the pieces uniform. Have fun experimenting with different ways of slicing up each item. This is an art form all by itself.

Step 3

Several basic seasonings and spices are mainstays of stir-fry cooking. They are salt, ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chili. Speaking of chili, did you know in America we have only four “tastes” whereas the Chinese traditionally have five? That’s right: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and HOT! (Don’t even get me started on “umami!”)

Step 4

If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Once all your ingredients are prepared, take a deep breath and get cooking! You’ll need a wok, but you can also use a flat-bottom pan while you’re learning. You’ll also need a spatula for stirring. There are other utensils you can acquire later. These include long-handled forks, ladles and strainers.

Put the wok on the stove and turn it on high. Pour a little oil into the pan and watch for it to start to ripple with the heat. Toss in your densest ingredients first because they take the longest to cook. You’ll learn how to judge which ingredients take longer than others.

Step 5

Although the Asian diet is probably more healthful than the standard American diet, chances are your family may object to radical changes at suppertime. So, try a few simple recipes at first. There are lots of recipes, videos and tips on the Internet to help you get started.

How to Cook Chinese Style


China has a multitude of regional cuisines, so it may be more correct to say “styles” instead of “style.” However, there are certain basic concepts that run throughout all Chinese cuisine. Here are some steps to understanding the art of Chinese cooking.

Open Stall Street Restaurant
Man at Wok

Step 1
Fresh is best. Most Chinese families still do their shopping on a daily basis. The households are often multi-generational or even extended, so there are more adults around to share the load. Also, practically every neighborhood in China has a local farmers market, even in the middle of a big city.

Step 2
Be prepared. The basic utensils for this are a Chinese knife (cleaver) and a couple of chopping blocks. Also, an assortment of bowls or plates is needed to hold the prepared ingredients until they are ready to be cooked. The key to preparation is to reduce everything to a size that can easily be picked up with chopsticks.

Step 3
Spice of life. There are a lot of exotic ingredients you can get, but the basic seasonings are salt, ginger root, soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic. Other common flavorings include spring onion, anise, five spice powder and chili.

Step 4
Fast and hot. Once everything is chopped and ready, it is time to cook. The basic utensils are a wok and spatula for stirring. Also, a long handled fork, ladle and strainer are handy. Pour a little oil into the wok and heat it on high. Just as it begins to ripple, but before it begins to smoke is the optimum time for tossing in the ingredients.

Step 5
Rice or noodles? It is said that Northern Chinese are noodle eaters and Southern Chinese are rice eaters. This is somewhat true, but all Chinese eat both in large amounts. In addition to these staples, the Chinese diet relies heavily on vegetables, fish, small bits of meat, fresh fruit for dessert and lots of tea.

Step 6
Step by step. Most Chinese meals are served one or two dishes at a time, not everything at once. Family style dining means everyone has their own rice bowl, but each entrée is served in a common dish from which everyone partakes with their chopsticks.

Step 7
Soup comes last. This is not true everywhere, but soup is often a signal that the meal is drawing to a close. Chinese soup is poured into the now-empty rice bowls and drunk as a beverage.

Watch for some easy, classic Chinese recipes… Coming soon!

Babyland


There’s a café called Lucy’s on a small island in Guangzhou, the Chinese city where I live. I go there once or twice a month for a burger and a beer, or a taco, or fish and chips or some other culinary reminder of life “back home.” The food is good and sometimes even better than good. But mostly I think I go there because I enjoy watching the other customers.

Lucy's on Shamian Island

Perhaps nowhere else on earth will you be able to find this particular crowd: white parents and yellow babies. Or less colorful, but more politically correct: Western parents and Asian babies. You see, this particular island is the last stop in China on the adoption road. This is where these newly blended families pause to catch a breath, do some shopping and sightseeing, update the folks back home, and wait for their final paperwork which is usually not long in forthcoming. The Chinese are very efficient about some things.

Sometimes there are other, older children as well. They are usually white, but not always. I have seen other colors and “nationalities” as well. Are there any black parents? I assume so, but I have never seen any at Lucy’s. But that is not my point.

Adopted Baby Exam Room

The island itself has a long and interesting history. (What place in China doesn’t?) The architecture and streets are very European in their look and feel. That’s because this was one of those trading enclaves set aside by the Chinese Emperor during the Qing Dynasty. It was divided into two trading concessions granted to the United Kingdom and France.

Our Lady of Lourdes on Shamian Island
Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel on Shamian Island

I Love Coffee, I Love Tea, I Love the Java Jive…


A Fresh Pot of Green Tea
Ron’s Cafe in Jiangxi Province

So when I finally settled into my first apartment in Jiangxi Province I came to the horrible realization that Chinese drink tea! The only thing I could find that resembled my favorite morning beverage was…. Nescafe! OMG! It wasn’t until a couple of months later, during a visit to Nanchang (the provincial capital) that Audraie (another foreign teacher) and I discovered real coffee beans.

Then, on a return trip, we found a coffee pot and a grinder. That seemed like enough inventory to start my own coffee bar. What’s that saying about “location, location, location?” Anyway, I had a lot of fun and didn’t manage to lose too much money…

By the end of my first year in China I’d lost 40 pounds. I drank a lot of green tea, but tea alone didn’t get the job done. Here are a few suggestions for using green tea to put you on the path to a healthier, slimmer you.

Step 1
Start each day with a freshly brewed pot of green tea and a notebook. Old habits die hard, so keep a journal. What went wrong yesterday? How will today be better? Make lists; write yourself notes of encouragement. Your morning quiet time with green tea should end with a healthy breakfast. Don’t skip it!

Step 2
Exercise is vital to your health. My first apartment in China was on the sixth floor and there was no elevator. I also had no car. There is strong evidence that green tea helps boost your metabolism. Put the added fat-burning potential to good use by walking more and sitting less.

Step 4
Start each meal with a pot of green tea and a sense of adventure. Try foods that are weird, but good for you. Eat small bites and chew slowly. Chopsticks are great for this!

Step 5
Every Chinese neighborhood has a farmers market full of  produce picked that very morning.  Small bits of meat are purchased to complement the vegetables, not the other way around. Avoid highly processed foods as much as possible. That includes those sugary green tea drinks in a can.

Step 6
Every time I go somewhere in China, I am handed a small cup of water as soon as I sit down. It’s not a good idea to drink the tap water, so every home and office has a water dispenser. Drink plenty of water daily.

Step 7
It took some time to get used to rice with every meal. You don’t have to go overboard, but try rice as a frequent substitute for your usual carbohydrates. It’s excellent for your digestion.

Step 8
Most people can’t just up and move to China, so bring a little bit of China to you. Green tea has benefits beyond fat-burning potential. Use it to calm your mind and focus on your goals. The longest journey starts with a single step.

119


So there I was – sitting in the Hongqiao Airport waiting for my flight to Nanchang. It was my first full day in China and I was drinking it all in – the sights, the sounds, the smells. As I glanced around the room I noticed a red metal box in the corner with Chinese characters and some numbers. I had no clue about the characters, but I could read the numbers: 119. And then it hit me and I had to laugh. In the USA we dial 911 for fire. In China it is the opposite!

I have used this anecdote numerous times since then. It has been nearly 6 years since that first day. And every day I spend in China is still an adventure. The moral is we are all very different and all very much alike.

Zai jian for now…
Ron

Yangshuo


West Street (Xi Jie)
Call of the Open Road – Yangshuo

On Sunday, May 1st we found ourselves in Yangshuo. In a word, fantastic. Karst mountains pop up out of nowhere (take a look at the photo). Like waking up in a fairytale. When we got off the bus from Guilin we started walking in the right direction. Wrong. We learned later that the Bamboo House Hostel is just a short walk from the depot. When we reached the edge of town we spotted three other lost foreigners. Two from France and one from Germany. Forutunately, the young French girl speaks excellent Putonghua (Mandarin) and was able to negotiate a ride in a tricycle truck for only four times the going price. But then there were five of us and it was getting hot. After taking us over hill and dale and cutting through every back alley in Guangxi Province we finally arrived at our destination. A vacant lot. The driver couldn’t get his trike to haul our fat asses any further so we had to carry our suitcases to the hostel. Anyway, I cut the original price of 20 yuan down to 10 and ended up only paying twice the price.

After checking in, a cold shower and a nap we had supper at Cafe China on West Street. Now let me tell you about West Street. As far as I’m concerned it is the coolest street that I have found in China so far. Yes, still a little dirty, (a clean street by Chinese standards) but lined with cool shops and great bistros and bars. Foreign languages everywhere with people to match. Wonderful Chinese and Western food. Young backpackers, families, tour groups and tons of Chinese hoping to practice their English. We joined up with a group of travelers from, uh let’s see, Holland, Germany, Israel, Canada and one USAlien (yours truly). Most of us were teaching English either in China or Japan, but a few of us had real jobs and a few of us had no jobs. Oh, okay, professional tourists. Anyway, it was fun.

The next morning (closer to noon) we rented a couple of bikes and took the self-guided tour. Actually, we spotted a couple who had hired a guide for the day and we sneaked along behind them. They finally eluded us somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. But it was cool. No, actually it was getting hot. I spotted a river that had a few local boys bobbing in it and I dove in. I dove out again fairly quickly because the current was stronger than I thought. It was enough to cool down though.

The next day, for some reason, we got on bikes again. Now, let me just say that it is one thing to ride a bike the next day when you are young. It is quite another to ride a back the next day when you are, umm, chronologically challenged. I sat on one cheek, then the other, then I stood on the pedals and then I got off. We were with “the Yangshuo Gang” so I wasn’t able to lag “behind” for too long.

That’s all for now.