Category Archives: Food

Shilin Night Market

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My, My, My. It’s been a while, a long while since I last wrote. I now have a new VPN, a new laptop, less work, but still a dodgy internet connection. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad. I’m going to try to post at least once a week.

In January Anders had a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan. Of course I had to go with him. If I didn’t go he wouldn’t spend long weekends being  a tourist. It’s my duty as a good wife to make sure that he gets to experience these places.  These trips are purely selfless for me.

After arriving Saturday afternoon, one of Anders’ work colleagues and his wife met us in the evening  to take us to the famous Shilin night market. You pretty much go to eat food and having locals as guides was a huge bonus. The market is the favorite date night of M&T so they knew the best food to eat and the best place to buy it. We were like puppies letting lead them lead us wherever they wanted. We told them there was nothing we wouldn’t try.

I’m going to ease back into writing again so this is going to be basic. Here’s a list of food and drink:

frog’s eggs 

fried chicken steak

grilled chicken hearts

grilled fish balls

grilled chicken butts

deep-fried taro

grilled eggplant

pig’s blood cakes

oyster noodle soup

honey/spicy glazed grilled corn on the cob

grilled “mystery” meat wrapped around a bunch of scallions

milk tea

pork dumplings (my favorite and the longest wait but worth it because not only were they delicious but we watched them being prepared)

I’m going to let you in on a secret, the frog’s eggs was a drink that in no way contained frog’s eggs. It was a sweet tea with rice flour balls, kind of like tapioca, floating around. It was good. The other things are exactly what they appear to be. We did not have stinky tofu. I was disappointed but the line was way too long. M&T assured us that while they love it we weren’t missing anything.

5:30PM -79°

PS – I apologize for the large photos. I will work on that for next time. WordPress has made a lot of changes since I last wrote and I have no clue, AGAIN!

Frog's eggs

Frog’s eggs

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One of the many shopping alleys

One of the many shopping alleys

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Buying the oyster noodle soup

Buying the oyster noodle soup

This is where we ate the soup - on the steps of a temple

This is where we ate the soup – on the steps of a temple

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Riddle

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Q: What do a hammer and boneless chicken breasts have in common?

A: It’s how an ex-pat breaks up a 5-pound bag of frozen chicken breasts.

Now I still like my warm, fresh, moments-ago live chicken from the wet market but most of my American recipes call for boneless breasts or thighs (hah – I’ll never find them). EVERYTHING IN CHINA HAS BONES so when I found them in the freezer section at Metro a few months ago I was excited.  It wasn’t until I got them home that I realized I had “some trouble”. I had no idea how to break up the 5 pound “sheet” of chicken. Somehow I managed to saw, break with my hands, stab with a butcher knife, and thaw them a wee bit in water and then refreeze the ones I didn’t need. Our immunity systems have never been in better form so something like refreezing slightly thawed chicken doesn’t deserve a second thought. But after tearing a bicep and almost cutting a finger off, I haven’t bought them. 😉 A few weeks ago I caved and they have sat in the freezer, unopened since then. Monday night as I was trying to go to sleep and not think about anything, the idea hit me! I can tell you it works like a charm.

I’m going to explain the proper technique because you may be faced with the same dilemma someday. Your power may go out juuuust long enough to slightly thaw your chicken, not enough to be unsafe, but enough that the juices run together and refreeze into a mass of white breast meat. What will you do?  Wrap the bag in a towel, you don’t want any frozen bits of chicken splattering the cupboards when the bag tears open, and hammer away. They tend to naturally break into individual breasts and not into nuggets.

You can thank me the next time you see me. 😉

2PM – 74°

Winner, winner, chicken dinner – part 2

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Gotta be honest, it’s difficult to channel the Asian spirit and write about living in GZ when I’m in the US. Never expected to feel this way but I’ll give this a shot.

Two weeks ago after a Chinese lesson I asked Ben to take me to the wet market. I was going with the intention to buy one thing and that was the most amazing asparagus I have ever eaten! We had had it for dinner the night before and it was so good I was going to pick up another bundle. Somehow along the way in the 10 minutes that it took to get there I was corralled into buying a live chicken, so off we went to buy my first live chicken. Now that’s not to say it was alive when I brought it home, but I did choose a chicken that was flapping its wings and eyeing me up when I paid for it.  I think that the chicken lady was surprised that I was even there. Her helper brought one out of the coop (I could see them in their cages) and Ben gave the nod of approval. We walked around for a few minutes while I hunted down the asparagus and bought a few other things along the way. I was told to marinate it in a little Chinese cooking wine and a flavor packet that I bought and use my rice cooker (who knew?). After about 10 minutes we returned to the stall and there the chicken was all plucked but with everything else in tact. She gutted it and then asked if I wanted the feet and the head cut off. There was a tiny Chinese grandma standing next to me and nodding with approval when I gave the go-ahead to cut them off. I think she just wanted my leavings :-). $6 and a plastic bag later I had my first REALLY, REALLY fresh chicken.

Ben came into the house to explain in detail how to cook the chicken (my rice cooker didn’t come with English instructions) and he put the chicken bag on the counter. We chatted and after he left I picked up the bag to put it in the fridge. The contents were warm! That caught me off guard. Every other time I picked up chicken to put it away it was cold. This was warm!

After checking the weight (it was a whopping 1.75 pounds), I took it out of the bag to give it its recommended shower. It was the cleanest chicken I have ever bought. There was not a single “thing” that needed to be trimmed, cut out, or plucked. I marinated the chicken as directed and turned my rice cooker into a chicken cooker. When Ben picked Anders up at work he was grinning and assured Anders that he was going to have a proper Chinese chicken dinner. He’s so glad to have someone who is interested in Chinese life and I’m just as happy to be that person.

Verdict? It was delicious but next time I’ll buy two!

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Finally got this one published!

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After two very frustrating afternoons and much internal cursing at the laptop, internet, and WordPress I have finally managed to get this post done! ARGH! I can say with all certainty that for once the issues were not due to my lack of computer skills.

So…dinner Tuesday night turned out to be amazing. It was so good that I’m going back to the wet market this weekend and buying more shrimp to use up the leftover dipping sauce.  The shrimp were not that big. What they lacked in size they sure made up for in freshness. I can safely say that 48 hours after eating them there were no digestive problems (if you know what I mean). I was a little worried about it but not enough that I didn’t buy them. 🙂

I was told to steam them for 3 minutes and ended up doing it for 4. My mistake! Should have listened to the master. They were a tad over done so I won’t repeat that mistake. The dipping sauce consisted of the following:

1 c. soy sauce (low sodium would be better if you don’t like things too salty)

huge handful of chopped coriander, plus extra for steaming the shrimp

lots of scallions, chopped

hot chilies to taste – finely chopped

1 clove garlic – finely chopped but I’ve since been told that raw garlic and soy sauce upset Yin-Yang. What do I know?

To prepare the shrimp, if you buy live ;-), put them to sleep in the refrigerator for a few hours. Right before you’re ready to steam them, give them a shower – that’s exactly what I was told to do – give them a shower. I interpreted that as rinse them. I worked very fast at this point because I did not want them waking up. By the time I was done taking pictures a few were starting to move. Resilient little things they are. Pop them in a steamer with lots of chopped coriander over boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, depending on the size. The Chinese way to serve is similar to a crab feast or crayfish boil. Pile them in a bowl and let people shell them. Dip them in the sauce and ENJOY!

This will be a regular in my repertoire, as Ben would say, “So EEEE-ZY.”

5PM – 86°

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New Horizons

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Well, I finally did it. I bought live shrimp at the wet market. Ben came with me although I certainly could have done it myself. I ended up with 1/2 kilo (1 pound) for $5. That doesn’t strike me as a bargain but then again I can’t remember what I paid for shrimp in the US. I told Ben that  Americans don’t buy live shrimp and he told me that Guangzhourens don’t buy dead shrimp. I have a feeling that the Chinese have the right way of thinking.

As I sit here writing this they are squirming in a bag in the fridge. Really, they are. 🙂 After the woman weighed them she put them in the same kind of plastic bag that I get my fruit and veg in. Ben carried the bag to the car for me and every now and then his arm would jerk from the movement of the little buggers trying to get out or find water or be anywhere but on their way to my refrigerator. Just kidding, his arm didn’t jerk but the shrimp were flopping. Can you say fresh?

I was planning on cooking them in a fresh tomato and basil sauce with penne. I had it all planned out in my head. Then because Ben is Ben and the man has the appetite of a growing 16 year-old boy (and the metabolism to match), he shared his shrimp wisdom with me. I will now be steaming them for about 3 mins over water in my bamboo steamer in my wok. For dipping sauce, I’ll be using soy sauce, garlic, coriander (my favorite herb), scallions, and hot chilis. His eyes were lighting up as he was telling me all this and I wouldn’t be surprised if  he called Mrs. Ben and told her to cook shrimp for dinner. I’ve said it before, for a man who doesn’t cook he sure knows a lot about food and how to prepare it.  He is a typical Guagnzhouren, he likes food. Money, status, government power, or designer labels don’t interest them. They care about food. Hmmmm…maybe that’s why I like it here so much. Tune in tomorrow to find out how it all went down. 😉

The best part is that we had this entire conversation in Mandarin. Oh yes, all of it was in Chinese. 🙂

5PM – 88°

Pork that tastes like pork!

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Well I went and did it yesterday. At the wet market – I bought pork.

I picked out a nice little filet, she tried to get me to buy more (they always do), and paid for it. Her next door neighbor was trying to get me to buy from him but he wasn’t subtle enough. I could have started a bargaining war (thanks RHHOG for that warning) but the language skills aren’t up for that yet. I’d just end up looking like more of a fool than I already do. 🙂

I made pork fried rice with it and it was delicious. It was the best pork we’ve had since moving here. We haven’t eaten a lot of any meat but what I buy comes from the supermarket. This filet was so tender and tasted like pork! Imagine that? I could actually taste the meat. It weighed 3/4 of a pound and the price? For a filet, mind you. $2.45.

I told Ben about it this morning and he was impressed that I did it! He said that not many Americans buy meat at the wet markets. He said that because this one is in the city he trusts the quality more than the ones that are further out. He told me that next time he’ll go with me and show me where to buy the best meat for the best price. 🙂

Next: live shrimp! I’ll try to take pictures.

1PM – 81°

“They” learned a valuable lesson!

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Whenever I get together with Anders’ team I seem to do things that I’ve never done before. They’re good for me, I think. 😉 This post is part of my doing “anything that’s asked of me as long as it’s not illegal or immoral while I’m here” crusade.

Saturday afternoon 14 or so of us met for lunch to send one of his team members off to a new assignment. We met at a Chinese place for lunch that was fantastic. On our way there, Ben told us that this place is #1 restaurant in GZ for serving eel. He didn’t know the English word for eel and I certainly didn’t learn it in Chinese because I didn’t think it was necessary for my culinary dictionary. But he very easily used his hands  to explain(I think he’s part Italian) and I figured out that we were going to be enjoying, or at least trying, eel for lunch.

As it turns out we had it 3 different ways. The first way was my favorite which I think was smoked. I don’t even know what I’m eating which is a problem. When the mood strikes and I just gotta have me some eel how will I ever know what to order? It was also cooked another way (no idea how) and served with a wasabi sauce. That too was good but it was a little rubbery, perhaps overcooked? Then we had it in fried rice. They probably just used yesterday’s eel for that because those pieces were small. 😉

We managed to play another game of good person, idiot, and ghost after we were done eating. They were explaining to a few others how to play in Chinese and I caught the word “shagua”. When I so proudly announced that I knew that word they all laughed. That was one of the first words Ben taught me in one of our “cursing” lessons. Although it’s not a curse it’s just not so nice to call someone shagua/idiot/moron.

We then walked a few blocks for karaoke! Yeah, they do love karaoke in Asia and it is a favorite pastime for a lot of people. Anders has done it before with his team but this was my first time ever. Now…I do not sing…for anyone! I think I have an awful voice. Somehow whenever I sing, what I “hear” in my brain doesn’t match with what I hear with my ears. In my mind I’m on key, on the beat, and sound darn good. In reality, it’s quite different. All of the people we were with are quite good. D has a beautiful voice, very beautiful. I managed to skirt the issue despite being very politely asked several times if I would sing.

We played Spoons again! They are so cute.  XJ asked if I brought my traveling spoons and cards and when I told him I forgot (I had planned on it) he stopped at a convenience store, bought 2 decks of cards, and we used The Music Box” spoons. If you lost you had the choice of drinking or singing. Needless to say, I chose drinking. In the end I succumbed to peer pressure of the kindest, gentlest sort, but succumbed nonetheless. I took Anders down with me too. We sang “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease, minus the ShakeShack. I hammed it up sufficiently to deflect attention from having anyone actually hear.  Some of them were recording with their phones and I bet that poor Anders and I are on Weibo (China’s equivalent to Facebook). Anders deserves someone way better than me in the choral department. And then…we left.

I’m certain there will not be multiple pleas next time we go out for karaoke, provided I even get an invitation. 😉

5PM – 74  sunny, glorious, dry°

Farmhouse lunch

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On the car ride to Yangshou on Friday I was able to see rural China from the comfort of our van. After our bamboo ride on Saturday I was able to see it up close. I have no idea where we were but I didn’t really need to know. I just know that it was someplace along the Yulong River in Gongxi Province and we were on our way to eat lunch.

I still don’t know how our group found this place. It was a restaurant but I never would have known. It was the downstairs of this family’s home. They lived upstairs and kept the main/only room on the first floor for a restaurant. There was a menu board and they served 7 dishes. I think we had all of them with a special one requested? If it seems like I don’t have a clue it’s because I don’t have a clue. We were shown into their home and the women started working. They stoked the fire in the kitchen (separate building) and asked us to choose the chicken from the coop. I missed the killing of the chicken but watched them pluck it. Then she sent XJ to pick the greens and he kindly asked me to help. I was able to pick the greens that were cooked for our lunch! The food doesn’t get any fresher than this.

The kitchen was primitive. Just look at the photos! I will never complain about cooking again after seeing how much work went into preparing our food. Of course, it was a meal for 14 people but still it was accomplished without a stove, oven, electricity, gas, or running water. There were so many times that the younger woman had to empty her water basin and refill it and every time she did she had to walk outside and pump the pump. 😉

This all took about an hour and a half  to prepare so we chatted, played with the adorable little girl who lived there (I will include photos of her another day), wandered to take photos, and soaked it all in.  Anders and I kept looking at each other and grinning. We know that if we were not with his WONDERFUL team that we would not have experienced any of this. As we were walking to take photos we were passed by 3 very lovely cows and their owner.  He stopped and said something with a grin on his face. I have no clue what he said but he chuckled. This all occurred while walking on the sidewalk in the village.

Finally it was time to eat the hen that so graciously gave her life. I can’t even remember what all we had but I think it was 2 chicken dishes, a pork dish, greens served 2 different ways, the taro, and of course, RICE! Let me explain about the taro. It looked and tasted like purple Play-doh. As a child I tried Play-doh (who didn’t?) and can therefore say with all certainty that that’s how taro tastes! Trust me on this, there is no need for you to ever eat it! This is where we had the bee and “I don’t know what berry” wine. Total cost of this meal? $3/person!  Let me repeat  lest you think it’s a typo, $3/person.

After we finished lunch we walked back to the river and alongside it for about 15 minutes to pick up bicycles. We rode back to Yangshuo and it took about 45 minutes. It was so cool to able to ride through these little villages and see things that I have only ever seen in Nat Geo. It was an easy ride, all downhill. The bikes were also better than the ones we had a few months ago when we did the scavenger hunt with Anders’ team. When we got to Yangshuo it was a tad scary as we rode through town to return the bikes. There were cars, motorcycles, other bicyclists, and pedestrians everywhere. No one follows ANY traffic rules and it was chaotic. But… it was so much fun! I am living a dream.🙂

In the van on the way back to GZ on Sunday when I asked what everyone’s favorite thing was Ben said that this lunch was it for him. I can see why. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it and how many more times I will, but here it is again. I will never forget this!

I think I’ll let the photos tell the story now.

4PM – 74°

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Food firsts first

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I have so much to write about from this past weekend’s trip that I had to “blog-storm” and then come up with an outline so that I could write about everything we did and ate. It was an all-Chinese food weekend: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I tried everything and there were some hits and some misses.

bee liquor – this is a liquor made with pressed bees. They treat the bees like they do grapes. Then it’s bottled with some un-pressed bees and fermented. Kid you not. Ben, Anders, and I tried it. We were the only ones. Hmmm…wonder why!Truthfully it wasn’t bad. This is the kind of liquor that we were warned about by our Chinese teacher in Cinci before we moved here. She said that when ordering wine you must specify grape wine because you could end up with “anything” wine. The only difference is that we knew what we were drinking, see the photo.

“I don’t know what kind of berry” liquor –  no clue what I actually drank. It wasn’t bad, it tasted a bit like wine with a very strong overtone of vodka. I would drink this before I drank ouzo. I think Ben was testing me by serving me both liquors and I passed with flying colors! 

fresh chicken – as in we chose which one from the coop we would have for lunch. We had this for lunch on Saturday and I will devote an entire post about this experience. It is something I will treasure.

beer fish – all three days and all three tasted different (didn’t like any of them).

beer fish skin – scales and all but you spit out the scales.

taro – had it prepared 2 different ways on 2 different days (didn’t  like either)

Guilin noodles (breakfast item) – YUM! 🙂 We had them Saturday for breakfast with the group. They were so good that the next day when we did breakfast on our own, Anders and I went back for more.

raw sugar cane –  3 guys from our group chose it, and the gardener cut it from the garden, skinned it, and chopped it into pieces about 12 inches long. You just bite off a hunk from the stick, chew the juice out of it, and spit out the pulp. It wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t wait to brush my teeth after we got back to the hotel.  Anders and I had asked Ben about this 2 weekends ago when we were driving through GZ. When we saw it on Saturday he looked at  me and I gave him the nod.  Not a single word was exchanged.

bamboo shoots – bamboo is everywhere, grows like a weed, and why not eat it? It was sautéed and while some of it was bitter (the bigger pieces) the young ones were tender and quite good. 

dried, compressed seaweed – it comes in a sheet, like what  you would make sushi with only I like it in sushi, not by itself. This was a car snack. I made cookies, they brought seaweed!  This probably accounts for the weight difference between Americans and Chinese. 😉

candied apple slices – these were delicious and I could have eaten a whole plate myself. They take apple slices, dip them  into melted sugar (not quite caramelized), and serve it piping hot. You don’t burn your mouth because it’s served with a dish of cold water. You take a piece, dip it in the water, and then it’s cool enough to eat. It was fantastic.

all kinds of candy and brittle – one of the stops we made on the way home had a lot of street vendors selling hard candies made with a lot of things and delicious sweet and savory snacky things. So many people bought things and  had me try a bite. I must have tasted 10 different things and there wasn’t one thing that I didn’t like. Ben bought me a bag of ginger candy that is so good.

lichen/moss – not sure which one it was that we ate botanically speaking but it’s neither here nor there. It was, hands down, the most disgusting thing I ate all weekend but not as bad as the camel meat I had a few weeks ago. It was sautéed in oil with garlic and onions? I don’t know. Once I was told what it was I didn’t want to give it too much thought so I just took some and popped it in my mouth. It tasted exactly as you would imagine.

I checked a few boxes that don’t need to be revisited (lichen/moss and bee liquor) but at least I checked the box. I told Anders not long after moving here that I would say yes to everything as long as it was not dangerous or against my moral code. I can proudly say that I did that this weekend.

PS – no intestinal issues!!!

5PM – 60°

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Bigger than a kitchenette

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The weather is wearing me down! I can count on one hand the number of times the sun has made an appearance in GZ in the last 2 months! I do not remember anyone telling me about this nor did I sign up for it.

The posts have been sparse because my worst nightmare has come true – I have nothing to write about. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been out and about as much (see 2nd sentence), the honeymoon phase is over (I don’t think it is), or I’m just not in the mood (see 1st sentence). So…because I’m neurotic and afraid people will stop reading my blog and I will  lose touch with my friends and family I must post something. 😉 Quite a few people have wondered what our apartment and the grounds look like. I’m desperate so I’ll do a few posts about that. Don’t stop checking in because you’re bored. It’ll get better, really.

I’ll start with the kitchen because for me it’s one of the most important rooms.  It has the basic appliances including an American refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher but man there isn’t more than a 2-foot wide span of work space. The best meal I ever ate was in Italy. It came from a kitchen that was not much bigger than a closet and I don’t mean walk-in. So, that’s my barometer. If a tiny, spit-fire, Italian Nona could produce the most amazing food in a closet, then an average-size, sassy, WASP mother can certainly cook everyday meals in her kitchen that most Chinese would love to have. And that’s what it’s about: appreciating what I have and learning what I need, not what I want. (but I do miss my Swiss kitchen)

3PM – 61°

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