Chinese Food

Matt | Chinese Culture,Cooking Chinese Food | Friday, May 27th, 2011

Here is a response to a 6th grader concerning food in China.  I thought it was very smart and brave of this student to reach out and ask for this information.  I was glad to provide it, although talking about Chinese food made me extremely hungry..

What is in a typical Chinese daily diet?
A typical Chinese diet involves a lot of rice.  Rice is known as a “main dish”.  It is usually served at the end of a meal to fill up with.  A Chinese person would often say they are not full unless they have a “main dish”.  A main dish could also include bread, but it is usually white rice.
Along with rice, Chinese also eat a lot of vegetables and tofu as well as soups.  Most dishes are stir-fried using garlic, ginger and green onion and then with sauces usually including soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame oil and or peanut oil.
For most meals there would also be a meat or a fish dish included.  These could be cooked in a variety of ways.  Meats are mostly stir-fried with some vegetables mixed in.  Fish is cooked in different ways.  One popular method of cooking fish is boiling it in a spicy water and oil mixture where there are so many peppers that the waiter has to scoop out 2-3 bowls of peppers before you can start eating it.  It is called Shui Zhu Yu and it is very delicious.
Sounds like a lot of food huh?  It usually is.  But it is also delicious.  Another great feature of eating in China is that they use a “shared plate” system: they order many dishes for the table and everyone uses their chopsticks to pick out the food they like.  It’s kind of like a buffet at your own big round table except that you use chopsticks to pick out your own food.
Overall, I think a Chinese diet is quite healthy as they eat a lot of vegetables and tofu as well as eating freshly made food.
What’s the most unique food you have eaten in China?

The most unique food I have eaten would probably be Hot Pot.  Hot Pot is very popular in China especially in the spicy Southwest province of Sichuan (some people in North America spell it the old way, Szechuan).  Picture a big pot filled with spicy water and oil on one half and a chicken soup flavoured water on the other half.  This pot is brought to your table and a burner is placed under it so that it will come to a boil.  In this “hot” pot you put in vegetables, tofu, thinly sliced beef, mutton, as well other interesting things (such as pigs brains! – which I could not eat).  When the vegetables and meats are cooked you reach in with your chopsticks and pull out your food, dip it in a sesame sauce to cool off the spicy flavour and eat it.  Hot pot is delicious especially in the colder Fall and Winter months.
Again, this is a social type of meal and it is fun to eat with a group of 4+ people.  Most Chinese meals are meant to be shared and so eating is very social.  Food is very important to Chinese culture.

What is the oddest thing that you have ever eaten?

The oddest thing I have eaten is tough to say because in China you can eat some very interesting things.  The choices range from the safe dishes I mentioned above (except the pigs brains) to things like silk worms on a stick (like a shish-kebab), rabbit ears in a spicy sauce (also from Sichuan province), to fried scorpions.  I think the fried scorpions were the oddest thing for me as I am a really picky (aka bad) eater.  They tasted like fried chicken bones.  They were small about 1 1/2 inches long and very crunchy.  There wasn’t much taste to them.  Still that was quite odd for me.

What was the most expensive thing you have ever eaten?

The most expensive thing I have ever eaten was probably a lobster dish that was designed like a dragon.  For my wedding in China a friend of my wife’s family treated the families to a delicious meal.  As we were foreigners and since we were in Inner Mongolia which is far from the sea he wanted to show his generosity and so he order this dragon-shaped lobster dish for each of the tables.  This dish cost about 1200 RMB each which is about $200 USD.  There was one of these lobster dragons at each of the three tables.  Unfortunately, most of my family are also picky (aka bad) eaters and we don’t eat a lot of seafood, so we didn’t enjoy the lobster as much as others could have.  Still is was a beautiful dish and a beautiful gesture.

I hope this gives you an idea about Chinese food.  Thank you again for asking.  You’ve reminded me of how delicious Chinese food is and how friendly Chinese people are, unfortunately I am now very hungry :)  Thank you for your questions and good luck with your assignment. Hopefully, one day you will get the chance to go to China and eat real Chinese food.  You will love it.

A $4 Bowl of Cereal

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food,Living in China | Monday, December 8th, 2008

A little while back I was wondering why, on the one hand I was earning pretty good money teaching English in China, but on the other hand, I didn’t have much to show for it.  Then I realized, the biggest expense I have is food.  This is mainly because I eat like a foreigner.

A lot of people ask me about what is a common salary is for teaching English in China and I say, that depends.

I know people who earn about 5,000 RMB a month (about $800 CAD a month) teaching English.  I also know people who earn 15,000 RMB a month.  Additionally, I know people who earn 25,000RMB a month and higher. When I ask my students what a common salary is for Chinese professionals who earn about 5,000 or so a month or 10,000 per month as a family.

Often I struggle at the thought of how does a family of two or three people live on this amount of money?.  For me, I spend almost this much by myself and I don’t think I live very extravagantly.   When I factor in the cost of my annual flight home then I pretty much spend this entire amount.

When I look at where I spend most of my money each month, my number one expense is….food (next is rent).  Sometimes, I find it tough to believe the amount of money I spend on food each month, about 3000RMB.  But when I think about it more, I realize that I spend a lot of money because I buy mainly western food. Even though I try not to eat out much, but yet I still spend loads of money on food.  Why?

Because I eat western food – cereal, toast, coffee, granola bars, instant coffee – for the most part.  For example one bowl of very healthy cereal costs me about $5.  That’s right, one bowl!  How?  The cereal I like costs about 60 RMB for a box (Nature’s Path Optimum Slim). I get about 4 bowls so that’s about 15 RMB a bowl ($2.50).  If I throw on top a handful of almonds 50RMB for 350g or about 8 RMB per handful ($1.25).   Then I add the milk about 6RMB using half a 250ml container costs 3RMB ($0.50).  Okay so it’s not $5 per bowl it’s only $4.25, but still it’s costly. On top of this, I drink a fair bit of coffee, which adds up to the weekly grocery bill.  This costs about 60RMB for a 250g bag of decent coffee ($10) which lasts me about 2 weeks.  My granola bars, Nature Valley Granola Bars, costs me 25 RMB ($4) per box of 6.  Eating western food costs a lot.

Now these sound expensive and they are, but actually these are a LOT cheaper than my previous eating habits, of eating out.  A Starbucks coffee costs 15 RMB ($2.50 CAD) for a medium black brewed coffee.  A muffin there also costs about 15RMB and the cheapest muffins I’ve seen, that are edible, cost about 7RMB ($1 CAD).

So what?  I guess if you are trying to save money while living in China you can:

  1. Eat like the Chinese cook your own food at home. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Eat healthy fruit as snacks.  Buy a rice cooker!
  2. If you are going to eat western, eat at home – if you drink coffee daily, get a coffee maker and brew your own it’ll save you heaps from Sbux.
  3. If you have to eat out eat more Chinese food.  In Beijing when I go out to eat a nice meal with my girlfriend it costs about 50 RMB for two of us (25 RMB each) for 3 dishes and a beer.  If I ate the equivalent in a western restaurant it would be at least 100RMB (50RMB each) for 2 dishes and a drink.

I hope this can help you save a few dollars while living overseas.  Also remember, don’t be afraid to treat yourself once in a while as there are a lot of amazing restaurants in China.

How to cook Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken) – A foreigner’s dream

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food | Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Kung Pao Chicken (Gong Bao Ji Ding) – The Recipe

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find true love, and I still haven’t, but from a culinary point of view I’ve found the closest thing to true love and that’s a recipe for Gong Bao Ji Ding. Picture chicken breast cut into cubes with peanuts in a spicy sichuan hot sauce and NO BONES. It is the probably the most popular dishes for foreigners in China and it is my favourite dish by far. I’ve become an expert on eating Gong Bao Ji Ding and have become a bit of a snob when it comes to eating it. So, when I couldn’t find decent “Ji Ding” around my apartment, I finally decided to learn how to cook it.

With a lot of help from the book, The Everything Chinese Cookbook, and making a few additions based on what I like. I have found that everyone makes Gong Bao Ji Ding there own way. Here is my recipe for Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken).


  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons liao jiu (Chinese rice wine; dry sherry; bai jiu – would probably work too)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (can buy at Jenny Lou’s)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 handful (1/2 cup) of dried red hot chilis
  • 1 cup unsalted
  • 1/4 cup ginger root sliced (jiang)
  • 1/2 cup spring onion diced into big pieces (da cong)
  • sichuan black peppers (make your tongue go numb)

How to prepare

  1. Cut the chicken in small cubes. Add the regular soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of liao jiu (cooking alcohol), and the cornstarch to the chicken, adding the cornstarch last. Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes.
  2. Mix together the dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of liao jiu (cooking alcohol), sugar, and sesame oil.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons oil to a preheated wok, skillet or frying pan (I use this). When oil is hot, add the chicken cubes and stir-fry until they are golden brown. Remove the chicken from the wok and drain.
  4. Fry peanuts if raw. Add fresh oil to the pan. Add raw peanuts and fry until they are brown and tasty. Can add a pinch of salt for taste. For me, roasted peanuts is the key to good Gong Bao Ji Ding. Get this step right and you’ll enjoy it.
  5. Move peanuts to the side, add a bit of oil if needed, and add the garlic clove, ginger root and spring onion. Stir-fry until aromatic. When it smells good. Mix in the peanuts, add the red chilis chopped and include the seeds (hot) and the sichuan peppers (I use ground sichuan peppers, but I think the full round ones would be better).
  6. Move the spicy peanut mix to the side and add the sauce to the wok and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and add the chicken. Mix everything and simmer for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Serves about 2, usually, unless I’m hungry.  I usually like to have it on top of some white rice, so the rice can absorb some of the spicy sauce.

Enjoy.  Let me know how it turns out.  If you have your own recipe, I’d love to hear it.  Now I’m off to marinade my chicken and get the show started. Zai jian.

Lose 10% of your body weight, eat Chinese Food

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food,Working in China | Saturday, March 8th, 2008

If you want to lose weight, I lost 10% of my body weight, all your need to do is eat Chinese food. Actually, it isn’t that easy. First you need to spend almost 30 years living in Canada/America, eating like the average Canadian/American, a becoming statistically obese then it’s fairly easy.

While, I’ve always been an active person, I’ve never worried too much about my diet. I’ve always been a sports nut, playing American football in university, pick up basketball all summers and recently some hockey. Sports has been my savior. But, as for my diet, I must admit I’ve grown up on toast, cereals, granola bars and Subway subs.

Being somewhat athletic, I realized early on that a balanced diet is a great way to go. And I’ve avoided eating most fast food, or at least limited my consumption of McCalories and McTrans Fats. But, since arriving in China, I welcomed the taste of home.

In China, I have eaten a lot more fast food and specifically spent a lot of time in Starbucks. I used to love sitting in Starbucks all morning, drinking black coffees and eating the cinnamon danish rolls or apple scones. But a few months back I decided to change up my life, my financial situation and my diet.

I’m not sure which I decided to change first, I think it actually was to improve my financial situation, but the bottom line was I saved a bundle and lost 10% of my body weight.

Before arriving in China, I weighed about 195lbs (90kg). With an athletic build, being about 6.1ft (185 cm). Statistically I was always on the heavy side of the Body Mass Index (BMI). Now, I’ve always talked around this saying that I had an athletic build. But, I ignored the fact that I had “man boobs” and a few “rolls” around my belly. Which is supposedly the worst place for people to keep weight on themselves.

Now I weigh about 180lbs (81kg). I lost 10% of my body weight. My girlfriend says I’m tiny now, which I don’t like. My height is the same. i have less rolls and love handles around my belly. My pants are about 2 inches too large now and I needed to get new holes in my belts.

The way, I’ve done this is not really by working out more. I do exercise 2x a week. Doing 35 minutes of cardio each time as well as about 45 minutes of weights. Daily I do walk a lot more than I did in Canada; walking about 30 minutes each way to work 4x a week. Which definitely has helped

I believe it was the change in my diet that has resulted in my calorie and belly loss. Eating more Chinese food has helped. Chinese food is quite healthy. Most meals will have a good balance of mostly vegetables, some tofus and some meat. Rice is normally served after your meal in China, so you fill up with those carbs only if you have room. I usually get the rice first. Still, the Chinese method makes more sense. On top, the preferred drink is beer with lunch and dinner. Sipping beer is a good and healthier choice than my normal cola. As the fermented beer helps with digestion. Still neither is as good as hot water. So the Chinese diet is much preferred over the highly starchy Western one.

There are some drawbacks to the Chinese diet. Most dishes are fried in a wok with oil. But fortunately, peanut oil is used which is relatively healthy, high in the (good) unsaturated fats. For more reading on fats check out this link to Harvard Health.

Here is an example of the traditional Chinese or Asian diet.

As for me, I use a modified Asian diet. I still eat too many carbs, but I try to eat more whole grain carbs if I can. Recently I found, flax seed bread (Bimbo bread, yes that is the brand) and I jumped for joy. Most breads in China are sweet and refined white breads. Also, I’m trying to eat more fruit and vegetables. I’m also eating at home more, quite Chinese. This is reducing my food expenses as well as increasing the health factor. I’ve almost entirely cut out my fast food consumption: no McDs, KFCs, and no Starbucks cinnamon danish rolls (or at least a lot less rolls). When I do eat out I also try to eat more Chinese food and to eat it in the Chinese way, more veges, tofus and less meats.

This has resulted in me losing 10% of my body weight and saved me a bundle of money.

If I can do it, then you can too.

Healthy and easy Chinese food: Broccoli and Garlic

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food | Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

On my kick to eat more vegetables and to eat at home more I found a quick and easy Chinese food recipe to make delicious Broccoli and Garlic “Xi Lan Hua Da Suan”. Actually, my girlfriend introduced this recipe to me and it’s easy.  Even I can do it.

Ingredients & Preparation

Buy a head of broccoli. I usually use about half a head. Wash it thoroughly. Rip the broccoli into small pieces (about the size of a 25 cent coin).  Slice up 3-4 cloves of garlic. Slice the garlic into thin slices and then chop. Depending on how much you enjoy garlic you can leave them in big slices (like is some restaurants here) or finer pieces.  In a large wok add a few tbsp  of peanut oil (need to cook Chinese food with Chinese ingredients) and garlic over medium heat. Be careful peanut oil gets hot quickly, so add the garlic immediately.  Cook the garlic a bit to take away some of the stink, then add the broccoli. Add some salt. Add more peanut oil and mix for about 5 minutes or until the broccoli is soft-ish. Then pour in a bowl and serve.

This is a good large portion size for one. Double the portions, full head of broccoli, for two.

For a bit a spice, chop of 5-6 red hot peppers and mix in. Personally, I prefer then spicier version.

Healthy and easy Chinese food: Porridge & Peanuts

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food | Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’ve never been a fan of porridge… until recently. All my life I grew up on cold cereal and milk. So when my Chinese girlfriend tried to push Chinese porridge towards me to try, I frowned and gave my usual reply, “That’s gross!”. Of course I was quite ignorant as I didn’t even know what was in it. Later I found out “zhou” or rice porridge/congee is a common and simple breakfast for most Chinese along with some steamed bread, “mantou”, and some meat or sausage.

To make the “zhou” is quite easy. All you do is rinse off some rice. (2 hand fulls of dry rice will give you two bowls which is enough for one person). Add about half a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the rice. Turn down heat to low. Cover and simmer. Stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn. Wait for the rice to be soft and edible. Eat the rice with a spoon and you can drink the rice water. While this is an easy breakfast, it is quite bland without a lot of flavour. Then my girlfriend mentioned that you can add crushed peanuts to it. And I was in heaven.

The only difference here is you need to crush and add about an equal amount of crushed peanuts to the mix. In order to crush peanuts we use a grinder, the sort pharmacists would use to crush pills. This works well to crush up the peanuts into small chunks. Add equal amounts of peanuts, rice and a bit of sugar for taste. Really, I don’t think one can add too many peanuts. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer. Stirring occasionally. Wait until the rice is soft. Then I’d wait a few more minutes to boil of a bit more water. You’ll smell the peanut fragrance in the air. Then eat, slurp and enjoy.

To improve the healthiness you could probably substitute brown rice for the white rice and brown sugar instead of white sugar. Unfortunately, these are difficult to come by in China and so I haven’t tried. If you do try these healthier options, let me know how it goes.

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