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.

Thinking About Moving to China? At What Cost?

Matt | Living in China,Working in China | Friday, May 20th, 2011

A reader recently sent me some questions about relocating to China with a family.  I will try to answer his questions and add any other information that I can over the next few posts.

What necessities should we pack, that would be hard to find or too expensive in China?
As for what to bring, I would recommend packing as light as possible.  This would make your future travel/relocation plans easier.  I’m guessing you would like to move overseas for a couple of years.  If so, again I wouldn’t take too much on my first trip over.  Some things that were vital for me were photographs and mementos from home.  These also come in handy in class.  Also if you have things that are unique to your culture or where you live this you may want to bring as it could add great context to your class setting.  My situation was different because I went over to China alone, whereas you will be travelling with your family, but still things that remind you of home can come in handy during the homesick stage of culture shock.
The things that I found difficult to find in China were minor things and or very specific.  For example, I found it difficult to find antiperspirant in China so I would bring an ample supply.  Also, I originally brought over some of my favourite English books.  The selection of books at the English book stores was okay, but I recently discovered that Amazon.com delivered to China and that solved my book issues.  Another specific thing that I brought over was my hockey gear.  This was something that I didn’t bring over until my third year in China.  Most things that you need you can get in China.  Remember they have Wal-Mart and Carrefour where you can buy most things you need. Depending on your size and fashion level, you may want to bring more clothing with you.  I am about 6 ft, 200lbs and I found it challenging to find clothes that fit.  Again, this is a minor thing. Overall, I found life in China refreshing, having less possessions to worry about.
What is the cost of living in China? For a family, I want to be able to travel and sightsee. How much to live comfortably?
This is a tricky question, because it depends.  The cost of living in China depends on how you like to live.  I like to hear that you want to travel and sight see through China, as it has so many beautiful and amazing sights to see.  Plus if you are teaching in China you will likely have some nice holidays off as well.  For cost of living, I will tell you how much I spent monthly, give you some background on this and you can adjust according to your situation.
Matt’s Situation
  • Living in a small bachelor apartment about 40 square meters/ approx 400 square feet (you will need a larger space, but for me it was clean, new and large enough for my needs; plus my goal was a commute that I could walk to my work).
  • Living in Beijing,
  • Monthly Averages
  • Near Central Business District (CBD), one stop south of Guo Mao,
  • CASH IN $2,250 CAD (13,500 RMB) working at Wall Street English as as Foreign Trainer
    CASH OUT $1,750 CAD
    • RENT $500 (3000 RMB) – but you could easily pay double this now depending on the size of your apartment and the recent inflation.  In China you pay rent 3 months at a time.  So first time you pay rent you pay for 4 months, because you have a 1 month deposit.  Then 3 months later you pay again.  So I have evened out the cost above, but you need to plan it out a bit when you are earning it because paying 3 months is a hefty amount at one time.
    • FOOD $650 (4000 RMB) – This is almost embarrassing to admit to spending such a large amount on food.  I ate out a lot and ate  a lot of Western meals.  Western meals will cost the same or more in China as in Canada/ the US.  For example a burger at Grandma’s Kitchen (Beijing) will cost about 65 RMB or $10.  A coffee at Starbucks, which I frequented a bit too often, cost 15 RMB or $2.50 CAD.  Whereas, if you like the Chinese do, eating at home mostly and eating Chinese food when you eat out you could spend a lot less than I did.  A large meal for 4 people in an average Chinese restaurant would cost about 100-200 RMB or $15-$30 CAD.
    • TRAVEL $100 (600 RMB) – I travelled about one weekend trip every month or so.  Travel in China is fairly cheap.  Decent hotels, like Home Inn, cost about 300 RMB ($50) per night.  Flights cost about 1000 RMB ($150 CAD) per person one way.  Travelling by overnight trains is the cheaper way to go where you’d spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that cost.  Overall, travel in China is cheap and highly recommended.
    • BACK TO CANADA $200 (1200 RMB) – I went home each year.  The flight home cost me about $1500 CAD, plus spending cash back home.  That is one negative about earning RMB is that when you go back to Canada/the US you burn through it quickly.  If you stay in China you can live quite comfortably on 10,000 – 15,000 RMB per month income ($1,500 to 2,500 CAD).
    • TAXIS/SUBWAYS $50 – Taxis are relatively cheap in China and I ended up taking them often.
    • SPORTS/HOCKEY $50 – Hockey is expensive, but great fun.
    • HOME PHONE/INTERNET/CELL PHONE/SKYPE $50 – Telephone and unlimited Net access was about $20 per month.  For my cell I used prepaid cards and that cost about $20 per month.  Skype was about $10.  This was all money well spent to stay in touch with family back home.
    • OTHER $150 -Books $40/mo (I was a book-a-holic); massages $30/mo (used to rehab my back and shoulder, but well worth the money).

    SAVINGS $500 CAD (3000 RMB) per month

    Could you breakdown the costs of typical food and services like: Utilities, Internet, Cell Phone, Groceries, transportation?
    Utilities are pretty cheap in China.  It is more of a challenge figuring out how and where to pay it.  For example, hot water I paid at my apartment complex and cost about $6 CAD per month.  You fill up on a card an insert it into the reader under the sink.  Electricity cost me about $11 CAD per month.  This one I could fill up at the bank (and some McDonalds actually!).  After I filled up the card, I would insert it into a reader outside my apartment.  Groceries are very cheap if you eat Chinese food or cook a lot from scratch.  For example chicken breasts cost about 7 RMB per which is just over $1 per breast.  If you are like me and buy imported coffee and cereal it will be similar to western prices.
    That is enough money for one night.
    I’m spent.

    Finding Inspiration

    Matt | Finding Yourself | Friday, May 20th, 2011

    Lately, I have been struggling for inspiration to write on this site.  I’ve been grasping at things to write about.  So I was grateful to see a few readers asking me questions about China.  This cracked a hole in my block.  Thank you for sending in your questions .  I will answer them as best I can over the next few posts.

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