Street Food in China

For me, street food and traveling go hand in hand. I love eating what the locals eat, where the locals eat, and being among the locals when they eat it. If you too are a lover of street food, you’re sure to find yourself in street food heaven when you arrive in China. If you’re not so into it, I can almost guarantee you’ll leave craving some delicious snack you picked up from a roadside somewhere. To help you in your street food sampling journey, I’ve put together a small list of some of my favorite street food in China.

Beijing bugs – many people fly into China’s capital city Beijing. There’s so much to see and do in Beijing, I suggest spending at least a few days taking in the sights. While you’re there, you simply cannot miss seeing (and sampling if you’re brave enough) the food at Donghuamen Night Market (北京东华门夜市). On offer are skewers of barbecued scorpions, seahorses, centipedes, starfish and much more! Don’t worry, if you’re not into street food of the creepy crawly variety, there’s plenty of other delicious (more Chinese/Western looking) food to sample here too.

Sugar coated fruits – Chinese people love, love, love fruit. Where we westerners might take packaged snacks on outings, more often than not Chinese people take fresh fruit. But fear not, if you haven’t packed fruit with you, you can try some tanghulu (tung-hoo-loo 糖葫芦), which is the Chinese version of a toffee apple. Instead of one apple, you’ll get a skewer of several Chinese hawthorn that have been dipped in liquid sugar and dried. If you’re not a fan of hawthorn, many other skewers of delicious sugary fruit can be found around the place too (such as kiwi, strawberry and grape).

BBQ meat – this is my favorite street food. Perhaps it’s because I’m Australian and barbecuing meat regularly is a big part of our culture, or maybe it’s just because it tastes so darn good! Whatever the reason, come summertime in China you can barely drive a few blocks without seeing chuan  er (chwar 串儿) stalls on the sidewalks. Here you can choose skewers of a range of vegetables, tofu, meats, seafood and animal parts (like heads, feet, and livers) to be freshly barbecued right in front of you. Be sure to ask for bu la 不辣 (not spicy) if you can’t handle heat, as most barbecue stalls add a pretty spicy rub to all their fare.

Savory pancakes – who doesn’t love a pancake? Here in China you can pick up a savory pancake,  or jianbing (煎饼), at almost any time of day – and they’re not to be missed! The most common type available is more like a crêpe fried on a hot, flat metal plate and topped with a thick sauce, egg, scallions or onions, and cilantro, then rolled up like a burrito and served in a plastic bag. You’ll usually find these in street stalls in the morning as it’s a favorite breakfast dish among locals. I highly recommend trying the big round crispy cracker (baocui 薄脆) or savory thick breadstick/long doughnut looking thing (youtiao 油条) wrapped in the pancake too.

Fried noodles – most Chinese people will list noodles in their top three favorite foods, and with so many and delicious types on offer, it’s easy to see why. Fried noodles from a street vendor are just fabulous (especially as a late night bite after a few píjiŭ/beers). Usually there’s a range of noodles (egg or rice, round or flat) to choose from, and a range of vegetables (cabbage, onion, carrot), with an egg thrown in the pan for good measure. Some oil, spices and sauces complete your meal (or midnight snack!).

Roasted sweet potatoes – Winter in China can be brutally cold (depending on where you are of course), so if you’re looking for the perfect snack to warm-up, look no further than a roasted sweet potato (kǎo hóng shǔ 烤红薯). You can usually smell these vendors before you see them (commonly by subway stations) roasting this delicious, creamy vegetable over hot coals. When you buy one, the vendor will weigh it and put it in a plastic bag for you. All you have to do is peel back the skin and dig in!

Street food in China is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly cheap. Most of the things listed here, you can pick up for 5-10 CNY (a little more or less than $1 USD). If you need a hand with ordering, check out our article on Chinese for Beginners. Then go forth and try some of these tasty treats (but remember to go easy at first, or you might wind up spending a little more time in the bathroom than you’d like!).
Have you tried any of this street food in China? What are your favorites? Tell us below!

DSCN6110Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Rice Cookers – more than meets the eye!

Living in China means there’s a ton of really good, really cheap food on offer and you definitely have to sample as much as you can while you’re here. But if like me, you love to cook, there’s plenty of new things you can try out in your kitchen too. Kitchens in China are generally a lot smaller than in the West, so you’ll need to do some mental adjustments and just generally be a bit more efficient when cooking. For example, not having a full sized oven like back home means finding useful appliances can be the key here. One of the most versatile appliances I’ve found is, believe it or not, the humble rice cooker. It’s safe to say actually, it’s one of my best friends in the kitchen and that when it comes to rice cookers, there’s more than meets the eye!

Rice cookers are of course known for doing what they do best – cooking rice – but I bet you didn’t know that rice cookers can do so much more than just provide you with an Asian staple. I’ve used my rice cooker to make a whole range of sweet and savory delights – read on to find out more.

Cakes

The first thing I tried cooking in my rice cooker (other than rice) was a cake. Let’s just say it was less than amazing, but every one since then has been pure deliciousness. Cakes in China are a little different to what you’re used, so it’s nice to be able to prepare a home comfort that you might be missing.

So just how do you produce such scrumptious delights in a mere rice cooker? Easy! Mix your favorite cake recipe as normal, then pour the batter directly into the rice cooker bowl (there’s no need to grease it). If your rice cooker has a ‘cake’ setting, simply press ‘cake’ and wait patiently for about 45 minutes. The ‘rice’ setting will work just as well, but you may need to check on it at about the 35/40 minute mark just in case it dries out. Once the rice cooker has done its thing, turn it off and take the bowl out to cool a little. When the bowl has cooled enough to handle, turn the cake out on a rack (or plate) to cool. If like me, you love a piece of warm cake, tuck in now! Otherwise, wait until it’s completely cool and add the frosting of your choice (then tuck in!).

 

image (82)Bread

When searching for things to cook in my rice cooker, I came across an article online claiming you could make bread in there – how crazy is that? Well, as crazy as it sounds, I can assure you it is 100% true (and incredibly tasty!). Again, bread is another thing in China that is a little different from home (way too sweet for me), so being able to bake your own bread will satisfy your craving AND impress your friends!

Now, fair warning, this process is a bit time-consuming, but totally worth the delicious, crunchy reward at the end. You’ll first need to find your favourite bread recipe and prepare as normal (using the rice cooker bowl to proof the dough, with the lid on the cooker, but the cooker not turned on). Once the dough has proofed, set the rice cooker to ‘cake’ and wait the 45 minutes until it’s done. Then you’ll have to flip the dough out and turn it over to cook on the other side (what was the top). Another 45 minutes and you have fresh, delectable bread to chow down on!

Fried rice (without the fry)

If you’re after a healthy version of fried rice that’s still packed with flavor, then the rice cooker version is for you! I regularly whip this up when I’m a little low on time and have plenty of vegetables in the fridge.

Wash your rice in the rice cooker bowl as usual, and place the necessary amount of water on top. Chop your favourite vegetables and add salt, pepper and garlic (option extras include chilli, ginger and stock for even more flavour). Set the rice cooker to the ‘rice’ setting and about 45 minutes later you’ll have a luscious mixed vegetable rice dish ready to eat.

I usually add soy sauce once the rice is cooked and I often place a chicken breast (marinated in some kind of sauce overnight) on top of the rice before setting it to cook.

There you have it! Three super easy dishes that the simple, unassuming rice cooker can produce in no time. For around CNY 200 (a little over USD$30), it’s well worth investing in one of these gems when you come to China.

Have you got a rice cooker? What are your favorite rice cooker recipes? Tell us below.

About the Author:

DSCN6110  Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo credit: Riza Nugraha (Flickr) | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

The Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Jie (端午节) is a National Holiday in China, and is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month following the traditional lunar calendar. This year, the festival falls on June 20th.

The English name “Dragon Boat Festival” translates directly to Longchuan Jie (龙船节) which is also its name on the Chinese mainland. The name Duanwu Jie is more commonly used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The date of the festival, according to the lunar calendar, 5/5 is also the source of its alternative name, the “Double Fifth Festival”.

While there are a few different origin stories for this holiday, in most parts of China the festival is said to commemorate the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (屈原). During the Warring States period of Ancient China, Qu Yuan worked as a minister in the ancient Chinese State of Chu. During this period, there were seven warring states, and Qu Yuan supported the decision to take up arms against the State of Qin, a formidable opponent. However, the King of Chu decided rather than fight and risk defeat, he would ally with the State of Qin.  When Qu Yuan publicly opposed the alliance, he was exiled and accused of treason.

Qu Yuan had such love for his country, that during his exile he wrote countless poems about his home country. Twenty-eight years later, the state of Qin captured Yin–the capital city of the state of Chu–and, in despair Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and drowned himself.

The legend says the local people admired him so much, they raced out in their boats to try to save Qu Yuan, or at least retrieve his body. They couldn’t find his body, so they threw balls of sticky rice into the water with hopes the fish would eat the rice instead of the body of their beloved poet. The race to retrieve his body is said to be the origin of the actual dragon boat races; the sticky rice balls (zongzi, or 粽子) have since become a Chinese delicacy eaten during the holiday. There are varying English names for this traditional Chinese food, including Dragon Dumplings and Glutinous Sticky Rice Balls. They are often wrapped in leaves and sold in supermarkets, on the street, and in specialty stores, where they prepare gourmet zongzi of various tastes and flavors.

In modern-day China, the festival is celebrated in some places by racing dragon boats and eating zongzi. It is also believed to be a time to strengthen your body, cleaning your house, and doing what you can to prevent getting sick during the hot summer. This is done by hanging mugwort leaves and calamus in the house, and wearing small perfume pouches that protect children from evil. In metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, you are less likely to see many of these customs and traditions. But they’re still very much alive in more traditional rural cities.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Photo credit: Tolbzela (Flickr) | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Hotpot and Xiaomian: Two of Chongqing’s Amazing Foods

Chongqing hotpot
Chongqing hotpot

I don’t normally eat spicy food, so it may seem strange that I moved to Chongqing where the food is mostly full of peppers and fiery. I didn’t move to Chongqing because of the incredible food culture, rather because it was simply where life took me at the time. I have since then experienced the signature mouth-burns that can follow from a Chinese hotpot (火锅) meal and the more subtle and soothing spicy taste of the local xiaomian (小面), which literally translated means “small noodles”.

When I went to my first hot pot restaurant in Chongqing, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics about what hot pot is: a big bowl of spicy broth over an open flame—which you put raw vegetables and meat in to boil—then dig out with chopsticks and eat. It’s typically a social and communal meal, meaning that many people will around the same table and eat together. I recall sitting at a grand table with friends all around, everyone snatching food from the pot with their chopsticks. After just one bite, my mouth was on fire.

It’s not just foreigners who suffer from sweats and burns when we eat hot pot, the Chinese can’t always handle it, either. Many hotpot restaurants now offer different grades of spiciness to cater to as many customers as possible. It’s definitely an experience, and a “must try” while in Chongqing, but for the most part I’d rather leave this kind of extreme spice for friends and colleagues with a more adventurous palette than I have.

Another famous local food in Chongqing is xiaomian. Thinking it was a fad, I avoided it at first; everyone wouldn’t stop talking about how delicious it is. Finally, after trying a bowl of “small noodles”, I could taste what all the fuss was about. There is a small kitchen near my school; not quite a restaurant, it’s just a small room with tables and chairs, and a kitchen in the back. It’s become the “go-to” spot for me and my colleagues.

Chongqing xiaomian
Chongqing xiaomian

While hotpot can be a bit pricy by Chinese standards (about CNY 300-400 for four people), a bowl of xiaomian is usually just around CNY 5 (less than $1!). One bowl will completely fill you up, and though the taste is spicy, there’s no lingering burning sensation in your mouth. It’s quick, tastes great, and isn’t completely unhealthy. My colleagues and I have a 2-hour lunch break on weekends—after a bowl of xiaomian we usually have another 90 minutes to sit, talk, relax, or take a nap. It’s perfect.

I do enjoy hotpot occasionally, and believe it or not, the spice is easier to handle if you’re in good company. If there are a few 外国人 (wai guo ren, or foreigners) at the table, the waitress will usually ask how spicy to make the hotpot. We usually aim for something moderate—between drop-dead spicy and plain water. With a nice, cool beverage, and a little sauce to neutralize the spice, hot pot can be a very enjoyable and social meal, even for who don’t like spicy food.

If you ever pass through Chongqing, these are two foods that you absolutely must try. Thankfully that’s easy to do, because you can find hotpot and xiaomian restaurants on nearly every street corner in Chongqing!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here