Life in China: A Picture A Day, March 24, 2016

One thing I will definitely miss when we leave China is fresh water chestnuts, called 马蹄 mǎtí, literally translated as “horse’s hoof”! There is absolutely NO comparison between fresh ones and the canned ones you get in the USA. The fresh ones are one of my favorite snacks. I prefer to buy them unpeeled and peel them when I’m ready to eat them, although you can peel them ahead and keep refrigerated in water for a couple days. They have a nice crispy, crunchy texture and a delicious sweet taste. I also like to cook with them: Chop them and add to stir-fries, make water chestnut cake (a popular Chinese dim sum dish, my version is pictured), or bacon wrapped water chestnuts with bbq sauce for a western style treat. For the water chestnut cake, you use a powder made from dried, crushed water chestnuts. They are also made into a juice. The best places to buy them here are the Chinese fresh markets or from street vendors on the Chinese shopping streets, and you can also usually find them in supermarkets. 

Life in China: A Picture A Day, March 21, 2016

Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, March 21 – I saw this product in our local supermarket a couple of weeks ago and it caught my eye. Our store doesn’t sell many imported or western items, so it was unusual. I guess the American flag was probably what caught my eye…with little sausages instead of stars on the flag!  And the fact that it was made by a Chinese company. Well, I just finally got around to looking it up and it turns out that Shuanghui, the largest meat producer in China, purchased Smithfield Foods of Virginia in Sept 2013. Supposedly, they import US pork into China, not China to US. And it was thought-provoking that with all the concern about food safety in China, Smithfield had to stop using the controversial additive Ractopamine (banned in 160 countries, but NOT the USA), in order to be able to ship meat to China! Guess food safety concerns go both ways! So, this past week, although I haven’t seen this Shuanghui Virginia style sausage at the store again, I did see numerous Smithfield products for sale. All very interesting…at least to me! My facts here are from various online sources which I consider credible.

Life in China: A Picture A Day, February 28, 2016

This is a dessert called tangyuan. It is traditionally eaten for the Lantern Festival because the balls are thought to look like the full moon. I am late sharing this since the Lantern Festival was almost a week ago, but, since we were away, we are just finally eating the ones we bought. “Tangyuan” literally translates as “round balls in soup” and they are often served in a sweet soup, but can also be steamed or fried. Ours were frozen and we just had to put them in boiling water for a few minutes (until they floated). The outside is made of glutinous rice flour, and the sweet fillings are traditionally made from sesame, peanut and red bean. Today, there are also new kinds: we bought pink colored ones with purple sweet potato filling, and they were delicious!  Also pictured are the traditional white ones with black sesame filling, which we had last weekend at the Lantern Festival party where we live. In Chinese, “tangyuan” is pronounced much like “tuanyuan” which means “reunion,” so the tangyuan symbolize happy family reunions.

Life in China: A Picture A Day, February 17, 2016

In China, it’s fairly common in casual restaurants to have to pay for your napkins. They usually come in a little box or plastic package of about 6 napkins and cost 1 or 2 rmb/15 to 30 cents usd. Yesterday, the restaurant we went to advertised free snacks and fruit, free water or tea, and free WIFI, then when we got the bill, we were charged for our dishes! 2 rmb per setting! This was a new one for me, but I don’t even attempt to question it! Also, the “3 free of charge (charoe as they wrote)” were the only English words on the menu other than the name of the restaurant, “WIFI’, and another section that said “2 commitments.” See more about Chinese menus in my blog post today.

Life in China: A Picture A Day, February 16, 2016

Roasted chestnuts! I wish I could take a picture of the way that warm little paper bag feels and smells! But, sorry … I can’t L Roasted chestnuts are my second favorite winter street food after sweet potatoes. I’ve thought of trying to roast them myself and then I think “Why??? These are readily available (except for last night when I asked Jim to get me some at 9PM on a chilly Monday night and the vendors had finished for the day!). So, today when Leah and I were out, we got some. They have a wok style pan with a rotating blade in which the chestnuts are roasted with little black pebbles, supposedly to keep the temperature even. A paper bag full (contents on the plate pictured) costs 15rmb or about $2.30usd. The Chinese also use chestnuts in cooking and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Being gluten intolerant, we regularly use chestnut flour for our baking.


Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 1 - How many years have I been looking at this in the markets and didn’t know what it was???? Well, I finally learned! Most commonly, it is called “celtuce” or “stem lettuce,” and “wosun” 莴笋 in Chinese. It is also called "asparagus lettuce".

I learned that the thick stems are peeled and then sliced or chopped for stir-fries (or steamed), and the leaves are good for soups. So, we did just that! A stir fry with pork, mushrooms, and celtuce, turned out very good… celtuce has a mild taste, somewhat like celery (I didn’t think it tasted like asparagus like some said), and it kept a nice firm, crispy texture. We added the leaves into vegetable beef soup, and although I can’t say they added much flavor, they added a nice dark green color. I read that they can be bitter. Supposedly, the young stems and leaves can also be used raw in salads. Found in most (southern) Chinese stores/markets with produce (not sure about other areas?). For those of you outside of China, check your Asian markets!