I realize this post is coming a bit late (two weeks late to be exact), not that you guys are keeping track or anything. I’m still trying to figure out how this blog fits in with the rest of my life (a blog/life balance if you will). I refuse to be that blogger that apologizes at the beginning of each post for not posting in awhile, or falling behind, etc. If I fall behind, I fall behind. Trying not to stress too much over this. This should be fun!
Even though this post is late, I swear I’ve been eating Chinese food this month. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you’ll see some updates, it’s just finding the time to write posts I’m struggling with.
Also, the first week of the month is always the hardest. There’s this transition phase of “What am I going to eat today?” and “I have no idea what I’m doing.” That’s pretty interesting.
I asked my mom back in January for a list of ingredients her grandmother always had in the house. My mom was raised by her grandmother, and though my mom grew up in the Philippines, my family still retains some Chinese traditions.
I also asked my boyfriend (who’s Cantonese) what his mom kept in her pantry. With some overlap in the lists, I figured this was a good starting point.
If you have trouble finding the following ingredients at your standard grocery store, try your luck at an asian grocery. You’ll generally find a ‘Chinatown’ in most cities, asians are everywhere. Do some exploring, you may find a hidden gem in your town.
This is a given. You’ll find many varieties in the grocery stores today: white, brown, basmati, wild. In an asian grocery store you’ll find more exotic varieties like red or black rice. Traditionally, Chinese people eat jasmine rice. Growing up, I ate rice with almost every meal, which looking back was quite a contrast to what my American friends ate.
A Variety of Noodles
Second to rice, the carb of choice is noodles. I picked up some thin, rice vermicelli and some egg noodles.
I rarely see fresh ones in the states, so my family has always relied on dried. To rehydrate them, just soak them in water overnight, then boil until soft.
Though it won’t add any flavor to your dishes, corn starch is essential in Chinese cooking for thickening sauces. You can sub this for tapioca starch or even all-purpose flour.
Chinese people love their tea, especially loose tea. At a Chinese restaurant, you’ll always get hot water or tea, no ice water. Chinese people don’t usually drink with their meals, they think it’s better for digestion and they’d rather fill up on the food.
When I went to China in 2014, we visited a famous tea village known for Longjing (Dragon Well) green tea. They told us that any tea that came in a bag for steeping, was low quality tea. Pictured above is some of the tea I bought there, it’s the ‘Emperor’s grade’ green tea, the highest quality, and damn is it good. You know how green tea gets bitter if you steep it too long? Not this tea. I can leave the leaves in water all day, AND re-steep it. It never gets bitter. Facts.
Star Anise & Peppercorns
Besides the sauces and oil below, these two spices are key. When I was in China, I don’t think there was a single meat dish I had that didn’t have these two things in them. You can sub the peppercorns for ground black pepper if you prefer.
In the States, we use salt and pepper to season everything. In China (based on my research), the holy quaternity consists of hoisin sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. These sauces in different ratios and different combinations add depths of sweet and/or saltiness to countless dishes.
Oh, and you’re also going to need some vegetable oil for stir-frying. Specifically an oil with a high-smoke point like canola, vegetable, or grapeseed. Olive oil will burn. Coconut oil will burn. The key to a successful stir-fry is high heat and minimal cooking time.
Eating raw vegetables is a rarity in China. First and foremost, it’s just more sanitary, thoroughly washing and cooking your food is proven to protect you from the mud butt. Second to that, I’ve also read that cooked vegetables just taste better to the Chinese. A raw vegetable with no seasoning or sauce is just crazy-town.
You should be able to find the basics: garlic, shallots, ginger, and scallions at your standard grocery, but again I’d encourage you to explore an asian grocery store. There are many Chinese vegetables that haven’t made it mainstream. Have you had or heard of watercress? Water spinach? Lotus root?
If anything, get some napa cabbage and some bok choy (baby bok choy if you can find it) and stir-fry them (separately) with a touch of oil, garlic, and oyster sauce and call it a day.