Back to China – and to cooking

I’m going to ease back into where I left off in our travels with a post about food. For anyone who has (understandably!) lost track, that takes us back to Yangshuo, the town in Guangxi Province, China, where we took our survival Chinese course.

I had my sights set on taking at least one cooking class in China, but we somehow we were always moving around so much or too busy and sadly it never worked out.

But while we were in Yangshuo – the longest by far that we stayed in any one place in China – we ended up becoming regulars at a few spots in town and I did get the chance to snoop around the kitchen of our favorite restaurant on afternoon.

Trying new and exciting food is part and parcel of the travel experience and there’s seemingly always an excuse to indulge on something special, fancy, exotic, or rich. As wonderful as that is though, when you travel as long as we have, sometimes all you crave is something simple and down to earth.

We were really happy to find straightforward, down-to-earth food on the menu at Kelly’s Cafe. Lots of different veggies on offer made me a very happy girl, and the simple stir-fry techniques she cooked with let the fresh ingredients shine.

I enjoyed the cooking so much that I asked the restaurant’s owner if she’d show me how things were prepared. She was totally sweet and welcoming and let me squeeze into their miniscule little kitchen (seriously, this thing was about the size of my closet here in the States) to watch over the chef’s shoulder as they prepared some of my and Roman’s favorites.

It wasn’t a cooking class per se, but I did learn just how easy good stir fried vegetables can be to make. She explained that often times the difference between what people make at home and what you get at the restaurant comes down to the cooking temperature. What made her food so tasty was that it was cooked very quickly over the highest flame; home cooks tend to shy away from high heat. Also key is the type of soy sauce used.

Since I’ve arrived back in the States I’ve been gorging myself on my mom’s fantastic cooking and since it’s also been the holidays she’s been pulling out all the stops. I’ve eaten a ton more meat and other heavier foods than I usually do, and I’m definitely feeling ready for some lighter fare. I’ve been craving veggies and have started playing around with the cooking techniques Kelly demonstrated for me in Yangshuo. I still need to go shopping to find some proper soy sauce but so far I’ve been really happy with my creations.

The following aren’t full recipes but rather provide an overview of how Kelly’s put together our favorite dishes. Preparation of each dish doesn’t vary that much. If the prep work (chopping and cooking of noodles/rice) is done beforehand, which of course was the case at the restaurant, and the wok is hot enough, then each dish takes next to no time to cook.

As I said, I was just watching over the cook’s shoulder – measurements are approximate only; I would definitely recommend adjusting things to taste!

Pumpkin (nán guā)

Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Cook briefly, then add (2 cups?) of cubed pumpkin (squash would do as well).

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Add salt (1/2 – 1 tsp to taste) and a small dash of sugar.

Add water to the wok (1/4 – ½ cup – enough to keep the pumpkin from getting burnt) and cover; let cook for five minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.

Remove from heat and garnish with freshly cut chives.

Lotus root (ǒu)

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Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the slices of lotus root (somewhat similar in taste and texture to water chestnut).

Add a bit of chopped chili pepper (seeds removed) – vary the amount depending on how hot you like it.

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Add water to the wok (1/4 – ½) and cover; let cook for 3 – 5. The lotus roots should still remain crunchy.

Remove lid, mix in soy sauce to taste.

Remove from heat and garnish with scallion cut into 2-inch-long thin strips.

Friend noodles (chǎo miàn)

Noodles should be pre-cooked along with thinly cut strips of carrot.

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Have prepared finely chopped onions and greens – i.e., chard, bok choy, etc. and a handful of bean sprouts

Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the onions, greens and sprouts.

Add the noodles (with carrot) and soy sauce.

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Cook for a few minutes, stirring as necessary.

Serve hot.

Fried rice

Rice should be pre-cooked.

Have prepared finely chopped red onions and greens – i.e., chard, bok choy, etc. and carrot

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Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1 tablespoon.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the onions, greens and carrots.

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Add the rice and soy sauce.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring as necessary.

Serve hot.

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Our feast!

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Friendly Kelly and the delicious pumpkin (nán guā) I love so much

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5 thoughts on “Back to China – and to cooking

      • Some Chinese food is great, some of it is foul – the majority of it I find pretty tasteless and samey though. Fried or boiled isn’t much of a way to explore different tastes. I think it’s why every table in China has a bowl of chilli sauce and a bowl of soy sauce – so you can add taste to the bland ordinariness of everyday food.

        Yours looks fab though – 🙂

      • It WAS really good food – which was a relief because the one thing I didn’t like in Xinjiang Province was the food. Wishing you happy eating over there, and thanks for sharing your experiences on your blog – really interesting to see the perspective of someone who’s living there full time. 🙂

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