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Cheap eats for the end of the month: beans and rice; tofu and sprouts


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" . . . cases have been reported in the US of people getting food poisoning (e. coli to be specific) from consuming sprouts which were raw and inadequately washed. So I took precautions to be sure my dish was healthy."


But doesn't this apply to just about all vegetables in China, other than those that are peeled first? My impression is that Chinese housewives are manic about washing greens thoroughly.

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But doesn't this apply to just about all vegetables in China, other than those that are peeled first?


Yes indeed, it's always best to thoroughly wash the vegetables. In this case, since I couldn't scrub the sprouts and was afraid that soaking would have altered their texture, I briefly boiled them before the very-rapid-wok-fry step. If the wok-fry step had been of longer duration, I might have skipped the blanch.


I was a little surprised that none of the six or eight recipes I found on the Chinese internet called for doing anything with the sprouts beyond the one initial rinse.


As a general rule when using leafy greens here, I rinse them in a basin three times, swirling around vigorously each time. Haven't been in the habit of soaking, like @Teasenz recommends, though it might be a good idea.

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@Lips, I didn't know what 罗汉斋 was, so I searched it on Baidu. Never made it, but I think I will try. Looks excellent. Thanks for mentioning it. Have you tried making it?


Right now we have lots and lots of fresh wild mushrooms 野生菌 in the market. Prices are down some because we've had more than a normal amount of rain this year. I always welcome new ways to use these mushrooms. 罗汉斋 looks like one could adapt it to use some of those instead of cultivated mushrooms 人工菌。What do you think?

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A vegetarian recipe! Woohoo! Beautiful recipe, abcd. Nothing quite like some 粥, especially during the cooler months. Your talk of markets is, as always, making me wish I had chosen to move to 云南  :help.


Do you ever make 粥 in a pot? Is it actually any easier to use a rice cooker? I've been in a 2 year conflict with my partner as I always insist on making my rice in a pot, while she insists it is easier to use a rice cooker. I find the rice cooker more difficult to clean, but perhaps that's just her's (also, my rice tastes better than a rice cooker's, gosh darnit!). I've never actually made 粥, so looking forward to giving this a try!


One of the things I look most forward to in visiting China is the 豆腐. 美国的豆腐 benefits from being non-GMO, organic, etc etc etc, but never seems to live up to the flavors or variety I remember from 成都. Smoked tofu is an excellent example. While I can find it at my local health food market or Korean store, it doesn't taste particularly good. On the other hand, I ate it daily in my school cafeteria in China. It was awesome. I wasn't a vegetarian, but even so the texture was really fascinating. I will definitely be saving this post to try out! :clap  


Also, prepare yourself. I will be sending cardboard boxes to you upon arriving in China so that you can send me wild mushrooms.  :wall

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"One of the things I look most forward to in visiting China is the 豆腐.. 美国的豆腐 benefits from being non-GMO, organic, etc etc etc, but never seems to live up to the flavors or variety I remember from 成都."


I also like 豆腐 in just about everything fixed every different way. But I've had Chinese friends warn me off eating it too often. I don't know whether this is an old wive's tale about eating too much 豆腐, or whether it reflects concern about what goes into making modern factory 豆腐.

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@Alex_Hart, Don't despair, there are bound to be good wet markets in other China cities as well. In fact I've found them in Zhuhai and Harbin when I lived there. The one near my house in Zhuhai had an abundance of delicious seafood, much of it alive in glass tanks. The shrimp were not only alive, but they would jump like athletic performing dolphin when disturbed with the vendor's net, splashing water on unwary shoppers.


But I must confess to being impressed most of all by the wet market here in my section of Kunming (盘龙区。)My Chinese friends think it's nuts, but I go there partly for entertainment. It's like going to the movies or to a museum or a park in that respect. So full of life and activity, such a visual feast, such an amazing catalog of the bounty of daily life. Especially on weekends.


One can not only find a huge assortment of ingredients, but a varied profusion of cooked items as well. Some are local Yunnan specialties, while others are by families who have moved here from other parts of China. Can eat things there or buy them as takeaway. People have set up small tables with low stools.


If I were more enterprising and more commercially inclined, I would start conducting paid "Yunnan Foodie" tours to introduce interested travelers to the wealth of what is available there. It would make a fine introduction. I've enjoyed taking tours like that myself when visiting other Asia cities: Hong Kong, Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur especially.


It's fun to just explore. Last time everywhere I turned I saw small mounds of some kind of bulb that I had not seen before. Began asking the vendors about them. Turned out to be lily bulbs. Asked a couple of the old ladies who were buying them what they were for.


Said they could be peeled apart into small leaf-like segments and used in a stir fry. Said they are good to dispel excess internal heat in the summer months since they have lots of Yin properties. Another lady chimed in and told me about how they helped her lungs.


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Went on to ask about them at several other stalls. Wound up buying a few to try. So in the course of an hour, I wound up getting an informal education about a local food that has a short season and is almost surely not available fresh back in my US home.


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And the vendors get such a kick out of the simple fact that I take an interest in their wares. They want to show me their special stuff and explain how things are made. They give me little samples here and there and proudly pose for photos. I wind up almost feeling like a visiting dignitary instead of a penny-pinching foreign retiree. What a treat! What a trip!

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About making zhou 粥 in a pot, I can't do it very well here because my gas burners put out too much heat. Great for making a stir-fry, but difficult to turn them down low enough to keep the 粥 from sticking to the bottom of the pot and getting scorched. Given a different cooktop, I would surely try making it that way.


And furthermore, my current rice cooker has a heavy cast iron pot as its cooking chamber. Must weigh a couple pounds. This helps the heat diffuse and cook evenly from the sides as well as from the bottom. My old rice cooker was a cheap one which had a thin pot and it didn't do as good a job with 粥。Required more frequent stirring.


@889 -- I had not heard the admonition to not eat too much 豆腐。Interesting. I would probably be at risk.


One of the things I like a whole lot here in Kunming is 豆花米线。Had it yesterday for lunch in fact. A big dollop of soft tofu on top of the rice noodles beside a couple spoons of spicy pickled vegetables and a couple spoons of cooked ground meat. Also chopped herbs and some crushed peanuts; you mix it all up yourself at the table. Contrasting flavors, colors and textures; sounds like an unlikely combination, yet it works so very well.


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I've had Chinese friends warn me off eating it too often


Agree. Even in China, the average family does not really eat a lot of soy-based food.  Nowadays, China imports a lot of soybeans from the U.S. that are genetically modified, which makes it even more interesting.


Maybe this is an urban legend, I've also read on the internet that rice grown in the U.S. is not good for your health because the soil in the south was contaminated by cotton farming a long time ago.


@abcdefg, I think it's a great idea to put all kinds of mushrooms, and fungus too, in  罗汉斋.  After all, mushrooms and fungus are the food of the gods.  You just have to adjust the cooking method to the ingredients.  For example, some mushrooms and fungus need to be soaked and cooked separately beforehand, and the seasonings may need to be adjusted to balance the taste.


My mouth sill waters every time I think about the all-mushroom-and fungus feast that I had in Yunnan.

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And the vendors get such a kick out of the simple fact that I take an interest in their wares. They want to show me their special stuff and explain how things are made. They give me little samples here and there and proudly pose for photos.


This is true not just in China.  I was in eastern Turkey and experienced the same with the local Kurds many times.  They even asked me to send them the pictures when I get home.

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@889 As to the warnings about tofu, I've heard a lot of different things on this. The consensus seems to be shared by pseudo-scientific health gurus in the west and many of my Chinese friends: tofu has estrogen and that (a) promotes breast cancer in women (b) promotes "man boobs" and inhibits sexual functions in men (because estrogen makes them more feminine). I've been told this a million times (I'm a vegetarian) by Chinese professors, Chinese friends, my mother's boss (the pseudo-science health guru), my hippie English teacher and many of my high school classmates (it was a very white neighborhood!). This was enough to turn me off soy except for the occasional nibble - it was certainly not part of my everyday diet.


Since returning to vegetarianism over a year ago, I've been consuming massive amounts of soy and periodically check to see if science has found any adverse effects. From all that I have found, the answer is no. The "phytoestrogen" in soy is of such trace amounts and of a different (insert biology term here.. Maybe makeup?) than estrogen that it does not have the purported effects. One or two studies that did find a correlation seem to have been debunked as they were done exclusively on rats and used such large concentrations of the phytoestrogen that it would be difficult to mimic in a less torturous setting. If it wasn't obvious enough, I am neither a scientist nor a science major so do take what I say with a grain of salt and do your own research.


This is perhaps a stretch, but I also suspect that a lot of this is tied to the "manliness" of eating meat in the west, though I have no idea about within China. Eating a big chunk of pork or ribs is the quintessential example of what a man should eat in the west, and tofu is seen as an alternative. The reason this may not apply to Asia is that tofu stands on its own in E. Asian culture rather than acting merely as a "meat alternative" (this goes back to why tofu tastes better in China!). So a gendered culture + a misunderstanding of chemistry = all sorts of adverse effects!


This doesn't mean you should dive into the nearest pot of tofu, of course. A lot of mock meats made from tofu are processed and may have other additives that could prove harmful to your health, e.g. excess sodium or an untested coagulant. Tofu itself may contain adulterated ingredients or be made from a soybean you don't particularly want to consume due to pesticides or whatnot (like any other mass produced product). If you still are worried, I believe tempeh (fermented tofu version) breaks down the estrogen-like substance during the fermentation process (again, not a scientist!). Another alternative would be to make your own. I have not yet tried my hand at this, but have been told it is not particularly hard. I think a better bet would be to follow abcd's lead and buy from people who know their stuff, e.g. the local market vendors, or checking labels. I don't make any effort to avoid GMOs, but I will often go to the health food (RE: non-GMO) section of stores to buy my tofu just because the labels tend to be more informative than in other sections. 


@abcd: I'm looking forward to finding the wet markets! I have often told my girlfriend that the first thing I'm going out to find is a pickle 芽菜 stand. She gives me a strange look (浙江人) before I explain (for the millionth time) the joys of the pickle stands around the Buddhist temple area in Chengdu (this is where she usually rolls her eyes and goes "Yeah yeah, go to Chengdu if you hate my province so much"). Regardless, I'm convinced Hangzhou must have some Sichuanese or Yunnanese persons desperate for pickles! CONVINCED!. 


I actually just went to the Botanical Gardens and was lucky enough to fall in behind a botany professor giving a tour to his students. Upon arriving at the lily pools, I was surprised to hear that the entirety of the plant is edible (as was the nearby lotus, if I recall correctly). As far as I know, I've never eaten any part of it! Will look forward to yet another produce item that I've yet to come upon. 


This actually reminds me of a recurring conversation (bad habit) that I've had with friends: what food items are most unique to China? Having grown up in Switzerland and moved to the states around 8 years old, nostalgia and reality have painted a very sharp line between the cheese there and here. My "cheese game" has improved greatly since grocery stores expanded to include a larger menu in recent years, but this is definitely a recent change. Another item was the "Kinder" chocolates that I was rewarded with as a child, which were once unavailable here. Friends would mail us boxes of them for our birthdays, but their wider introduction to American markets has rather ruined the effect.


We have access to many Asian goodies, such as 火龙果,荔枝,莲藕等等,and my Chinese friends often pick odd things to by nostalgic about (one from 东北 swears Chinese corn is several hundred times tastier than American, another swears by the fish balls of his neighborhood in 福州). Going to China for 2 months, the only thing I really recall missing was fresh dairy products. While lunch and dinner were totally satisfying for me, breakfast proved nostalgic as I began wishing for a bowl of granola and sour yogurt rather than spicy stir fry. My girlfriend will generally say that she misses the handmade things of China (perhaps abcd could agree with this!) such as the market man who makes his own noodles or the lady who makes her own fuzzy tofu, but does not seem to have any items she is unable to find here in the states. Globalization has struck again. tl;dr: What item of produce would you most miss upon leaving China?


EDIT: Sorry for the length - 'fraid my fingers got away from me there.

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