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Survivor China: Minimalist dormitory cooking


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Luxury Instant noodles / Ramen Noodles / Pot noodles


This is the obvious one. China has a lot of variety of instant noodles and, with a little of effort, they can be made into much more of a balanced meal than if you just ate them directly from a box by adding hot water.


As you're cooking them at home, it's best to buy ones in bags rather than the boxes/cartons. If you're particularly health conscious there are quite a few ranges that now offer 'non-fried' versions. Chinese supermarkets have also started to stock a range of Korean brand instant noodles that are usually more expensive but often worth the extra. There is also an excellent 'bone soup' one that mirrors real Ramen soup noodles quite well.


I don't think anyone really needs to be told how to cook up some instant noodles. The extra dimention is essentially; during the cooking process you can pretty much add any kind of leafy green vegetable to the process. If it really is just a leaf then you can add it near the end. If, on the other hand, it's something a bit thicker then you'd need to add it more towards the beginning. I often use book choi/you cai, youmaicai, or spinach/bo cai. You can also break an egg into the soup, stirring it in. This adds a nicer, thicker consistency to the soup. Another option is to add the egg and not stir it. The hot water will cook it for you. Personally, I usually do both or fry up an egg and place it on top.



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Agree wholeheartedly ChTTay! And what a great name: 豪华方便面。I sometimes make that as well here in Kunming. Fresh spinach 菠菜 is cheap and full of flavor. It's my first choice if it is available. Good trick with the egg.


Today I went to the store for something else and wound up taking a lot of snapshots with my phone just to show what was easily available. Here are a couple pictures of the 方便面 instant noodle aisle. (Even more kinds were available out of sight on the other side.) What a huge variety; even in a relatively small store. Gives some idea of how popular they are.


IMG_20170207_133052.thumb.jpg.eac576474b59f08ba462d66a0166ce2d.jpgIMG_20170207_133042.thumb.jpg.24df85c04d4bf711614e632b2565d40e.jpg   IMG_20170207_133059.thumb.jpg.d7805b0d8a652ce191c7216636f65862.jpg


And here's a related option. Plain dry noodles that can be boiled up alone or added to other "soupy" dishes, instantly converting them to a 汤面/noodle soup.These are inexpensive (this package cost 3 Yuan 90 Mao for 1,000 Grams.) They come in thick 粗 (here labelled 宽/broad) or thin 细. Keep months without refrigeration; cook in only a couple of minutes.








The ones I bought, pictured above, are the thin ones 细。

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Very nice!


I'd add a roller for making 饺子、春卷 、葱油饼 and the like.


Depending on food preferences, I'd consider adding a rice cooker and a hot water pot.


Lots of Chinese foodstuffs come loose and in bulk, so a supply of small containers is important.


Interesting what you don't need: a refrigerator, a stove, an oven or -- very significantly -- measuring spoons and cups.

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Interesting; I've never seen that before. And do you just drink it hot like a soup without adding anything else? Is it sweet?





Depending on food preferences, I'd consider adding a rice cooker and a hot water pot.


Yes indeed, @889. Especially if several roommates are doing the cooking together. A small and simple 电饭锅 rice cooker can be had for between 250 and 300 Yuan. And the water kettle 电水壶 for only a hundred.


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Snapshots are from today's shopping trip, mentioned above.




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I'd add a roller for making 饺子、春卷 、葱油饼 and the like.


@889 -- I don't want to get this thread that far off track, but just wondering if maybe sometime when you have a chance you might start a different thread on making dumplings/jiaozi 饺子 and spring rolls/chun juan 春卷 at home. I never have tried it and don't really know how.


Would probably be willing to tackle 饺子 if it were an occasion where several friends were coming over. I don't have a bamboo steamer basket, but I'm pretty sure they can also be boiled. 


As to 春卷, I like to eat them well enough, but try to avoid deep frying things in my home kitchen; partly because of the calories and partly because of the mess. Would be interested in what you have found in the way of efficiency workarounds. 


No pressure, I'm just thinking out loud. Thanks for your contribution.

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I once tried, all by myself, to make 水饺. It seemed simple enough, having watched friends do it before. But wrapping and sealing the things right is something you need to learn at an early age. It was a disaster. (饺子 can be either boiled 水饺  or steamed 蒸饺. The 皮 should be thinner and a bit more elastic for 蒸饺 than 水饺, so it's translucent after steaming. Eating out I prefer 蒸饺 since they're not so doughy, or whatever you want to call it.)


春卷, frankly, use up too much oil, and are practical only if you deep fry a lot and keep a fryer or the like handy so you can re-use the oil soon.


葱油饼, though, are just about right for D-I-Y. And you've already done a fine job of covering them.


As to the mess from frying, Chinese kitchens do tend to be covered in easy-to-clean tiles, unlike Western kitchens, which usually have walls covered with that "enamel" paint.

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Thanks, @889. Glad to know I'm not the only one who has difficulty keeping up in the 包饺子 department with the local 8 year olds at the CNY home feasts to which I'm invited from time to time. I always start out confident in my manual dexterity, and end up trying to figure out just where along the line I acquired ten thumbs.


I suppose we should scratch these as minimalist dorm food.

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Before moving on to the topic of what (few) items need to be in your larder for day-to-day simple food prep, let me borrow a page from ChTTay's play book (see his post on "Luxury Noodles" above) and tell you another way to "cheat" to make a quick, easy meal.


IMG_8997.thumb.JPG.b6ab9796c9eaa250ca72c2acdfe07622.JPGThese are packages of powdered soup mix 汤料,available in most supermarkets 超市。They come in four or maybe five flavors, but these are the three I use most often. From left to right:


-- 鸡茸玉米羹汤料 -- chicken and corn

-- 海鲜口味汤料 -- seafood

-- 酸辣汤料 -- hot and sour






These all call for diluting with water, cooking a few minutes, and then swirling in one egg. To make them into more of a complete meal, add a green leafy vegetable 青菜 at the start. If all you have is something more solid, like a carrot, tomato, green peas or corn, then precook it a few minutes first.



To make it more substantial, add some of the plain dry noodles mentioned above. They take approximately 2 minutes to cook.







And along the same lines, if you are snowed in and it is subzero weather, you are still not stuck if you have prepared a "Plan B." This consists of individually-packaged snack items that can be added either to instant noodles or to powdered soup.These small "snack packs" are extremely popular with Chinese people riding the long distance bus or the train. They are easy to find, even in tiny grocery shops.





What I've shown here are sliced bamboo shoots 竹笋 and shredded dry beef 牛肉干。The third similar item which is nearly ubiquitous is tofu 豆腐, in strips, sheets or cubes. These are 豆腐干,dried tofu.


Quite a few varieties of these single-portion "add-able" are available. Be aware that sometimes, at least in Yunnan, they will be pretty spicy. (Look for 辣 anwyhere on the label.) That's OK, because after opening the pack, you can rinse off most of the heat in a bowl of clean water without adversely affecting the texture.


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The first part of this series focused on equipment. Today lets look at ingredients that make sense to keep on hand in a kitchen cupboard. Admittedly, not all of these are essential; in fact I think some might be more appropriate for a small efficiency apartment than for a university dorm. 


First place in any list of seasonings and condiments must always belong to salt. This bag of salt, from deep wells on the high Tibetan plateau, (高原深井盐)was on "flash sale" yesterday for only 1 Yuan. It contains 500 grams/500 克 and will probably last me 3 or 4 months even if I do a little bit of brining and pickling. People in the store were buying them ten at a time as a clerk 售货员 opened boxes and replenished the mountainous display with more. But even if you are not lucky enough to hit such a bargain promotion 活动,you can still afford the regular price, since it's only 2 or 2.5 Yuan. 





A digression about Chinese salt. Nearly all of what is available is this brand, White Elephant 白象 with a prominent picture of an elephant somewhere on the label. Oddly enough, China still operates under a salt monopoly, put in place 2,000 years ago by the Han Emperor Wu 汉武帝。As students of Chinese history, you remember the Salt Conflicts of the Tang and Song Dynasties and the role of salt in structured taxation. You remember how Wang Anshi 王安石 squared off against his rival Su Shi 苏轼 over salt, among other things.


What this means for you and me, today in the Year of the Rooster, 2017, is that there is no choice in salt unless you find a store that stocks imports. The other practical point to note with some care is that Chinese salt is extremely fine. It's easy to over-salt dishes during their preparation. This problem is amplified by the fact that many popular Chinese sauces, such as soy sauce 酱油 are salty as well.


MSG or 味精 is big here. Every Chinese family and most restaurants use it. In the west it has become somewhat demonized, but here it is still extremely popular. It doesn't  come in small shakers; instead it comes in plastic bags; often large ones containing a kilogram of the stuff. I buy it and use it in small amounts. This package, containing 100 Grams/100克 will last me 3 or 4 months, maybe more. It's inexpensive: 2 or 3 Yuan for a small bag.


And beside it in general usefulness is white granulated sugar 白砂糖。





You might find it useful to have some granulated chicken bullion 鸡精 on hand. I find it handy to be able to sprinkle some into a plain sauteed vegetable dish to give it slightly more depth of flavor. The same company, 太太乐, makes a granulated vegetable essence 疏之鲜 that is also sometimes an easy way to kick flavor up a notch. But, truthfully, neither of these is absolutely vital and they don't need to be on your "desert island" list. Same goes for pepper, either white or black. White is more versatile, and it's the only kind I keep.








Since I live in Yunnan, not a day goes by that I don't need a few dried red peppers to chop or crush and add to something or other. But I acknowledge that they don't have such a prominent role all over China.









The Holy Trinity of wet seasonings is: soy sauce 酱油, vinegar 醋,and sesame oil 香油 or 芝麻油。


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When you go to the store you will find several options for each of these. Soy sauce comes in several varieties, as do vinegar and sesame oil. Here's a quick, down and dirty, selection guide.


1. Since you only want one kind of soy sauce when starting out, buy "light soy sauce." In Chinese it will be labelled 生油。Later you can experiment with the full, heavy ones called 老抽。

2. Similarly, you only want one kind of vinegar initially, and the one to buy should be labeled 老陈醋, which means that it's not a new vinegar, but one that has been aged. I usually buy either 3 year or 5 year. The one from my cabinet pictured here happens to be some 10 year old vinegar instead. It is smooth and rounded, similar to a Balsamico, great for salads.

3. Sesame oil can be made from either toasted sesame seeds or plain ones. The label will usually indicate this by calling it 黑/black if it's toasted and something else if it's not. You can also usually tell by just looking at the color of several bottles side by side on the shelf. Suggest you by the light kind first time around since it is milder.


IMG_9015.thumb.JPG.1d9068c89695950e3f14a503d5b44505.JPGA fourth, "nice to have" item, that is not absolutely essential to have starting out, is cooking wine, 料酒 or 黄酒。It can be added to soups and stocks, can be used together with corn starch for tenderizing meat. It doesn't taste good enough to be served straight as a beverage, so I don't recommend doing that. Furthermore, Chinese Rocket Fuel 白酒 is cheap.












A footnote here about how to close these bags of dry ingredients after you have opened them for first use. Supermarkets carry an assortment of inexpensive clips and pins. Plastic clothespins, pictured below right, are the cheapest option.


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Or you can buy lidded plastic containers 保鲜盒子 for a little more if you prefer. They come in a variety of sizes and styles.







Pictured above right, I also save the plastic "take home" containers that restaurants sometimes sell you for 1 Yuan when you want to take unfinished food home  打包。They aren't as strong and don't last as long, but are an economical alternative nonetheless.


And then of course there is cooking oil. 食用油。Chinese typically use a lot of oil to fry things, so oil often comes in large containers. But smaller bottles, one liter 千毫升 or less, are also readily available. You will encounter an assortment of oils derived from different vegetable sources. Peanut oil and corn oil are two of the most popular. Oil made from rape seed is inexpensive and prominent. 油菜花。 One also encounters many kinds of blends. 


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Peanut oil 花生油 on the left, corn oil 玉米油 on the right, and a blended oil in the middle. If you bought a rice cooker, then of course rice needs to be in your cupboard. I'll wait to see if there's any demand for it before adding a section on how to select and buy rice.


Now it's your turn. What do you think should be added or subtracted from a list such as this. Please help out.





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A week has passed with no activity; no questions or contributions.


I had initially thought that if there were sufficient interest in this topic, we could continue the thread with a discussion of cooking methods and a few basic recipes as illustrations of those methods. For example, I think it's better to understand and master a generally trusty method for making fried rice 炒饭 than it is to have a detailed recipe for one specific type, such as 扬州炒饭 that one must then follow to the letter.


Any input, thoughts, suggestions?

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I would have added cornstarch and flours and that stuff for breading deep-fried things.


You mention white sugar, but there's a whole variety of sugars available China. For example, those bars of two-tone brown sugar sold everywhere. I've never really learned what is for what.


In China you have the choice between buying loose or pre-packaged. Even something like sesame oil you can find being sold "fresh" in some parts of China at least.


Of course buying loose from a small shopkeeper gives you the chance for some interaction, and get information about the choices. But that apart, is there a quality difference? Particularly something like doufu, where freshness may count.

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Excellent points, @889. I keep 红糖 on hand and use it a lot. Here I usually buy it in small cakes, kind of the shape of a hat. If I'm not mistaken, this shape is called 元宝 and is made to resemble old-time silver and gold ingots which were used as money. Each piece costs a little under 1 Yuan.




Yunnan grows lots of sugar cane 甘蔗。 Right now it's in season and one can buy a cup of fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice from street vendors. Or you can buy a section of sugar cane that's been peeled and split; just chew it and spit out the pulp. I sometimes do that as I walk around in the market pretending to be native.


A little bit of this dark sugar adds flavor to oat meal 燕麦片 in the morning, which is something that's quick, nourishing, and easy to prepare. Toss in a handful of good Xinjiang raisins 新疆葡萄干 and you are ready to rock and roll. Sometimes, for variety I add finely chopped dried persimmon 柿子干。


IMG_9092.thumb.JPG.db518a21f10f981c12e1379a390af792.JPGThese items, and as you pointed out, many others can be bought in bulk for less money than going the prepackaged route. I usually do that myself for a couple of reasons. One is freshness, and the other is that you can sample before buying most things, such as the raisins. And, like you said, it is eminently more social.


I buy sesame oil 香油 from a husband and wife who grind it fresh while you watch in the market. You can even bring your own small bottle and they will fill it. Like you, I enjoy chatting with the people who produce things. They often are full of tips as to use, storage and general lore.



But you and I know how to do these things. We know how to make do and even how to thrive over here. I had earlier thought that China newcomers would be eager to garner this kind of information. Newcomers, where are you? What do you want to know? There is life beyond your Anki deck and your Skritter queue!

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