The Shantou Beef Restaurant Experience

Last year, summer 2011, I visited a seaside city in Southern China called Shantou. It is one of the original Special Economic Zones of China, just like Zhuhai, and it has a unique culture of its own. They are a special kind of Cantonese people who speak “Chaoshan hua”. (A shared dialect between Chaozhou and Shantou ) Most are ethically Han but refer to themselves as Chaoshan people. Their women are known to be “the best wives in China” because they take care of their husbands so well. AND they offer some of the most delicious cuisine too.  So, what should you eat when you go to Shantou or Chaozhou? … BEEF.

While I was in Shantou, my hosts took us to a buffet-style restaurant famous for its Beef Balls. (You’ll hear many Shantou people ask “Do you like beef ball?”) The following photos show the entire spread of meaty goodness available at the buffet, which is meant to be cooked in mini hotpots in front of each person.

Tip! When gathering your dipping sauces be careful not to mistake the MSG for sugar… Don’t worry! At least this restaurant lets you choose whether or not to put in the Wizard!

Shantou BEEF Restaurant

Chaozhou was also amazing city to visit due to its history. Take a look at some of the places we visited below. The first one is a bridge made from boats latched together. It’s very old! Another one is me on an old street which is lined with gates through the center of the old city.

Chaozhou Boat Bridge


Chaozhou Ancient Street

The Eastern part of Guangdong is truly different from the Pearl River Delta (PRD) area. I highly suggest a visit because money and pollution can get a little boring after a while… am I right?

Chang Fen ~ Rice Crepes with Filling

Shrimp Chang Fen 虾仁肠粉

The other day I had a hankering for chang fen; pronounced “Chong Fun” in newspaper-phonetics. It’s not the cleanest option for eats in the neighborhood, but it tastes awesome. Getting good chang fen in China is like getting good pizza in America – the most dilapidated pizza dive is usually the best.

Basically, chang fen is made of rice flour that starts out quite runny- kind of like very runny pancake mix. It gets spooned into a steam tray and spread around as you can see in the photos below. Eggs, meat, chives, etc. are tossed on randomly and then the tray gets put in the steamer. After a couple minutes the tray gets pulled out the the contents get scrapped out. I chose extra egg because I don’t trust the meat in these places… Continue reading Chang Fen ~ Rice Crepes with Filling

Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Duck, Pork, and Cabbage with Rice = $1.69

Good food on a budget is a specialty not only in China, but across the developing world. In countries which have recently joined the world economy, or only within the past 20-30 years, local food traditions have stayed strong. And although Western food is becoming more popular in these countries, their preference for local traditional dishes is unlikely to change in the near future.

The one common remark that students studying abroad make about their experience is that food doesn’t meet their standards. For example, the pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and salads option that fill cafeterias in the US provoke a homesickness that is unavoidable. Looking at the common dish I had for dinner last night, could you blame them for missing home?

Right outside my apartment is the “Sichuan Room”, a Cantonese-style Sichuan restaurant which serves amazing food at a low price. Continue reading Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Understanding the World of Dumplings

Cooked Dumplings (standard)

“Dumpling” can mean many things and today I’m going to clear up this issue once ‘n for all! (Hopefully) In East Asian countries, especially China, there are many varieties of the dumpling concept; kind of like Wine. When we ask about wine others naturally ask “white or red”?  Dry or sweet? What country? Which vintage? For wine aficionados, like my brother Nick 🙂 , such questions are rudimentary.  Same goes for dumplings.

In the world of dumplings, there is simply one requirement; you must wrap some contents (vegetables or meat only) with a flour-based wrap. They generally look the same, like most red wines might. The varieties of dumplings can be based on a few things, including: country of origin, cooking style, and contents.

Yummy... Buns!

Dumplings are universal and have many names. The rest of this post is dedicated to showing all of the dumpling varieties I’ve ever encountered in Korea, Japan, and China; including ones that people back home have asked me about (like the mysterious Crab Rangoon!)

饺子 “jiao zi” (Standard Chinese Dumplings) boiled, semi-transparent when cooked. All over china, favored in North. Sometimes enjoyed as the staple in special family meals.

Man Tou Buns

包子 “bao zi” (Meat or Vege Buns) steamed. All over China and 7-11s across Northeast Asia. They are usually bigger than standard dumplings and have a more bread-like texture.

馒头 “man tou” (Plan Buns) steamed. Northern Chinese style, but enjoyed around the country. Man tou is used as a staple by families in the North. It is amazing with spicy lamb dishes and can be eaten as a dessert with sweet dipping sauce.

Pot Stickers

锅贴 “guo tie” (Pot Stickers) pan-fried. Common in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Eastern China. The picture on the left is the typical style of Pot Stickers. They should be browned on the bottom-side and could contain any combination of meat or vege. Continue reading Understanding the World of Dumplings

Summer Cooking 2010: The Best Cauliflower Dish in the World?


Day two of my visit home and I decided to cook up something unexpected!  Big, white, fluffy cauliflower! Woo hoo! First of all, my father looked at the huge serving of cauliflower I had prepared and was anything but ecstatic. …great… Ben’s cooking dull, taste-less, rabbit food… I knew this meal could be a tough pill to swallow, so I had to take out the big guns!

To clarify, my father is a meat-lover. Most dads are. Steak, hamburger, chicken, or pork should fill the air at most meal times.  A major dish at lunch consisting of rabbit food was a little disappointing to say the least. So, I thought… if I could transform the flavor of this vege into something mouth-watering and meaty, what would it taste like?

Let’s Tarantino this recipe so that the food-drama doesn’t go to waste… Continue reading Summer Cooking 2010: The Best Cauliflower Dish in the World?

Use Ginseng in Soup and Tea

Ginseng Root

Another popular root that is common in the Chinese diet, and many other Asian diets, is Ginseng. In fact, American Ginseng is one of the most popular in the world. I even see it in small local markets here in Zhuhai. I see it popularly used out here in soups, often with other Chinese herbs, chicken bones, Gou Ji berries, and Zao Zi. This kind of soup can be purchased warm and ready to eat at any Fujian style dumpling shop. (I’ll post a simple recipe for making this at home soon.)

Dried Ginseng Slices

Ginseng is also consumed by steeping some dried slices of it in hot water, like tea. I sometimes do this before going to bed in order to reduce “Qi” in the body. I also suggest this drink as a replacement for evening teas or coffee.

Here is some health-related information from Wikipedia, and sourced therein:
“Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) roots are taken orally as adaptogens [a product that increases the body’s resistance to stress], aphrodisiacs [you can guess…], nourishing stimulants, and in the treatment of type II diabetes, as well as sexual dysfunction in men.

Other information: The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: 人参; traditional: 人蔘), literally “man root” (referring to the root’s characteristic forked shape, resembling the legs of a man).”

Steamed Eggplant (vinegar + garlic)


One type of cooking that has always worried me is “steamed” anything! I know white rice is steamed, but how do I actually steam food without another special machine. If you are like me, read about using your rice cooker as a steamer for dishes first, then come back and follow these easy steps.

PREP: Finely mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and put them aside. Keep bottles of sesame oil, vinegar, and soy sauce handy. Salt too. (See image below) Also, use a steamer or your rice cooker.

1~ Slice up the eggplant in half, then into 1/2″ thick strips-lengthwise. This can be altered as you do the recipe more often and develop a preference.

2~ With your cooker/steamer warmed up, place the raw, sliced eggplant strips into the steaming tray. Let them steam for 5-10 minutes.

3~ Pull tray out of steamer carefully… let the tray sit on a cooling rack or kitchen counter. Sprinkle salt over them. After a minute, start pulling the eggplant into strings with chop sticks or a fork. You’ll notice that water is pulled out of the eggplant by the salt.

4~ After draining the water out, you’ll see the resulting mushy stuff that is in the image below. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before adding about a tablespoon of vinegar, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, and the minced garlic. Mix completely.

Nearly finished product

* This dish is best served cool. You should be able to taste the fragrant sesame with a twang of vinegar.

Amaranth (Green Vege) Dish

Amaranth (Green Vege)

Living in Asia really opens your eyes to the true variety of vegetables in the world. You will find at least 20-30 different leafy greens in any given market place. I honestly had no idea 5 years ago about half of the things I eat on a weekly/biweekly basis now. One of these leafy greens has a deep green color and is quite appetizing. “Amaranth”or “Xian Cai” (苋菜) which comes in a few colors, looks most like a kind of salad leaf you might see in a slightly sophisticated salad back home.

So, here are the simple steps cooking up this delicious green!

1~ Pour some oil into the base of the wok or pan. When hot, toss some chopped garlic into the oil and let simmer.

Amaranth in Wok

2~ After the garlic starts browning, pull the chopped garlic out and put aside. Toss two full handfulls of vege into the wok per person. It will shrink, so put a lot in!

Finished Cooking!

3~ Shift around with a spatula for a couple minutes. You could add some other flavorings if you want (like Chicken broth granules). Also, you could add the garlic bits back into the dish when you serve, but again, its not necessary.

Chinese Black Beans

Chinese Black Bean
Chinese Black Beans

I wouldn’t really call these “Black Beans”, but they are black and from the bean variety… so, there you go. Actually, these are Fermented Soya Beans and require a little work to get ready, but are a nice savory addition to Chinese dishes. I bought my first box of 豆豉 “Dou Chi”, while preparing Ginger Fish with a leader at my university here in Guangdong province.

If you want to buy authentic beans, look for this package:

Yang Jiang Dou Chi
Yang Jiang Dou Chi

How to prepare: Basically, consider these black beans as raw materials that have residue from the fermentation process. They are dirty and need a little washing. Rinse them through warm water and let them sit in a bowl while preparing the other ingredients for your dish.

Read about Japanese “Nattō” on wikipedia, which is a watery version and consumed as a breakfast food. Here are some highlights of the medicinal benefits:  Reducing the likelihood of various types of blood clots; Preventing or treating “amyloid-type” diseases such as Alzheimer’s[*2009]; Due to large amounts of vitamin K it can assist with bone formation and prevent osteoporosis; It may have a cholesterol-lowering affect[*2006]

Use Ginger in Dishes

Ginger is commonly used in Chinese cooking. You can find that and garlic everywhere in China! And its no mystery that it is good for your health. Slice it or chop it for added flavor with fried veges. A respected professor and leader in my university here suggested me to eat small cubes of it with warm milk in the morning to support the flow of “Qi” in the body and settle my stomach. Its better to eat (swallow) ginger earlier in the day, but you can use it with cooking at anytime of the day.

Here are some health benefits sourced from Wikipedia:

“Ginger may also decrease pain from arthritis, though studies have been inconsistent, and may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease…Ginger compounds are active against a form of diarrhea which is the leading cause of infant death in developing countries…

Ginger has been found effective in multiple studies for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy…. Ginger is a safe remedy for nausea relief during pregnancy…Tea brewed from ginger is a folk remedy for colds,… congestion, and coughs.”