Monday, October 20, 2008

Cooking in a Chinese Kitchen

It's been a little while so I'll give a quick update. My husband and I now live in China. We moved here about 5 weeks ago and I am learning how to cook and live here. I'm not posting these pictures because I think my kitchen is attractive; in fact, I think it's one of the ugliest kitchens I've ever seen. But one of the first things you realize when you step on Chinese soil is that things are made to be practical, not necessarily attractive.

This is where I cook. You can see two gas burners and the really attractive gas tank underneath. In Chinese cooking you only prepare one dish at a time and you always serve the dish right away. Because each dish requires concentration it is difficult to cook more than one thing at a time. That is why Chinese kitchens usually only have one or two burners or an electric hot plat to do your cooking on. It's all you need. One person does the cooking while the other people eat. The person cooking brings the finished dishes to the table one at a time. Because we like to sit down and eat together as a family, I do not do it this way. I cook each dish and serve them all together as in American style. I just pop the finished dishes in our "oven" to keep warm until it is time to eat.

To the right is en electric tea kettle to boil water for tea or other things (it saves on using a burner!) and my cooking sauces, vinegars, and wines.

You can also see a jug of oil underneath. Because most Chinese dishes are stir fried in a wok, oil is used in every meal. You buy oil by the gallons here.

Here is my "oven." It's really more like a toaster oven size-wise, but can cook just like a regular American oven. You just can't fit as much into it. Baking is not a common way of cooking Chinese food, so "ovens" here are small.

Pipes are put on the outside of the walls. I think it's because the walls are concrete with steel re bar and putting them on the outside makes them much easier to get to if they ever need fixing (which they do!). Aren't they lovely?

I like my fruit basket that my husband hung up for me. Fruit is the most common dessert and sweet food here. I also use it for potatoes, tomatoes and onions.

Here is a closer view of my beautiful sink. At first I didn't know how I was going to wash dishes in a single sink with no hot water. The sink is flat so it doesn't drain well. I'm sure you've noticed the funny hose hanging from the faucet. My husband put that on so I could control where the water goes. As you can see the faucet is next to the edge of the sink where the water splashes everywhere. It makes it hard to rinse dishes. The hose was a wonderful and creative addition. I guess you could call it the Red Green version of a sprayer. It makes it so that the water doesn't splash everywhere and I can steer the water anywhere I want and it makes the sink drain better. As far as the hot water goes, I fill a bucket from our shower (our only source of hot water) and dump it into the sink. Not as convenient as in the US, but it works and I've gotten used to it.

Here is the hot water tank where we take our shower from. Can't complain about getting a hot shower. In fact it's so hot it will literally burn you if you're not careful. I have to use rubber gloves when I wash dishes because it's so hot, but it gets the dishes nice and clean!

Okay, back to my kitchen. This is how it looks from our living room:

There is a little room behind the kitchen that we use for storage. I'll post pictures later because I don't have it organized and stocked yet.

Now for some recipes! The Chinese don't really use recipes, so I find most of mine on the Internet. The Chinese eat pumpkin in many different ways and the autumn spirit inspired me to find this Stir Fried Pumpkin recipe. When we cook pumpkin we normally think of pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin cookies, but this spicy pumpkin stir fry will give you a new appreciation for pumpkin and it's many health benefits. Even my 9-month-old son likes it!

3 T olive oil (I used the oil I have here. I can't tell you what it is exactly because I don't know. That's the bliss of living in a foreign country and being illiterate--you don't know exactly what you're doing, but you know the nationals do it and that it works.)
1/2 c chopped onion
1 t minced garlic
4 c cubed fresh pumpkin
1/2 c grated carrot (I chop mine because when I grated it it ended up burning before the pumpkin was cooked)
2 T soy sauce
1 t salt
1 t ground black pepper
2 t black sesame seeds (I skip these because I do not know how to find them here yet.)

1. Cut up pumpkin, onion, garlic, and carrot.
The hardest part is cutting up the pumpkin. I use a Chinese cleaver to hack it apart (do whatever you think is best).

The onion, garlic, carrot, and pumpkin all cut up and ready to throw into the wok:

2. Heat oil in wok (or large skillet). Add onion and garlic.

Stir fry until onion begins to brown. Add pumpkin, carrot, soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Stir fry 5-7 minutes or until pumpkin is tender.

3. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.

Finished Product
My husband loves this dish!

I have many more recipes and Chinese cooking methods to share, so come back soon.