Counting Carbs

Recently I’ve been trying to reduce my carb intake in the hope of losing a few pounds before summer really gets going. This has involved avoiding grains (bread/noodle/rice) every few meals, and trying to control myself when the meal does involve them.

It’s HARD — harder than cutting out meat, for sure. Our bodies just looove carbs. Other than subbing sweet potato for rice/noodles/bread, I haven’t found another way to get full in their absence. And when I do try to go without for a meal, I often end up scrounging around for sweets or biscuits afterwards. Bleh. I think moderation, rather than elimination, is the key.

So in that spirit, here are my top eat-in carb picks for Shanghai that I would be sad to give up entirely (especially since it took me a while to discover some of these):

6) PITA
Made by MediterraneaN Bakery and sold at City Shop as well as the bakery’s restaurant location, this stuff is soft and thick and pillowy and always made and sold on the same day (according to the label…). Perfect fresh with hummus or bean dip or falafel or plain tomato/cucumber/egg drizzled with olive oil, and great toasted the next morning with some honey & Trader Joe’s almond butter (while it still existed in our fridge… anyone planning a visit from the States? :D).

The pitas come in three sizes, ranging from 11-12 RMB/pack for the white and 13-15 RMB/pack for the rye. So, not cheap, but a definite tall step up from the thin, stale 99c deals I lived on during my internship summer in NYC. It’s affordable maybe once a week, and my love will persist only until winter anyway, when dips and raw foods lose their appeal.

City Shop, multiple locations. Haya’s Mediterranean Cuisine, No. 415 Dagu Road

5) BROWN RICE
Sean has spent the last few years trying to convert me to brown rice. I’d had one foot in the door for a long while, compromising with 1:1 ratios in the rice cooker, but I think at this point I’m pretrty much done with white rice at home. We still have a bit left from our last purchase, which I’m going to save for fried rice (the ultimate Chinese comfort food really requires soft and fluffy nutrient-free white rice, I’m sorry), but other than that, we’re gonna stick with our recent excellent brown rice discovery.

I know I’d whined about making rice in a previous post, but we just opened this bag and it’s really good. The 2.5kg bag—about 30 servings—goes for a shockingly reasonable 45.9 RMB at City Shop. Compared with the crap we used to get from the bulk section of Carrefour and Trust-Mart at something like 15 RMB/500g, this larger bag not only makes more economic sense, but has a superior texture (think chewy rather than tough) doesn’t stick as much to the bottom of the pot, and is organic to boot. (Their organic white rice sells for the same, if you haven’t made the switch.)

City Shop, multiple locations

4) NANG
I’d never had nang, the Xinjiang flatbread, before coming to Shanghai, but boy am I glad we crossed paths here. This frisbee-shaped white-flour bread deserves love not for its nutritional properties but for its versatility and overall pleasurability (if that’s a word). Typically eaten at Xinjiang restaurants with cumin-coated lamb skewers, it also works terrifically with stir-fries (both soy sauce- and tomato sauce-based), dipped in olive oil Italian-style, with falafel, curry, anything cumin-y, or even just on its own, when it’s fresh and still hot.

Sadly, not all nang are created equal. You can get Xinjiang food all over town but I’ve only found one spot that does it right. Luckily for me and Sean it’s only a block away from his workplace, and the dudes out in the front know him well. Their 3 RMB savoury nang is loaded with sesame seeds on top and fragrant with scallion baked into the bread; on more days than not, its outer crust is soft and springy and the middle of the disc is thin and crunchy and the whole thing will make a plastic bag moist with condensation. A million miles ahead of others’ perpetually cold, hard, bland offerings.

新疆风味 (Xinjiang Fengwei), 51 Maotai Road (btwn Zunyi Road and Loushanguan Road)

3) PASTA
Oh, pasta. You live to keep me fat, but I love you anyway. At least you try to console me with an affordable whole wheat variety, even though I suspect you’re not wholly whole wheat coz you taste so damn good, i.e. like regular pasta. (I remember whole wheat pasta in the States being awful!)

Also unlike in the States, where pasta is any broke college kid’s go-to for a home-cooked meal, pasta is a bit of an indulgence over here. Depending on where you shop, a box of this particular brand costs 18-20 RMB, and the cheapest can of pasta sauce will set you back ~20RMB. I’ve been trying to go without pasta sauce for quite a few weeks now…

City Shop, Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

2) MANKATTAN WHOLE WHEAT HIGH FIBER BREAD
This is the daily bread that I trust to be the most healthful supermarket option, being 100% whole wheat and high in dietary fiber. (The “whole wheat bread” from Carrefour’s in-store bakery is pretty good, though nowhere near 100% ww, if at all). When you get this within one or two days of its production date, the bread is soft and supple, though best when toasted.

At 6.8 RMB/pack of six slices, it’s a little pricey compared with other store-bought loaves, but at least I feel like I’m eating something that’s relatively good for me. And yes, it’s Mankattan with a K.

Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

1) SWEET POTATOES
My new obsession. Since sweet potatoes began to act as a substitute for the above (as well as other carbs including potatoes), I’ve been trying out new ways to prepare it beyond boiling it whole and eating with honey, which had been our embarrassingly uninspired method back in winter 2009 until we quickly got sick of it (oh, and got scared off by purple sweet potatoes “bleeding” into the water).

We’ve been willing to overlook their homely appearance and being a pain to wash and peel, knowing that sweet, orange flesh awaits just beneath the surface. They’re cheap, they keep, and are also versatile, perfectly happy to lean either way (sweet or savoury) and star in multiple forms (as fries with aioli, mashed with butter and paprika, fried up in a hash with some cumin… mmm).

Veggie markets and supermarkets

What’s your favourite carb (or six) you can’t live without?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Counting Carbs

  1. Iris

    Cookies. Haha I can pretty much live without everything else but I do have a cookie problem.

    • Haha, if I counted sweet treats as well I’d add cake to the list. The best cookies I can get on a regular here are Chips Ahoy, which are so ubiquitous it’s dangerous.

  2. Interesting post! So sweet potatoes are less carby than their non-sweet cousins? Lovin’ the pita bread packaging instructions.
    It’s funny (or logical) how the list changes depending on where you are. In Kingston I was bagel-crazy, but availability issues here mean I eat less of it, and less bread in general because German bread is not always my cup of tea.
    I’d say pasta is my #1 and will stay that way till it gets expensive.
    Potatoes are up there as well.
    #3 would be rice.

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