Category Archives: buying

Our daily packaging: mooncakes

You can spot Mid-Autumn Festival from a month away if you follow the glint and sparkle of mooncake packaging.

While I was growing up, my family would buy a box or two of mooncakes (月饼) filled with sweet lotus seed paste and salted egg yolks to enjoy during (and before and after) Mid-Autumn Festival. We’d take bite-sized slices of the dense, rich pastry with a strong cup of digestive pu’er tea while commenting on how rich and dense it was or whether this brand was any good.

In China these days, the world of business and officials has adopted the festival as an excuse for elaborate gift-giving and guanxi-strengthening during the fall season. Sweet mooncakes — not to be confused with meat mooncakes, 鲜肉月饼, which are uber-popular in Shanghai — are sold in tins and by the piece in supermarkets everywhere, but among those wishing to impress, a nice tidy tin box of plastic-wrapped traditional mooncakes apparently won’t cut it anymore. Häagen-Dazs and other chilled varieties, as well as fillings of coconut, nuts, chocolate, and red bean paste have become very popular, but it’s the lavish packaging these pastries come in that have taken me aback the last few Mid-Autumns I’ve spent in the country.

These were on display at our local Walmart: oversized gilded cases lined with satin and velvet, likely average-tasting mooncakes encased in tin and shiny paper, royal and gaudy all at once. As with so many aspects of life in this increasingly prosperous country, the reliance on façade to beg respect is almost embarrassingly blatant here.

The over-packaging of mooncakes even became news-worthy two weeks ago after the local Beijing government decided to start taxing employees on mooncakes received from their employers, based on the consideration of mooncakes as a fringe benefit. It seems that people are pissed mostly because the price of mooncakes has been inflated to hundreds of RMB per box due to over-packaging, which reportedly makes up more than half the total price.

I had no idea mooncakes were part of employee compensation here; I wonder if it’s stated in job contracts? It’s not in mine, which is just as well: with the amount of mooncake we’ve been receiving and snacking on as an office these last few weeks, I’m pretty relieved not to have been “gifted” a padded box to take home.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

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Our daily packaging

For some reason I never paid too much attention to food packaging until I got to China and realized, damn, some things here are ridiculously over-packaged (or ill-packaged). Packaging, beyond its purpose to contain/transport/preserve, is essentially a tool for selling things. Often, if brand preference doesn’t come into play, the choice between two otherwise similar (in price, contents) products comes down to packaging: which typeface do I like more? Which bottle will look nicer on the counter? Is paper or plastic more eco-friendly? Do I want the frozen black sesame dumplings with a grinning Jackie Chan on the bag or the ones without? (Sean chose the Jackie Chan, and they all exploded in the pot.) I’ve spent long, long minutes in front of packs of supposedly simple items like salt, sugar, and cornstarch, trying to determine which one looks the most legitimate or least suspect.

We seem to have come to believe that the more — the prettier — the packaging, the better quality the product is, or the more value-for-money it is, or the more face-saving it is (in the case of gift-giving, which is huuuge in China). I’m totally guilty of picking the bottle of olive oil that’s encased a nice box (“I’ll find a use for it!”) over the exact same but non-boxed item, or the [insert product here] that’s wrapped in an extra layer of plastic — ’cause it looks safer, more pristine, like more attention was devoted to making the product just a little bit better than its competitor. Especially in China where people’s trust in products has fallen with each new publicized food scandal, a little more packaging can add much to consumers’ sense of security.

In reality, most of this is a sham, and leads to an incredible amount of waste. But what are we to do as consumers? We’re not in charge of the way things are packaged, but we do have a say, usually, in what we buy. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that if there’s a product I like, I will keep buying, feeling shameful enough about the waste to wish there were a less-packaged alternative, but not guilty enough to not keep buying the product (because I don’t see an alternative on the shelf). For dried goods, there’s always the bulk section — and even zero-packaging stores in the UK and soon Texas — but I’ve seen bugs crawling in the brown rice bin at Trust-Mart (now Walmart, btw) and moth larvae grow out of my bag of bulk black rice, so there goes that option.

I’ve touched on over-packaged
and before, but over the next months will post more instances of remarkable packaging as I come across them — not just to show how ridiculous things are getting/have become, but also, in cases where I’ve actually bought the product, to expose my own not-so-great consumption habits (which I am trying slowly to change, I promise). With any luck, there’ll also be some positive finds along the way.

Stay tuned!

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Zucchini-egg-wood ear jiaozi with store-bought skins

I got my hands on some premade jiaozi skins at Carrefour the other day (32 skins for 2.3 RMB). Life changing stuff. It cut dumpling-making time by more than half and transformed the activity from a physically demanding to a mentally calming one (as long as I’m not questioning what they put in the dough). The act of wrapping and sealing dumplings lets me block out the world and focus on the task at hand, bringing me back to childhood days of arts and craft, with an added bonus: the anticipation of a good meal to come.

On Thursday (yes, a workweek night), I made a batch containing grated zucchini, egg, and finely chopped wood ear/black fungus (木耳, mùěr). While not as fragrant as Chinese chives, the zucchini had a delightful mild sweetness and crunch, while the tiny bits of scrambled egg mixed with crunchy wood ear formed a texture reminiscent of lean ground pork.

The store-bought skins were slightly more springy/chewy/rubbery than my homemade ones, and more translucent and glossy once cooked. Because they’d been sitting out for at least half a day, they were also a bit drier — but with a fingertip of water, still very workable. Too bad the skins only keep for 1-2 days (according to the guy at Carrefour), or I’d totally stockpile that shiet.

The following night, we made potstickers (锅贴, guōtiē) out of the dozen uncooked dumplings we had left over. Pan-frying dumplings involves quite a bit more work than simple boiling, but the crunchy end result made them even more of a delight to eat.

Zucchini-egg-wood ear jiaozi (角瓜鸡蛋木耳饺子)

500g (~2 small) zucchini, tops and ends removed
3 large pieces wood ear/black fungus (~1/4 cup finely chopped)
3 medium eggs (or 4 small eggs), beaten with 1 tsp of water
1 tbsp sesame oil
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper

~3 dozen pre-made dumpling skins
Water for sealing
Flour for dusting

Black rice vinegar
Soy sauce to taste
Sesame oil to taste

Filling: Place wood ear pieces in a bowl of water to soak. Peel and grate zucchini. Grab handfuls and squeeze out as much water as possible, then transfer to a colander. Add a small amount of oil to pan and “scramble” eggs on medium heat, breaking them up into very small pieces while cooking. Remove from heat and let cool. Once wood ear is soft and jelly-like, cut off the hard center bit, then chop finely. Transfer grated zucchini into large bowl, add egg, wood ear, and salt, sesame oil, and white pepper and mix thoroughly.

Wrapping: Place a small spoonful of filling onto center of a skin. Dip a finger in water and run wet fingertip around the edge of the entire skin. Fold in half, sealing the center first, then pleat from center outwards — or simply crimp and seal the edges tightly, ensuring there are no holes. Place on a floured clean, flat surface (e.g. chopping board). Dumpling should be plump but not threatening to burst. Repeat for all skins, making sure dumplings are not touching. A pool of liquid from the zucchini may start to form in bottom of bowl; try to keep filling as dry as possible by draining with the spoon as you go.

Boiling: Boil a large pot of water. Gently drop dumplings into water, and cook until they float to the top and skin looks translucent and is not doughy when you bite into it. Dish them out with a slotted spoon or spatula, and serve with vinegar.

Pan-frying (will need to cook in batches): Add about 1 tbsp of oil to a non-stick pan (more oil for other pans). Place dumplings smooth side down in a single layer, then turn on heat and fry for ~3 minutes until the bottoms have browned. Add ~1cm of hot water and cover with a lid. Let cook until most of the water has evaporated. (The crusty side will have turned soggy.) Lift the lid and continue to cook until all water is gone and the bottoms have hardened and crusted again, then use chopsticks to flip to another side, cooking until golden brown. Serve with vinegar.

(If there is filling left over, save and add to your next meal. That stuff will fit right in with any stir-fry or even pasta.)

Where to find:

  • Dumpling skins (饺子皮, jiǎozi pí): Carrefour, 2.3 RMB/32 skins. Find them in the fresh noodles/buns section.

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    Crispy tofu cubes with sweet chili dipping sauce

    When my vegan friend from the States came to visit last year, she was in awe of the selection of tofu/related vegetarian products at the supermarket. While soy products have generally remained a vegetarian’s food in the western world, they enjoy such widespread use in China, appreciated even by meat lovers, that you basically can’t have a supermarket or wet market without a dedicated tofu counter (except City Shop, for shame).

    I’ve been cooking with tofu a fair bit in the two years I’ve been in Shanghai, but up until recently have kept to only a handful of familiar douzhipin (豆制品) — products made of soy/mung/other beans that, along with wheat gluten products, are usually displayed in the tofu counter(s). It’s a little embarrassing, actually, that I haven’t gotten to know them all yet, so I’ve resolved to buy them all and try them all at least once — ’cause, really, when or where else am I going to be this spoiled for choice again? Some of these products, like soft tofu and deep-fried tofu puffs, have long been known to and loved by me, while others are new and mysterious and will require some major baidu-ing.

    Firm tofu

    I’ll start this series with a familiar block of firm tofu. You can get this in a sealed, water-filled container or in a plastic baggy and priced by weight. I’m inclined to think the latter is more fresh, but with all the sneaky date relabelling practices these days, who really knows. Called laodoufu (老豆腐, literally old tofu) in Chinese, it is off-white, dense, and springy and (surprise!) firm to the touch. With a lower water content than soft or silken tofu, firm tofu will hold its shape in the pan and is thus a good choice for stir-fries, “steaks” and such.

    I’ve incorporated diced firm tofu into veggie stir-fries before, but had never prepared it as a stand-alone dish. But the other day I stumbled upon a recipe calling for tofu to be coated in cornstarch before frying, and my life was forever changed.

    You see, before, I’d always just put it directly on the pan and wondered why the edges never got crispy. No more! This stuff looked like cubes of chicken breast in the pan, then when I dished them out I started imagining they were pieces of crispy Cantonese roast pork (烧肉) (signs of a deranged vegetarian?). Dipping the cubes in Thai sweet chili sauce, Sean and I polished off the entire plate in a matter of minutes.

    Pan-fried crispy tofu cubes
    The cornstarch coating gives the tofu a crispy exterior without all the oil that goes into deep-frying. (They do start to lose their crisp more quickly than if deep-fried, however.) Great at absorbing surrounding flavours, these tofu cubes are delicious served with a sweet dipping sauce and make a healthy alternative to deep-fried meaty appetizers. Don’t skimp on the salt (unless for health reasons)!

    1 block (extra-)firm tofu, approx. 12x12x8cm
    2 tbsp cornstarch

    1 tsp salt or to taste
    1/2 tsp white pepper or to taste (optional)

    1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce

    1. Rinse tofu well and pat dry with clean paper towel. Cut tofu into 2cm cubes and pat dry again. Sprinkle 1/4 of cornstarch in bottom of large bowl and add one layer of tofu, then add rest of cornstarch and tofu alternately. Toss gently to coat without breaking up the tofu.
    2. Heat 2 tbsp oil on a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Add tofu cubes and spread as a single layer on pan. Let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes, or until bottoms of cubes are golden brown and have hardened into a crust.
    3. Sprinkle salt and white pepper evenly on tofu, then flip onto other side using a spatula (use chopsticks to aid you). Some of the tofu pieces will be stuck together from the cornstarch, but that’s okay — just cut them lose with the spatula. Cook for another few minutes until bottoms are browned and crispy.
    4. Toss tofu gently with the spatula so the other sides have a chance to cook briefly, then transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.
    5. Serve immediately with a bowl of Thai sweet chili sauce for dipping.


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    Carrefour salad bar, revisited (hold the chicken essence)

    The other day, I returned to Carrefour’s Chinese salad bar for the first time after my bad experience with the “chicken essence” seasoning (鸡精) a few months back. This time, hoping for a lighter, MSG-free meal, I told the guy to hold the chicken essence and to go easy on the salt. As he seasoned my salad, his ladle obediently skipped the bowl of yellowish powder.

    I came back and dug in, expecting to find it a bit bland. On the contrary: the taste of MSG was overpowering and lingered in my mouth and throat late into the night, as did my disappointment. Very sad to report I won’t be going back for another few months, if again at all.

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    Zucchini fettuccine

    As part of my hot-weather-inspired aim to replace calorie-dense grains with fresh vegetables (or what is now fashionable to call “slow-carbing”) more often, I made “zucchini fettuccine” on Sunday.

    I realized only in recent weeks that some zucchini (西葫芦, xihulu) can be found for quite cheap over here, if you’re willing to give up your notion of them being dark-skinned vegetables. I got 2 of the pale-skinned ones, wrapped in way too much packaging (tray + foam netting around each one + plastic wrap), for 3 RMB at Carrefour. The dark green variety can be found at the Avocado Lady for 3-4 RMB each.

    There are several ways to render zucchini into noodle strips, but the only useful tool I had was a vegetable peeler, so that’s what I used, resulting in a fairly wide cut. After peeling off the outer layer, I peeled down the length of the zucchini…

    …and stopped when I reached the seed-heavy centre for fear it’d mess with the texture and add too much water. I saved the “cores” of the vegetable for a later meal.

    After tossing the strips with some salt, I let them “sweat” for 15 minutes in a colander. Liquid collected in the bowl underneath was discarded.

    Some recipes suggested boiling the “noodles”, some suggested frying, some didn’t say to cook them at all. Because the strips were so thin, I decided just to cook them on a pan. I first fried a few cloves of garlic in butter, then added the zucchini, spreading the noodles evenly on the pan. Seasoned with salt and black pepper, then got the noodles out after about 2 minutes.

    The sauce was a resurrection of discarded veggies from the previous day’s vegetable stock production: 2 cups of boiled carrots and onions puréed with 2 tbsp canned pasta sauce.

    Very orange, but holla at the beta-carotene.

    Here’s a shot of the final vegetable-on-vegetable action. Not sure why the sauce in this one looks redder than the one above, but natural lighting ftw.

    The zucchini fettuccine was very tasty! While it didn’t quite attain the chewiness of boiled pasta, it had the familiar slurp and a pleasant crunch. If I had boiled it for a minute before putting it on the pan it would’ve softened up much more, but I found the crisp texture refreshing. The garlic, salt, and butter were key to lending it the aroma and flavours of something far more decadent than zucchini. I only used two zucchinis (minus the seeded core) for two people, but we could’ve easily each done with twice — or even thrice — the amount. While it worked well with the sauce as a light, simple dish, it could also be great in a creamier sauce, perhaps with some sautéed button mushrooms?

    Aahh, I love pasta. It’s among my favourite carbs and one of those foods I can keep eating and eating as long as it’s in front of me… which drives it easily into the realm of guilty pleasures. So I’m happy to now have a way to make my pasta and eat it too. As much as I want. Heh.

    (Oh, and I learned of the existence of mandolines and julienne peelers a few days ago while looking up instructions for noodling zucchini. That must be how restaurants churn out 青椒土豆丝 (green pepper and potato strips) and carrot/cucumber matchsticks for cold dishes like they were nothing! Ahh!!! To think all this time I was trying to achieve those juliennes with a kitchen knife! Mandolines look a bit scary and hard to clean, but I’ll gladly settle for a julienne peeler, which I’m now resolved to acquire at all costs (well… ideally under 25 RMB).)

    Zucchini fettuccine

    Recipe to come when I’ve tried this out a few more times…


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    [Recreate] City Shop’s pumpkin soup

    I forget when I had my first pumpkin soup, but it was probably a relatively recent event, as my childhood consisted mainly of Chinese and canned soups (along with the occasional French onion soup at a western restaurant). I do know that my giant crush on it blossomed one day in March when I, a new vegetarian not knowing where to turn during my lunch hour at a new job, tried City Shop’s ¥8 plastic container of bright yellow, creamy sweet goodness. Pumpkin soup and I have rendezvous’ed weekly, or twice-weekly, since then.

    And I wanted to bring it home.

    After my not-so-gratifying attempt at the simpler carrot soup the other day, I finally decided this weekend to give the real thing a shot. I’d cooked pumpkin once before in Shanghai, and while the peeling and hacking were a bit of a workout, it really wasn’t that huge of a struggle.

    Pumpkins are usually associated with the later months of the year, but City Shop has been churning out gallons of delicious pumpkin soup a day for months, so I assumed there must be some growing relatively locally. (I sent them an e-mail months ago inquiring as to the ingredients of their soup, but never received a response…)

    As it was a hot day, I opted for the air-conditioned comfort of Trust Mart over the wet market. T-Mart is not known for consistency in their stock — when I was there yesterday, the usual array of Mankattan-brand bread had vanished, and there were no regular sized tomatoes to be found — so I had my fingers crossed as I browsed the produce section. Turns out pumpkins were on sale for ¥1.9/kg (!), which meant I was able to score a whole one for ¥2.6 (0.40 USD!!).

    The stock

    The pumpkin soup recipes I looked at all called for chicken/vegetable stock. Since I didn’t want to use packaged chicken broth and pre-packaged veggie bouillon is generally unavailable, I’d have to make my own (a first!). I threw celery (ugh), carrot, onion, garlic, dried black mushrooms, salt, soy sauce, herbs, and 2 litres of water into a pot and emerged 1.5 hours later with a potful of vegetable stock, some of which I froze for future use.

    The recipes said to discard the veggies, but as it seemed a waste, I kept the onions and carrots, reserving a cup for the pumpkin soup and pureeing the rest with 2 tbsp of leftover canned pasta sauce to use later. (I’ve been slowly weaning us off pasta sauce, seeing as it’s somewhat pricey and fresh veggies are so readily available.)

    The pumpkin

    Then I got up close and personal with the pumpkin. No lives (or fingers) were lost in the peeling, seeding, and dicing of the little beast; as long as your knife is sufficiently sharp, it really isn’t that much work considering how much vegetable you end up with.

    Once the pumpkin was rendered into bite-sized cubes, I fried up some onion in a pot, added the pumpkin, leftover carrots and onion, cumin, and salt, and covered the whole deal with a litre of vegetable stock. Simmered the mixture until the pumpkin was nice and soft, then cooled it under the air conditioner for another half hour (so it wouldn’t melt our crappy blender).

    The soup

    Once it had cooled slightly, I pureed the pumpkin-broth mixture in three batches, then returned it to the pot, where I added brown sugar and whole milk and gently reheated. I didn’t have ground cinnamon or nutmeg, so had to do without.

    Wow. It was delicious — not quite as thick as City Shop’s, but close to it. We had to add a bit more brown sugar and salt to each bowl for a fuller flavour, but the end result was sweet, smooth, creamy, and addictive: Sean, who is not a soup person, had three bowls and couldn’t stop raving. The only thing missing was a crusty loaf of bread.

    Was it worth all this time and effort? In short, yes, if only for the satisfaction of having achieved something I’d previously deemed too challenging/bothersome. If I had ready-made veggie stock and a blender not made of flimsy plastic, this would’ve been a much shorter process. At the very least, though, this was cheap: under ¥10 worth of ingredients yielded 6 generous bowls.

    The City Shop pumpkin soup will remain a weekly lunch staple for me, but if I’m craving the stuff on a weekend, I’ll be doing this again!

    The side dishes

    The soup was accompanied by a rather poorly thought out combo of falafel patties and spaghetti with carrot-and-onion-puree pasta sauce.

    Pumpkin soup
    Most of the recipes I found use canned pumpkin puree, which I thought was a bit of a cop-out (if only to console myself for it not being available here), so this recipe was the closest thing I could find, though I picked up a few ideas from the reviews of this one. The general concept was more or less the same throughout, so here’s my own adaptation (note: measurements are kinda rough):

    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic
    1 pumpkin (approx. 1.5 kg), peeled and diced
    1 litre vegetable stock (see these recipes)
    1 cup vegetables (carrot, onion) leftover from veggie stock (optional)
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp salt

    3 tbsp brown sugar
    1/2 cup whole milk

    Extra salt and brown sugar to taste

    1. Heat oil over medium heat and add onion. Cook for 2 minutes until softened. Add garlic, pumpkin, salt, and cumin and cook for another minute. Add leftover veggies and vegetable stock (use less stock if no extra veggies are added) and bring to a boil.
    2. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, then let cool slightly and blend in batches. Adjust for consistency while blending (it should be pretty thick); if there is too much liquid, discard or put aside excess.
    3. Return to pot and add milk and brown sugar. Reheat gently, stirring until heated through (but not boiling).
    4. Taste and season if needed. Enjoy!


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    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

    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

    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

    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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