Tag Archives: bread

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):

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

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)

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?


Filed under buying

Middle Eastern Monday II: Falafel

Much delayed sequel to the previous post. It’s been a busy week (at work, sadly, not as much in the kitchen).

Sean had been wanting to making falafel since our Philly/NY days, but then it’d just been easier to buy them fresh off a cart complete with veggies, sauce, and rice/pita for 4 or 5 USD. Here, choices are more limited: I’m not a huge fan of Haya’s’ falafel and the 60+ RMB falafel “burger” at Gourmet Cafe, while super tasty, is only good for a splurge.

So we made our own, using this recipe as a rough guide for ingredients. Like the hummus, it turned out to be easier than we’d expected.

We started with a can of chickpeas…

…which we mashed with a spoon.

Then we added all the other ingredients, mixing til we got a squishy dough-like mixture. We made some modifications like adding an egg, but more on that below.

Since we don’t have an oven or deep-fryer, we pan-fried little falafel patties with a good amount of oil to imitate deep-frying.

They sizzled and browned and held together nicely in the pan. We watched with bated breath.

When they looked about done, we picked one out for a taste test. Having read some reviews about falafel falling apart and whatnot, we’d expected our first batch to fail in some way. But all we could do was grunt with pleasure for the next 5 seconds. It hit the spot like none other: crunchy on the outside, it was fragrant and moist and soft — but textured — on the inside. It might not look like your typical falafel, and I can’t attest to its authenticity, but I’d say the flavour and texture came very close to what we used to have in New York. (And yes, I’m using NY as a point of comparison for all foods whose originating country I haven’t yet visited…)

We removed them from the pan when they were just starting to blacken and most of the oil was soaked up.

Here is our lunch in full, probably one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had… ever:

(Yes, I know that isn’t pita bread. Sean biked all the way to City Shop to get pita that morning, but apparently the ovens over at MediterraneaN bakery had broken down — which basically meant no pita for the entire city of Shanghai that day. So we got the next best thing: nang bread, though even our fave Xinjiang place was out of their usual nang, which we like better.)

All in all, I’m incredibly thankful canned chickpeas can be found pretty easily in Shanghai; any supermarket Carrefour and up on the “foreigner-friendly” scale will stock it (usually for under 10 RMB/can). I have only just begun to fully appreciate their versatility.

Pan-fried Falafel

1 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 slice of bread, toasted a few times and crumbled (makes 2/3 cup bread crumbs)
1/3 cup flour (we used pancake mix coz we didn’t have flour)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 large egg
Olive oil for frying

1. Mash chickpeas in a large bowl until they become crumbly but moist (do not use food processor). Stir in the onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper (and other spices/herbs if used).
2. Add flour/pancake mix until the mixture reaches a sticky, doughy, and moist but decidedly solid consistency. When you pick up some with your hands it should feel like it can hold together in a pan without breaking apart (vague, I know, but you’ll know).
3. With your hands, shape the mixture into patties approx. 5cm wide and 1cm deep. You should get 18-20 patties.
4. Heat 3 tbsp (or just enough to cover the pan) olive oil in pan with heat on high. When oil is very hot, place falafel patties in pan. Fry until bottom is browned and has hardened into a crust, then flip. Falafels are ready when both sides have hardened and look crunchy :)
5. Remove from pan and place on plate lined with paper towel. Repeat (adding more oil as necessary) until the mixture is used up.

Enjoy with your favourite sauces (we used homemade hummus and cilantro-infused aioli (wrong part of the world, sure, but went superbly with the falafel)), raw veggies, and bread!

*Makes about 18-20 small falafel patties. I’m not sure how long the mixture would last in the fridge/freezer because these were gone by lunch the following day! I’m guessing one day max in the fridge, and much longer in the freezer… but it’s always better fresh :)

*The mixture also works pan-fried in much less oil — it won’t end up very crunchy, but that’s fine if you’re bringing them to work for lunch the next day.

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The little flat bean II: Lentil curry

After brunch on Wednesday, we went out to do some shopping in Xujiahui, stopping by Carrefour on our way home. I’d originally intended to make a quick stir-fry with lentils and vegetables, but it ended up becoming a lentil curry, which we ate with some freshly baked Xinjiang nang, for which I’ve briefly professed my love before. Looks like this:

The soft boiled egg went delightfully with the mild curry — as eggs tend to do with almost everything it seems.

It was freaking delicious, even if — as I realized in embarrassment the next day at work — maybe a bit of a fibre overload (hah, TMI?). May have to rethink portions/proportions on that one.

Sean finished off the leftovers with brown rice for dinner the following night (and lunch the day after that) and was nice enough to take a picture for me:

Lentil curry with chickpeas

4 cups hot (drinkable) water
1/2 pound dried green lentils, washed and inspected
2 small carrots, diced
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped up
2 small (or 1 large) onions, diced
2 green peppers, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 can chickpeas, washed and drained (replace with other vegetables if you can’t handle the fiber)

1 tbsp curry powder (adjust according to preference)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika or chili powder
2 tsp cornstarch
Olive oil, as needed
Salt & sugar to taste

Eggs (1 per diner)
Nang (1-1.5 per diner), or other carb if unavailable

1. Put water and lentils in large pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for 25 minutes.
2. Add carrots into lentil pot — earlier if you like ’em soft, later if you like ’em harder. (I like mine as soft and bland as possible).
2. Heat a bit of oil in pan on medium heat. Add garlic and onion, fry until lightly browned.
3. Add peppers, chickpeas, and seasonings and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
4. Add tomatoes, lentils, and carrots into pan. Pour in some of the nutritious lentil/carrot water.
5. If sauce is too runny, mix cornstarch with a bit of cold/room temp water, and pour into pan. Mix thoroughly until sauce reaches desired consistency. Cook for about 10 more minutes.
6. While curry is cooking, boil eggs in a small pot (put eggs and cold water in pot, bring to a boil, lower heat and cover for 5-10 minutes depending on desired consistency of yolk).
7. Serve hot with nang.

Prep time: ~40 minutes
Makes 4 servings.

Where to find…

  • The best nang in Shanghai: outside a small Xinjiang restaurant called 新疆风味 (I think) on 51 Maotai Road (茅台路), between Loushanguan Road (娄山关路) and Zunyi Road (遵义路) in Puxi, 3 RMB each.
  • Dried lentils: City Shop, 14 RMB/454g bag.
  • Canned chickpeas: Carrefour, 6 RMB/can.


    Filed under eating in

    How my evening was made

    I know it’s been aaages–over a month, to be precise–since I last wrote. Blame that on a 12-day trip to Hong Kong, realizing I need to get my act together career-wise, and being worn out by toddlers on an almost-daily basis. Blame that on me. Whatever. Here’s a quick one, a reassurance to those who care of my continued existence, before I go watch a movie (haven’t done that in a while, either).

    My second class this afternoon caused some ire and grief. The four-year-old, Mealler, refused to let any of the handful of vocab words stick in his head–and yes, I’m pretty sure it was intentional, to spite me since I cut short his lego-boats-in-a-sinkful-of-soapy-water fun-time. And at one point, while playing smash-the-plane-into-various-fruit-monster-flashcards (guess who was holding which), he punched my mouth with his hand and then refused to say sorry. (It actually hurt.) And to top off the exhausting lesson, his grandma–who handles his life, apparently–announced that she was to start paying me once every five lessons rather than at the end of each lesson, as we’d been doing the last two months. (At first she proposed once a month, but I was like “uh, no…”; the main thing keeping me motivated to go to this class was the immediate post-lesson cash.) His grandma was also the one who, at our first post-Chinese New Year lesson, gave me in return for my gift of Meltykisses (a kind of chocolate, for the uninitiated) a tub of unshelled peanuts and this pancake thing that was 6 days past its expiry date.

    /end rant

    The unpleasant afternoon was redeemed by a splendid evening, made so by three things:

    #1. Nang (Xinjiang flatbread), which Sean brought home from a Xinjiang restaurant near his school that makes seriously terrific nang. I’ve only had it from three or four establishments in China, but I suspect this one comes pretty close to the real thing (to be confirmed when I make it out to Xinjiang…). Though much of the crisp had worn off after 2 hours in his bag, it was still warm and soft and salty and loaded with sesame, not hard and flavourless like the others I’ve tried.

    #2. Dessert from a Dongbei restaurant where we had dinner: 拔丝地瓜, or deep-fried sweet potato wedges drenched in caramelized sugar. They threw in some regular potato, the sneaks, but that didn’t matter: the crunch of the thick sugar coating giving way to the hot, soft inside made it hard to believe we were eating any kind of vegetable at all.

    #3. The most broke-ass Chinese imitation attempt of all time:

    [Edit 03/08: OK, a recent sighting by Sean has mine beat on the broke-ass aspect. It’s linked on facebook here.]

    OK, off to see whether “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is as amazing as my little sister claims.


    Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian