After almost one month in the country China still remains a mystery to me.
- Why does everyone (men and women alike) spit on the street all the time?
- Why do the babies have slits in their pants to reveal their private parts?
- Why do parents crouch with their babies on their lap to *no joke* have the babies poop on the sidewalk?
- Why do waiters stand over you the minute you get the menu until you’ve made your decision?
- Why do people continue to jabber on to you in Chinese even when it’s clear you don’t speak a word of it?
- Why are the squat toilets so filthy?
- Why isn’t there ever any soap or toilet paper in the bathrooms?
- Why do people scream when talking on their cell phone in public transportation?
- Why is everyone pushing and shoving all the time?
- Why are people trying to rip you off?
- Why do the train conductors take your tickets and give you what resembles a hotel room card until you reach your destination?
So many questions. Mostly left to be unanswered. This is the problem with traveling and not speaking the language – you can’t properly react in the appropriate situation since no one will understand you anyway.
Take last night’s dinner for example. We selected what looked like a reputable restaurant – were led to our table and had the waitress stand over us as we made our dining selections. Thankfully we were handed a picture menu – though even with these it’s hard to tell what kind of meat you could end up with. In a Western country you might be OK just picking something and hoping for the best but with all the obscure meats and animal parts they consume here in China I don’t want to end up with a bunch of pigs ears for dinner accidentally. This waitress spoke enough english to indicate where the eggs and beef were on the menu – well looks like that would be our selection. Oh and doufu – the one word we can remember in Chinese since it’s so similar to it’s English equivalent – tofu.
After our decent yet somewhat overpriced meal of rice, stir fried beef with scallions, scrambled eggs with greens, and lightly pan fried tofu with a sour sweet sauce we were ready to pay the bill and head back to our $14 a night hostel.
If only we had gotten up a minute earlier. Before we had a chance to pay an older lady (the restaurant fat cat as we shall call her) approached us and starting talking with us in English, finishing up her tirade with an offer to sing for us.
Well that’s strange, but ok.
Well the fat cat wasn’t going to sing herself – she brought out a young girl all dressed up in what I imagine to be traditional old school Chinese clothing and had her sing us a song. After a mildly awkward two minutes with a light clap we were ready to go. Not so fast. The fat cat instantly pounced on us demanding that we pay 10 yuan for the “performance.”
Lost in the situation and already feeling super uncomfortable D reluctantly forked over the $1.50. Is this the end of the world? No, but it certainly is completely obnoxious if you ask me. This is the kind of stuff that really makes my blood boil. When we get charged more for street food, I don’t mind, but when this restaurant fat cat throws this on us it truly is infuriating.
Lesson learned. No more songs will be sung to us in China and I’ll make sure of it.
The tirade aside, what I really want to share today is this garlic and chili chinese eggplant recipe, a second installment from the Yangshuo Cooking School set. This dish can be frequently found on Chinese menus and when we spot it on the picture menu we always get it. Lightly stir fried yet full of subtle garlic and chili flavors this makes for a perfect side dish.
Make sure to look for the long Chinese of Japanese eggplant in stores, it really differs from the traditional fatter and wider eggplant variety.
As I mentioned in my last Chinese cooking post make sure to heat the wok over high heat until smoking, then reduce the heat to low and add the oil. Hot wok, cold oil – lesson #1 in Chinese cooking.
Lesson # 2 always have water handy. The Chinese (almost) always add water to the wok when stir frying veggies. Just make sure to wait for the water to bubble before stirring everything together otherwise the veggies will taste watery.
Got to love the cooking secrets you pick up from taking a local cooking class!
Next time you’re looking for a quick veggie side dish give this garlic and chili eggplant a try. You won’t be disappointed!
Kitchen Utensils Used in this recipe:
• T-fal A8058962 Specialty Nonstick Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator 14-Inch Jumbo Wok Cookware, Black - if you don’t already have a wok I highly recommend getting one. You can use it for so much more than stir fries and it really is perfect cooking pan.
• Zyliss Susi 3 Garlic Press - I hate mincing garlic by knife and would be lost without a garlic press. It can be so hard to find a good one though. I’ve gone through so many that don’t quite have the right ridges to really crush that garlic, but this one, this one is perfect.
- 8 ounces Chinese or Japanese eggplant (1/2-1 eggplant)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon chili paste (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce (use soy sauce or gluten free tamari for gluten free or vegan version)
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Take each half and cut it into quarters vertically down the middle. Then cut each quarter into thirds. You should end up with 24 long pieces of eggplant.
- Heat wok over high heat until smoking. Reduce heat to low and add oil. Add eggplant and cook over medium heat until browned and soft. Move eggplant to the side of the wok.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic, ginger and chili paste. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Mix garlic and ginger with the eggplant and add water, turn the heat to high and add oyster sauce. Wait until the water is bubbling and then start mixing the vegetables. Cook 2-3 minutes or until water is almost gone.
- Sprinkle with green onions and serve.
Recipe adapted from Yangshuo cooking school