Growing up in eastern China, chopsticks and rice were the norm for nearly every single meal. Food plays a huge part in every culture, especially for the Chinese. We have a saying which dates back to around 100 BC: “民以食为天”, which translates to “Food is the first necessity of the people.” Indeed, the Chinese are known for putting a lot of thought into what we eat, creating dishes and cuisines which vastly differ throughout China.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Sunday roasts and pasta bolognese, and they had nearly become my new norm for the last five years. Once in a while though, my food palate still craves nostalgic flavours and tastes which remind me of my culture and my home.
Since starting university, I have had more freedom and choice in what I eat, as I often choose to prepare my own meals. It is more budget-friendly and I can alter recipes and portions however I want. Cooking and baking is something that I really enjoy doing on a daily basis, however, it does get extremely repetitive and tedious sometimes as it can take up to hours, with the possibility of disappointing results.
Over the last few months, I have followed and even created countless recipes, in order to figure out what works best for my taste buds and time constraints. As a result of my Chinese upbringing, I often find that these recipes are more and more like what I used to have at home as a child, with a few twists and turns alongside my own unorthodox way of replicating a traditional dish that would probably make my grandma cry. So without further a due, here are two of my favourite dishes to make at university.
Most of these ingredients could be purchased at any UK chain supermarket. Fresh (the supermarket on campus) actually has a decent-sized international section, where you can get more authentic and special ingredients. However, I’ve provided alternatives to those, for which Chinese cooking is casual. There are often no standard measurements, so you can generally trust your own judgments based on preferences and do whatever you please.
Mia's Egg Fried rice:
My mum and grandma used to make this dish for me a lot as a child. It is simple, quick, easy, and uses up leftovers in the fridge.
For a portion for two, you’ll need:
- a bowl of rice (ideally on the dryer side and leftover)
- 2 or 3 eggs (depending on size)
- your choice of add-ins (veg, small pieces of meat, prawns etc), I normally use frozen veggie packs and frozen prawns
Optional ingredients(choice of garnish):
- spring onions (definitely recommend!)
- soy sauce
- chilli powder
- whatever other spices you fancy!
- Cook rice, ideally with a rice cooker, cling film, and store in the fridge overnight or at least for a few hours.
- Crack the eggs and beat them in a bowl or mug.
- Grease the frying pan with a thin layer of oil and turn up and heat to medium-high.
- When the oil starts crackling, put in the rice and start frying. After a couple of minutes, add in the beaten eggs, combine until they are semi-cooked.
- Add-ins. If you are using any frozen ingredients add them in right now and continue to fry until they are ready. If not, add all your chopped ingredients. Continue frying for a couple more minutes.
- Lastly, add in your seasoning and garnish! Alter the amount of soy sauce you add depending on how salty you prefer the rice to be.
- Pretend you are a fried rice master chef (you can toss the rice around the pan if you wanna, but only if you are in the mood for cleaning up).
- Turn off the fire, tip the rice into a bowl (not a plate, very important as it is very difficult to eat rice from a plate), and enjoy!
Eat whilst it's still hot.
Sweet n Sour Pork
This is one of the most popular household Chinese dishes throughout China. It is commonly cooked with pork ribs, however, I have found it quite difficult to get a hold of chopped pork ribs in the UK. Therefore, for my version of this recipe, we are just going to be using diced pork. Now, this is not an easy dish to get right straight away (from personal experience!). It is a significant step up from fried rice, and it can take half an hour or more from preparation to cooking. Nonetheless, this recipe is definitely worth a try if you are a relatively proficient cook and would like to challenge yourself.
For a portion for two, you’ll need:
- around 250 grams of lean diced pork
- soy sauce
- vinegar (white/black)
- cooking wine (could be substituted with vodka)
- rock sugar (could just be white granulated sugar)
- Boil the raw pork slices till the surface of the meat turns white and drain out the water to get rid of the excess fat and blood.
- Prepare the sauce. The secret is that the ratio between all the other ingredients is 1:2:3:4. One tablespoon of cooking wine, two tablespoons of soy sauce, three tablespoons of sugar, and four tablespoons of vinegar. Pour all the ingredients into a separate bowl and give them a rough mix.
- Give the half-cooked pork slices a quick fry in a pan. Proceed to add the sauce.
- Add in boiled water until all the meat is fully covered. Turn down the fire, put on the lid, set a timer for 30 minutes, and let it sit.
- Engage in another activity until the timer is up. The water volume should decrease, but don't be hasty and have the pan on a higher heat, as the water will evaporate too quickly and result in over-cooked meat. Alternatively, if you leave the heat on for too long your meat might be burnt and turn into charcoal. 30 minutes is only an estimate, you should really be checking the pan from time to pan to monitor the progress.
- When there's close to no water left, turn off the heat. Your dish is now ready! If you have a great first go, the sauce should be sticky, viscous and sugary. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and voila! It is definitely a dish to impress family and friends, and it will smell absolutely mouth-watering.
There you have it! Two of my favourite recipes to try out. Proof that I can eat well, even when cooking for myself at university.