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A pictorial guide to Chinese cooking ingredients


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I like buckwheat when mixed into wheat for pancakes and such for added rustic flavor. When it is on its own though, it isn't always easy to work with or to enjoy. I'm glad you mentioned that buckwheat noodles, or soba, usually have wheat as a good percentage, because it helps with structure. 100% buckwheat soba lacks toothiness and flavor. Buckwheat groats, which I believe are coarse cut and perhaps toasted, are awful. My opinion, but I am not alone! But yeah, buckwheat is a grass and is gluten-free. 

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20 minutes ago, Katie Meadow said:

I like buckwheat when mixed into wheat for pancakes and such for added rustic flavor. When it is on its own though, it isn't always easy to work with or to enjoy. I'm glad you mentioned that buckwheat noodles, or soba, usually have wheat as a good percentage, because it helps with structure. 100% buckwheat soba lacks toothiness and flavor. Buckwheat groats, which I believe are coarse cut and perhaps toasted, are awful. My opinion, but I am not alone! But yeah, buckwheat is a grass and is gluten-free. 

 

I think you mean buckwheat is 'not' a grass.

 

100% buckwheat noodles can't work; they need some starch component to come together.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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4 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

I think you mean buckwheat is 'not' a grass.

 

100% buckwheat noodles can't work; they need some starch component to come together.

Right you are. Buckwheat seems to be classified as a seed, neither grain nor grass. One of my favorite stores in Berkeley sells an enormous range of dried Japanese noodles. If you look closely, you can find one or two packets that are 100% buckwheat. so they do exist. I tried them once and they were pretty bad.

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9 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

 If you look closely, you can find one or two packets that are 100% buckwheat. so they do exist. 

 

As I said. The fresh buckwheat noodles I pictured are pure buckwheat in the sense that they don't contain wheat. The dried are not.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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Yesterday, I mentioned in the Dinner 2024 topic that between them my local supermarket and wet market had 18 different types of mushroom. That was just the fresh mushrooms; the dried type would have taken it higher.

 

One type I didn't buy is found wild in Tibet and parts of Yunnan province. This is དབྱར་རྩྭ་དགུན་འབུ། (yarsagumba) in Tibetan; S: 冬虫夏草; T: 冬蟲夏草 (dōng chóng xià cǎo) in Chinese; Cordyceps sinensis or Ohphiocordyceps sinensis in Latin; caterpillar fungus in English.

 

IMG_20240321_112646_edit_168441249090963.thumb.jpg.a8f4fccfe58297f0d7a0be2d68b1a80c.jpg

Cordyceps Sinensis in my local supermarket

 

This is a fungus that attracts scare-mongering click bait on the internet and idiotic headlines in the print media.

 

'Zombie fungus'

 

'The Most Terrifying Fungus You've Ever Seen'

 

cordycepsinensis.jpg.3b0484054edc5e08ecba756bc1912e4f.thumb.jpg.9e173c21515706760b392855d8d6cf88.jpg

 

I'm told that there is a PlayStation game, "The Last of Us" which is  nonsensically based on this fungus potentially wiping out mankind.

 

According to the more sober OED, this is :

 

"A genus of ascomycetous fungi of the family Cordycipitaceae, members of which are parasitic chiefly on insects, replacing the host tissue with mycelium and producing prominent elongated fruiting bodies. Also: a fungus of (or previously included in) this genus; esp.  Ophiocordyceps sinensis, used medicinally and in Chinese cookery."

 

Sounds tasty. Not.

 

Yes, basically these fungi take over the host's body eventually killing it and sprouting out of its head. The Chinese name literally means "winter insect; summer grass" reflecting the change.

 

If you are an insect, get worried. Each of the hundreds of cordyceps varieties only attacks one specific species of insect. 

 

The main reason I didn't buy them is

 

a) I didn't want to

 

b) They are hideously expensive. Between $6 and $10 USD or more for just one specimen the size of a matchstick

 

c) They taste of almost nothing

 

They are reputed to bring medical benefits but, as usual, this is  largely unsubstantiated by anything so inconvenient as actual scientific evidence.

 

However, I do occasionally buy their close cousin, Cordyceps militaris.

 

cordycepmilitaris1.jpg.e07734d1ab6bd7165c4ba56eea1c1638.thumb.jpg.9836698f5d78bda7b72529906c887fbd.jpg

Cordyceps militaris (fresh)

 

These are cultivated but kept away from the ants whose bodies they would prey on in the wild. They are supposedly imbued with the same therapeutic qualities of their near relations but in weaker form.

 

These are cheap, very mild in taste at best but make for an attractive garnish on the right dish. but are more usually included in chicken or pork bones soups for their supposed health qualities. When I was hospitalised last year, every soup contained them. 

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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I'll mention mushrooms once more because I don't know who buys this, or why, but it's available everywhere in multiple brands. With such a wide range of fungi available, what possesses them?

 

S: 香菇酱; T: 香菇醬 (xiāng gū jiàng) is industrial paste made using the most common mushroom here - 香菇 (xiāng gū) in Mandarin Chinese; hoeng1 gu1 in Cantonese; しいたけ or 椎茸 in Japanese; Lentinula erodes in Latin; and known in English as 'shiitake' from the Japanese.

 

Screenshot_20240321_092600_com.sankuai.meituan_edit_228454988651597.thumb.jpg.b94ffbfd99c0344507dd251238227ff3.jpg

 

These are mixed with oil, doubanjiang (broad bean sauce), sweet bean sauce, fermented black bean, chilli, sesame, salt and sugar - all standard pantry items here.

 

What people do with the stuff is a mystery; no one I know admits to using it. Pretty jar though.

 

This one costs 15.90元  / $2.30 USD for 230 grams.

 

Pass.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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The first time I ate Chinese food was in the 1960s in Scotland. This was in an 'authentic' restaurant above a butcher's shop in a small mining town. I forget what I ate but guess it was as authentic as Japanese haggis.

 

I do remember, however being served a plate of what were described as 'prawn crackers', the prefered term in the UK to this day.

 

Every Chinese meal I ate in the UK thereafter and there were many, especially when I was a student in London, came with the obligatory prawn crackers, right up to when I left the UK in the 90s and moved to China.

 

Since then, I've only ever been served a prawn / shrimp cracker / chip once and it was literally one, resting soggily on top of a plate of fried rice.

 

Breaking news!  Prawn crackers / shrimp chips aren't Chinese! They're from Indonesia where they're called keripik udang.

 

Only in very recent times, it has become  possible to buy these here where they are S: 虾片; T 蝦片 (Mandarin: xiā piàn; Cantonese: haa1 pin3). Strangely, I can only find them on my delivery app, not in supermarkets. Not that I want them.

 

They are mainly sold precooked in bags just like potato crisps/chips. Most are imported from Indonesia but I've also seen them from Thailand where they are ข้าวเกรียบกุ้ง (khao kriap kung) and Vietnam as bánh phồng tôm.

 

Indonesianshrimpchips.thumb.jpg.44c0b734d9ca00cb918bf37753bbe955.jpg

 

We can also source manufactured but uncooked discs, again usually imported as above, although there are a couple of Chinese brands. They come in two varieties: plain white and multi-coloured.

 

uncookedshrimpcrackers.thumb.jpg.a321d90a4e814e6ca21b877a5f450301.jpg

 

These are made from tapioca, MSG and maybe prawns /shrimp if you're lucky. Cheaper versions are made using powdered shells or prawn extract, whatever that may be.

 

cookedcolours.thumb.jpg.615c9a6499749b1ba73b2e3f70516595.jpg

 

Whatever you call them, they are a high calorie starter and not particularly healthy. What chips are?

 

Images from Meituan food delivery app listings.


 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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China is extremely proud of its Great Wall, taking all foreign dignitaries to visit and also promoting it to every tourist. It is surely one of the most defining images of a country along with France's Eiffel Tower, the USA's Statue of Liberty and the UK's Tower Bridge.

 

OIP-C.jpg.93628a1018c77e3e426684d9a198f567.jpg

Great Wall - Public Domain image

 

What they never mention is that their 'great' wall was never finished and was a total failure in meeting its objective. Or that the bit most tourists visit (including the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1986) was built in the 1970s by the People's Liberation Army, the original having been repurposed by local villagers to built their privies.

 

R-C(1).thumb.jpg.d24a284d5d13557a25aa0178eb6da892.jpg

Mrs Queen on Great Wall 1986. PD Image

 

But we do have the benefit of knowing what the builders had for lunch and dinner. Archeological studies show they lived predominantly on boiled rice and pickled cabbage.

 

When Ghengis Khan, the Mongol leader easily breached the wall they were building to keep him and others out, he found the pickled cabbage and mistook it for a weapon of mass destruction, so immediately set out for Europe, taking it with him to subdue the barbarians.

 

In what is now Germany, they translated his name for the weapon, ᠬᠦᠴᠢᠯ ᠨᠣᠭᠣᠭ᠎ᠠ ᠃ into their tongue as 'sauerkraut', meaning 'sour vegetable', but with 'kraut' usually meaning 'cabbage' the only vegetable available in Germany at the time apart from sausages.

 

Something of a coincidence because the Chinese Khan left behind also translated it. Because they didn't speak German, they translated it into Mandarin as 酸菜 (suān cài), literally sour vegetable, but with 'cài' usually meaning 'cabbage' the only vegetable available in Beijing at the time. This 'cài' is the origin of the pseudo-Cantonese 'choy' used in the West in 'bok choy' etc.

 

IMG_20240323_174440_edit_24073252896325.thumb.jpg.eaba7519b9113d9daef233a138b6d576.jpg

Dongbei Suan Cai

 

Hearing that this concoction was employed in wall building, the Germans, anticipating that they may one day have to build a wall themselves, adopted the dish as their own.

 

The Chinese, meanwhile anticipating that they might one day have to repair their wall to show off to passing queens, also kept up the production of sour cabbages.

 

S: 东北酸菜; T: 東北酸菜 (dōng běI suān cài) is sometimes called 'Chinese sauerkraut' although, to be more accurate, sauerkraut is 'German 酸菜'.

 

Dongbei means East-North and refers to the area which used to be called Manchuria on account of the Manchu people, another group who ignored the wall built to keep them out and took over China, conquering Beijing in 1644. Whether they used cabbages or not,  I don't know. 

 

In the 1930s, Japan also ignored the wall and took over Manchuria until 1945 which turned people against them and so, in revenge, the communists changed the name so the Japanese couldn't find their way back. The Chinese kept making stinking cabbage though, rather defeating that subterfuge. Beijing smells of cabbage. Follow your nose.

 

And still to this day, Dong Bei Sour Cabbage is made by home cooks and in factories to be sold all over China. It consists of napa cabbage, salt and water and is fermented by ambient yeasts. Commercial varieties add sodium sorbate as a preservative. $1 USD / 500g.

 

IMG_20240323_135909_edit_14727613434730.thumb.jpg.95380f6a018339c2e72e561d98fe0285.jpg

Dongbei Suancai

 

Down in the south of China, not wanting to be thought of as cabbage heads, the people make their 酸菜 from mustard greens instead.

 

And no, the Great Wall can't be seen from space although the cabbage can probably be smelled.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
Mark Twain

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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9 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The first time I ate Chinese food was in the 1960s in Scotland. This was in an 'authentic' restaurant above a butcher's shop in a small mining town. I forget what I ate but guess it was as authentic as Japanese haggis.

 

I do remember, however being served a plate of what were described as 'prawn crackers', the prefered term in the UK to this day.

 

Every Chinese meal I ate in the UK thereafter and there were many, especially when I was a student in London, came with the obligatory prawn crackers, right up to when I left the UK in the 90s and moved to China.

 

Since then, I've only ever been served a prawn / shrimp cracker / chip once and it was literally one, resting soggily on top of a plate of fried rice.

 

Breaking news!  Prawn crackers / shrimp chips aren't Chinese! They're from Indonesia where they're called keripik udang.

 

Only in very recent times, it has become  possible to buy these here where they are S: 虾片; T 蝦片 (Mandarin: xiā piàn; Cantonese: haa1 pin3). Strangely, I can only find them on my delivery app, not in supermarkets. Not that I want them.

 

They are mainly sold precooked in bags just like potato crisps/chips. Most are imported from Indonesia but I've also seen them from Thailand where they are ข้าวเกรียบกุ้ง (khao kriap kung) and Vietnam as bánh phồng tôm.

 

Indonesianshrimpchips.thumb.jpg.44c0b734d9ca00cb918bf37753bbe955.jpg

 

We can also source manufactured but uncooked discs, again usually imported as above, although there are a couple of Chinese brands. They come in two varieties: plain white and multi-coloured.

 

uncookedshrimpcrackers.thumb.jpg.a321d90a4e814e6ca21b877a5f450301.jpg

 

These are made from tapioca, MSG and maybe prawns /shrimp if you're lucky. Cheaper versions are made using powdered shells or prawn extract, whatever that may be.

 

cookedcolours.thumb.jpg.615c9a6499749b1ba73b2e3f70516595.jpg

 

Whatever you call them, they are a high calorie starter and not particularly healthy. What chips are?

 

Images from Meituan food delivery app listings.


 

A lot of the kerupuk I saw in Indonesia have a pretty high shrimp content (for the kerupuk udang) - almost 50%!  I have some here that are just flour, shrimp, shallots and salt.

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Despite having been brought up in Scotland, I never developed a taste for its traditional oatmeal porridge despite being surrounded by the very fields the relevant cereal Avena sativa grows in. I do however love Scottish oatcakes.

 

oatcakes2.thumb.JPG.71dea83f717810867ccefce2a88b9333.thumb.jpg.6f3d91f77c2b59edb1a35d13ef97875e.jpg

 

Imagine my surprise on arriving in China many years later and finding that oatmeal porridge is even a thing here. A big thing, in fact, especially among those of more advanced years. Every supermarket carries oatmeal, porridge for the making of.

 

Known as S: 燕麦: T: 燕麥 (yàn mài), oats have been grown here for thousands of years, mainly in the northwest of the the country. Most goes to animal feed and other non-human nutrition uses.

 

Oats.thumb.jpg.6c62b3b94c20e3e1f6cc76c0f3f493eb.jpg

 

Most oats for human consumption that I see now comes from Australia.

 

IMG_20240325_114852_edit_121710124806948.thumb.jpg.700591eff50e54bd14afc423aa25d508.jpg

Chinese company; Australian oats.

 

At the same time, China is a major exporter, presumably of fodder oats.

 

Nearly all oats for human consumption ends up in S: 燕麦粥: T: 燕麥粥 (yàn mài zhōu) porridge, with a little going to baked goods etc.

 

Quaker Oats  have had a presence in China since 2015 and Oatly, the Swedish fake milk pushers since 2021.

 

Quakeroats.thumb.jpg.ae14b5d3537d52ad9c0d1526645baf92.jpg

 

I'm sticking to my oatcakes and cheese made from real cow juice.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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This is a handy thing to have in the store cupboard / fridge, although I prefer to make it myself. It's easy.

 

上海葱油 (shàng hǎi cōng yóu), Shanghai scallion oil.

 

Screenshot_20240325_144932_com.sankuai.meituan_edit_131760251737706.thumb.jpg.f9686312a49c67f8e62226f4bd11cf4a.jpg

 

There are other scallion oils, especially the popular Cantonese version, maybe the only thing where I prefer the Cantonese version to others.

 

The Shanghai version includes too many unnecessary ingredients for me. Besides the obvious oil and scallions, it has soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and sugar.  But then, Shanghai is known for its love of soy sauce and sweet flavours.

 

The classic Cantonese version is simply oil and scallions. It is similar to the Vietnamese version, mỡ hành. Here is a recipe from inactive eG member Carolyn Philips, author of All Under Heaven (eG-friendly Amazon.com link).

 

And here is a recipe for the Vietnamese version. As you will see it's almost identical.


What to do with it? Add it to to noodles, fried rice, salads, stir fries. It makes be a garnish for all kinds of savoury dishes, Asian or not.

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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For something only recently introduced to China, this ingredient has gathered quite a few names.

 

S: 小红莓; T: 小紅莓 (xiǎo hóng méi, literally 'small red berries').

 

酸莓 (suān méi, literally 'sour berries').

 

蔓越橘 (màn yuè jú, literally 'creeping fruit').

 

蔓越莓 (màn yuè méi, literally 'creeping berry').

 

I'm talking Vaccinium macrocarpon, the all-American cranberry. Or maybe not so all-American as you think.

 

Cranberries.thumb.jpg.586bab95a314aa8715644b9e5b6ed40b.jpg

 

Introduced around 2013 and the fruit slowly becoming known, the import market was hit by trade tariffs and stalled. Imports from Canada and Chile were unaffected and grew and now cranberries are being grown in China in limited but growing amounts.

 

Screenshot_20240325_184247_com.sankuai.meituan_edit_144238531319656.thumb.jpg.17a55765ca8f72b28d9db72d11a42901.jpg

China grown cranberries

 

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

 

Most are sold dried and eaten as such although a lot are used in jams and in baked goods, especially 'cookies'.

 

They're certainly not being eaten as sauce with turkey.

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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My next (not so) few posts are going to be about an ingredient that is used almost universally. The humble but amazingly versatile source of life itself – the egg.

 

eggs.thumb.JPG.6083183e1ea8a78c70cdf93e00ff86f4.JPG

 

When I arrived in China, I was surprised to find almost every market and supermarket carried a larger range of eggs than anything I’d seen anywhere else. Not only were there eggs from more types of bird, but I also had to be careful within the choice from any one bird.

 

Even small neighbourhood mom and pop stores carry more than one type of species and type. I’ll start with the smallest and work my way up.

 

鹌鹑蛋 (ān chún dàn), quail eggs.

 

quaileggs.thumb.jpg.c7aa57cddc83962dc3da64ca1fa6c074.jpg

 

Not only are these sold everywhere; they come in different formats. Fresh quail eggs are boiled and served in soups, noodle dishes and hotpots. I’ve had them as a garnish with fried rice and fried noodles, as well as other dishes.

 

However, also available most places are S: 咸鹌鹑蛋; T: 鹹鹌鹑蛋 (xián ān chún dàn), salt baked quail eggs. These are often prepared in-house by supermarkets but also sold individually wrapped as snack items. In the supermarkets, the eggs are buried in a mound of salt and baked.

 

saltedquaileggs.thumb.JPG.5d951b5bfd009196527d0df2ffbd390c.JPG

 

The salt is cracked open and the eggs extracted to be sold by weight.

 

Saltbakedquailseggs.thumb.jpg.8fc546d342368b0fe7be2a4cb80e6962.jpg

 

As you will see, the fresh eggs in the yellow bowl above look identical to these salted eggs. It took me a few attempts to buy the ones I really wanted! I had to learn to read the labels. This applies to eggs from almost all species.

 

The individually wrapped salted eggs are sold like this. A bit easier.

 

SaltedQuailEggs2.thumb.jpg.ffc65b6f61ae1abd0e8332b9f45bd093.jpg

 

Another snack item is S: 卤香鹌鹑蛋; T: 鹵香鹌鹑蛋 (lǔ xiāng ān chún dàn), stewed, spiced quail eggs. They are usually stewed with 5-spice powder.

 

Stewedquaileggs.thumb.jpg.8cd4882fbfc63caa15d33497aa7dc2ab.jpg

 

For those who find peeling boiled quail eggs difficult or boring, they are sold peeled by some supermarkets.

 

Quailpeeled.thumb.jpg.caffc12b0a60b1ef6a35e10b07695193.jpg

 

Several years ago, I had a student who was funding her studies by working part time in a large, local supermarket. Her main task was peeling the quail eggs.  She taught me her secret method.

 

The eggs are placed in a bowl and covered with a 50:50 mix of rice vinegar and water and left for 15 minutes. Lo and behold, the shells dissolve and leave prisitine peeled specimens which are then washed and sold. I've tried it and it works without leaving a vinegar taste to the eggs.

 

Not a Chinese preparation, but I usually use quail eggs to make mini scotch eggs.

 

DuckQuailScotchEggs2.thumb.jpg.05c1c60161529f29faa82c85e5409b01.jpg

Quail scotch eggs with duck meat and panko casing.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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The next egg to be laid is the one I see least often. And it will be the one I have least to say about.

 

Pigeoneggs.thumb.jpg.6202a968b81e9cb202e379f29f7b2b85.jpg

 

S: 鸽蛋; T: 鴿蛋 (gē dàn), pigeon eggs only very occasionally turn up in my local markets and stores, but I can buy them online. They are only a little larger than quail eggs.

 

When boiled the ‘white’ takes on this strange looking blue-tinged translucent appearance. Otherwise, they taste just like quail eggs.

 

Pigeoneggs2.thumb.jpg.50fae7dafdb9248f63ecf6f6d1a9e5d7.jpg

 

I have no idea how people use them; none of my friends have eaten them.

 

 

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bigegg.thumb.jpg.899933be678c760889c73469794663d5.jpg

 

By far, the most widely eaten eggs in the world are laid, of course, by female Gallus gallus or Gallus domesticus – chicken hens. S:鸡蛋; T: 雞蛋 (jī dàn), chicken eggs are no less popular in China. Note that in Chinese the bird is always specified, 鸡/雞 (jī) being ‘chicken’.

 

According to Statista, in 2022, China had over 5 billion chickens, more than any other country by a wide margin. Indonesia was second with 3.5 billion and the USA was 5th with a paltry* 1.5 billion. Of course, not all of these were layers, but most were.

 

I should note at this point that eggs are never refrigerated here in China. In fact, they aren’t in most places. I’ve never put eggs in the refrigerator in my life. The USDA regulations mean that most eggs are washed before sale, removing the natural protective coating eggs have, without which they have to be refrigerated. Also, in most of Europe, chickens are vaccinated against salmonella. This NPR article explains in further detail.

 

As usual, in China the eggs are sold fresh (by weight unlike in some countries where they are sold by number), but again also come in disguise.

 

They are often boiled and eaten on the hoof or dropped into noodle dishes. They are, of course, used in egg fried rice. They are scrambled with tomato; fried; steamed etc. Omelettes are made, but eggs are very seldom poached.

 

eggsonbananaleaf.thumb.jpg.e0a4d2b258fa9d35fd3370f9e29ebd20.jpg

Boiled eggs

 

They are often sold salt cured.

 

saltedhensegg.thumb.jpg.3b674c2258a6d4e4d20a74b271cdfcb9.jpg

Salt cured chicken egg

 

Also, a good proportion are processed into 皮蛋 (pí dàn), aka century eggs, 100-year-old-eggs, thousand year eggs, millennium eggs, and many other names.

 

pidan.thumb.jpg.51bc41c0af2fb58a11769e37730ffb83.jpg.a2396e5683717e0afd0fed0303341f7b.jpg

Pidan

 

This is the unwary shopper’s danger zone. Often century eggs look exactly like fresh eggs. Read the labels! Pidan will be clearly marked 皮蛋 or 松花蛋 (sōng huā dàn), the latter being a prized version in which the egg develops a pattern supposedly resembling a pine flower, which is what the name means – they are nutritionally and taste-wise, identical.

 

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Pine Flower Century Egg

 

Traditionally made pidan are easily identifiable. they are coated in rice husks, but factory made eggs, the majority today, are indistinguishable.

 

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Traditional style pidan

 

Pidan are often served with chilli as a side dish or chopped in congee.

 

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Pidan with chilli dip

 

My favourite breakfast is 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (pí dàn shòu ròu zhōu), century egg and pork mince congee.

 

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Century egg and pork mince congee

 

S: 茶叶蛋; T: 茶葉蛋 (chá yè dàn) are sold in mom and pop stores or roadside. These are boiled eggs with cracked but unpeeled shells which are then stewed in black tea with herbs and spices. The tea enters the cracks and ‘paints’ intricate patterns while flavouring the eggs. A common snack.

 

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* Weak pun intended!

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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duckeggs.thumb.jpg.57e5006c06bd82cce5b91cdf1a4ef946.jpg

 

Ducks may say “quack quack” when they speak English but in Chinese they say 呷呷 (gā gā). I suspect Lady Quackquack doesn’t know that!

 

S: 鸭蛋;T: 鴨蛋 (yā dàn), duck eggs are my default egg purchase here in China, as they are for many people. Specifically, I buy sea duck eggs from nearby Qinzhou in southern Guangxi. These birds live by the shores of the Gulf of Tonkin and are prized over other ducks both for their meat and eggs.

 

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Qinzhou sea duck eggs

 

Larger than chicken eggs, and generally more ethically raised (no battery ducks, methinks) the eggs taste great. The fresh ones are noted for their deep yellow yolks and even richer taste. Duck eggs make for awesome scrambled eggs.

 

Contrary to some people’s expectations, the ducks don't generally eat fish, so aren’t at all fishy in taste. They mostly eat insects and are even used in paddy fields as natural insecticides.

 

The eggs have noticeably thicker shells so less chance of breaking them on the way home from the grocer’s shop.

 

Every store here carries duck eggs. Sea or land. Again in many forms. And in many colours; not that colour is any indication of anything else. They can be white, green, blue-shelled and more but what’s inside is the same.

 

Most salted eggs and most pidan/century eggs are made from duck eggs.

 

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Salted duck egg

 

These are alsoso;d individually wrapped as snacks.

 

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Eat a traditional mooncake at Mid-Autumn Festival and you’ll bite into a salted duck egg yolk representing the moon. Yolks are sold seperate;y for this and similar applications. What they do with the whites, I don't know.

 

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Mooncake with salted duck egg yolk

 

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I’m told duck eggs are good for baking, but I’m no baker so take that as you like. I guess, given their larger yolks versus white, some adjustments may be necessary to your recipes.

 

Unlike other birds' eggs these are also sometimes sold roasted, which would please the English poet Alexander Pope who wrote in The second epistle of the second book of Horace: imitated by Mr. Pope.

 

"The vulgar boil, the learned roast, an egg."

 

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Learned eggs

 

Finally, S: 吃鸭蛋; T: 吃鴨蛋 (chī yā dàn), to eat duck egg(s) is a figurative expression in Chinese meaning to score zero in a test or competition. Massive fail!

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

"No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot"
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The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Let’s talk S:火鸡; T: 火雞 (huǒ jī).

 

Literally meaning ‘fire chicken’ this is Meleagris gallopavo, the turkey, probably not a bird you associate with China and you’d be right.

 

Between 2001 and 2005, China imported 386,000 tons of turkey from the USA. 386,000 tons of turkey may sound a lot, but works out to just over ¾lb per person over five years - 2½ ounces a year, if my mathematics is correct! If not correct, and it seldom is, it’s still a miniscule amount. Little has changed in the last 25 years.

 

China does raise turkeys but on an extremely limited scale; it just isn’t a bird on people’s radar. They know about turkeys but see them as some sort of grotesque, mammoth lump of meat that they wouldn’t fit in their wok. Most turkeys sold for meat are sold to American and Canadian ex-pats in Shanghai and Beijing for their respective Thanksgiving celebrations.

 

For 15 years, I did have a second home in the countryside next door to a man who was a part-time hobbyist turkey breeder. He sold the meat for pet food and the feathers to the garment industry and theatrical milliners. He didn’t sell eggs.

 

The reason he and most turkey breeders worldwide don’t sell usually sell the eggs is simple economics. They birds are to blame! They reach optimum age for selling as meat before they begin to ovulate and even then only lay one or two eggs a week, if they’re in the mood. The cost of feed etc while waiting for the eggs makes little sense to the farmers as they’d have to sell the eggs for a minimum of around 4元 each, which few would be willing to pay. I can buy a dozen hen’s eggs for the same price while the farmer can make more from hatching the eggs and raising and selling more birds.

 

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Turkey eggs PD Image

 

That said, if you do get hold of one they are perfectly edible. About 50% larger than the average (50 gram) chicken egg., they taste much the same but are a bit creamer. Yes, I have eaten one, but not in China.

 

 

 

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While we may not be able to get turkey eggs, when we want a big egg, S: 鹅蛋; T: 鵝蛋 (é dàn) are easily found (many supermarkets have them) and particularly tasty. These are from Anser cygnoides domesticus, the Chinese goose. Unlike turkeys, these geese are native to China. This beautiful white variety are prolific layers producing 60 – 100 eggs per season. They are also sometimes known as ‘swan geese’.

 

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About the equivalent of three hen’s eggs (150-200 grams), these eggs are richer and have a larger, more deeply coloured yolk. Geese have to be raised in open pasture, so they are at least semi-free-range and free to peck at insects, worms etc which contributes to their eggs’ tastiness, although they mainly eat grasses.

 

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You do have to be careful opening the eggs. The shell is much harder than that of a chicken or duck egg and requires some force to crack, leading to the possibility of breaking the yolk. If you need the yolk whole, go slowly.

 

I’ve never seen them other than fresh and selling at around 10 to 15元 / $ 1.50 to $2 USD each. They aren’t made into century eggs or salted like other eggs, although I can’t see any reason why not.

 

I’m told they are particularly valued for making pasta or Chinese style egg noodles where they impart more flavour than chicken eggs. They can also be used in baking, but I don’t go there.

 

I usually use them for making omelettes.

 

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Goose egg omelette

 

Interesting facts corner: Chinese geese have excellent hearing and eyesight (unlike us, they can see ultra-violet light). They are also very territorial and very noisy. This combination makes them great guard dogs geese.

 

When I was a kid, I used to see the geese guarding Ballantine’s Whisky maturation warehouses every time we passed. They were the security guards. Sadly they were made redundant in 2012 and replaced by modern technology. The story is here.

 

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Image: Chivas Brothers Archive

 

 

 

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I  have two more eggs to go, but before doing so, here is an image of the eggs I've mentioned so far showing relative sizes. I took this some time ago for my granddaughter, at her request, to use in her infant school class. She is the teacher; not a student!

 

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Continuing up the scale of largeness, next we come to the second largest bird, S: 鸸鹋; T: 鴯鶓 (ér miáo), Dromaius novaehollandiae, the emu. Native to Australia and New Guinea, these reach up to 2 metres / 6 foot 6 inches tall and weigh up to 45 kg / 99 pounds. They are flightless but can run at up to 50 kmh / 31 mph and can also swim when necessary.

 

The females are a little larger than the males and after laying here eggs, she abandons them and her mate. The male then incubates the chicks and stays with them for the next year and a half until they reach independence. The female, in the meantime, goes off in search of new mates and starts over again.

 

Raised on farms for their meat, eggs and oil, emus have been imported to China and farms are now producing limited numbers. I’ve never seen the eggs in any store, large or small, or in any market, but they are available on-line. The eggs weigh around 350 grams and are hard-shelled with a deep bluish green colour. They are said to taste just like good quality free-range chicken eggs and have similar nutritional qualities. The eggs are rroughly equal to between 8 and 12 chicken eggs, so one egg can easily feed a large group or family. They can be prepared in the same ways as chicken eggs, but boiling one will take over an hour!

 

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Emu Eggs

 

The problem I have is that they are often sold pre-fertilised for people wishing to farm them or raise them as pets (not a great idea in the city – they need a lot of space and exercise. Also they also come as empty shells. The shells are drilled at the wide end and the contents drained leaving the shells as ‘canvases’ for egg artists who then paint or carve them with all kinds of imagery. Some are beautiful and are found in museums and art galleries. Some are amateurish – as with any art form. A bit of a disappointment though, if what you were after was a nice, but expensive omelette. More on Emu Art here

 

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Painted Emu Eggs

 

The eggs sell for around 180 元 / $25 USD each. I can’t see them being a regular purchase for the average home cook.

 

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All images from Taobao.com - home shopping service.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...and finally we reach

 

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S: 鸵鸟; T: 鴕鳥 (tuó niǎo), Struthio camelus, the largest bird on earth, the ostrich. The bird is a multiple record holder. It can run at 55 kmh / 34 mph) for sustained periods but reach 70 kmh / 40 mph in short sprints. This makes it the fastest land bird on earth. It also lays the largest eggs but not while running! And it lays the smallest eggs when compared to body weight.

 

Native to Africa, they have been introduced in Australia, New Mexico and Israel where they have gone feral. They are also farmed on varying scales across the globe. There are a large number of farms in China, especially in the central-east.

 

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Distracting the birds while collecting eggs on a farm

 

Although, in theory, ostrich eggs can be cooked the same way as any other eggs, in practice, they do present their problems, nearly all related to their size. An ostrich egg is usually said to be the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs and weigh around 1.4 kg / 3 lbs. They each contain about 2,000 calories.

 

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Ostrich and Chicken eggs

 

The shell is thick and hard (they can bear the weight of a man without breaking) necessitating some mechanical aid in accessing the contents. A drill or kitchen saw is the normal method. Then you need appropriately large pans and kitchen equipment not found in the average kitchen. Boiling an ostrich egg to medium takes an hour; hard boiled need at least 90 minutes. I suppose you could poach one in a bathtub. Or sous vide for a week or so. Omelettes are the way to go if you can find a big enough pan for a 24 egg omelette.

 

Someone has made a scotch ostrich egg, perhaps in a wok from a commercial kitchen. A British chip shop fryer might manage it, but if you don’t have a chip shop, it would be a problem.

 

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Ostrich eggs sell for between 100 and 200元 / $14-28 USD a piece. Those at the lower end tend to misshapen although the contents are the same. As with emu eggs, the shells are used as ‘çanvases’ for decorating, so pristine shapes are preferred.

 

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Happy Easter to those who celebrate. Easter eggs are not something I can find in China. Yet.

 

(All images in this post from Meituan food delivery app, China)

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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A rising ingredient is 酵母 (jiào mǔ), Saccharomyces cerevisiae or yeast.

 

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I’ve only ever seen this in China as ’instant dry yeast’, although I haven't tried to find anything else.

 

Two companies dominate the field. The easiest to find by far is from The Angel Yeast Co., Ltd, (安琪酵母股份有限公司 - ān qí jiào mǔ gǔ fèn yǒu xiàn gōng sī), an international, Chinese owned company, founded in 1986 and based in Yichang, Hubei Province, home to the famous Three Gorges Dam.

 

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The other is the French international, LeSaffre, founded in 1853 and headquartered in Marcq-en-Baroeul, France. Their product is sold under the Saf brand; in Chinese, 燕子酵母 (yàn zi jiào mǔ), meaning ‘swallow (the bird) yeast’. They have a factory in Yizhou, a few miles west of Liuzhou, but their China HQ is in Shanghai.

 

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There are also a few minor players.

 

Yeast is, of course, used in making ‘bread’, although Chinese bread is more like cakes and usually steamed. Think bao buns. It is usually sold in 12 gram sachets for around 50 cents USD, although if I hunt around I can find large packs.

 

The Angel company also sell nutritional yeast supplement powder. I have a bag I’ve been looking at for over a year and never opened. It was a gift. The only supplement I use is another glass of wine!

 

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

Which one?

saf-instant. It is really very good. I was quite upset when I could no longer buy it but that is Costa Rica. Here today and then never seen again.

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