A few years ago, back when I worked a 9-5 job in the UK, I dreamed of living in China, speaking Chinese and learning all about Chinese culture and people. I could’ve never dreamed I’d be living in a Chinese family, speaking Chinese every day and being taught how to cook authentic Chinese food by a Chinese housewife who makes the amazing home-style North Eastern 东北 food.
Not only that, but having my own Chinese kitchen in which to experiment. R, unfortunately, has not learned from his mum, so the kitchen is very much my domain, and it is a fusion of both West and East. I find I cook Chinese-style food the majority of the time, because some Western staples are expensive the buy here (like canned tomatoes) and I don’t have all the equipment, but there are also Western foods which we have very regularly, like homemade bread, porridge and cakes and bakes.
3 things you may not know about a Chinese kitchen
- They only have two gas rings, perhaps surprising given cooking with gas is their primary means of cooking. This is compared to 4 in most UK homes, though the size of the ring is bigger here in China.
- They don’t have an oven. That is unless you buy a free-standing one, as more and more people are doing to make Western dishes.
- They are often tiny. Many that I’ve seen are in a balcony area, perhaps to keep gas/cooking fumes away from the rest of the house.
My top 3 (and a half) Chinese kitchen appliances
1. My rice cooker – this is the staple of a Chinese kitchen, and though presumably a pretty modern invention, it’s safe to say the very large majority of kitchens have one of these. The first time I came across a rice cooker was at university in the UK, where in my first year I had two Malaysian flatmates of Chinese origin. They both had rice cookers which they generally used in their rooms! Genius, as you can in fact cook a whole meal in your rice cooker. Add some dried meat to your rice, chuck vegetables in the mini steaming basket above, voila. Our current rice cooker in one with many settings, rice and congee, fish and ribs and all kinds of meat, even one for baking cake. Unfortunately I’m just not a fan of this one, as it uses pressure to cook, meaning in can’t be opened during cooking. It was bought just a few months ago by my parents-in-law, so we can’t replace it just now, but as soon as I can I will.
2. My soy milk maker – you can buy ready made soy milk here, but only imported (read: expensive). Chinese people just make their own to drink warm in the mornings. I need soy milk for tea and coffee, and for cooking, and this way saves LOADS of money compared to buying it ready made (a litre would cost 15-25 kuai, whereas I can make a litre for less than 0.5 kuai [although the machine cost almost 200 kuai]). Not only that, but you can use the machine to make other things too – fruit and vegetable smoothies, soups and baby food. It’s not only blends but heats too. If/when we return to the UK, I’ll definitely be taking this back with me.
3. My multi-tiered steamer – a simple instrument of cooking, not an appliance as such. But super useful. You can fit so much in one of these, not like the electrical steamers you find in the West. Ours pictured here has 4 tiers. We’ll often have two full of dumplings, plus one with sweet potatoes or corn on the cob or something, then the last one for steaming leafy greens. I’ve come to like steaming as a cooking method for things I wouldn’t have steamed before, sweet potatoes is one, homemade bread (softer for baby), fruits and also for defrosting.
3.5 My yoghurt maker – come to think of it, this may not be Chinese at all, but here in China is the first time I’ve ever owned one. At home I’d just go out and buy soya yoghurt (I’m vegan), but since they don’t have that here, I make my own! Super easy, super yummy and super healthy. Let’s call it a half.
Do you cook Chinese food, wherever you are? What’s your best Chinese appliance? Or Chinese cooking tip?