A Week of Western Food in China for 100 RMB

A Week of Western Food in China for 100 RMB
Dec 11, 2010 By Erin Sperling , eChinacities.com

As intrepid world travellers, we're all used to things being different – different languages, different cultures, different bathrooms, and perhaps most prominently, different food. Yet while we may love and adore Chinese food (I know I do), we may also be shocked at how much we miss Western food. Restaurants have popped up across China catering to those looking for a taste of home (pun intended), but non-McDonalds or KFC western food (aka "real" western food – most people rarely eat at either chain back home) doesn't come cheap. At most establishments, a dinner for two will put you back well over 100 RMB, especially if you treat yourself to more than just a main course – a price that even we expats can't pay regularly. What's worse is that Chinese kitchens typically lack features (hello oven!) that are considered absolutely essential for cooking western food.

However, there is hope! While the materials for making western food are also a bit pricier than their Chinese counterparts, a few tips and tricks can make regular tastes of home fit into even a strict budget, whether you are saving up for more travels or beer takes a hefty chunk out of your pay. To find out exactly how inexpensive home cooked western food could be, this novice chef embarked on a quest to cook nothing but western meals for a week. Below is a list of five full days of western food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with meal prices averaging at 6.5 RMB. Granted, most people won't eat nothing but western food for a week (why would you unless its research?), but it is an example of how affordable a trip home through your kitchen can be. Best of all, all of these meals were prepared using only the materials you'll find in a normal Chinese kitchen – wok, soup pot, cutting board, and average kitchen utensils. Thus, whether you only cook once a month or are still deciding if you're going to live in China for one year or ten, you won't have to shell out several hundred to a thousand RMB or more to get a toaster oven, blender, or other kitchen equipment you may rarely use or eventually abandon. 

The Menu (meals for one diner and expect leftovers):


  • Biscuits and gravy: 9 RMB
  • Hash browns with poached eggs and sausage :5 RMB
  • Fruit and yogurt filled crepes: 5 RMB
  • Eggs in a basket (eggs cooked inside bread): 2 RMB
  • Ham and Egg Sandwiches: 3.4 RMB


  • Grilled Vegetable Sandwich: 4.5 RMB
  • Ham and Cheese Sandwich: 4 RMB
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly: 2 RMB
  • HLT (Ham, Lettuce, and Tomato): 4.5 RMB
  • Cheese crisp with vegetable topping (a pizza substitute with tortillas): 6 RMB


  • Fajitas with Pico de Gallo: 10 RMB
  • Spaghetti with marinara OR Grilled Pork with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables: 10 RMB
  • Potato and Ham Soup: 12.5 RMB
  • Vegetable Stew: 7 RMB
  • Pork and Green Chili Enchiladas: 15 RMB

Total: 99.8 RMB per person (with leftovers!)

A Week of Western Food in China for 100 RMB

Tips to Make Life Cheaper and Easier:

  • Find a good produce vendor and make friends with them.

Fresh produce vendors abound in China. Go for a walk around your neighburhood to find the best one. It may smell a little strange (thanks to the large variety of meat and produce available) but shouldn't stink – that's a warning sign that they might sell bad or borderline produce.   Obviously, avoid places with a lot of flies. If you buy meat here, look for cuts that aren't slightly dark and dried along the edges, which means they've been sitting out for a while. Prices are typically similar so find someone friendly to buy from. It’s a great opportunity to practice Chinese (whether you're a beginner or already fluent) and, as an added bonus, they might throw in stuff for free.

  • Take an afternoon to compare supermarkets.

Often the place with the best cheese selection is also more expensive when it comes to basics – flour, pasta, milk, etc. If you have several supermarkets near you, you may find that it’s best to get cheese and butter at one, but everything else at another.

  • Invest in a zhengjia (pot stand).

They cost anywhere from one to 10 RMB and can be used to toast bread, roast green chilies, heat up pre-made tortillas and crepes, etc.

  • Make your own measuring cup.

If you don't want to buy a scale and can't find measuring cups (like me), make your own. A coffee cup 12 centimeters in height and diameter is exactly one cup as listed in recipes. Measure and mark where ¼ cup, 1/3 cup and so forth, would be. Keeping the right ratio between all ingredients is more important than having exactly the right amount, and the cup system is cheaper and easier than weighing everything.

Recipes (one from each meal):

A Week of Western Food in China for 100 RMB

1) Breakfast: Crepes with yogurt and fresh fruit

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
A pinch of salt
Yogurt (preferably the thicker kind)
Strawberries and Bananas, or your favorite fruit cut into pieces


  • Whisk together the flour, milk, egg and salt until there are no lumps (you can use a whisk, fork, or chopsticks).
  • Melt a small amount of butter over medium-high heat in a wok with a flat bottom at least 5-6 cm in diameter.
  • Pour a 1/6th - 1/8th of a cup of batter into the wok, tilting in a circular manner until the bottom is fully coated. Cook for one to two minutes or until the bottom is beginning to brown. Flip with a spatula and cook on the other side.
  • Top the crepe with yogurt and your favourite fruit. It can either be served flat and eaten with a fork, or rolled burrito-style and wrapped in plastic wrap for a meal on the go. Unused crepes can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator.

2) Lunch: Grilled vegetable sandwich


Four slices bread (toasted if preferred)
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons finely shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste


  • Briefly sauté the vegetables together, adding salt and/or pepper as needed. Cook for only a few minutes, warming the vegetables but maintaining some crispness. 
  • Spoon some of the sautéed vegetables onto a slice of bread.
  • Top with shredded cheese.

A Week of Western Food in China for 100 RMB

3) Dinner: Green chile enchiladas


For Pico de Gallo (or Salsa Fresca)

1 tomatoe
1 red pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 spring cilantro


  • Make the pico de gallo by chopping all ingredients and mixing them in a bowl (be sure to cut off the roots and half the stalks of cilantro). The more seeds you leave in, the spicier it will be. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge to marinate (because Mexican food is like fine alcohol – it gets better as it sits).

For tortillas:

1 cup warm water
3 cups flour
1/3 cup oil


  • Mix all of the ingredients together into a large bowl until you have thick dough. Flour your hands and the cutting board (the dough is quite sticky). Breaking off ping pong ball sized pieces, flatten the dough in a circular shape with your hands or a rolling pin. 
  • Heat a small amount of oil in the wok. Put the circle of dough into the wok and cook until the dough begins to lift in small air bubbles and there are black specks on the cooked side, 30 seconds to two minutes. Flip over and cook the other side. Note: if you hand press your dough, you are likely to get very thick tortillas (more like a pita). Don't fret – all of the taste will still be there. Yields anywhere from eight large tortillas to fourteen small ones, and extras can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge.

For Green Chile Sauce:

4-5 green chiles
3 tablespoons butter
2 green onions, diced, or ½ red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup flour
1 ½ cups chicken stock
A pinch of cumin powder
Szechuan seasoning or chili powder, to taste


  • To create your own green chili sauce, first roast the chiles using your pot stand over an open flame on low heat. Roast until the chiles are 60-80% blackened, a few minutes on each side. You may have to roast the chiles from top to bottom depending on the size of your flame and pot stand. Once blackened, put the chiles in a plastic container and let them sweat for several minutes. (Roasting green chilies recipe: www.zianet.com)
  • While letting the chiles sweat, melt the butter in a sauce pan and sauté the onions until they are translucent. Add the garlic, cooking for no more than one minute.
  • Slowly stir or whisk in the flour. Cook for one to two minutes.
  • Gently rub the chile skins off with your fingers, removing the seeds if you prefer very mild sauce. Dice the roasted chiles and add to saucepan, stirring until heated through. It will look like a chunky paste.
  • Pour in the chicken stock, stirring until the sauce is smooth.
  • Add the cumin and any other spices you would like to include (in my case, Szechuan chili powder).
  • Cook until the sauce is bubbly and thickened. If you have a blender, now is when you can puree the entire thing until its smooth. Otherwise, just make sure to chop all of the ingredients as finely as possible. If the paste is too thick for your taste, add more chicken broth until it becomes a consistency you like. (Green chile sauce recipe: www.ehow.com)

For Enchilada filling:

300 grammes or two cups of meat (Chicken, beef, or pork)
1 green bell pepper
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped


  • To make the enchilada filling, stir fry your meat until almost cooked. Add the onions and pepper and continue to stir-fry until soft, using salt, pepper, or soy sauce as preferred

There are two ways to finish the enchiladas off. Option number 1: Roll the filling in a warm tortilla, put on a plate, and top with the sauce, pico de gallo and some shredded cheese. Option number 2: Transfer most of the enchilada sauce to a bowl, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the soup pot.  Put down a layer of tortilla and then a layer of filling. Pour some enchilada sauce in between and put in the rest of the filling. Top with another layer of tortilla and cover it with the rest of the green chile sauce – it should completely cover the tortillas (make sure all ingredients are warm when you do this).  Sprinkle with a layer of cheese and simmer with the cover on for 5 to 10 minutes. Top with pico de gallo and serve!

Related links
Guide to Popular Street Food in China
Eat Your Vegetables: Chinese Style
Viva Variety: Escaping Chinese Food

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Keywords: western food 100 RMB China western food recipes China Week of western food China


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I don't know whether Erin is still paying any attention to this post, but if you have the chance could you let us know where you found your zhengjia? As far as I remember I've never seen one; though I haven't really hunted.

Jan 20, 2012 22:03 Report Abuse


Thumbs up

Great article.
Thanks for sharing ;-)

Dec 27, 2011 01:00 Report Abuse



Thanks so much for sharing all the info, especially in the comments where you explained the rest of the dishes!
I copied all this down onto a document on my computer (of course including your name and post date under the title [I wouldn't steal credibility]) and I'm definitely sharing with my other expat friends! We're all westerners, but from a few different western countries, so I know they'll appreciate the variety of foods you have in here!
I personally love crepes, but spices are harder to find so the yogurt to cover over is a good enhancer; and speaking of, the yogurt will also be nice to follow after some of these spicy Latin classics, yummmmm!!

Can you also include your friend's idea of alfredo sauce? I never thought of using yogurt but I would love to hear about it! Milk burns easy and my stove doesn't have a 'low heat' option, haha. It's a classic, open flame stove.
Did your friend find that heating yogurt was easier than milk recipes and how did the thickness, texture, so on come out?

Anyways, this is awesome! Thank you for writing so much!

Dec 26, 2011 23:38 Report Abuse



Glad you don't make my meals! Gees, where do you foreign people come from to think that that's food. OMG! A sandwich for lunch, LMAO!
To Jeremy Van, I feel for your 2 new teachers at EtonHouse International School in Yiwu. Give them that advice ... - if they've come from anywhere decent they'll think you're a right plonker. To the author - you are what you eat! Marvellous how your article exemplifies your fine taste ( sic ). Another really bad article from echinacities.

Sep 21, 2011 04:51 Report Abuse



I don't get why so many people on this blog are so gratuitously nasty in their comments. Where are you from anyway? What do you think is so great about your food? Everyone has their own taste in food, and it's obvious the author put a lot of work and thought into this post. Much more than you did into that comment. So stop being a jerk.

Dec 29, 2011 01:20 Report Abuse


Timmy "Big Hands" Jones

The only logical cause of sx's scorn for lunch sandwiches: sx has most likely been served a few too many knuckle sandwiches for lunch to be comfortable with the idea of any sandwich for lunch.

May 04, 2012 18:30 Report Abuse



It seems that many people with sad, unfulfilled, pathetically shallow lives feel the need to try to make others feel the same ay they do. They do not understand that their life is what they make of it, or maybe they do. sx must feel very inadequate, but I am sure there are very compelling reasons for him to feel that way.

May 11, 2012 10:02 Report Abuse



I'd like to add that you can find most of the necessary kitchen implements to cook Western food at Dong Jiao market in Beijing (Just south of DaWangLu).

I went there for a baking pan, which I found nearly impossible to locate anywhere else.


Dec 29, 2010 19:20 Report Abuse


Jeremy Van

This is great information.. We have just received another 2 new teachers here at EtonHouse International School in Yiwu. It was difficult to answer when the teachers asked how much a person may spend on western food in Yiwu, but I found this site and it helped a lot. Thanks for this.

Dec 28, 2010 23:22 Report Abuse



Erin, my mouth watered reading this-however I was greatly disappointed to not find receipe directions for everything you made, and where you found the ingredients. Please, for all of our hungry for homestyle cravings, let us, or let me know-how did you do it.

Dec 20, 2010 05:02 Report Abuse



No problem, Saul, I'm happy to share what I learned.

As far as getting ingredients, I purchased my cheese, butter, milk, ground pork and flour (it was somewhat difficult to get regular flour as opposed to rice flour) at my local Jusco, but I bought my sauces, noodles, and spices at Trust-Mart here in Guangzhou. If you don't have Jusco or a Trust-mart near you, I know you can also find these ingredients at places such as Suguo (common in the Nanjing area), Rite-Aid, and sometimes Tesco (although my local Tesco's cheese selection is lacking at best). While I didn't purchase anything at Carrefour, I know they also have everything you would need.

For fresh ingredients (vegetables, fruit, and sometimes slabs of bacon), I went to my local outdoor vegetable market. I've stumbled across these in every city I've lived in here, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find one. Sometimes they are just outside of apartment complexes or down alleyways. If you're having trouble, just wander until you pass people carrying unmarked plastic bags of vegetables and go against the flow.

For recipes, I primarily used www.allrecipes.com. There is a large variety of recipes for almost every dish imaginable and you can store them so you don't have to sort through every time, especially because it sometimes takes several tries to find a recipe utilizing ingredients we have here. I'll post the links to the recipes I used in the article:

Biscuits and gravy: For biscuits, I use the prepackaged "France Bread" biscuits that are commonly found in convenience stores and supermarkets. You can find the gravy recipe I used here:


Hash browns with poached eggs and sausage (the sausage I cooked with a bit of soy sauce and pepper):


How to poach an egg:


Eggs in a basket: To do this, you take a piece of bread and cut out a circle in the middle (I usually just use a small cup - press down on the middle and twist until the bread comes out). Butter both sides of the bread. Melt a little butter in your wok over medium low heat and put the bread in. Carefully crack an egg and open it over the center of the bread. Cook for a few minutes (until you can see that some of the raw egg white has turned, well, white) and flip with your spatula. Cook for a few more minutes on the other side and you're done!

Ham and egg sandwiches: Replace the biscuits with bread (or France Bread) and the bacon with sliced ham in the recipe below.


Sandwiches are pretty straightforward, as I'm sure you know. Slice the ingredients, stack, and voila!

Cheese crisp: Start with a tortilla. Finely grate enough cheese to coat the top of the tortilla however thick you like, and top with any ingredients you prefer - vegetables, meat, etc. Grease your wok (both oil and butter work here) and lay the tortilla in it, cheese side up. Cook over low head until the cheese is melted, but be careful to not burn the bottom of your tortilla.

Fajitas with pico de gallo: Follow the recipe for the Green Chile Enchiladas, but omit the enchilada sauce. Grate some cheese and serve everything on separate plates. To eat, fill your tortilla with the stir-fried meat and vegetables and top with cheese and pico de gallo, or vice versa (to each thine own with fajitas). Fold the tortilla like a taco and enjoy.

Grilled pork with mashed potatoes and vegetables: For the vegetables and pork, you can pretty much cook it however you like. I sliced my pork thinly and coated it with some ground pepper and szechuan spice mix while cooking it on the stove, and then lightly stir-fried the vegetables trying to keep them crisp but warm.

Mashed potatoes: clean and grate your potatoes, chopping them into large chunks. Put in the soup pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and slightly turn down the heat, simmering for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and easily broken with a fork. Drain the water and mash the potatoes using a whisk, fork, spatula, or just about anything with a slotted surface. Stir in small amounts of butter and milk, tasting often, until the mashed potatoes reach a taste and consistency you like. Salt and pepper to taste.

Potato and ham soup:


Vegetable stew: I didn't use any particular recipe for this - I simply cut up a bunch of vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery, etc) and boiled them in chicken stock until the potatoes were soft, adding a little salt and pepper. If you have leftover hash browns from the breakfast recipe above, they go really well as a side to this.

More than anything, don't be afraid to experiment! I am an amateur cook at best and had more than my fair share of mishaps, but everything still turned out well. I've tried making Angel food cake on the stove (turns into light, fluffy, don't-need-syrup pancakes) and am still working my way towards finding out whether I can pan-fry sugar cookies. My friend was able to make a delicious alfredo sauce using plain yogurt and I'm attempting to perfect a homemade ranch dressing. Sometimes it takes a few tries, but once you get it right the taste of home is priceless.

Dec 20, 2010 19:02 Report Abuse



re:Carrefour, I know they also have everything you would need'
No they don't!

re:my local outdoor vegetable market. I've stumbled across these in every city I've lived in here,
LMAO, look where you're going!

re:Sometimes they are just outside of apartment complexes or down alleyways
Ooooo, creeeeepy!

re:If you're having trouble, just wander until you pass people carrying unmarked plastic bags of vegetables
You're joking.... aren't you? That's how you get sick.

re:For recipes, I primarily used allrecipes. There is a large variety of recipes for almost every dish imaginable....'
Yes, because it's mostly S.H.1.T.

re:How to poach an egg
Come on! Seriously?

re:....To do this, you take a piece of bread and cut out a circle in the middle....Sandwiches are pretty straightforward, as I'm sure you know. Slice the ingredients, stack, and ....I am an amateur cook at best and had more than my fair share of mishaps....
Thanks for sharing.

re:I've tried making Angel food cake
Tried? You can't fail with instant food in a box!

re:....and am still working my way towards finding out whether I can pan-fry sugar cookies. ....
Pan fry sugar cookies. Oh boy!

re:............taste of home is priceless
Where are you from?!!

Sep 21, 2011 05:27 Report Abuse



What kind of green chile do you use? Are 尖椒 (jian jiao), the long Chinese green peppers, pretty similar to New Mexico or Anaheim green chiles? That's the closest I can get here in Hong Kong, and I wonder if they will suffice for enchiladas, green chile stew, etc.

Dec 12, 2010 05:01 Report Abuse



Yes, I used 尖椒 (jian jiao). The flavor is fairly similar to New Mexico green chiles (even the smell as you roast them!). Granted, I'd never made homemade green chile enchilada sauce before this but the end result tasted closer to the Mexican food I grew up with on the border than most things I've had at Latin restaurants here. The only thing that was a little strange was the slightly thick texture (I ran out of chicken stock).

Dec 12, 2010 23:06 Report Abuse