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):

Breakfast:

  • 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

Lunch:

  • 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

Dinner:

  • 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

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

Directions:

  • 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

Ingredients

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

Directions

  • 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

Ingredients

For Pico de Gallo (or Salsa Fresca)

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

Directions

  • 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

Directions

  • 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

Directions

  • 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

Directions

  • 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

2 Comments

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1

Tamar
comment|23850|71930

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

2

Tamar
comment|23199|71930

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