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):
Total: 99.8 RMB per person (with leftovers!)
Tips to Make Life Cheaper and Easier:
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.
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.
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.
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):
1) Breakfast: Crepes with yogurt and fresh fruit
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
A pinch of salt
Yogurt (preferably the thicker kind)
Strawberries and Bananas, or your favorite fruit cut into pieces
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
3) Dinner: Green chile enchiladas
For Pico de Gallo (or Salsa Fresca)
1 red pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 spring cilantro
1 cup warm water
3 cups flour
1/3 cup oil
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
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
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!
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Keywords: western food 100 RMB China western food recipes China Week of western food China
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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
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
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
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