Living in China has meant making numerous adjustments to my life, and some of them have been more of a challenge than others.
Take cooking – I have always loved cooking and entertaining, and with an uncharacteristic lack of modesty I would say I was a pretty good cook! (Those who disagree are welcome to post their comments below!)
However cooking here has posed various challenges, which I am attempting to solve one by one.
Lots of friends, family and some who read this blog have asked me whether we eat Chinese food or western food. The short answer is about 50/50. Eating out in China is relatively inexpensive, so we do eat out at local restaurants once or twice a week, and then we go to dinners with clients and colleagues of AMM which are usually held in rather up-market (think expense account) restaurants where some extremely sophisticated Chinese food is served. However there are times when one wants the comfort of familiar foods, and then I cook here in our little apartment.
Like many people who love cooking and eating, I have been collecting pieces of kitchen equipment for years and now possess everything any cook could need, from a pastry brush and fish kettle to a nifty gadget that removes cherry-stones; the trouble is that my entire Batterie de cuisine is buried deep in boxes held in a storage warehouse in the UK.
Our apartment here comes ‘fully’ equipped, but what FR considers fully equipped and what I consider fully equipped are two different things. There is a built-in microwave, a large electric rice steamer, an electric kettle and a two-burner halogen hob, plus an under the counter fridge which has a very small freezer compartment. A saucepan, a deep wok-like frying pan and just enough tableware, cutlery and glassware for two people plus a couple of kitchen knives completes the inventory.
I have bought a few essential items so that I am now reasonably well equipped, which has made preparing meals much easier, however the apartment lacked one thing which for me is vital. There was no oven. This was not really surprising, most Chinese households do not have ovens because they don’t need ovens. They tend to stir-fry, boil, steam or braise food on stove-top cookers of various kinds. Baking and roasting, techniques we use a lot in western cooking are not used by home cooks.
On a visit back to the UK last year I saw an advert for something called a Halogen Oven. Light-bulb (halogen) lit up above head! here was the solution to my cooking woes. I did a quick scurry round the internet looking at the various models available in the UK and discovered that all the Halogen Ovens were made in China.
As soon as I got back to Beijing in October I headed off to Sunning and Gome the two big outlets which sell electrical goods here. No joy, nothing even remotely resembling a Halogen Oven – but every other kind of electrical cooking device known to man. No-one had even heard of Halogen Ovens. I kept bleating pathetically ‘But they’re MADE in China…’ as though that had anything to do with it (as we all know, practically everything in the whole world is made in China these days).
You have three guesses as to what I brought back in my suitcase when we returned to Beijing after the Christmas break – correct – a Halogen Oven!
If this makes me sound a little crazy so-be-it, why shouldn’t I buy a piece of bulky electrical equipment made in China, exported to the UK, sold at Costco and then fly it all the way back to China?
My long-suffering husband was EXTREMELY sceptical, but gamely went along with my determination, anything to keep ‘her indoors’ happy! Now he is its biggest fan, and to hear him talk anyone would think it was his idea to bring a Halogen Oven out here. This complete volte-face is because he has been served up a succession of his favourite dishes – Roast pork with lemon and herbs, Cauliflower cheese, Strawberry & Almond tart…proper, crisp-skinned, baked potatoes. Having discovered some excellent fennel bulbs at the market I plan to serve them roasted with parmesan – an old Marcella Hazan recipe that is a favourite of mine – yum!
At the weekend we had 16 people here for pre-dinner drinks and I made 3 dozen canapé sized mini-pizzas in my trusty HO. One of the British guests said ‘where DID you get these, they’re just like from M & S’ – have to admit I bit my tongue – mine were FAR better than anything Marks and Sparks produce, at least I think so.
Meanwhile AMM has read the small print and done some research and guess what? because it uses halogen light to cook with, it uses a fraction of the energy that conventional ovens use, it is very, very green – in fact I am saving the planet by using it.
So now I am a woman who has oven, will travel! Bon appétit!