Too British for Chop sticks

I’m in China.

I’ve been in Shanghai for a little while, but I am currently staying in Changzhou; I will return to Shanghai on Friday night, by train.  Then the long haul home on Saturday.

Part of my job includes the odd bit of travel. Last month I was in Turkey for the umpteenth time.

I have eaten in some very expensive restaurants in Istanbul, Egypt, Chittagong, and now China… no, I’m not impressed either. I’m not easily impressed. Whilst colleagues have oooh’d and aaaah’d, I have quietly eaten and watched.

We fly in to the big cities, but more often than not, our destination is an hour, or two, or three, or four, actually it was five once, away from the sprawls of the city. That’s when it gets interesting…

Away from the need to impress and simply down to living, we eat, as our colleagues and associates eat, in staff canteens, with local food. The best dahl I have ever eaten was in Bangladesh., but I also ate sandwiches with fleas on. The worst omelette I’ve ever had was in Egypt.

Yesterday and today, I ate as the workforce would eat and tasted food as it’s meant to be eaten.

I am completely fascinated by the Chinese and their food. I saw crab on the buffet last night, wondering how I would tackle it, I left it, only to see two young girls chomp through the outer shell and manipulate the meat from it whilst in their mouths and spit out what they didn’t want.

Yesterday, trotters went in. Today, at lunch, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food, which included a whole boiled fish. Again with increasing fascination I saw mouthfuls sucked up from chop sticks, bones spat out, the fins, the tail – whatever wouldn’t be consumed, spat onto empty side plates. As a consequence nothing is wasted.

I’d love to tell you what I ate – if only I knew. It was lovely, I know that much. I admit, I avoided a couple of things I wasn’t too sure about, but I ate very very well.

To their amusement, each day they produce a knife and fork for me. For the most part, I’m not bad with a pair of chop sticks, by British standards of course.

What I do suffer from is the terribly British trait of being self-conscious.  I’m too worried about a dribble on my chin, slurping in front of someone, dropping food, spitting out a bone when someone might see.

You know what though? I watch the locals in this off-the-beaten-track part of China with such fascination, and they couldn’t actually give a shit about me, or how I eat, or what I eat, or don’t eat.

I think they’ve got it cracked. Eat well, eat everything. Waste nothing. Enjoy your food and company, with little regard as to how, or what, anyone else might be eating.

We need to be less hung up about the whole thing, but I think we’re a long way off.

Hungry?

A couple of weeks ago, I sat with a friend, eating in The Red Hot Buffet (It’s nice, if you’ve never been).

On the table across from us, we observed a woman, possibly in her mid to late 30’s eating like she hadn’t eaten for some considerable time.  It wasn’t the image of someone hungry, she was starving.  She was eating a plate of salad, with cheeses and ketchup, washed down with a glass of water.  Hers was not a desire to satisfy a hunger, it was a need.

She returned to the buffet  leaving a small item of hers on the table.  We noticed, peeping out of her bag under the table, a collection pot – the plastic kind you see on shop counters, or held by people in the street – relieving you of your last few coins.  She returned with another choice – not a great amount of food, and not all of it eaten.  She went again, and returned with one of their very small puddings, again, not finishing it all.  She collected her few belongings and returned to the buffet, circling… picked up a slice of pizza, circled again, and then entered the ladies toilet, which was just off to the side of the buffet area.

We watched the door with anticipation, predicting the outcome….

We didn’t have to wait long, she came out of the ladies and casually walked out of the front door…. and she was gone.

Without much thought, her table was cleared and before long another couple were seated there.  Had she been completely unnoticed?  No drinks were charged to the table…?  We pondered for some time as to whether this would completely pass them by, but later, looking at the pained expression of the restaurant manager, we assumed not.

There are many things here.  We witnessed someone take something and not pay.  A Petty (?) crime.  We saw a collection box in her bag and made assumptions, rightly or wrongly, that it might have been stolen.  We saw a basic need for food when there was food in abundance.

I’ll be honest with you.  I have no issues with what she did, or indeed what we also assumed her to have done.  For me, it only raised further questions around food waste.

How much food is consumed and wasted in such an environment?  How do they manage the food that sits out there all day?  And what do they do with the food that needs to be thrown away…?  On a similar vein, in a well known supermarket, I once bought a bag of potatoes for 9p.  NINE PENCE!  Because regulations meant that after midnight they were only allowed to throw them away.  What would that bag of potatoes mean to a family with nothing?

I wonder where she is, whether she had a home.  Whether she is getting cold now that summer is over.  I wonder if and where she might have found her next meal.  No, I don’t know her circumstances.  I don’t need to.  She was starving, and for at least that brief time that our paths met, I’m glad that she ate a good meal, I wish her many more.

The memories of food..

Food is very emotive.  Maybe our feelings cause us to eat too much, or not enough.  Not having enough is distressing (I’ve been there); having too much is overwhelming (I’ve been there too).  One thing for sure is; the memories food can conjure up for us can leave us sad, happy, scared, or full of love! 

Maybe a particular food will bring a memory of a time and place, a person, fond or otherwise. 

I couldn’t face eating cornflakes ever again – after a spell of having them and only them to eat – not through choice, I hasten to add.  My poor mum tried to sweeten them up with a blob of jam.  We had no milk, at the time it was awful, but the memory is fond – we laugh now, and the joke remains about cornflakes and jam.

My mum’s first, and failed, attempts at baking bread – and having to eat it – because there could be no waste and the subsequent relief at my parents being able to afford for her to do a day course on bread making..

My favourite cake remains to be an almond tart – made for me at Christmas by mum, as I was the only one that didn’t like mince pies.  I’ve adapted it now – and will be sharing the recipe this month, so keep an eye out (www.stuffmychops.co.uk).  I now like mince pies too by the way!  My mum, however, to my relief, continues to make a batch of almond tarts for me at Christmas.

What memories do you have?  What was your favourite dish as a child?  Have you tried to recreate it?  I’d love to hear about your favourite things – why not upload the recipes and share them with us.  

I hope to create fond memories for my children and friends, whether they are laughing about my culinary disaster, or trying to create something I used to make, I hope it puts a smile on their face.

Itch itch itch

During this spell of hay-fever and suffering as I am, it got me thinking about allergies and life choices…

I have a very mild dairy allergy. It’s ok, I can control it. So long as I don’t ave too much dairy each day. If I had a cheese sandwich every day, I’d get eczema. It would continue to get worse and spread until I stopped. So, cleverly, I don’t have a cheese sandwich everyday…. I drink black coffee. I don’t really eat cereal. So by default it fits around my diet pretty well without too much hassle. I’m lucky, very lucky.

I have friends and relatives not so lucky. Their allergies are severe and life affecting. They carry antihistamines or other mechanisms to control sudden overloads of their allergies.

I sympathise enormously, for various reasons, and where I can, I will always endeavour to give my guest(s) not just something that will do, but something tasty they will enjoy.

Vegetarians and vegans are sorted. I can always come up with something. Also, having tried both diets over a period of time, I am all too aware of the common pitfalls of a particular ingredient some would assume to be “safe”.

I haven’t given enough time to gluten free. I will. In the next couple of months. I’d like to try both sweet and savoury things I like, to see what I can achieve.

I’d love to know what you have made or been inspired by, for and on behalf of a sufferer or finding your own way around your own allergies or diet choices.

At first it can be hard, I’ve seen the look of horror in people’s eyes when I’ve said I have a vegan coming to dinner, but once you’ve opened that door, and your eyes to a world of difference and change, with a little effort, the results can be amazing.

A friend in need…

A friend in need….

….. is a friend who needs a feed… at least that’s how it works in my world. If something goes wrong, you’re hurting, you’re tired, in pain, in need of comfort…. I bring food.

Food for a friend is my sticking plaster. I can’t help a lot. But I can make sure you eat properly. I can give you kind words and a full tummy. That’s what I’m doing later. Delivering food (& kind words). No, it’s not homemade, I am at work after all and today’s mishap (as there is normally something or other) is, I’ve forgotten my purse, leaving me even less time later. I will drive home, collect my purse, head towards the shop and buy something warming and comforting. Something quick and easy. Probably a ready roasted chicken and something from the salad bar.. do you know what else? Maybe even throw away plates and forks. You don’t want a friend in need to be left with more mess right?

Cake too probably*.

*Definitely.

So what’s for tea?

“I don’t know what to have for tea tonight?”

 

I think I must say this at least 3 out of 5 days a week in the office.

As the tummy rumbles begin to take hold, my mind drifts to food.  The office discussion commences..  “Well, I’m having….”  “Ooh that sounds nice…”.

So, what *are* you having for tea?  What is your signature dish?  Until recently, my baked potato had been merely zapped in the microwave, and crisped-up in the oven, but after the office chat, they are now lightly covered in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt to create a taste sensation!

So, I dream of food.  I give food gifts.  I enjoy making food and most of all, I enjoy eating it.  I am greedy and regularly stuff my chops.  I have a geeky friend, who I can pay with food. Between us, we have created this space, online, for us all to share our thoughts, ideas, recipes, questions, discussions and more, around food.

I am not a qualified chef, we are not celebrities.  We are our own critics and our own endorsements.

In 1990 I took my GCSE in Design & Food, and last year I took my level 2 food hygiene certificate, but that is as far as my food/cooking qualifications take me.

If microwaving something constitutes as cooking, then yes, I cook every day.  Sometimes it’s elaborate with pleasure in mind.  Sometimes it’s basic with a need to fill; whatever it is, I cook, I eat, I share.

Please use this website to upload your favourite recipes, find others to try, build your list of favourites, discuss things in the forum.

Stuff My Chops is an open space, it’s free, and it’s for all of us.  It is our online office chat about what you just *might* be having for tea tonight….

 

Greedy Girl.