Posts Tagged With: cooking

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

As you know my husband and I live in Shanghai, China. Before we came I worried about the language, culture shock and all things foreign. It was on the other side of the world from where home was and all that is familiar. To our surprise Shanghai is very modern, many western people  live here, and western items and cultures have a place here. Since this is our 3rd year here less and less is foreign and more everyday life. There are always a few things that still catch our eye and make us say ‘shaw-ma’? (what?) and do a double take. When I thought about this post I wondered what could I show you that was different from what I have talked about before and something that was still a little new to me. What could be rare and maybe not in other places in the world, or made it (or was common) to North America?

I decided to show you Hot Pot. What is that you ask? Well it is a way of cooking and eating… a very social and communal way to eat a meal. I was first introduced to it last spring and I was hooked. A large pot of broth is brought to the table and there are many flavours to choose from like your standard beef and chicken broth, but also more unusual like mushroom and fruit. Once you pick your simmering broth you pick what you would like to eat… the choices include a variety of meats, seafood, vegetables and noodles. The water comes to a boil and you place your thinly sliced items in the pot until they are cooked. A selection of sauces, spices and oils are spread out in a smorgesbourg bar style fashion. You pick the ones you like and after your food cooks you add it to the small bowl of sauce and eat it. The food cooks within in minutes. Large plates come to the table so everyone can share and cook what they want. Some hot-pot places do individual pots, but most hold 1 large communal table pot for everyone to use.

individual hot-pot and all the trimmings

As us westerners are still getting the hang of chopsticks slippery food often falls back in or gets lost. Fishing around for it with two thin sticks cause some giggles and fun as everyone may dive in and help you find your missing morsels. A few weeks ago one of the coordinators from school hosted a hot-pot and invited everyone from work to go since this is a rarity and unknown in so many other places. This particular restaurant in Shanghai has been voted number one. Its popularity is easy to see as the waiting area was crammed with people and a line up was out the door. Thank goodness we had a reservation.  To entertain the waiting crowds origami, games, shoe polishers and manicures await to help you pass the time. I even think there was massages available! Can you imagine going to your local restaurant and instead of having a few drinks at the bar you were pampered as you passed the time?

Hong Kong Style Hot Pot with ‘chimney’ in the centre

Amazing… some foreign things do not have to be strange or bizarre, but amazing and getting out of our home countries and experiencing things make life more interesting and exciting. What foreign custom would you like to adopt?

One last plug for the Canadian Blog Awards… they close Nov. 1st. I would appreciate your vote for best expat/travel blog… you can do that here. Thanks and figers crossed I move onto round 2!

If you would like to participate in this weeks photo challenge or see more things foreign check out WordPress.

Stay tuned… there is always more!

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, Photography, post a week, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekly Photo Challenge x3: Food, Adventure & Dreaming

This week I am going to try to combine all 3 photo challenges into 1 post 🙂 I have done 2 together before and after Island Traveller tied all 3 together last week I thought I would give it a try too 😉

Alisa over at Where’s My Backpack posted the travel theme FOOD. Whenever travelling you should try the local cuisine and what they are famous for. I am not an adventurous eater, but I do try to sample a nibble of something different and try it when travelling. In doing so I have discovered some great foods to tantalize the palate.  Island Traveller’s theme for the week is ADVENTURE and what couldn’t be as adventurous as traveling and trying some new foods? Word Press set the theme DREAMING… and I am always dreaming of a vacation and where to go to next… Check out each of these posts to join in the challenges or to see more 🙂

Last April we went to Vietnam and I saw people with big steaming bowls filled with noodles. I am always weary of food on the street, so I never gave it a second thought. At our breakfast buffet, at the resort we stayed, they had a noodle cart set up and the sign said it was a traditional fare. The cart was providing a soup called Pho (pronounced Fah).

Pho -my new fav food

Despite the heat I decided to try a bowl and was hooked! Rice noodles with bean sprouts, fresh basil,  wedge of lemon and a little tiny piece of hot pepper was an awesome combination. On top there are choices of meat; beef, pork or chicken. Meat is used sparingly, but a few pieces is all you really need to compliment this bowl of goodness. My favourite was the seasoned pork, but it must have been a Seahorse resort specialty because I have not seen it elsewhere. Back in Shanghai we found a place close to our house at the Kerry Centre that is a Vietnamese restaurant and for $15- $20 (100 RMB) we could each have a gigantic steamy bowl of Pho and a plate of spring rolls.

You may remember reading my Vietnam posts and I talked about our cooking class. We learned how to make fresh and deep fried spring rolls. John’s favourite is the deep fried, but I tend to like the fresh which are refreshing on a hot day. Most have mint leaves, carrot, cucumber and may or may not have some meat. The place near us also makes a fruit/veggie combo with carrot, cucumber, apple and dragon fruit. YUM! Here in Canada John found a place that is a small Vietnamese restaurant and they make a delicious Pho and we tried the vermicelli too. That is a rice noodle with meat, cucumber, lemon grass and choice of meat. It is just like Pho without the broth… oh so delish. Price is great too for approx. $20 we both get our fill. The spring rolls are pretty good too. The best part is the Vietnamese owner (or worker) who is so sweet and friendly. If you are ever in St Catharines check out Fresh Rolls on Forth Ave.

Making the Cold Spring Rolls- Vietnam

Travelling to Vietnam was an amazing adventure. We loved the city, the people and the food. The beach and the simple life was fantastic. Laying by the pool or on the beach was relaxing and filled our heads full of dreams for a return visit and more vacations like this. Coming into Vietnam was a little adventurous as we had to get rerouted due to a typhoon. Landing in a strong cross wind jerked the plane and gave the heart a jolt like it does when on some roller coaster ride that suddenly drops.  The pilot did a great job and landed us smoothly and safely.

After a busy school year for me  and my husband just writing a HUGE exam we were dreaming about time together and relaxing. He has been watching some travel web sites for good deals and yesterday we ventured off to the travel agent and booked another vacation to Cuba. This will be our third trip to the sunny island and we are dreaming of fun in the sun, the music and great people. Cuba is not a destination for food, as their cuisine is bland and limited to what they can import. Mojotos and fresh fruit are always on the menu and that is good enough for me 🙂 SO more adventures await as I dream about the soft powdery sands, turquoise waters and gentle salt filled breezes…

Don’t forget to check out the photo challenges and stay tuned for more…

Categories: Photography, post a week, travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cooking & Final Thoughts: More on Vietnam

Can you tell we really loved Vietnam? Who knew such a short vacation that was mainly spent lazing by the pool would amount to 4 posts! God help me if we ever go away for a month… you would never hear the end of it 😉

The last full day in Mui Ne was an unexpected adventure and my favourite. It was not what I wanted to do, but I am so glad I did because it made the trip so much more enjoyable. John inquired about cooking classes and they were offered at the hotel. He wanted to sign up, but for some reason we could not at that time and had to come back the next day. It was nearing the end of the trip and panic was setting in that soon I would be back at work and up to my eyeballs in things as the school year was winding down. I wanted to savour every last minute of relaxation and sunshine that I could. We didn’t go out to the dunes as we had hoped -couldn’t give up an entire day of R’n’R for an early morning and long day in the oppressive heat. The last day I planned to go to the spa for a massage and read and John would do a cooking class. That was until they signed us both up. Quickly I jumped in and said NO I am not interested… just John. They informed him the class either couldn’t go ahead as planned with only 1 student, or he would have to pay double (for 2 people). He was going to pass on things since he knew getting away was a much needed escape for me. I didn’t want him to miss out, so I agreed to join. The happy employee signed us up and gave us the details in where to meet and what time the next day. I was very touched that John was willing to so easily give up what he wanted for me 🙂 He is such a keeper!

The next morning we finished our breakfast (more pho -yum) and went off to the lobby to start our cooking adventure. We waited for the cook to arrive and then we would be off. First they would take us into town to buy the ingredients and then return and cook. We had a private car with driver to take us, the cook and a tour guide. I felt like royalty with all the attention… Our tour guide pointed out things along the drive and answered questions about what we saw. She informed us of the building going on at a large development on a hill overlooking the sea just before getting into the beach area (in which a cemetery had to be moved to a new location!), pointed out some places of interest and asked us about our home country. Soon we were in town and left to walk in to the wet market. Our guide told us to watch our belongings and they helped us cross the chaotic street as we entered the crowded market area. Vietnam is a very safe place, but like anywhere pickpockets are always on the lookout for an easy target and foreigners are viewed as rich and good prey.

Buying the Pork

Immediately we saw fluffy little yellow chicks for sale at the entrance. I was falling behind and didn’t want to get lost in the maze of stalls, so I missed a great photo-op. Inside the dimly lit market stalls were crowded in every available space with produce, meats, cloth and other necessities. The ground was stained and soiled from years of debris. We squeezed through the narrow aisles and followed our cook who knew where to get each ingredient. As she went our guide kept a look out around us to keep us safe and explained things as we went. Locals often sat on their table tops squeezed in with their wares since there was just no space to spare and allow them to stand. It was hot and humid outside and inside the tarps and thin roof the heat was oppressive, but they didn’t seem to notice with their long sleeves and pants. Before going I had read that they are modest and don’t dress in tank tops and low-cut outer wear and frown against those who do. Many of the locals wore brightly coloured patterns of matching pant outfits (t-shirt like top with short or long sleeves and pants) in the same pattern/colour or sometimes mismatched pattern or colour. Younger Vietnamese wore jeans and more modern t-shirts.


This is what I imagined the Chinese Wet Market to be like but wasn’t. This one was crowded, smelly and somewhat dirty with scattered bits of produce, blood and guts tracked into the floor. I was SO glad I opted for the running shoes today and not the flip flops! The market was a hive of activity where people were buying and selling their daily needs and moving goods in and out. When we stopped to buy some meat and shrimp. As the cook asked for what she wanted, as the guide told us she knew this stand was of good quality. The seller pulledout a large knife and quickly slammed it into the meat and cut off the requested amount. I was glad to move on from the meats and into the spices and vegetable section.

This one grandma?

The colours were so vibrant and the smells much more pleasing. Actually the smell wasn’t as bad as the fish market I went to in Granada, Spain if memory serves me correctly. That stench was unbearable and lingering everywhere, and this was just a bit unpleasant as you went by the meats. As the cook bought some carrots, cucumbers, taro, mint and other items I snapped up pictures and took it all in. We became the tourist attraction as we did not fit; I felt like an example of ‘what is wrong with this picture?’as people did a double take on us.








After our whirlwind tour through the market we were back outside in the sunshine. Our driver had to drive around to meet us, so they took us to a temple to get out of the hot sun and see all the worshipers. It so happened this was a Chinese temple, or many Chinese worship there. Our guide told us today was busy because it happened to be a full moon, a day for them to pray for good fortune. Later I remembered it was also Qing Ming Festival and this may have also been areason it was busy. Many people were inside the temple with incense which they held near the middle of their foreheads and rocked their heads back and forth as they prayed. Certain statues were spread throughout and people gathered near them and touched them, which was a ritual we didn’t understand. You could see the worn areas from many hands caressing the statues. I felt like we were intruding and I didn’t venture far past the door and took a few pictures before our air conditioned comfort was waiting for us.

Little girl waiting for her parents as they worship

The temple















Back at the hotel we were given a break while cook prepared the ingredients. We sat by the pool for a few minutes before heading into the restaurant. To our surprise everything was cut and ready for us, we just had to do the assembly! We were making 2 style of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (yum!) Cook cut some large rice paper into triangle shapes and we added our ingredients and rolled the spring rolls up like little cigars. We made some with pork (for me) and others with

Making the Cold Spring Rolls

shrimp(for John). These would be deep-fried slowly in a warm oil. When we used that up we turned to cold spring rolls which were more vegetable with cucumber and mint and would not be cooked. As time went on I got better at rolling – cook who did not know English laughed at my first attempts and even made me do a few again. John on the other hand did well first try -show off! As we worked on the cold uncooked rolls our guide fried up the first batch and by the time we were done we had our meal! They treated us to a table for 2, an amazing cold iced tea (chamomile maybe?) and we ate our creations. Oh they were delicious! As I write this my mouth waters. I really enjoyed the cold ones, so refreshing on a hot day. Fully stuffed we enjoyed the rest of our day by the pool.


The next day we were checking out and heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent our last hours by the pool catching the last rays before a long drive. Back in Ho Chi Mihn we wandered the streets and alleys near our hotel and bought a few souvenirs. We learned that many things are made locally and provide people with work and much-needed income. I bought a lovely woven yarn scarf, John a few t-shirts and an interesting purse with embroidery. There was other handicrafts and art work, but we packed light and had nowhere to put it without the purchase of another suitcase, so we had to pass.

The next day we had to leave early so we turned in for the night. The next morning we checked out of the Liberty hotel, the same place where we stayed when we arrived. It was a simple hotel, cheap, without frills and good enough. Breakfast was included and we had to check out before breakfast began so we thought we would have to forgo our free meal. They were kind enough to offer and pack us a little meal to go! Loaded into the taxi we wove through the dark early morning streets as the city began to come alive. Motorbikes loaded down with supplies and materials were being transported to the local markets before opening time and large blocks of ice sat on doorsteps to help keep meats and other items cold. As the sun started to rise we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.

Vietnam is considered third world, and doesn’t have all the frills that other international big cities may have, she certainly isn’t as sophisticated and rich as Shanghai… but there is a hidden beauty, an inner light that shines through that made me fall in love with Vietnam and definitely want to go back and see more…. the terraced rice patties, historical tunnels from the war, the floating markets and revisit the beautiful beaches.

Stay tuned for more next time…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, Photography, post a week, social graces, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ancient Chinese Secret Explained-Pt.2

Yes Ketchup is the secret! Now let me explain…

A few weeks ago I took a Chinese cooking class and tour of the wet market. Cathy is claiming she won, but she cheated and took the chef’s bowl AND sabotaged mine by pouring extra rice wine in my bowl when she poured 1/4 cup instead of the required 2 drops…

Regardless of the outcome we had a great time and thought about taking another class. This week our small group of 4 grew to 10 and we tried it again. We broke into groups this time and each group made something different and then we all ate our creations. The menu included dumplings, Chinese eggplant, string beans, sweet and sour chicken and the Kongbao chicken we made before.

I must say I don’t think I will eat those kind of dumplings again… the mix did not only include meat, but fat and skin ground to a jelly like consistency that at first glance looked like a bowl of rice. They did taste delicious and not having dinner before we came I did eat a few…

My job was to make the fried rice… and I must say it turned out really good. The eggplant was flavourful in a spicy sauce, but a bit too oily for my taste. The big secret was revealed when John and 2 other teachers from school were making the sweet and sour chicken. This was the closest thing I have seen that looks like North American Chinese food… they diced the chicken and rolled it  cornstarch and then cooked it in a wok with oil until it was almost done. They drained off the oils and cooked the pineapple and red and green peppers. Next came the secret ingredient to make the red sweet and sour sauce… the ketchup. Sweet & Sour ChickenGasps could be heard all around the kitchen as we learned the secret and the chef calmly explained that is the sweet… who knew that the sauce was made from ketchup… here we all thought it was some difficult process or something that would come from a jar to save us time and effort. It wasn’t even Heinz, but ketchup just the same. You can see the bottle  in the picture above. It tasted really good especially since we had fresh pineapple that we included in the dish… yum! Nothing like fresh pineapple.

So now that the secret is revealed will it change what you think about Chinese food? Or as we call it here… food!

Stay tuned for more…

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ancient Chinese Secret

I have learned the “ancient Chinese secret” and I am about to let the cat out of the bag… hopefully it doesn’t get me into too much trouble!

The secret believe it or not is …..


Yes ketchup…

stay tuned for more…

Categories: Culture, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Hell’s Chinese Kitchen

Last week a few of us from school signed up for a cooking class. When we arrived we were greeted by the chef who took us on a tour of a wet market. At first my imagination thought of a Chinese wet market as a gross, smelly, crowded place filled with meats and unusual items. It wasn’t any of those things. The closest thing I can compare it to is a Farmer’s Market. The majority of things here were fresh produce… and the colours were so bright and vibrant. No waxes, colours or half ripened fruits or vegetables here. One thing I notice about China is the food has more flavour than I have ever tasted… a sign of freshness and not something that was picked early, shipped before it had a chance to reach its full flavour and then pumped full of colours and dyes to trick us into believing its freshness.

The Vibrant Coloured Fruit at the Wet Market

More Colourful Produce

There were a few butchers with fresh fish, live chickens and ducks (that they would prepare for you while you wait – no messy work not to mention NOW THAT IS FRESH) and a “pharmacy” where dried roots, lizards and seahorses would be ground into a medicinal concoction. Interesting shaped jars held rice wine vinegar and another stall housed noodle makers. As we looked around wide-eyed and took it all in the locals viewed us with the same awe and wonder. We looked at a variety of interesting and different fruits and veggies including white radish and long skinny egg-plant.

When we had all our ingredients we returned to the kitchen and prepared to cook. Our chef quickly told us he was just like Gordon Ramsey and if we didn’t follow his lead or do a good job he would kick us out if his kitchen! We soon learned our Shanghainese Chef had a very good sense of humour, some sarcasm and understood Western jokes. It made the experience all the more fun as we giggled and joked.He tasted our work and awarded Cathy with first place. This was no surprise to us. Since she poured in 2 heaping tablespoons of rice wine instead of the 2 drops which she then switched her dish for the chef’s when he left for a minute, but before that she sabotaged mine and poured some extra in my bowl! Good thing there was no voting here or I may have been sent home ;)-

We cooked a chicken dish as well as mushrooms with Bok choy and Shanghai noodles. I don’t know if I could do it again on my own, but it was fun. The biggest problem may be finding the right ingredients since I can’t read Chinese! I won’t know if I am buying soya sauce, some black bean sauce or worse some fermenting fish sauce. Most of the cooking is done in a wok and it is fast, which is great with a busy work schedule. Most kitchens here do not have ovens and if your apartment does it must mean it was made to cater to Westerners or a Westerner has previously lived there. Out of all the school apartments we are one of the few that has an oven. Seems if you have an oven then you miss out on a bathtub. A simple thing I sometimes miss.

My Culinary Adventure

A Spicy Kunghao Chicken

We eat out a lot since it seems to be cheaper than buying all the ingredients. We will have to start shopping at the wet market! Although there you must bargain for the best price and I am sure we will never get the same price the locals do.Sometimes it is just easier and faster to go to the supermarket where things are already priced out.

Everyone enjoyed the class and we all may sign up for more. Thanks Chef Mike — a shout out to you.

Stay tuned for more next time…

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , ,