Chinese Food 101: Basic Ingredients

“Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.” – Bryan Miller

Agreed. I would add Wisconsin to that statement as well. To get the best, most authentic Chinese food, you need to know what you’re looking for. If you’re not from China and you’ve never been to China or Chinatown you might lack this ability, but not always. The local buffet down the street may be tasty, but it’s likely to not be very bona fide. For instance, in the entire Minneapolis/St. Paul area there’s less than a handful of genuine joints.

My first post in this series listed the Basic Cooking Utensils and for this second edition, I’ve decided to list some of the rudimentary fixins’ you’ll need to have around the kitchen to provide the best, most legitimate Chinese meal. OK?

1. The Rice
Back in the day, people in China only ate rice. Many Chinese people that I’ve asked around Tianjin say that rice is their main course when they eat at home. And they buy it by the bag-full here. It’s quite easy! I have a nice little outdoor market on the way home from work. I haven’t figured out the measure word for rice yet, but the rice lady always smiles and asks me if the amount is okay after she puts in a load. I wouldn’t even know how to buy rice in America! The grocery store? In a box? Costco?

Relative Links:
How to Cook Rice
Ancient Chinese Food

2. The Fresh Fruits & Veggies
Note, I said “fresh.” Over the next few months, I might start taking for granted the fact that I can walk a half a block away from my apartment and buy the cheapest, most delicious fruits and vegetables I’ve ever bought or eaten. Hopefully not. I noticed, though, that one stand was selling some Red Delicious with the Washington sticker on it. That made me suspicious! Until I can adequately communicate and ask where those apples came from, I’ll keep assuming they were locally grown by the person who sold it to me.

In addition to what’s in this picture, make sure to have tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant around too; they were absent for the photo shoot.

Relative Links:
Pictures of Chinese Vegetables
Made In China Fruit

3. The Eggs
Whether you want chicken, duck, or goose eggs, you can get them at the market. I think I’ve only been getting chicken eggs, but who can really tell anyways? (Especially an ignorant foreigner like myself.) Oh, and if you see some chickens running around the KFC on the corner, assume they’re only being used for the eggs. (wink)

By the way, eggs are essential. Some of my favorite dishes, so far, all have plenty of eggs in them.

Relative Links:
The Century Egg
Eggs in Chinese cooking

4. The Cooking Oil
I think there are different kinds of oil, but I’m unable to translate them all. I just got the biggest tub of oil I could lug back so it would last a long time. It’s not lasting long at all. Oil must be its own food group here. Oh, and be careful when you heat this stuff up. Not that I’ve burned myself or anything. The pros make it look so simple!

Relative Links:
What kind of oil?
Cooking with Oil

5. The Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Peanut Something, and MSG. (Lots of MSG.)
Ah, the condiments. Admit it, no one really knows how to correctly use soy sauce, right? Well, neither do I, that’s why we’re starting with the basics here. I just know it tastes good and a requirement for authentic Chinese cooking. In the market here, there’s an entire row of different sauces. It’s like the cereal or toothpaste aisle in America. I just picked the one that had an English translation on it.

MSG may have a bad rap, but I think it contributes a lot to the enhancing of neurotoxic flavors in Chinese food! If it’s supposed to cause health problems, why are Chinese people generally pretty healthy? I have no answers on this one, just questions. Leave your lawyers at home.

Relative Links:
Soy Sauce Secrets
Monosodium Glutamate

Meat, tofu, and chicken feet will all be addressed later. That is all.

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