What’s for dinner? The kitchen sink.

The combination of my fondness for a good challenge and my innate thriftiness has me rummaging through the fridge every few days, rounding up the odds and ends that have inevitably accumulated over the week, and attempting to construct a serviceable meal from the sundry ingredients and leftovers at my fingertips. This afternoon I located a truckload of white rice, as well as some rotisserie chicken and a couple each of zucchinis, sweet potatoes, and carrots, plenty of ammo for a tasty, nutritious meal. The white rice, chicken, and zucchinis came together with onions and celery in a flavorful juk sing (ABC)-style fried rice seasoned with soy, maggi, oyster sauce, and a touch of hot sauce (a secret weapon). I served the rice wrapped in egg pouches for quaintness (and because fried rice must contain eggs in my book).

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The sweet potatoes and carrots made sweet, tender love in a wholesome mash made all the more delicious by its off the charts good for you-ness.  I boiled them until tender in heavily salted water (about 20 or 30 mins, I lost track), broke them down until rustically integrated, and added parsley, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a drizzle of honey.  It won’t be taking home any prizes for pulchritude but my oh my, from the mellow sweetness of the sweet potatoes accentuated by the honey to the balsamic-brushed carrot nibs, I just could not stop eating more.  As I told a fellow foodie friend, I’d take this dish over your Average Joe mashed potatoes any day of the year.  Except maybe Thanksgiving.

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Taking it to the streets

In both Nanjing and Zhangye (and throughout most of Asia, it seems), a lot of cooking happens out on the streets.  Not only does this enable me to display my photographic prowess, it provides color and character to streetside life.  From roasting sweet potatoes and boiling young corn on the cob to full out rocking a wok, catching these studs in action added an entertaining, educational, and often uplifting dimension to my travels.

Pounding wheat dough for noodles:

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Frying bread sticks (‘yau ja gwai’)…I eat these rarely in an effort to limit my daily intake of fried dough, but they are pure deliciousness when the craving hits.  They are most commonly eaten alongside a bowl of congee (how I’m most familiar with them) or dunked into a hot cup of soy milk.  I’ve had some pretty bad ones, but when they’re good, oh man, they rock.  Why oh why does fried bread in nearly every form taste so damn good?

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Making fried rice.  The clang of his wok against the stove was music to my ears, and as I walked away, I listened for it until I could hear it no more.  Next to him was a man doing similarly grand things with noodles.

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In her stall, this lady was efficiently but meticulously churning out savory pancakes to order.  I watched her make about ten, and each was made in precisely the same way: first, a thin layer of batter was spread over the stove to create a paper-thin pancake; then, an egg was cracked onto this base, roughly scrambled, and then spread out over the pancake; savory ground meat bits and scallions were tossed on, followed by an assortment of thick sauces and condiments; the grand finale was an oversized, deep-fried, Chinese chip (I’m sure you’ve seen these at a Chinese restaurant at one point or another) shattered onto the bed of grub below.  All were assembled into something resembling a burrito, placed into a plastic bag (the ones you see hanging on the wall), and promptly transferred for immediate consumption.  I regret not getting one.

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Preparing an unidentifiable, fiery red substance outside a hotpot restaurant.  This guy was here as we walked into the restaurant and was still going at it when we came back out after our meal.  Stuff like this brings me down to earth whenever I dare to dream of being a chef.

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