Year Abroad: Matrimony and Meals

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夫妻店 ”
(fūqīdiàn)

Lunches and dinners here in Shanghai aren’t like anything I’ve had before, and that’s not just because they’re incredibly cheap at anything from 6-16RMB – 60p or £1.60 to us Brits.

DAYTIME

Although the university has supplied us with University E-Cards that allow us to load money and eat from the canteen just three minutes from our dorms or classrooms, the massive queues, lack of English and strangly institutional feel to the metal food trays prove more than little overwhelming, and most days at the start of term we exchange students opt for the street-food stalls that flock around Fudan’s East and North gates. But it’s not just any old type of stall that swoops in on a wooden cart, fully equipt with electric motor and gas cylinder, come eleven twenty sharp on weekdays: it’s 夫妻店 (fūqīdiàn). That’s to say, it’s the swift-cuisine operation that is the Husband Wife Stall. This is real matrimonial harmony. Watch and learn…

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For lunch, it’s quick queues by the blistering heat of the wok, and the blinding sun as we get our fast, flash-fried meals from a travelling stall run by husband and wife tag teams. They work together with intricate movements of plastic-bag tying, vegetable tossing, and terrifying trust as the searing wok passes over the wife’s hands – and it’s fascinating to watch. I have my favourite stalls now at lunch and dinner – ie. those who understand that the wimpy foreigner only wants: “一點ㄦ辣”- and my lunch time topping combinations range across 金针菇 (golden needle mushrooms), 花生 (peanut), 白菜 (cabbage),紅蘿蔔/胡萝卜 (carrot), 香腸 (chinese sausage), 雞/牛/豬 肉 (chicken, beef or pork), with a choice of noodles ranging from 米麵 (rice vermicelli), 河粉 (thick, flat rice noodles), 炒飯 (fried rice) to 麵 (wheat noodles).

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Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店

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And here’s the result!

We sit under the shade of the entirely decorative front porch to Fudan University’s tall twin-towered Guanghua building, hiding from the blazing heat and making decorative sweat patches on the concrete, as we make a hasty consumption of lunch in our 1135-1235 lunch break. Believe me, by this stage in the day after an 8AM start (which, I’m sorry, but no-ones brain is ever ready for) there are characters bursting out my ears and my stomach’s ravenously hungry.

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NIGHTTIME

At night, the north gate to Fudan University Campus takes on a whole new persona as the stalls that rolled out in the afternoon from around 5PM-6PM return from their hiding place for the moonlight shift. It’s steaming pots, grilled skewers, and deep fried goodness that wafts across the street to the Fudan University International Dormitories and on the tipsy walk home from our local, Helens, and under glaring filaments we pick our poison from the stock on show. Thankfully, I had a rough stint of disagreement with my stomach in Egypt as a child, and since then have been resilient in the face of certain gastronomical disaster, but never say never…

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If the couples make a killing in small change by day, by night its a brother duo that sell Chinese Stewed Pork Pittas that are raking in the students with a delicious, slow-cooked meat sandwich which is assembled with the systematic tekkers of automated art. There’s skill to equal the nosiness of that cleaver, and personally, I think the bread brother is definitely underrated with his doughmanship. I’m not sure if it’s proper Chinese vocabulary, but these days with LOL in the Oxford English Dictionary, who’s to argue with me; it’s 兄弟店 (Xiōngdì diàn) FTW at dinner time. That’s a Brother’s Stall to you and me.

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It’s tough competition at nighttime for the couples, for sisters to friends, brothers to bored looking individuals. This community that springs with forty watt brightness out of the night is a tight group of congee-sellers, barbecuers and flash-friers that work steadily through the wee hours with as much heckling and cajoling as the 10PM Friday pub quiz. It’s a life of day-to-day physical labour of the kind that is seldom seen nowadays in the U.K., but boy, do these folk do it with a sense of aplomb.

That’s how I want my dinners.

Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店 Shanghai China

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Charlotte xx

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Lemon Drizzle Cake: “Easy Peasy…”

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“Easy peasy lemon squeezy!”
– Not sure if anyone else’s family have this saying, but it’s a oldie in my house. Urban dictionary tells me it comes from an old TV commercial from when dinosaurs roamed the earth, lost even to the cataloguing power of Youtube.

So here I am in Taipei, Taiwan as I start my Year Abroad in the East, and already I’ve been doing my fair share of baking (typical!) with my girlfriends here, and in our tiny Asian-style kitchen as gifts for old family friends. This recipe is a favourite, and it’s based on one that I found by Tanya Ramsay, and have experimented with to give it a proper lemony bite; it’s a cake I’ve saved for special occasions so I can guarantee it’s a crowd pleaser!

Even if you’re a first-time baker, this is one to try, it’s very very hard to go wrong.

Have a read through the method, gather your tools, and get baking!

Ingredients:
The Cake Mix
1 lemon’s worth of zest ie. yellow of the peel grated
1/2 lemon of squeezed juice
225g self-raising flour
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs

The Drizzle
75g Caster Sugar
1 lemon’s worth of zest
1 & 1/2 Squeezed lemon juice
(pips removed, bits removed if preferred – but I like them in)

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Method:

Tip – Start by grating both lemons of their zest, then cut lemons in halves and put aside for squeezing

1. Turn on the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

2. Mix the butter and sugar either by hand or electric whisk till light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly until the mixture is smooth.

4. Fold in the flour, grated lemon zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon – gently fold till mixed thoroughly.

5. Use a kitchen tissue/butter wrapping to grease the insides of the cake tin, then fill with mixture.

6. Pop in the oven for 45-50mins!

The Drizzle

– While your cake is cooking, squeeze the rest of the lemons (1 & 1/2).

– Add the sugar and the lemon zest of one lemon to the juice and set aside to steep while the cake is baking.

The Finishing Touch

– When the cake is ready, a metal skewer can be inserted and removed leaving no trace of mixture on the skewer.

– Take the cake out of the oven and pour the drizzle as evenly as possible over the cake.

– Leave to stand for approx. 15-20 mins to cool before removing from tin.

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Voilà!

Cake is ready to be served.

For any experienced bakers out there who want to experiment with a different texture to their cake, I recommend trying a pure wheat flour. I struggle to find anything other than this extremely fine version of low-gluten flour here, and it produces a very light and even bake to any cake. Try your local Asian food store and let me know what you think!

The Friendly Stew

For the big two-one this year, my lovely housemates let me invite the friends I grew up with in Belfast to our tiny student house in Exeter… with absolutely no idea what they were in for. The invitation was made, plans were set and an fleet of raucous Belfast accents invaded our house by plane, by air, by car, by train, doubling our numbers for a weekend – spoiling me beyond all belief and travelling horrendous distances to the very south of England. We were noisy, ate large quantities of food and touristed like nobody’s business.  The Belfast lot were horrified by how Anglicized my accent had become; the English were baffled by how incoherent my accent became in their presence. But we danced, we drank, we mingled and resolved our respective cultural differences through games enforcing alcohol consumption. An unforgettable twenty-first.

Friendly stew and a heavenly Korean white rice

On a practical note, having lots of people about reminded me of this great recipe! The Friendly Stew is a great way to feed large numbers of people with varying tastes; it’s quick and easy to make, requiring minimal fuss – so you can leave it to do it’s magic while you enjoy playing hostess. This super basic Spanish-style stew is adaptable to many circumstances, and built around a tomato, onion and pepper base which is a good starter for any beginner cook; it can easily be adapted to fit different ingredients and built up into an individualised master-piece! A personal favourite, and one that I crave when homesick, is our family’s ‘Pork and Olive’ – the addition of pimento stuffed green olives (pre-soaked to remove any trace of brine or oil) makes it bitter and rich; it was the only good thing about winter, as my parent’s refuse to cook it any other time, and to be fair, bar Christmas, there’s not much else to be celebrating. (I’m a bit of a grinch when it comes to the cold.). Try switching up the flavours with rosemary instead of bay leaves for a sweeter edge, or three whole garlic cloves for warm tangy undertone.

Here’s the list of what I put into my stew usually, but mix it up with whatever’s in your cupboards. It serves six people generous portions or can be frozen for savvy student consumption (and most importantly, to participate in student freezer tetris).

Ingredients
4x  cans of chopped tomatoes,
3x large peppers
2x large onions
1x tbs tomato puree
Salt & Pepper
2x bay leaves
750g gammon*
I usually use a cheap and cheerful cooking bacon and it tastes great!
Soak for aprox. 30mins before cooking to remove saltiness.

Method

1. Chop peppers and onions into approx. inch by inch squares and put in pot with all ingredients but the pork

2. Dice pork into inch by inch cubes and very lightly pan-fry so they’re ‘sealed’ and pop them into the stew
ie. changed colour on the outside but raw inside.

3.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for min. two hours until the sauce thickens

4. Serve with rice, boiled potatoes or roasted yam if you’re feeling adventurous.
Yum!

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© Jonathan Boyd Photography

Much, much, much love goes out to Simon, Scott, Hannah, Peter, Jonny and Rebecca for making the horrific journey to land’s end to celebrate my oldness; a MASSIVE thank you hug to Emily, Sophie, Jonnie, Tom and Megan for coping admirably with us Norn’ Ireland lot and holding up the English end with gusto!

‘Is that… Apple?’: The Chilli and Apple Con-Carne

This recipe comes from a mixture of  wild culinary upbringing, and a strong sense of student fugality ie. I bought a huge £1 bag of apples, and had to do something with them. Needless to say, the housemates were horrified.

I feel like cooking style like this should come with an explanation. Delia Smith, the fabulous lady she is, was a constant presence in my house growing up. She helped me learn to read (as I dictated her recipes to my Dad, and he quickly learned not to trust what I said), she was there with me as I wreaked havoc (serious the-oven-is-on-fire havoc) in the kitchen, and supplied me with staple culinary skills that keep me alive and sane at university. Delia’s emphasis on precision was tempered by my Dad’s sense of absolute wild abandon in the kitchen, the supermarket, in foraging; Delia’s Britishness, by my Mum’s exquisite and traditional Chinese style. On our cookery book shelf at home, well protected by the thick paper covering my Dad and I sello-taped on to prevent further damage, is a wedding present from my Grandparents to my parents in 1991: Delia’s Complete Cookery Course. I’m patiently waiting to passed on Delia’s Cookery Book, stains and all, when I get married.

Apple

Let me know if you have any interesting variations on the usual ol’ Chilli!

Ingredients:
2 value tins of plum tomatoes
1 value tin of kidney beans
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 tbs tomato puree
a quick shake of dried chilli flakes
500g mince beef/stewing beef
3 small apples cored and cubed
splash of apple juice
1 tbs honey
100ml red wine (optional)

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1. Put everything but the beef into a large pot.

2. Fry the beef lightly (just seal the stewing beef) and add to pot.

3. Bring to boil, then simmer for approximately 2 hrs.

Yum.

“Cooking is rarely an automatic instinct, we have to learn as we go.”

-Delia Smith, Complete Illustrated Cookery Course (Classic Ed.). Introduction, p.7.

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