Dinner Party / Food Coma

ON THE MENUTaiwanese Dinner Yum

Just yesterday I caught myself starting a sentence with the phrase:
“When I was a teenager…”

😱 Cue internal screaming.

It’s probably because last Friday I turned the kind-of gross age of twenty-three that this feels particularly terrifying. Turning twenty-three is not an achievement. I’m not a sassy, Taylor Swift twenty-two anymore, and I don’t really want to celebrate the fact that I am now closer to twenty-five than my wild (not) teenage years.

The good news is, turning a new leaf and beginning my twenty-third year on the planet seems as good a reason as any to celebrate with a little dinner party with my lovely flatmates. Seeing as I’ve been thinking of heading back to Taipei this year, and I Iove any excuse to eat unholy amounts of Taiwanese food, we had a Saturday night feast of some of the easiest and nommiest Taiwanese dishes that you can whack together with a wok, minimal culinary skill, and a whole load of sticky rice.

Dishes 1-6

Taiwanese Dishes

One // Sticky Korean Sushi Rice
Two // Soy Sauce & Shiitake Mushroom Chicken
Three // Mangetout & Ginger Seafood (Kingshrimp + Scallops)
Four // Taiwanese Tomato+Egg
Five // TW BBQ Sauce Vegetables
Six // Stir-fry Broccoli

 I felt very mature and grown-up kicking my old age off with a dinner party (even if we voluntarily opted to have wine and red Schloer instead of wine). If you wanna make something like this, my cooking time in total was around 1&1/2 – 2 hours for a group of five guests, but boy is the result i.e. a mountain of steaming, delicious food, so totally worth it. Needless to say, if you live in a flat with said dinner guests, its almost impossible not to get help drafted in from all quarters.

Thank God.

PUDDING

Taiwanese Sago

I had the time to whip up a classic, super-easy Taiwanese dessert in the shape of Coconut Sago and Sweet Potato soup. It just requires a saucepan and those three ingredients – plus a healthy dose of sugar – which, according to my flatmates, is an exotic approximation of English rice pudding…. Though, if I’m honest, it wasn’t a real hit with the English.

But, I absolutely love this stuff. I think it’s even better after a night to stew to a thick porridge consistency, and the sweet potato has a lighter taste. I grew up with the stuff; folks you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

And, yes, I did eat it again for breakfast.

Nom.

TWENTY-THREE

How does it feel?
Different, actually.

I can feel the heady, impending threat and freedom of graduation just around the corner (yes, I’m one of those multiple gap/study abroad year oldies).  I know that real life, in all its delicious unemployment and assignmentlessness, calls with the summer sunshine.

Yes, I’m gut-wrenchingly sad that I think I’ll finally have to stop pretending be a hip (haha), baby-faced early twenty-something with a student loan… But maybe that means I get to level-up to a trendy, cool encroaching-on-my-mid-twenties-something who gets on with their parents and relishes the thought of starting a career.

But, I guess you’ll just have to watch this space and see how it turns out.

In the meantime,

Where’s that leftover dessert?

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No-Cook Chocolate Traybake

What it is about being crazy in love and the desire to eat myself comatose?

I’ve had the luxury of having my boyfriend to stay this week, which gives me perfect the excuse to cook (and eat) the most ridiculous amount of food. More specifically, it’s the perfect chance attempt eating my own weight in chocolate.

Left to my own devices, I swear I usually eat pretty healthy, but when lovely boyfriend is over, I just want to be cuddled up in my duvet eating horrible amounts of chocolate traybakes to the dulcet tones of Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs, great TV).

These super-simple, lazy-ass chocolate traybakes are perfect for when you couldn’t be bothered to make anything that takes effort, or, God forbid, requires your to get out of your PJs.

Guaranteed favourite.

No-Cook Choccy Traybake

birds

Ingredients:
Cocoa Powder 3Tbs
(Milk/Dark) Chocolate 300g
Rich Tea Biscuits 250g
Golden Syrup 3-4Tbs
Margarine 250g

Utensils:
Saucepan
Glass/Pyrex Bowl
Baking Tray 3-4cm Depth
Mixing Spoon

Method:

1. Crush Rich Tea biscuits finely.

2. Melt marg in a saucepan on low heat, and add cocoa power, crushed biscuits, syrup. Mixture together thoroughly

3. Pour this sticky biscuit base into a baking tray with 3-4cm depth, and press down gently to help it set solidly.

4. Rinse the saucepan (or use another) to bring a 4cm depth of water to a steady boil – place the glass bowl on-top.

5. Tip in chunks of chocolate to bowl and melt for topping. When melted spread over the biscuit base.

6. Put the tray into the fridge to cool for 15-20mins.

Now, boil that kettle and brew yourself a cuppa. It’s traybake time.

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Wishing you all chocolatey joy,

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Meals of a Twenty-Something

Eating is the best time of the day.
Fact.

Luckily, I also really love cooking: I love the lone-ranger foraging, the neat vegetable chopping, and of course, the creative recipes that I’m forced to think up due to the lack of content in my cupboards. Now that I’m firmly in my twenties (cry), I feel like the transformation to a kitchen goddess is surely somewhere around the corner? Though I’ve got some way to go, my unashamed love of a good, home-cooked meal (or what you could also call a love of stuffing my face) means pottering about the kitchen is one of my favourite things to do.

So, here’s some super quick, no-fuss student creations that might help you out in a pinch:

Stir Fry Noodles / Deconstructed Sushi /Blitzed Veggie Soup

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STIR-FRY NOODLES

Not the most imaginative of dishes, but a vegetable stir-fry is a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables from the cupboard – and of course, feel free to add meat. The kick to these noodles is my mum’s special ingredient: Taiwanese ShaCha Sauce. It’s the mind-blowing, Asian equivalent to good ol’ BBQ sauce (which incidentally, I’m addicted to) and is usually sold in most Asian supermarkets. You don’t need much of the thick, grainy paste to give a slightly spicy, rich taste to the noodles, so start small, but it’s my top tip for stir-frying anything.

noodles ingredients

Ingredients:
Amoy Straight-to-Wok Noodles (150g)

Fine green beans
Sweetheart Cabbage
Red Pepper
Small Onion
Shiitake Mushrooms
Broccoli

Garlic
Soy Sauce
Chinese BBQ Sauce

stir fry - cooking

Method:

1. Put the noodles and shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and a quarter cup of boiling water.

2. Wash and chop all vegetables.

3. Add groundnut oil to the wok and fry vegetables until soft.

4. Add noodles, mushrooms and water, 4 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp BBQ sauce – stir for 3-5mins until noodles are soft and evenly coated with sauce.

5. Serve!

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noodles finished

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DECONSTRUCTED SUSHI
ie. the perfect sushi rice

So this is a cheat meal, and it certainly helps if you are addicted to sushi rice – as I am. There’s nothing like a bowl of incredibly sticky, white sushi rice to make my mouth water, and this super-healthy meal involves lots of it. The key to making this lunch or dinner pop is the faintest sweet taste to the traditional sushi rice: just add sushi vinegar, sugar and salt in the quantities below. You can get Sushi Vinegar pretty cheap at most Asian supermarkets, and sometimes major chains also. I could eat sushi rice by the mountain so I try to control myself…

I tend to make this rice to go with any combo of stir-fried veg, fish, roasted sweet potato – but for once, it’s the rice that’s the star of the show.

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Ingredients:
Sushi Rice
(I tend to go for the Korean rice brand ARIRANG)
Sushi Vinegar
Salt & Sugar

Seaweed Sheets
Selection of fresh vegetables
eg. Peppers, Sweetheart Cabbage, Broccoli

Optional Extras:
Sweet Potato Chips, Braised Eel, Honey and Soy Sauce Salmon etc.

Sushi Rice Method:

1. Boil rice and water in a 1:2 ratio and leave to cook until ready. × [see tips below]

2. Once rice is ready, take off heat and leave to cool for one minute, then add 3 tbs of vinegar per 50g dry weight of rice.

3. Season rice to taste, 3 tbs of vinegar usually sits well with a 1/2 tsp of sugar and a light sprinkling of salt.

3. Plate up with your chosen sides!

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decon sushi - finished

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×TIPS FOR SAUCEPAN COOKED SUSHI RICE:
(ie. students like me who can’t afford rice cookers)

 + Turn heat down once water is bubbling, stirring rice only when a quick scrape with a wooden spoon shows rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the water boils off, be prepared to stir frequently to prevent sticking.
+ Rice is ready when it tastes entirely smooth when chewed, so give it a taste and don’t be afraid to stir and add more water if it isn’t cooked. Keep a keen eye out if you’re adding more water as rice is more prone to burn at the bottom.
+ Other indicators of perfect rice are: the water has boiled off and rice rising slightly at the edges of the pot, or a white film of rice paper is gathering on the pan sides.

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Blitzed Veggie Soup

veggie soup ingredients

Ingredients: 
Broccoli
Onion
Garlic
Rosemary
Vegetable Stock
Butter
Salt, Pepper, Sugar
Optional Pre-Blending Additions:
 Cream, Philly/Soft Cheese (non-salted) 

Method:

1. Wash broccoli, chop with onions and garlic, and fry  in butter with rosemary leaves.

2. Tip into blender and blend till smooth, slowly adding 1 stock cube dissolved in 250ml of water.

3. Season to taste and serve!
(I added some ground pepper, and a tiny smidge of sugar)

I’ve used broccoli because it’s in my cupboard and thus all my student meals this week, but really lots of veg can be substituted – I’m looking forward to trying sweet potato, peppers, spinach and more! Whenever I get round to buying them, that is…

veggie soup finished

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With winter in my cold cold room, I’ll be looking to make some yummy stews and tomato sauces next week to keep my poor tummy warm. Hit me up if you try any of these tips for a quick lunch next week, and I’ll be back with more meals ASAP!

Happy cooking,

Charlotte xx

Year Abroad: Hangzhou

杭州
Hangzhou

Shanghai Honqiao – Hangzhou East: 159¥

Sights:
West Lake,
Bai & Su Causeways,
JingCi Temple,
National Silk Museum
Dragon Well Tea Village.

After term ended in January I headed to Hangzhou for a long-weekend. It’s a short two and a half hour high-speed train journey from Shanghai, and if you choose your weekends wisely, a great break from the bustle of the big city.

Lakes, greenery and pedestrian and cycle paths that should be the envy of China, Hangzhou made a crisp New Year’s trip that’s definitely one of my China favourites.

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West Lake Hangzhou

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 MOUTH-WATERING TREATS.

I’m a simple creature, proximity to food is high on my list of priorities.

And Hangzhou’s slightly sweet and flavoursome style of dishes are a solid favourite out of my trips so far. If you’re down south, definitely try out these three dishes mains at the very least, Hangzhou did them perfectly: 红烧肉 Slow Stewed Pork, 家常白菜 Home Style Cabbage, 红烧茄子 Stewed Aubergine.

For speciality snacks, head down to QingHeFang St. on the west side of the lake where stalls selling traditional savoury snacks and sweet cakes line the narrow streets.

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West Side of the Lake

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Red Bean Tea Cakes in Hangzhou

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TRANQUIL SCENERY

If you stay away from the traumatising horror of major national holidays in China, even at the weekends, Hangzhou’s lakes and causeways are some of the loveliest.

Besides the gentle (read: wonderfully flat) walk around the lake, it’s also surrounded by a scattering of temples, pagodas and museums well within a walking radius. We managed to cover them pretty extensively over three days, and I wish I had had more time at the Silk Museum. I was taken rather grudgingly, given my sceptical opinion of how interesting a museum of a single fabric could be, but I (equally grudgingly) had to confess I was wrong.
Good choice, Peter.

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Leifeng Pagoda

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View from Leifeng Pagoda

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Peter at JingCi Temple

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GREAT PUBLIC TRANSPORT

At risk of being called a criminally uncool, I have to say, having travelled a fair bit along the main tourist routes of China by now, it is with no small amount of gravity that I praise the tourist buses in Hangzhou. All hail efficiency.

With managable timetables and English announcements at every stop, it’s an easy town to move about in. (And the fact that I still managed to lead us half an hour in the wrong direction by the bus is testament only to my poor understanding of North vs. South.)

We headed down to the lakeside to rent a cheap tandem and cycle the lake. Things were certainly a lot safer when I wasn’t steering, but that aside, it was a perfect way to enjoy the sunshine.
Su Causeway North to Hubin Rd. takes around 25mins.

Another plus of good transport is that we weren’t afraid to take some late evening strolls around the lake and watch the lights glow from street lamps and tiny wooden stalls.

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Su Causeway Stall Hangzhou

All in all, a great weekend.

再见杭州!

Charlotte xx

See you again, Hangzhou.

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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Tasty Taiwan Treats

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If you’re thinking of heading to Taipei, happy-snappy touristing, back-pack hipstering, or even (darn you, lucky thing) living in Taiwan currently, here’s my run down of the best best best things to eat in a 20min walking radius of the National Taiwan University.

I’m not in Taiwan anymore, let alone in the wonderful Gong Guan area of Taipei, but you’re just going to have to forgive me: it’s been a long first week of classes here in Shanghai. All I want to do right now is turn back the clock two and a half weeks, and head down the road to get some ice-cold Chen San Ding Bubble Tea

It can be hard jumping from one country to another, especially on the tummy, and for this week, I’m struggling not only to find what I am used to eating in Taiwan here in the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai, but to force myself to branch out from my small selection of known foods.
I’m still feeling pret-ty wary of the strange looking food here….

CHEN SHAN DING
BUBBLE TEA

陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店
台北市中正區羅斯福路三段316巷8弄口

Take the MRT to Gongguan Station, Green Line

What you want:
No. 1 青蛙撞奶 (Qīngwā zhuàng nǎi) 30NT

Chen Shan Ding ((陳三鼎) Bubble Tea, Taiwan

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If you come to Taipei and miss out on this, I can only say, shame on you. This take-away store front in Gongguan Market sell bubble tea to a hectic queue of dedicated fans from Tuesday to Sunday. And, when I say their bubble tea is the best, I mean their “black-sugar-soaked-bubble” tea is the single most delicious, intoxicatingly sweet, 30NT-a-pop drink in all of Taiwan. Period.  My order is usually a “一杯一號, 少冰” (Yībēi yī hào, shǎo bīng)  or a No.1 with less ice, and it hits the spot.
Every. Time.

STEWED PORK RICE
滷肉飯 (Lǔ ròu fàn)

with a side of Chinese spinach – and if you’re lucky a tea egg or a fluorescent slice of crunchy sweet pickle!

Your treat for… ~30NT rice +  ~40NT vegetable dish
Try a side bowl of 餛飩湯 (Húntún tāng), commonly known as Wonton Soup in the West .

If nothing else is on my mind come dinner time our here in Shanghai, it’s this yummy little dish.There’s nothing simpler or more satisfying for me than a little bowl of the ol’ Lou Rou Fan after a day in the heat in Taipei. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s available at nearly any standard noodle-and-dumpling store – usually the cheapest on the menu in my experience! It’s definitely worth trying the variation in different stores if you have the time, as the softness of the mean, the ratio of fat to lean, the type of meat (fine mince or chunks), and cheeky add-ons are different wherever you go.

For moments of laziness, longing, tired-and-homesickness, I like to know where my wee local is…

My favourite, all-circumstances appropriate dish.

lou rou fan, 滷肉飯 taiwan.

TAIWANESE HAMBURGER
藍家割包
(Lán jiā guà bāo)

No. 3, Alley 8, Lane 316, Roosevelt Rd., Sec. 3
TEL:+886 22 368 2060

If you’re at the Gongguan Nightmarket already and it’s night-time, don’t leave just yet!

From facing the obvious Chen San Ding store front, turn 90º anti-clockwise to 藍家割包 (Lán jiā guà bāo), which sell a delicious on-the-go treat:  割包 (guà bāo), otherwise known as the ‘Taiwanese Hamburger.’ These hot, little puffy white bread bundles are filled with braised pork (Options: lean, fatty, or half-and-half) with optional parsley and peanut powder for a neat 50NT.  While they claim to have other stalls over Taipei, nothing beats the original at Gongguan.

Not that I’m biased or anything.

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Copywrite Christopher Chen

 

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 LITTLE PLUM
LAN ZHOU BEEF NOODLE

小李子蘭州牛肉拉麵館
(Xiǎo lǐzǐ lánzhōu niúròu lāmiàn guǎn)
No.57, Lane 118, Section 2, Hépíng East Road, Daan District, Taiwan
Tel: +886 2 2736 9505

Top of the range 牛肉湯麵: 120~160NT

If you’re walking out the back gate at the 和平東路 exit of the National Taiwan University (about 20mins walk from Gongguan Station), step into Lane 118 for a taste of the best little Beef Noodle Restaurants in the area. It’s modestly sized and simply run, with a plastic seated interior and efficient service – but the right wall is plastered with foodie awards, photos of famous clientèle, and even a letter of recommendation from President. Fancy.  

For me, it’s the perfect rendition of the traditional Taiwan Beef Noodle dish: the noodles are made on the spot, the soup is light but packed with flavour, the beef is incredibly soft, with lovely marbling and a hint of sweetness and of course, there’s some winter gourd cooked in with the noodles. Parfait! If spicy is your thing, you may have to make use of the chilli flake oil provided, but for me, it’s got it just right.

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Taiwan Best: Beef Noodle Soup

Taiwan Best: Beef Noodle Soup

Winter Gourd and all... sob! It's delicious!!

Winter Gourd and all… sob! It’s delicious!!

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SHI DA NIGHTMARKET

Take the Red/Green Line to Taipower Building Station (台電大樓站), exit 3.
Turn right, then make another quick right to Shi-Da Road (師大路).
The market is located along both Shi-Da road and in the alleys off both sides.

If you’re looking for some proper, girly (or a manly) nightmarket shopping while you’re in the area, hop just one stop on the metro to Taipower Building Station to hit the hot, packed alleys of Shi Da Nightmarket.

Although it’s cracked down on what used to be a sprawling, noisy hubbub of food stalls and vendors, there’s arguably a better (read: less smelly and elbow-jarring) shopping environment at the Shi Da University’s local night-time stroller.

CLOTHES
It’s the main street if you want to exercise some haggling for those cheap bargains, but if you’ve got the cash to splash for Korean boutiques, try the cutesy decor, air-conned stores that are hidden in doorways or behind tinkling glass doors further out of the bustle.

FOOD
The 浦城街雲和接 crossroads for on-the-go food options from barley and green mung bean sweet soup, deep fried delights from yam to squid and, a personal favourite, don’t miss the freshly made winter gourd tea. If you need to rest those feet – there’s a  studen
t haunt ice cream parlour Anor Crêpes that serves a biscuit-esque crêpe that can be packed with different flavours of ice cream scoops towards the 浦城街 entrance to the market

Crepe

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I sure miss my Taiwanese food, but I’m learning my preferences out here in Shanghai. The drinks are heavenly, the street food outside the Guanghua Chinese Language Building is a guilty treat, and the University cafeteria is student-budget cheap: my kind of places!

Can’t wait to show y’all my meals out here in Yanugpu district of Shanghai!
.Charlotte xx.

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外婆的小菜

Year Abroad: Celebrations & Farewells

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As is be a common theme in our household, everything can be improved, and solved, by eating good food, and boy does our end-of-trip celebration dinner come up to scratch. For the end of our month family holiday together, short family stop-over in Shanghai, and celebrating both my parents birthdays, we head to a restaurant in Wujiaochang (五角场), two bus stops from where we’ve been staying near Fudan University.

外婆的小菜

4F No.600, Handan Road, Shanghai
No: 5566099

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From the lush interior and the welcomed air-conditioning, seated waiting line to the terrifying recorded screeching of “外婆請你吃飯嘍!!!” at deafening volume, it’s a good start to what is one of the most fabulous meals I’ve yet to have in Shanghai. A pleasant little waitress from Anhui province is quick to help us, and another girl steps in to suggest some house specialities for the big night – and they certainly don’t disappoint: beautifully prepared, delicate, perfectly cooked and a sensory delight to behold. Perfect for a family of connoisseurs.

Our favourites include:

外婆紅燒肉 49RMB
荠菜鱼丁滑豆 29RMB
西子藕韵 15RMB

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It’s definitely telling that the only dishes I’ve managed to take proper photos of are three of the sweetest on the table. They do keep saying that Shanghai food, and South Eastern Chinese food in general is meant to have a sweet edge to it, and these dishes certainly hit the spot –  from sticky, rice stuffed lotus root to mouth-watering, slow-cooked braised pork that I’ve been especially recommended by a friend from home. It’s a fantastic farewell meal.

I wish I’d taken more pictures, but take it as a testament to the quality of the food!

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It’s certainly not until I’m walking my last walk back to the hotel my family is staying in and bundle up into their room for the last time that I realise, with a heavy chest, that I’m not going to be seeing them all together like this for a long time. At most we’re apart for four months at a time, and I can tell already that I’m going to miss them a lot.

I may have to make an impromptu trip home at Chinese New Years after all…

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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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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!