What do we eat today?

I have to confess I am not good at cooking. I can only do a few simple things: pasta, salad, curry rice. Now that we have an oven I should be able to do more grilled stuff, but the truth is that we almost never use it. For me, the problem is not so much the act of cooking itself, but the harvesting of the ingredients. We don’t have any big supermarkets within walking distance. The closest wet market is 30 minutes away walking. And, as I am not in Suzhou during the week, the only moment I could go to buy vegetables would be on Saturday morning. But on Saturday morning I feel like doing anything except buying groceries!

During the week, in Shanghai, I don’t cook at all. I share an apartment with a Chinese girl that cooks every day and the kitchen is always nasty and all the utensils are dirty (yes, she is very messy). Anyway, not that I would feel like spending my nights in the kitchen.

C. doesn’t cook much either. Like all Chinese young people, he survived through university by eating instant noodles and spending the rest of his money in beer and cigarettes. Currently his star dish is fried rice with egg.

Now that you have an idea of the culinary skills in our household, you will understand when I say that we often eat outside.

One of the things I like about living in big Chinese cities is that you can find many different restaurants offering a wide range of regional and international dishes. What do you feel like eating today? Traditional, sweet Suzhounese food? Korean barbecue? Spicy Sichuan fare? Western fast food? Sushi? Thai? You can find it all!

Colourful xiaolongbao.

Colourful xiaolongbao (there were also green and black ones).

During the week, in Shanghai, I have lunch with some of my colleagues. Sometimes we don’t feel like spending so much time outside and we takeaway sandwiches from Subway or Korean fast food style rice from a nearby stall. Other days we go to the food court in the mall. At least once every two weeks we go for a cheap banquet at the 东北 restaurant, which serves generous portions of north eastern Chinese cuisine. Once in a while we go to a Japanese or to a burger joint. The best part about working in Jing’an is that there are many restaurants to choose within walking distance.

The other best part is the amazing view from our office.

The other best part is the amazing view from our office (sorry, the windows were not that clean when I took the picture).

On the weekends, in Suzhou, the usual question is: what do we eat today? There is not much to choose in our street so we normally go to one of the million malls that have sprung in our district (I honestly don’t think there are enough customers for so many malls!) or to “restaurant streets” in other compounds.

Korean barbecue in the compound next door.

Korean barbecue in a nearby compound.

Eating outside is nice, but there are two problems: it is obviously more expensive than if you cook local food at home; and you can get tired easily.

Many expats like cooking at home, but also many of them try to cook dishes from their home countries. The ingredients for those dishes often don’t come cheap, as they are imported. So if the idea is to eat healthy and cheap, the objective should be cooking local food, as the ingredients will be cheap, and you can control the amount of oil, salt, etc. you add.

Before coming to China I had never thought someone could get tired of eating outside. In Spain eating outside is not that cheap, so we would usually only do it once in a while, or when we are on holidays. But after I moved to Beijing I started eating outside all the time, as in the student dorm there was only a shared kitchen I was not too eager to use. I wanted to explore Chinese food first! And usually around campus there are always a lot of cheap restaurants. Close to BFSU there were Japanese, Mongolian, Uighur and Dai minority restaurants, apart from the classic Dongbei, Sichuan, zhou, dumplings and the like.

Reasons why I love China #27: lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice.

Reasons why I love China #27: lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice.

When I was working in Suzhou our company was in the middle of nowhere, so we had our own canteen where the Chinese staff ate. However I was the only one of the foreigners eating in the canteen; the others always ordered delivery. That is another huge advantage of China compared to Spain: you can call or order online and receive basically anything on your door. In many Spain cities, the only restaurants that deliver are fast food pizzas and Chinese restaurants.

But, as I said, you can get tired of eating outside. During the week, at lunch time, we ask in the office: “What do we eat today?”, and many times we end up going to the same places. Thinking about what to eat is exhausting! But I guess deciding what to cook every day can also be a problem!

Beijing breakfast crepe (煎饼).

Beijing breakfast crepe (煎饼).

Do you usually eat outside or do you prefer cooking at home? What kind of things do you cook? I could use some inspiration! (I love Real Gunner’s lazy man recipes, but I am so extremely lazy I didn’t try them yet. The only new thing I cooked in the last 6 months was cola chicken wings, I think).