What I’ve been eating

I am the type of person that takes pictures of my food. If you don’t want to be my friend anymore I understand…but please reconsider.

Now that I have confessed, here are some photos.

My students brought pizza to our last class.

Spanish chef neighbor teaching us to make croquetas. Think grandma’s sausage gravy, rolled in a ball, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.

Snack of choice while working in the office, sweet potato chips. In fact, I am munching on some right now.

Christmas tapas (cilantro pesto, tapenade, slow-cooker spicy beef, cheese, salami, ham, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and mushrooms, bread, sweet potato casserole). We’ve been eating a lot of this kind of dinner lately. Maybe it’s our Spanish neighbors rubbing off on us or maybe eating stuff on top of bread is just a good idea.

Christmas present from my brother.

We’ve had a New Year’s day tradition for the last 4 years of eating Deokguk, Korean Rice cake soup.

Tongli pork and noodles.

Apple tart made to share with our friends on El Dia de los Reyes.

Cupcakes for a going-away party.  Grace and peace, Erna!

Still friends?

Happy Year of the Monkey from Tongli!

Matt and I celebrated the new year with a day trip to Tongli, one of the many small water towns surrounding Suzhou. Suzhou and the neighboring towns are teaming with man-made canals. It’s not hard to believe that there were once more canals than streets. Historically, I suppose, the canals were the highways. Nowadays, you can still see the occasional cargo bamboo raft floating down a canal, but they are mostly for irrigation, drainage and tourism. So, we tourists strolled the narrow walkways lining the canals, explored the old courtyard mansions, ate the local food, and enjoyed a sunny holiday in Tongli.

Travel tips:
Eat Tongli pork: They will cut it up for you and give you plastic bags for keeping your hands clean. It’s not classy, but it’s delish.

Stay at Blossom Hill Guesthouse: If you want to stay overnight, which we didn’t, this place looked really beautiful.

Getting there from Suzhou: We tried to take a bus but arrived at the stop just after one had come. We didn’t feel like waiting 2.5 hours for the next bus, so we took a taxi. From East Dushu Lake area it was 20 min and around 65 RMB. Coming back we took 2 buses to the subway, changed subway lines, transferred to another bus and 3 hours later made it home. Just take a taxi.

Bringing it home: jitoumi (gorgon fruit)

We recently visited Taihu 太湖 (Great Lake), the 3rd largest freshwater lake in China. We ate some jitoumi 鸡头米, translated directly to chicken head grain. It was stir fried with chopped lotus root and Taihu water chestnuts. It was delicious. Google gorgon fruit and you can see images of it being harvested and hulled.

Jitoumi, or gorgon fruit in English, has a chewy hominy-like texture. I liked it so much, I bought some from the vendor outside the restaurant with ambitions to cook some at home. Here is how I did it.

美式鸡头米 American Style Jitoumi
Cook jitoumi in rice cooker for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile roast diced veggies with salt and olive oil at 200C. I roasted sweet potato, bell pepper, spicy pepper, red onion, and garlic.
Mix cooked jitoumi, roasted veggies, fresh cilantro, and a splash of vinegar. Serve…I also crumbled some feta on top of mine.

Now some of you are thinking, “Great, but I don’t know where to get jitoumi.” My response to that is,
“There are veggie markets all over Suzhou that sell it. Come and get it. You can sleep on my couch.”

Better Late than Never: New Zealand

Top Everything!

I’ve made lists, because there is really no way to express in paragraphs how much we loved New Zealand.

  • Top 3 Best Views
  • Top 3 Best Fish
  • Top 4 Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
  • Top 3 Best Meals
  • Top 3 Best Accommodations

Top 3 Best Views

Ahuriri River Valley, South Island

Kepler Track, Lake Te Anau, Luxmore Hut, South Island

West Coast Highway 6 between Westport and Punakaiki, South Island

Top 3 Best Fish

The First One, Mohaka River, North Island

The Famous One, Waiau River (Anduin River from LOTR), South Island

The Big One, Ahuriri River, South Island

Top 4 Lord of the Rings Filming Locations

Fangorn Forest, Snowden Forest, South Island

Mt. Doom, Mt. Ruapehu, North Island

Anduin River, Waiau River, South Island

Dead Swamp, Kepler Swamp, South Island

Top 2 Penguins

Blue Penguins coming in to feed their babies after a busy day at work, Dunedin, South Island

Yellow Eyed Penguin chicks hanging out, waiting for mom and dad to come home with dinner, Dunedin, South Island

Top 3 Best Meals

Potato, green olive, and caper pizza, WWOOF Host’s house, Napier, North Island

Cookies and cream ice cream topped with corn flakes, caramel, and a cookie in a waffle cone covered with white chocolate and raspberries…Giapo, Auckland, North Island

Spicy Noodle Soup…Oh, wait.  That was in China…I love Chinese food.  My Noodle, Shenzhen, China

Top 3 Best Accommodations

Te Nikau Retreat, Punakaiki, South Island–Incredible rain forest hideaway, 2 minutes from the beach.

Rural Bliss, Kinloch, North Island –This is where we stayed for our first week of WWOOF-ing.  Beautiful sustainable home, wonderful hosts, inspiring!

Luxmore Hut, Kepler Track, South Island–after a long, steep, and wet hike, this was the best view EVER!

The Journey North

A new Chinese legend starring Kepler, Paula, Matt, and Jenn.  An extraordinary journey to the snowy North past ancient palaces and great walls to frozen cities.  Will our 4 heroes be beaten by the elements or will they find their way to the Nescafe warming hut in time?…duh duh duh…

Lao Long Tou “Old Dragon’s Head” where the Great Wall meets the sea at Shanhaiguan.

Summer Palace, frozen over for the winter, becomes a giant ice skating rink outside Beijing

St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Harbin, once a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  Still beautiful outside.  Inside it’s been gutted and turned into a history museum.

Harbin‘s Ice and Snow Festivals

Chunbing, all your favorite Chinese dishes wrapped in crepes. Yum!

Ice blocks are pulled out of the frozen Songhua “Pine Flower” River to build the ice city.

Official food of the Ice and Snow Festivals, ice cream.  It’s warm compared to the air.

4.5 hour commute to the grocery store

Living abroad is often an exercise in “Learning to live without ______.”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that Chinese people who travel abroad feel the same frustrations as I do when they go to the grocery store (Only 1 variety of soy sauce!  Excuse me, where is the dried fish aisle? You call this a rice cooker?!  But, there’s only 1 button.)  I also admit, we are blessed here with deliciously fresh produce, amazing local restaurants, and a large import grocery store.  However, there are some things that I miss (Every time I see something delicious on Pinterest, I scrutinize the recipe to determine whether the ingredients are available in our city or if cooking it is even possible in my kitchen).

Usually once a semester, I have an excuse to visit a larger, more developed city in China and you’d better believe that I hit up their import stores.  This month, a trip to Guangzhou (4.5 hours by speed train), resulted in a trove of gastro-treasures that we won’t have to live without for the next few weeks.  Curious what we bought?

In the picture: dill pickles, cornbread mix, walnuts, dried apricots, wasabi peanuts (a gift for you dad:), Dr. Pepper, salsa, Red Vines, granola bars, cupcake papers, macaroni and cheese, worchestershire sauce, hot sauce (China has their own spicy sauces that are amazing, but they’re not Frank’s).  Not pictured because they were consumed on the train ride home: Almond Joy, Pretzels

Things we’ve yet to find in our city or elsewhere: canned pumpkin (really hard in the fall when everyone is pinning pumpkin flavored everything!) and sour cream.

For those interested in finding these delicacies in Guangzhou, go to Corner’s Deli in the Backstreet Shops of CITIC PLAZA (Linhexi Subway Station Exit D)

Not a food blogger, just a story teller

What do you do when very thoughtful coworkers show up on your doorstep with a box of exotic looking tubers?

Well, you spend a few minutes figuring out that they are called: 山药 shan yao (loose translation: medicinal mountain yam)

Then you do what any good meat ‘n potatoes American would and you fry them into potato chips,

Then do what a fan of Japanese curry might,

Then, obviously, do what true Jiangxi Chinese would do and stir fry them with 辣椒 la jiao (spicy red peppers).

Sorry, forgot to take a picture so this one is borrowed.

When you are blessed with people who bring you free produce, painstakingly hauled back from their hometown during the Lunar New Year Holiday rush, you eat it.  And they were delicious all 3 ways!

Hong Kong & Macau: a photo tour with the Coupals

After 4 weeks of travel, if they were travel weary, it certainly didn’t affect their excitement for exploring China’s autonomous regions.  Mom and Dad Coupal joined us on our first visit to Hong Kong and Macau after traveling to New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji on their own.  We rode ferries, buses, subways, and our feet all over the coastal cities.  Here are the pictures.

This room was clean, and available on New Year’s Eve, so I won’t mention the size. Our first experience with airbnb.com.

Clams in black bean sauce. Best paired with orange Fanta.

Happy New Year from a very crowded Victoria Harbor!

Sai Kung: Seafood sellers don’t even have to leave their boats to pedal their goods.

Passed this sign every morning. Missed you, Nathan.

Saavy travel guides at Victoria Harbor.

Big Bus tours gets a Big thumbs up from us. Convenient way to see the city in a short time.

Dim Sum at Stanley Beach.


Hong Kong style duck. Yum!

Stanley Market


Hanging spiral incense at Man Mo Temple

See you next time, Mom and Dad!

Local Food or The Glue That Makes Us Stick to China

The food here is good.  We are always asked by students if we eat out or if we cook at home.  The truth is we eat out a lot!  The food shops found around our campus have some delicious dishes if you are able to overlook a lower standard of service and cleanliness than the US Food and Drug Admin. would.  We are and as a result we are richly rewarded with amazing meals for incredible prices.  I’ll let the pictures defend themselves.

Egg Fried Rice Noodles jidanchaofen 6rmb (1usd)

Typical meal at the student cafeteria, meat, tofu, and veggies served over rice gaifan “over rice” 9rmb (1.5usd)

The best fried rice is found in our cafeteria jidanchaofan 6rmb (1usd)

A selection of dishes from one of our favorite local restaurants.  Clockwise from to left tiebanqiezi “iron plate eggplant”, tangsuliji “sweet and sour pork”, qingjiaochaodan “green pepper and fried egg” : all together 50rmb (8usd)

Cumin beef ziranniurou 14rmb (2.25usd)

Beef noodle soup niuroulamian 9rmb (1.50usd)

You choose the ingredients and they boil it up as a soup for you malahuoguo 10rmb (1.75usd)


Pardise Found: Hoi An, Vietnam

Imagine waking up to the sound of a small bustling village; kids playing, women sweeping the sidewalks, neighbors calling out to each other.  In the background there is a soft echo of waves crashing into each other.

Imagine you wake up in a clean soft bed in a bamboo cabin tastefully decorated with splashes of tropical colors.

You walk out your door and find a huge day bed with pillows.  You lounge around for a few minutes until a smiling face brings you an amazing local noodle dish full of fresh leafy green vegetables, a lime wedge, perfectly seasoned pork slices, and a few crunchy noodles on top, accompanied by a fresh mango smoothie and a plate of fresh fruit.

Imagine waking up to the sound of a small bustling village; kids playing, women sweeping the sidewalks, neighbors calling out to each other.  In the background there is a soft echo of waves crashing into each other.

Imagine while you sit here that it is a wonderful 79 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you get board just sitting and watching the birds and butterflies don’t worry there’s wi-fi!

After a while you want to stretch your legs so you get up and walk about 30 seconds and arrive at a nearly empty beach.  After a short swim, you’re not really hungry but the excitement of finding more delicious food leads you ten minutes down the beach to a selection of restaurants serving anything from spring rolls to pizza to curry to burgers.  Of course you order Vietnamese style coffee and sip it from your cozy lounge chair on the sand.

Imagine if the perfect tranquility of the beach becomes dull, you hop on some bicycles and ride through green rice paddy fields, to a small town full of shops and restaurants.  You spend the afternoon getting fitted for a tailor made suit or dress, getting a foot rub, manicure and pedicure, and then of course finding more delicious food to eat.

A ride back to your cozy cabin at night gives your heart a little exercise but you make it safe and sound and settle in for another night in paradise.

Hoi An Do’s and Don’ts

Do: Stay at An Bang Seaside Village Homestay.

Do: Get a manicure and pedicure at Palmerosa Spa.  It may be the most relaxing place in Asia.

Do: Get some custom clothes made.

Don’t: Bring a picture to the tailor and expect to walk away with an exact replica.  It’s better to point out something you see in the shop and ask them to make it for you.

Don’t: Spend loads of money on “local specialties” at fancy restaurants.  The food at the more modest affordable places is way better.

Do: Eat at White Sail Cafe and order Salt and Peppered Squid and Fried Wontons.  Best meal we had all week.  They also make delcious cau lau.

Skip to toolbar