Exotic dishes for beginners

During one of our last editorial meetings in April, we decided to continue with an old column that discusses cheap dishes for the university students. We chose to bring this to life in a special way that would interest everybody. To make it sound more exciting and even international, I opted for introducing foreign cuisines. A Chinese friend of mine, Angel, and one of her friends, Kris were really glad to show me how they cook traditionally in their country. So we arranged for a dinner on a rainy Saturday.

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I became very excited because I did not know a lot about Chinese traditions generally. I have to admit that I got scared a bit, because I heard those Hungarian urban legends about the special ‘scent’ of the Chinese foods. My preconceptions proved to be false and we had a really pleasant afternoon with truly delicious dishes.

My first impression was that the hospitality of the Chinese people is excellent. When I asked her what to bring for the cooking, she said ‘nothing’ and when I asked if I could help her during the preparation, she also said ‘nothing’. She explained that Chinese dining is always about showing respect and hospitality toward guests. So my only ‘task’ was to enjoy the dinner and talk with her.

She explained that in such a large and diverse country like China, each region has its own local special taste. Generally, hot and spicy foods are characteristics of western and central China and mild flavours are typical in the south and north. Chinese dishes are generally healthy and often beautifully presented. Their texture, flavour, colour and aroma are key elements for all Chinese meals, usually above nutrition content.

Their foods were exactly how she explained it before: all of them were of fresh and quite exotic ingredients like fresh garlic, spring onion, tomato, mushroom, ginger or, in some cases, coke. At the beginning she said that they cook for themselves most of the time and it is very important for them. Practically, this was the main reason of her move from Magister to one of the apartments of Központi Kollégium, now she can have her   own kitchen in this hostel. It was also revealed that cooking is important for the Chinese boys as well, as the majority of them who live here can prepare their own dishes. As you can tell after all, it is not a huge surprise that Chinese students often cook and eat together in the hostels.

The professionalism of my hosts surprised me as they knew the recipes without any aid and they were really quick and precise. Their kitchen had many special ingredients with only Chinese labels on them. She explained to me that the majority of these are available in Hungarian supermarkets, but there is a traditional Chinese shop in Budapest where the products are coming directly from China. When she visits the capital, she takes the opportunity to buy what she needs. Besides the ‘exotic’ ingredients, there was another interesting thing in her place: there was an electronic cooker to cook rice or summer vegetables. She pointed out that it is typical in China and almost every student who studies abroad for a longer period of time has one in the household.

Before dinner, Angel also shared some stories about their eating traditions. She told me that Chinese dining table is usually round in order to allow everyone to participate equally in the conversation. Empty bowls, plates and chopsticks are set on the table and the dishes are placed in the centre to facilitate the sharing of food. That is why she also put the plates and the dishes in the middle and everybody could choose what he or she liked. It was a really great evening.

At the end of the dinner I asked the recipes from her to share with you, too. I hope that you will enjoy it and it will help you to prove your preconception about Chinese foods to be false!

Kung Pao chicken (one of the most famous Chinese dishes)

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2-3 pepper
  • 2-3 small onion
  • peanut
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • potato starch
  • oil
  • soy bean sauce
  • vinegar
  • salt
  • sugar
  • black/ white pepper

Preparation:

  1. Cut the garlic and the spring onion and toast them with a little oil in a frying pan until they become brown.
  2. Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and fry them with the garlic and the spring onion.
  3. Take them out of the frying pan and put aside
  4. Cut the onion into pieces and fry them with the pepper and the peanut.
  5. Put the spices into the frying pan.
  6. Put the meat back in the frying pan and fry it.
  7. Add 2 spoons of soy sauce, 2 spoons of vinegar, 2 spoons of sugar, some salt, and 2-4 spoons of water and boil for 1-2 minutes.
  8. Mix a little potato starch with some water and add to the content of the pan and boil for some minutes until it becomes a sauce, but this step is not necessary.
  9. Put the meat back and fry it for some minutes.

Coke chicken wing

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • Chicken wing
  • oil
  • small piece of ginger
  • half litre of coke
  • salt
  • water

Preparation:

  1. Boil the chicken wings in water until it gets white.
  2. Heat a pot and put the oil and ginger into it.
  3. Add the wings and fry until it gets yellow.
  4. Add the coke, the salt and some water and boil it.
  5. Wait until it gets brown and becomes a sauce.

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Potato-egg soup

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 2-3 tomatoes
  • 2-3 potatoes
  • green vegetables
  • mushroom
  • glass noodle
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 spring onion

Preparation:

  1. Cut the vegetables into small pieces.
  2. Boil the water and add the tomatoes.
  3. When it is ready add the other vegetables and boil them, too.
  4. Put the eggs in, mix them and add some salt, pepper and sugar to it.
  5. Boil for some more minutes.
  6. Finally, add the small pieces of green onions.
  7. (If you want, you can add some vinegar or soy bean sauce to the soup.)

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Photos: Flórián Strack