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Rare Gems: Unusual Chinese fruits

Summer in China brings an incredible abundance of jewel-coloured fruits, both familiar and unfamiliar. The fruit shop shelves, recovering from the barren winter months are now bowing under the weight of golden mangoes, amethyst grapes and ruby-blush nectarines. The sweet scent of bunches of lychees hanging from the awning mingles with the sweeter bananas and the sweetest of all, the last of the strawberries.

Yesterday I found myself with an armful of new fruits to try, just to discover the flavours and learn a bit more about them. As you can see, I had a lovely time photographing then tasting them. Several are not native to China but come from neighbouring countries, and are readily available here. Let me know which ones you’ve tried and what you thought!

Lotus seeds – Liánzǐ 莲子

I never tire of the beauty of a lotus – the broad, circular emerald coloured leaves, the fuschia blooms, the nodding capsules holding the seeds. 

Lotus seeds, liánzǐ 莲子, can be eaten fresh or dried. It’s not a fruit, I know, but a seed, but they were sitting at the front of the fruitshop looking so interesting I had to buy them.
Fresh lotus is generally only available close to the area of production in mid-summer, and are sold as an entire pod as shown here. By breaking open the lotus, the seeds can be easily removed and eaten fresh after removing the green skin. 

Dried lotus seeds are sold all over China for use in cooking (soups, deserts, stirfries) or medicinal purposes. A sweet paste made from dried lotus seeds is popular in Chinese sweets. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, lotus seeds ‘dispel heat’ and are considered restorative.
Wax Apples – Lián Wù 莲雾 

Intrigued by the glowing pink lantern shapes of these lián wù 莲雾 (wax apples), I bought a small box. The lady in my fruitshop told me they would be fantastic for my skin, and I guess a fruit with as little flavour as this needs something else going for it. Inside the pink skin is a crisp white flesh, crunchy and a little sour. 

Native to the Philippines, Malaysia and Samoa, they are prized more for their appearance than their taste. Beautiful aren’t they?
Dragonfruit – Huǒ lóng guǒ 火龍果

How odd and frankly poisonous looking dragonfruit are! Deep pink knobbled skins tinged with green spikes open to a pale and almost translucent flesh pipped with tiny black seeds. There’s almost no smell, and very little taste – a touch of sweetness. But the texture! Cool, yielding, with seeds like tiny tapioca pearls on the tongue. 

In Chinese, dragonfruit are known as huǒ lóng guǒ 火龍果 – ‘fire dragon fruit’ or lóng zhū guǒ 火龙果– ‘dragon pearl fruit’. Native not to China (despite the name) but to South America, they are members of the cactus family.

Although the taste is subtle, I love the colour contrast of the black and white fruit against more colourful companions on a fruit plate.

Yang mei 杨梅

Yángméi, has the shortest season of any fruit I know – about three weeks is all the time you’ve got to sink your teeth into these dark red plum-sized berries, and have the garnet juice run down your chin. I like them a little under-ripe, with a tart mulberry taste and slightly acidic juice. 

Also known as waxberries, bayberries and yumberries, they are delicious straight off the tree, but I’ve discovered they assume a jammy stickiness when stewed that goes well with icecream. In southern China, the native yang mei are distilled into a light pink wine, with a deadly kick!

Mangosteen – Shān zhú guǒ 山竹果

The purple mangosteen- shān zhú guǒ 山竹果. I’ve left the best, my favourite, ’til very last. I anticipate the mangosteen’s arrival every summer, watching the fruitshops for the first appearance amongst the lychees and mangoes, then I greedily eat them until my fingers are stained dark red from the skin’s crimson juice. Later, as August ends, I lament their brief season and their passing until next year.

The hard, dark husk, not all that inviting and quite difficult to get a purchase on (feel for a soft spot in the hard skin and push through with your thumb) gives way to a soft, fleshy white fruit, the taste all pineapple and strawberries with a hint of custard apple. If you’ve never tried one, go! Try! Fall in love!

Yu Gardens: A Surprising Place to Find Something Good to Eat

When was the last time you ate food worth remembering, let alone writing about, at a major tourist trap? Shanghai has a stack of terrific tourist traps, like The Pearl Tower, The Bund, and Yu Gardens – all beautiful, and all famous for something other than their food. 
Escaping the pressing, elbowing crowds one day at Yu Gardens, I literally stumbled upon this food-court style eatery by accident. It was to be my lucky day. As I climbed the stairs from the ground floor entry, where an uninspiring selection of fried snacks was on display; I reached the upper floor, where in all honesty, the situation looked worse. The vast space was occupied by rows of bench seats and orange plastic tables bolted to the floor, the windows overlooking the exquisite Ming Dynasty Huxintin Teahouse covered in some kind of blue adhesive coating and locked against rogue window-openers like myself. Along the far wall was a row of serving hatches, with a cafeteria style pile of greasy plastic trays.
Disheartened but starving, and expecting nothing more than some modestly edible and grossly over-priced noodles, I took a tray and walked past the cashier seated at the entrance to the rows of hatches, expecting to find very little of interest. In fact, the very opposite occurred, and I did one lap, then another, then a third, trying to limit what I’d like to try to only three or four dishes. Everything looked fresh and delicious, the steam billowing from the kitchen behind the hatches carried scents of ginger, pork and seafood, and the sizzle of wok frying.
Let me take you on a short tour of the goods on offer: I didn’t eat all the foods pictued here, but I certainly put in a sterling effort and hope to complete tasting everything on my next visit. 
The seafood hatch. Steamed crab with ginger and chili. Whole crispy fried scampi. Velvety seafood congee.
More crabs, a different variety this time, simply steamed. Chicken barbecued on lemongrass skewers. Pork wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Jumbo freshwater snails, shells blackly glistening. Next to those, Shanghai’s own treasure, xiaolongbao – steamed dumplings filled with soup, pork, and crab meat.
Gigantic xiaolongbao, complete with straw to suck up the soup, each in its own steamer basket. How gorgeous are they?
Yet more crabs, alongside Shanghai specialty fried nian gao (chewy rounds of rice noodle fried with greens), and guotie (pot-sticker pork dumplings).
The ‘desert’ section – these deep purple unmelting ‘ice-creams’ are in fact sweetened yam paste. At least they adorned them with sweetly smelling golden yellow osmanthus flowers, my favourite scent. Next to them, diamonds of translucent almond jelly.

The dimsum (or dianxin) station had flaky durian pastries, sesame balls, spring rolls, and dozens of little steamed dumplings holding shrimp, pork, and chive and peanut fillings.
The egg custard tarts looked like a particularly good way to finish off the meal, and I was right. They were great.
And that, dear friends, is just a sampling of the many, many foods you may wish to try, with no dish costing more than 20 yuan ($3). My meal of four dishes and a freshly squeezed watermelon juice cost 55 yuan ($8). Unbelievable. Should you be visiting Shanghai anytime soon, here’s what the cafeteria looks like from the outside, just opposite the Huxintin Teahouse.
(Should you know of other great tourist trap eateries around Shanghai, please let me know!)

Song Yun Tower Xiao Chi Restaurant
2nd floor, Song Yun Tower
Yu Gardens, Shanghai
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Wheelchair vs Truck: A Battle for Space on Shanghai’s Streets

Life is tough for those who travel by wheelchair in Shanghai, having to fight for their share of the road along with cars, trucks, motorbikes, and bicycles. I was appalled by this when I first witnessed it, but like everything I initially found shocking or strange, I’ve become mutely accepting. That’s just how it is in China, people say.

Then a few weeks ago I saw a near collision between a frail elderly man travelling by wheelchair in the bicycle lane, pushed along by his grand-daughter, and one of those ubiquitous blue Chinese trucks. It snapped me back into a world where those in wheelchairs can safely and easily use the footpath to get around and I thought – why is it like this?

Why indeed. Despite the presence of some advocacy groups, and attempts to make the city more disability-friendly before Shanghai Expo last year, equal access for those with disabilities is a long way off. A few months ago it was reported by the Shanghai government that Shanghai has only five wheelchair friendly taxis for an estimated 60,000 wheelchair users. It’s no surprise then, that if you’re in a wheelchair and need to get from A to B, you’ll have to go on your own two wheels, alongside all the regular traffic.

But what’s wrong with the sidewalks I hear you say? Why don’t they just push the wheelchair along the sidewalk out of harm’s way? Sidewalks in China are appalling. Absolutely appalling. They’re uneven and full of holes, interrupted by giant trees, and very crowded. More than that, sidewalks are just one more public space free for everyone to use as they see fit. Apartment too small when visitors arrive? No problem, bring your table and chairs outside and eat dinner on the footpath. Want to set up a business but can’t afford the rent? Just use the sidewalk, even if that business involves dangerous equipment or deep-frying. Traffic congestion? Don’t bother with the road for pete’s sake, jump the kerb and use the sidewalk as an extra lane. Honk your horn a lot. Nudge pedestrians with your front wheel if necessary.

A typical Shanghai sidewalk – some rubble, a couple of chairs, live seafood in polystyrene boxes, and a makeshift stall.

So it’s not that easy. I admire the bravery and patience of those in wheelchairs here, and I only hope the situation eventually improves. In my mind I can imagine all 60,00 wheelchair users forming a road convoy and successfully bringing Shanghai’s traffic to its knees. Power to the wheelies!

How to Make Soba Noodles

Lessons for a novice, from a soba chef
Cool, slippery soba noodles dipped in a delicate sauce – the perfect summer food for a hot and steamy Shanghai day.  Now I know buckwheat soba noodles are Japanese, not Chinese, but I’m living in a pretty international city here, with friends from every part of the world. Yesterday my youngest daughter was invited to a soba-making birthday party for a seven year old Japanese boy. I can’t imagine any seven year old Australian boys volunteering to learn the art of soba for a birthday party, but I’m all for it.  
Making my own noodles is something I would never have attempted two years ago, but now I think, why not? How hard can it be? Apparently very difficult if you want to be a Japanese soba master, but for the average noodle lover, like me, the aim is to make something edible vaguely resembling noodles, see the techniques in action, and subsequently learn to respect the noodle art of the true masters. Was I the only mother at the party more interested in soba-making than the kids? Possibly. But at least someone was paying attention..
Soba noodle making requires nothing more than buckwheat flour, wheat flour, water, a rolling pin, and a really, really huge knife. If a seven year old can make soba, I guarantee you can too.
  • Start with buckwheat and wheat flour in a ratio of 4:1
  • 400g buckwheat flour
  • 100g wheat flour
  • Add 200-250ml of cool water a little at a time, mixing first with your fingertips, then incorporating the water into a firm dough
  • (If you don’t an have an exquisite enormous red and black lacquer soba bowl like this one, don’t worry, a regular bowl is A-OK)
  • Now knead your little heart out, because a lot of kneading is required to get the dough to ‘the consistency of a baby’s ear’

  • Press the dough into a disc and place on a floured table
  • Roll into an oval, and then into a large square sheet 2mm thick, dusting with flour as you roll
  • Dust the dough sheet again when finished
  • Fold the sheet of dough in half, again, and again, making a rectangle eight layers thick
  • place the rectangle on a large cutting board, with a second, smaller board on top (the soba chef has a special board with a right-angled lip, but any small wooden board will do)
  • Line up the board along the long edge of your folded dough rectangle, and steady it with the fingertips of one hand

  • Take your wafer-thin, super sharp soba-kiri knife (failing that, any thin, long, sharp-bladed knife will do)
  •  Shift the top board sideways by 2mm and slice through the eight layers of dough, making eight long straight soba noodles
  • Continue, using a slight rocking motion with your knife to shift the board another 2mm before every cut

  • Separate the noodles into bunches and place on a tray
  • Bring a stockpot of unslated water to the boil
  • Have a large bowl of cold water, and another large bowl of iced water at the ready
  • Cook the soba in batches for 60-90 seconds
  • Scoop the noodles from the boiling water using a strainer scoop, and plunge into cold water, ‘washing’ the noodles vigorously (this removes starch from the surface so they have the required slippery texture)
  • Scoop out of the cold water and plunge into iced water, washing again
  • Drain, and serve on a bamboo mat or plate

  • Serve with a small bowl of dashi and soy, with finely sliced scallions, and grated fresh wasabi
  • Plunge your noodles into the sauce mixed with condiments of your choice, and slurp noisily into your mouth!
For a more technical approach, try this soba tutorial.
For a lovely account of meeting a soba master, and some more home-cooking tips, I really enjoyed reading Betty Hallock’s LA Times story, Making Soba Noodles the Easy Way.

Hospital Jobs…with Free Plastic Surgery

Free plastic surgery?? Most days I read the Shanghai Daily, a regular and predictable mix of stories about food safety scandals, official corruption, and adverse weather somewhere in China. And then, just when I think I’m getting some kind of insubstantial grip on the Shanghai news, they throw in a headline like this one and I discover I am on another planet after all. Planet China, where weird things happen everyday.

Here are a crop of stories reported on one day this week.

Hospital Jobs with Free Plastic Surgery

An unspecified hospital in Shanghai, looking for ‘nursing helpers, cleaners, security guards and receptionists’ is also offering free plastic surgery for those who can stick at the job for at least a month.

A hospital spokesman said “We have 10 positions for students who, after working for a month, will be entitled to free plastic surgery worth up to 5,000 yuan and a 5,000 yuan discount on more expensive services.”

A Fudan University sociologist commented that “cosmetic surgery is an invasive medical practice, and whether students can be treated appropriately on the prices offered is questionable.” 

So….I would also be pretty worried that a discounted 5,000 yuan nose job may not be absolutely top notch – I mean, you get what you pay for. No comment was made, however, on the morally bankrupt practice of offering discounted plastic surgery to the young. “Everyone has the right to look as good as they can” the sociologist added.

Parents Entombed Outside Son’s Apartment

Unable to afford the steep price of a conventional tomb for his parents’ ashes, a man in Baoshan district, Shanghai, has built a tomb for thein the courtyard of his apartment, where it is apparently upsetting the local residents. In addition to the tomb, considered extremely bad luck by his neighbours, he also plays mournful funeral music at all hours. 

Following complaints, authorities have offered him a 48,000 yuan discount on the usual 50,000 yuan price of a tomb in a nearby cemetery if he will agree to move the ashes.

Now, as I see it the issue here is not whether it’s a good idea to house the remains of deceased relatives right outside your home, it’s whether the hefty discounts the authorities offered him will inspire a spate of copycat DIY tombs all over Shanghai. 

“Officials in Bed with Enemy Robber Barons”

What a great headline! The images it conjures up!  It seems the story following this headline was not exciting enough on its own (large trusted pharmaceutical company spewing toxic waste into nearby river for 10 years while local authorities pretend not to notice), so the journalsist has added as many hackneyed catchphrases as possible in a single sentence.

“The company’s reputation took a drubbing over the last week after a media fire storm over its lackadaisical – or criminally feckless, as some might say – handling of the severe pollution leak over a decade..”

Excited to see ‘lackadaisical’ and ‘feckless’ used in the same line.

Exam Papers Marked by Students

In an apparent attempt to save money, a university in Xi’an employed students to mark crucial college entrance exams.  “They had a two and a half hour orientation during which they were told to keep their work a secret” it was reported. One student managed to mark more than 2000 papers in two days, for a payment of 500 yuan. That’s about one every 40 seconds. Guess that lot’s going back for adjudication then.

“Only Show Six Teeth When You Smile”

(photo courtesy Shanghai Daily)

This was the instruction given to attendants who will shortly be working on the new Shanghai-Beijing high speed rail link. As the four hundred lucky young women – chosen from a field of over 3,000 candidates – listened attentively, they were also told to “place a chopstick between the jaws to help attain the perfect smile”. 

“The hardest part is the manners training” said one trainee, who spends two hours each day on basic manners. I wonder how long it takes to learn advanced manners?

And next time you take the high-speed train to Beijing, please don’t ask the attendant any questions, or her chopstick will fall out.

Shanghai Street Food #20 Fried Radish Cakes: Yóu Dūn Zì 油墩子

Shanghai street foods don’t get much better than these crispy, oily fried white radish cakes – Yóu Dūn Zì (油墩子). Take a bite through the crunchy outside, and steam escapes from the soft radish and batter mixture inside, studded with tiny pieces of green scallion. The sauces, a salty chili paste, and a sweeter bean paste, transform a radish fritter into something quite sublime.

As for the meaning of yóu dūn zì, it translates either as oily clusters, or oily (wood or stone) blocks. A cài dūn zì is a round chopping block, so the shape and colour of the fritters probably gives rise to the name. 

Like most street foods, they’re pretty simple to make as long as you have the right ingredients and equipment. Here, the essential item is a deep, long handled spoon, with the end shaped like a patty tin. A simple flour and water batter goes in first, followed by a big spoonful of shredded white radish mixed with chopped scallions, coriander and some salt, and then topped up with enough batter to fill the spoon to the brim.

Then the whole spoon is lowered carefully into bubbling hot oil and left until the radish cake rises from the spoon and is released.

Once it’s nicely browned on both sides it’s placed on the drip rack above the wok to cool for a moment (along with some other fried snacks) and then has a hole poked unceremoniously in its top with the blunt end of a chopstick. Into this go the magic extras – salted chili sauce for saltiness and bite, and bean paste for sweetness and depth. Aaah. 

(I’m having happy memories of the day I ate these in one of Shanghai’s back lanes. They were very good, and by the time I’d finished my second the gathered crowd (only about twenty people) knew that: a) I was Australian, b) I lived in Shanghai and c) I really, really liked Shanghai street food. This last, in particular, seemed to be a connection they could really grasp.)

Street food! Get your street food!

The Shanghai Street Food Series
Number 1  Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2  Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3  Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4  Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5  Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6  Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7  Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8  Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9  Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10 Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits
Number 11 You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12 Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13 Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy

The Vanishing Wet Market

Going, going, gone. Disappearing houses, vanishing markets, demolished neighbourhoods. Like the entire city block in Hongkou I wrote about in my last post, about to be razed to make way for a new development whether the residents like it or not, the adjacent wet market and all its vendors is going the same way in a few short weeks. It’s a really great wet market too, as you can see from these photos, full of life, friendly faces and happy banter. 
And the chicken seller, neatly and elegantly dressed, has lined up her chickens for sale. They look kind of awkward, pointing their toes like that. Even in supermarkets, this is how you’ll find your chickens, heads down, legs up, skinny and naked. Because they are hung upside down by the feet to be dispatched – with a neat and quick snip to the big blood vessels in the neck – they tend to just set that way. I guess you’ll be needing those feet and the head too.
A man on a bicycle is following me around the narrow aisles, intrigued at what catches my eye. I explain that we don’t have bullfrogs in Australia (well…we do, but we don’t sell them by the half-kilo and eat them) and he is quietly incredulous.
The fish seller, replenishing the water in her polystyrene tanks, has just laid two large solid blocks of frozen fish in the nearby gutter to thaw. Everyone just steps over them.
Nearby, huge stinky durian, wrapped with a raffia twine ‘handle’ to make them easy to carry. They’re in season right now and the slightly rotten odour drifts through the market.
The noodle seller is pretty busy with her lunch, calling someone on her phone, and selling a few noodles in between the other, more important, tasks. In the meantime, her competition next door are selling up a storm.
The meat man chops a little, tells some jokes, smokes a lot, and counts his dough.
A very shy smile, but this lady, the cockle seller, was frying up her lunch in a wok at the back of her stall when I asked for a photo. It smelled great! Lots of garlic, lots of greens, lots of chili.
And another beautiful smile, on the girl cooking and selling fried dumplings at the entrance to the market.
I love this picture. The lady in the centre looks harsh and unhappy, but I just caught her off-guard. Straight after, she hit me with a huge smile and went on her way.

So there it is, the very human face of a massive urban dislocation. What do you think about the individuals caught in the middle of it? 

The Disappearing Houses of Hongkou

Imagine you have lived all your life in a tiny laneway in Shanghai, grown up with the same group of friends and neighbours, lived alongside the births, deaths, marriages, divorces, tragedies, triumphs and joys all happening within a few short steps of your front door. Until, that is, it’s decided that your home will be bulldozed to make way for a tall, modern apartment block you won’t be able to afford to live in. For this old gentleman it’s just sad and confusing.
It’s a common story, not just in Shanghai but all over China, where the need for high-rises to accommodate the growing tide of people moving from the country to the city, and the relentless pace of modernisation overtake all else. The old neighbourhoods are all going, torn down block by block, and the residents are being compensated and offered accommodation elsewhere, usually much further toward the city fringes. Some choose to take up the offer of a brand new apartment at a heavily subsidised price, some choose to take the monetary compensation and move elsewhere, but in every case, there is loss to bear. Loss of your home and familiar surrounds, loss of your neighbours, loss of your community.

This whole community – soon to be gone.

Lest you think I’m being nostalgic, let me set you straight – these old lanes house some of the most decrepit, dangerous and unhygenic dwellings in the city. Tiny, dark, dank, dripping alleyways separate houses by the width of two people standing shoulder to shoulder, illegal wiring sprouts from every post like wild black ivy, crawling over every wall and through every window. Homes rarely have indoor plumbing, and residents shuffle back and forth to the public facilities to empty their chamber pots. Illegal house extensions encroach in every possible direction from the original dwelling – upwards, backwards, sideways, cantilevered out over the laneway, crammed into the spaces between houses, and thrusting upwards through the roof.

A typical laneway, dark even at midday. 

Yesterday I had the rare opportuity to visit and photograph a neighbourhood where demolition is imminent – not months or even weeks away, but days away. I expected to find empty rooms, piles of discarded rubbish, and mounds of cardboard boxes. Instead, what I saw was life being lived one hundred percent to the fullest, right up to the very last minute. An outdoor wet market was in full swing, everyone buying their daily supplies of fruit, vegetables, fish and chicken, and an enormous indoor wet market was also thriving. Washing had been hung out to dry after three days of heavy rain, and in short, there was very little sign of anyone going anywhere. But in the quieter corners, there was a heavy sense of finality. The residents I spoke to said they planned to stay until forced to go, despite this, they seemed stoically resigned to moving out, and moving on.

Today I want to show you the lanes themselves, and tomorrow, the wet markets and their vendors. 

‘This change will be implemented according to the law. Accept the relocation, residents of…’


Outdoor stone sinks, often the only source of running water for a home.
Hard to see where the original house begins and ends…

‘Double Happiness’ chamber pot

Tomorrow: The Disappearing Markets

A Zongzi Recipe for Dragon Boat Festival

Happy Dragon Boat Festival! Did you know it was the Dragon Boat Festival (Duānwǔ Jié 节) today? Here in China we’re having a long weekend thanks to the exploits of long-dead poet and statesman Qu Yuan. After spending years in exile accused of treason, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the river, leaving behind beautiful poetry and devastated loyal supporters. Each year on the anniversary of his death, his supporters would throw offerings of rice into the river as a tribute, and to stop fish from eating his body. Zòngzi 粽子 or sticky rice parcels, represent these rice offerings and are filled with a sweet filling (red bean, jujube, favoured in northern China) or savoury filling (pork, mushroom, preferred in southern China) and wrapped in bamboo leaves.

I learned how to make zongzi yesterday, under the watchful eye of Chef Gao at the Chinese Cooking Workshop. They’ve just upgraded from their old opium den on Weihai Lu and moved into a lovely light-filled kitchen on Dongping Lu, not far from my house. Never mind that they don’t usually offer classes in making zongzi, Chef Gao knows how to make everything so I just called them up, rounded up a few friends, and we all spent the afternoon making zongzi. Lovely!
Zongzi – Sticky Rice and Pork Parcels
  • 20 large dried bamboo leaves
  • 400g fatty pork, cubed
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup dark soy sauce (dark soy is for colour, and unsalted – do not substitute normal or light soy)
  • 1/4 cup shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 250g uncooked sticky rice


  • In a bowl mix together 1/4 cup dark soy sauce, shaoxing wine, sugar, salt, ginger and spring onions
  • Add pork pieces and allow to marinade for up to 24 hours, minimum 2 hours
  • Add remaining 1/4 cup dark soy sauce to sticky rice and mix well until grains are well coated
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil, immerse bamboo leaves and boil for three minutes until leaves become soft. Drain.
  • Take a bamboo leaf and hold it with the spine facing up
  • Fold the leaf as shown, approximately one third of the way along its length
  • Fold again, this time lengthways as shown, open out the base of the folds to form a cup
  • Fill with 1-2 spoonfuls of coated sticky rice, a piece of marinated pork, then another 1-2 spoonfuls of rice
  • Holding the filled portion in the cup of your hand, fold the long part of the leaf over the top
  • Tuck in both sides of the parcel, then pinch the overhanging leaf together and fold sideways as shown
  • Holding parcel firmly, wrap tightly with string and knot to fasten
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add zongzi so they are fully submerged
  • Simmer for two hours (water will darken due to dark soy sauce), then drain
  • While still hot snip string wth scissors and unwrap
  • Enjoy!
  • (can be frozen, uncooked, for up to one month)

Shanghai’s best location for learning to cook Chinese food:
Chinese Cooking Workshop
2 Dongping Lu, near Hengshan Lu

Seven Perverse Pleasures I Get Out of Living in China

You all know very well that I love China and I love the Chinese people, every 1.34 billion of them. Living in China is not always non-stop fun though, and sometimes, like when you get hit by a car or someone hisses unpleasantly at your sheer audacious foreign-ness, it can be hard. As in, trying, difficult and disheartening. There are days you just feel like crawling back under the sheets and pretending you’re somewhere else, but as an eternal optimist I try and see the bright side of every bad situation and not take it too personally. That’s the Good Fiona speaking. Chin up, eat some noodles, and be done with it.

There are other days, though, when I take it very personally. Days when China throws every obstacle it can in my path and I trip on every single one of them. Days when, if one more person calls out ‘Waiguoren!’ (‘Foreigner!’ ‘Not Chinese!) when I’m walking down the street, I’m gonna scream. I mean, could I be anything else other than ‘Not Chinese’? Do I look even a tiny little bit Chinese? I didn’t think so. I grit my teeth and swear heavily under my breath. But you know there are, I’ve discovered, advantages to belonging to the tribe of waiguoren living in China – there are things I can do without any apparent offence to anyone that give me enormous personal satisfaction, when I can feel that, just for a second or two, I gave China as good as I got.

So when, for the tenth time, someone hoiks up a huge plegm golley and spits it on the footpath in front of my feet, and for the twentieth time some crazed taxi driver tries to run me down on a pedestrian crossing, and for the fiftieth time someone robs me blind just because, well, I’m foreign, and therefore fair game for being ripped off, I can remember these seven perverse pleasures I can indulge in occasionally to get my own back. That’s Bad Fiona talking. I’ll let you decide whose advice you’re going to follow today.

1. Secretly Insult Someone
There is a lot of satisfaction in swearing when things aren’t going your way, and as an Australian I consider it part of my genetic make-up to swear often, and with vigor (although I’m sure cultured and articulate people never do). And in a country where few people understand your native tongue, especially when spoken with a broad accent, you can get the buzz of swearing at someone without the repurcussions. 
So next time someone really, really pisses you off, you can smile sweetly, modulate your voice to a kinder-than-angels tone, whilst telling them “You shitty little pleather-loafered f**k of a loser I bet you sold your youngest child for loose change to play poker this morning and then plan to buy her back with the money you’re cheating from me right now!!”. Remember to keep smiling as you speak and to pretend you’re saying “You are the smiliest, handsomest, loveliest, friendliest pleather-loafered street salesman I’ve ever had the good luck to run into” to get the right intonation.
2. Gossip Shamelessly

In China, you can gossip about someone’s outfit on the subway without lowering your voice. Actually, now that I can understand Chinese, I realise that Chinese people do this to us all the time. If only we knew:

“Check out that laowai’s bag”
“Do you think it’s real or fake??”
“Definitely fake, I mean, look at it. Who would pay full price??”
“I think it’s real”
“You don’t now what you’re talking about”
“But the rest of her outfit looks real cheap. And she’s so fat!!”
3. Ignore “No Entry” Signs

You can barge right through signs saying ‘No Entry’, ignore the ‘No Photographs’ sign and snap away happily, and put your bicycle right where it says “No Parking’ because you know, you can’t read Chinese. At least, nobody thinks you can read Chinese, and they’re not willing to pull you up on it.

4. Get Rid of Those Blasted Infernal Phone Salesmen

When insurance companies, banks and investment start-ups call trying to sell you something, you can pretend you don’t understand a single thing they say, apologise, and hang up. These guys totally give me the pips because they always call at dinner, or when I am outside and I run back in to answer the phone. Unfortunately China is just as afflicted with cold-calling as the rest of the world, although for once, the call centre isn’t in Bangalore. Don’t try and politely answer their questions, just keep repeating ‘ting bu dong! ting bu dong! ting bu dong!’ (I’m listening! But not understanding!) until they get it. Revenge of the waiguoren!!

5. Get Discounts on Everything

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is exempt from a reduced price by bargaining in China. In China you can bargain on everything. Don’t be shy!

Gym memberships?
“Can you make it a bit cheaper?”

Doctor’s visits? 

“You want to charge how much?? I think a consultation is only worth 150 yuan. I mean, what if the doctor gets it wrong and I have to come back??”

“I know the market price is 2 yuan a jin. But these look like poor quality cucumbers. They may even have that E Coli! I’ll give you 1 yuan 80 a jin.”

Bargain hard. Bargain shamelessly, but always bargain. As my Chinese friend Clare says “They think you’re stupid if you don’t bargain.” OK.

 6. Be as Eccentric as Hell

In China all your quirks and eccentricities can be attributed to ‘strange laowai stuff’ and therefore forgiven. Want to wear an evening dress to lunch? Like to dress up like a pirate and brandish a sword at strangers? All acceptable foreign behaviours. Just don’t be caught out with other laowais staring at you, or the game’s up.
7. Sleep Anywhere, Undisturbed

Sleeping after lunch is a RIGHT rather than a privilege in China. Even for foreigners. You can sleep anywhere and no-one cares, and I mean literally anywhere. On your motorbike while it’s parked on the footpath, on top of a pile of vegetables at the wet market, in the corner of H&M after a busy morning of shopping – just fold your arms and lay your head down for a nap. If someone, like the sales assistant for example, tries to wake you, look up at her quizzically for a second, mumble something incoherent, and go right back to sleep. 
Got any special ways of dealing with the Shang-lows when they hit? Tell us all your secrets……