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Back in My Chinese Kitchen

I’ve only been back in China for 24 hours, and already suffered through my first food scare! A carton of Chinese UHT milk, opened and partly consumed about six weeks ago, then left forgotten in my refrigerator, greeted me on my return to Shanghai. A little on the tired side, I pulled it out and poured it into the cup of tea I was desperate for, having forgotten that I hadn’t just popped down the shops for that carton yesterday.
I know what you’re all thinking. Gruesome thoughts of mouldy green and grey curds with sour whey pouring into my English Breakfast tea as acrid wafts of ammonia and sour milk knocked me over, or even worse, not noticing the hideous cesspit I’d just poured into my cup and raising it to my lips only to choke on the first mouthful, drop the cup smashing to the floor, and run vomiting to the bathroom. 
But this didn’t happen. The truth of what happened was even more alarming than that. More alarming than spewing sour milk? Really? 
I poured that milk, half asleep, I took a sip of tea, half asleep, and I thought to myself  ‘Aaahh….lovely cuppa.’  
And then a tiny microneuron woke up and reminded me that the milk was six weeks old. At least.  I opened both eyes and checked the date on the carton. I smelled. I poured some into a glass. I poked my finger in and took a tiny taste. 
Know what? There was absolutely nothing wrong with that milk. At all. Smell, taste, texture, all absolutely preserved six weeks after opening. 
Terrifying, isn’t it? Milk that never goes off? I have now crossed Chinese UHT milk off the long list of danger products to avoid whilst living in China. I mean, how do they do that? Have any actual dairy products been used in the making of this stuff??
Biohazards aside, it is lovely to be standing back in my own kitchen. I miss my kitchen when I’m away, the small square room at the back of the house, a single large window framed in green looking out on to the scented osmanthus tree in the garden. 
That view, a little touch of green in the communal garden, probably swung our decision to rent this house – because we wanted it to feel like we had a garden, even if we were sharing it with everyone else in our lane. So here’s a little view of my Shanghai kitchen – by Chinese standards it’s large, although if you have more than one person in there it’s unbearably crowded. 

Looks well lit, doesn’t it? After suffering under a single ceiling fluoro for a month, my father came to visit and quickly rectified the appalling lighting with a row of lamps installed under the overhead cupboards. 
The oven, known as ‘the furnace’ has had a recent makeover after the glass door improbably exploded at three in the morning, showering the whole kitchen with glass. And no, I didn’t leave the oven on, it was a kind of spontaneous combustion. The guy who fitted the new door also, miraculously, fixed the gas flow issues, and now instead of a scorching 300 degrees, I have a range of temperatures from 140 to 280. So novel! So exciting! 
Standard issue in every Shanghai household is a water dispenser, fitted with bottles of Nongfu Springs water. The local water tastes disgustingly of dirt with strong metallic overtones, and has been known to change the colour of your hair…..don’t trust it, even if the government tells you it’s OK to drink. Especially because the government tells you it’s OK to drink. 

Believing all foreigners require a dishwasher as standard, our landlord Mr Zhang had the world’s smallest dishwasher fitted for us. Packing and unpacking six dishes and two spoons gets a bit tedious, so usually we just wash up. 

I bought this lovely old 1930s dresser from a furniture warehouse on the outskirts of Shanghai. It holds all our plates and glasses – see how tidy it looks? That’s just for the photo. Usually it’s a mess. The lovely blue and white plates I’ve bought piece by piece from the supermarket, because it’s impossible to buy a whole boxed set of plates or bowls.
My favourite glasses originally held Guilin rice liquor so caustic I swear it cleaned out all the drains when I tipped it down the sink. They only hold about a thimbleful of beer, but I love the retro look of them!  And the condiment bottles I brought back from Hong Kong, along with a pile of other heavy stuff.

And my very, very favourite kitchen things – French style Shanghai store Platane has been making these beautiful ceramics for a couple of years, and every time I visit there I treat myself to a little teacup or a jug to add to the collection. Eventually I’ll have a whole lovely mismatched teaset!
Now in case you were thinking this looks all very lovely, I will just briefly draw your attention to the blue and red sticker on the bottom half of that white cabinet door.

It shows the position of the rat poison placed by the pest controllers. Old houses are lovely, but I lost three bags of oatmeal and a box of very expensive McVities Digestives thanks to small Chinese rodent friends visiting in the middle of the night. They made a nest out of my teabags. Little buggers. Thankfully we seem to have gotten rid of the last of the them.
So when the indestructible milk and the rats get too much, I just stare out the window at the osmanthus trees. They’ll be flowering in a month or so…..

  • shaz

    Eeek! I don't know which freaks me out more. The ultra long-lived milk or the mice making a nest out of your tea bags. Thanks for the kitchen tour. I see you have the standard issue "good morning" towel hanging on your oven (not sure if it says good morning, but that's what my folks call these towels.)

  • Fiona

    I *love* those 'good morning' tea towels. They're very cheerful! At least the mice (I'll call them mice, although let's be honest, they were larger and longer than mice) have ;left the building 😉

  • Jeannie

    Yes, everyone must have at least half a dozen of those towels around the house, very useful and cheap! Love your cabinet, looks so rustic

  • Fiona

    Thanks Jeanie….it's a food cupboard, with netting on the side walls and behind the doors to allow for ventilation – in Australia they were called 'meat safes', and I was so surprised to see almost exactly the same type of cupboard here in China!

  • Anonymous

    All I saw were the bananas in the corner…I miss bananas!!! Love Liz C. xxx

  • Fiona

    Liz….banana heaven here in Shanghai – 8 bananas, $1.10!!!

    8 bananas in Brisbane @$18/kg = too expensive to even think about

  • frances t

    It all looks so colourful, and so tidy. No self-respecting rodent would dare set foot in such a hygenic-looking place.
    And where is Crookshanks when you need him?

  • Fiona

    Frances, looks can be deceiving! But don't tell any of the rodents that our Chinese cat Crookshanks (not a very Chinese name, I admit) is currently missing in action! We think a kindly old lady has taken him hostage…..

  • croquecamille

    Oh my God! So many cupboards! Four gas burners! And that dishwasher looks about the same size as the one we had in our last apartment, which was big by parisian standards. (Of course, I'm usually only cooking for two, and the sink was so tiny and useless that I adored the dishwasher.) UHT milk is always scary, in my book. 🙂

  • christa @ mental foodie

    I don't know what is scarier, the milk, the oven, or the pest! But it does look like a very nice kitchen in chinese standard 🙂 and I love the tree outside the window!

  • Fiona

    The oven, by a long shot. When it wasn't exploding it was so fiercely hot it threatened to burn the house down!