Growing up in an ethnically Chinese household, I ate a lot of Chinese food, more so early on in my stay in America. In more recent years, my mother added non-Chinese dishes to her repertoire of recipes. Sometimes, I would help out in the kitchen for more time-consuming tasks, like jiaozi, huntun, or baozi, but time-consuming tasks were mostly done around holidays rather than on a typical Monday or Wednesday. Today, I am going to show you a gallery of home-made Chinese dishes from my youth.
In my Wuhan dialect, rice porridge is called 稀飯 (pinyin: xifan), literally translated as "wet rice". The English loanword, congee, comes from the Tamil கஞ்சி (kanji); Tamil comes from South and Southeast Asia. Given the massive size of the British empire during the 19th century, I speculate that's how British people became aware of it. The word, congee, is often used to describe this type of meal. For the Chinese variety, it is a type of porridge made of rice and a lot of water. The rice porridge itself is usually served bland, but that is for balancing out the stronger tastes from the condiments. Condiments are usually savory, as opposed to sweet, like spiced and pickled mustard plant stem shreddings (榨菜), preserved duck eggs (皮蛋), or reheated vegetable and meat leftovers from yesterday's dinner (剩菜).
This scallion-laden flatbread is called 葱油饼 (pinyin: cong you bing). It basically is a piece of flatbread with scallions. Although it is traditionally made with dough instead of batter, the kind that my mother made was actually made out of batter. My theory is that my mother never really learned the recipe through formal education. She might have just watched someone make something similar on the urban streets or might have formulated a recipe of her own that looks like the dough-based version. In any case, this food may be a good breakfast, lunch, or snack.
Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles
This recipe is one of the things that Wuhan is famous for. In the style of Wuhan cuisine, my mother made her variation spicy, dry, and with peanut butter. The dish can be eaten cool or warm, with a drizzle of chopped garlic and soy sauce over it. It is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch.
Dinner meals are usually set up like a buffet. Meat dishes, vegetable dishes, and sometimes soups are set somewhere on the kitchen counter (family dinners) or at the dining table (when guests are invited). Everyone is allowed to help himself to anything on the meat and vegetable dishes, and everyone has his own bowl of rice. For hygienic reasons, there are "public chopsticks" on the shared dishes, and there are, unfortunately, only chopsticks. I once asked my mother directly why we never bought more metal forks, spoons, and knives, but my mother said we didn't need them, and the times we did need them (when guests were in the house), we would just use plastic forks and spoons. Typically, I do not resent that. I am fairly adept at using the chopstick. However, sometimes I feel that a fork is better than a chopstick at eating cheesecake. To compensate the lack of forks when eating a cheesecake, I would usually cut the cheesecake with a small kitchen knife and then grab it with the chopstick. Clean and efficient.
An example of a delicate dinner recipe is steamed eggs. The reason why I call this "delicate" is that the ratio of egg:water is very important. If you add too much water, then the eggs will not solidify into a savory custard-like thing. If you add too little water, then you will not get that smooth and creamy texture. It took me two failures to get a success, and once I succeeded, I succeeded ever since by maintaining the recipe.
Dessert usually means some kind of fruit. Mundane, I know. But it's eaten because it's a light meal after dinner.
I must mention that a "dish" in English does not mean a "dish" in Chinese. A dish in English typically refers to the whole meal, like lambchops or a casserole. When this word "dish" is used to describe Chinese cuisine, it usually refers to the vegetable dish or the meat dish or the soup pot. The Chinese word for these dishes is 菜 (pinyin: cai), which by itself can mean any savory dish on the table that is shared. 菜 does not include rice. Quite ironically, 饭 (pinyin: fan) means both rice and the entire meal that you eat. The cultural implication is that the 菜 ("meat/vegetable dish") is never eaten without 饭 ("rice"), because the meat/vegetable dish is not the full meal. I think soup can be eaten like a full meal, even though broths may not be very satisfying and thick soups may be too strong in taste to eat by themselves. I suppose you can eat a meat or vegetable dish (i.e. steamed eggs) by itself, even though it may not be very satisfying or filling. Or maybe it is just me, because I have grown accustomed to eating rice at almost every meal.
So, that is it. I hope you've enjoyed reading this myTake, as I've had the pleasure in writing it. :)