We're Nate Tate and Mary Kate Tate, a brother and sister cookbook author team obsessed with all things China. We create authentic and accessible Chinese recipes for home cooks. See more...


On the road again

Apparently I'm the same height as an extended tripod. Nate figured this out and now,sometimes before I know it, there's a camera on my head. He takes a steady picture while I hold my breath. I know we look a little strange, but I think it's a good idea. We've been on the go so much lately- planes, trains, and automobiles- that it's practical. In just under two weeks, we've travelled from Beijing to Nanjing to Shanghai to Xiamen and now to the Hakka village of Yongding. Nate biked in this Hakka region of China last year and chose to have us return because of its extraordinary architecture and great food.

Getting to Yongding in itself was an adventure. We rode on a bus to a town in the mountains and then hitched on the back of a motorcycle the rest of the way. All along the road there was a fruit called Yangmei set out to dry. Its sour flavor mixed with the salt sprinkled on top was very refreshing and made me curious to see what other odd fruits and dishes awaited us in Yongding.

The Hakka minority that live here live in clans within large, round building made of earth. These "Tulou," or earth buildings, have withstood the test of time, some dating back to the 13th century. During Nate's last visit, he made friends with a local chef and his family. We hope to get a cooking lesson at his restaurant this week.



Shanghai: To-Go

A three hour train ride and we're once again surrounded by the frenetic pace of modern urban life: Shanghai is a central port city where East meets West.  In the 1930s it was referred to as the "whore of Asia" because it openly catered to the light walleted Westerner fixed on self-indulgence.  However, despite her troublesome past, Shanghai has become a bustling economic zone with a mind of her own.
I have to admit I didn't want to come here. In all my travels around China, I managed to avoid it... until now. I'd heard Shanghai described as "a dull American city," or worse, "a dirty souless city."  Some went as far as to liken it to my beloved New York city (which I highly doubted).  However, as soon as we arrived, my preconceived notions of Shanghai went right out the absurdly clean taxi's window.

Yes, there is the dirty downtown with skyscrapers and traffic. Yes, the pollution is horrible and its inhabitants thrive on materialism. But like New York (yes, I'm making the comparison) it also has several neighborhoods with charming architecture, community gardens, and sidewalk cafes.
People here seem to smile more than in other cities in China.  They walk down the street, hand in hand, with perfectly coiffed dog in tow. Anyone I stopped on the street was more than happy to help with directions and my oddball status as a big-nosed white guy was gone.   
Like any other large city, the food culture is one of eating out. Restaurants are everywhere and most offer food to-go. The big fast food chains are all here- McDonalds, KFC, Häagen-Dazs ,TGI Fridays, and Starbucks. But while those seem to be very popular, the day to day source of meals are the little take-out stalls that line the streets. Throughout the day, people line out front and wait for hot dishes to be served up.



A Nanjing Original

Looking at the girl across from me, it's hard to imagine we're that different.  We're both students with roommates, demanding professors, and a worried mother at home.  We both have bills to pay and stressful exams to take.  Sure she's from China and I'm from the U.S., but are we really all that different?   
Dulinglong and I met last summer at Nanjing Normal University.  She showed me around the city and we often took turns treating each other to dinner.  My last night here I took her to Pizza Hut where she had her first meal with a fork and a knife.  Today when Nate and I met up with her, she insisted on taking us to dinner at her dorm cafeteria.  I'd eaten here many times before, but tonight was special- there were tablecloths and waitresses and recent graduates all around toasting each other's futures and ordering more beer. 

I took this opportunity to ask her a few questions about life and food.  Linglong grew up in a small town in Anhui province where she said most families grow their own rice.  She taught herself to cook at age six by watching TV cooking shows.  She stood on a stool in the kitchen until she was tall enough to reach the counter.  She still does most of the cooking at home and welcomes the break of cafeteria dining at school.  She was advised to study math and will become a math teacher, though she admits she'd rather study language.  In the summers she stays in the city to tutor and send money home.  When asked about her cooking expertise, she willingly described a handful of dishes that she can make easily and relatively fast. 
My life so far looks much different than hers, with less responsibility and more options.  I hope to learn something from her. When I think about the mac 'n cheese and the ramen noodles I usually end up making these days, I wish growing up I'd watched the food network and not the cartoon network.



Bitten off more than we can chew?


On his travels and observations in China, Colin Thubron wrote that it was "the land of a billion uncomprehended people." Watching the foreign landscape whiz by through the window of the train- a land of rural farming villages and factory cooling towers connected by unkempt roads and scattered with unfamiliar trees, I can't help but feel just as overwhelmed. A history stretching back to the Xia dynasty and prehistoric times, China is a world comprised of varied peoples with their own subcultures, variations of Mandarin, and unique foods to dish up. Even a lifetime seems too short for the greatest of sinologists to explore and comprehend. I look over at my brother, his head bouncing with the train, eyes still fighting jet lag, and I wonder what we're doing here. Who do we think we are? Two twenty somethings, packs on our back, meager belongings, and an ambition bigger than both our resumes combined. How could we possibly record each person's story, taste every dish? Have we bitten off more than we can chew?



First Stop: Nanjing

As we make our way down China's East coast, the first stop on our itinerary is Nanjing. This city was once the capital of China but is now a laid back college town (if by "town" you mean 5,320,000 people). With numerous universities and nearly a million students, there is no end to the amount of cheap eats you can find here.

For our visit to Nanjing, we thought it only appropriate to stay at a university dorm. Mary Kate knows her way around Nanjing from her time spent studying abroad and suggested we try her Alma Mater, Nanjing Normal University. The foreign student dorm here has cheap rates and clean rooms and turned out to be a great choice. The campus's location is in the heart of town and the front gate opens to a cluster of vendors selling delicious street fare.

There are many, many dishes available in Nanjing. Some originated here, most did not. I found the best to be flour-based foods like guotie dumplings, baozi dumplings (more round and bready than traditional dumplings), and youtiao, a variation on deep fried donuts. The Chinese potstickers, called guotie, were my favorite Nanjing find. Well be sure to include the recipe we found at the Wu family's restaurant in our book. If the long line of locals out front is any recommendation, these are some of the best around.


Here's an easy recipe for the donut-like youtiao. In some regions of China it's enjoyed with a piping hot bowl of sweetened soy milk.



1 1/4 cups self-rising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup lukewarm water

peanut oil


Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in water.

Lightly knead dough. Loosely cover for about 20 minutes, or enough time for the dough to rise.

On floured surface, roll the dough into 2 inch wide and 14 inch long strips. Twist together in pairs, pinching the ends. Holding each end of twists, pull until 9 inches long.

Deep fry each twist in peanut oil until golden brown (about 25 seconds)

Let cool and eat.

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