This week I’m in the Chinese province of Ningxia (which is in the west, with desert areas, mountains and the Yellow River running through, and also the land of the wolfberry/goji berry). I’m in the midst of a very busy video shoot — but I promise to return next week with plenty of photos to share. In the meantime, hope you are staying safe and healthy wherever you are, and wishing you a wonderful week!
China Daily just published my latest column, titled A helping of guoji jiaoliu over tasty noodles in Hangzhou. Here’s an excerpt:
Years ago in September when I first started working in the city of Hangzhou, I had an unexpected encounter at one of my favorite pulled noodle carts.
One night several Chinese soldiers with short buzz cuts and light-green buttoned shirts displaying their military ranks sat down at one of the plastic tables beside me, as I was enjoying my usual bowl of vegetarian pulled noodles.
They asked where I was from. After I told them, the tallest and most muscular man of the bunch said: “I don’t like America. Americans don’t respect China.”
His words unnerved me. I knew Americans weren’t universally beloved around the world, but it was the first time anyone had ever admitted it to my face in such blunt terms. On top of it, the admission came from a man trained to fight and defend his nation against other countries, such as my own.
I didn’t doubt this man’s resolve to safeguard China – there was a razor-sharp look in his dark and steady eyes. Yet he also smiled at me at the same time. This expression of friendliness, though at odds with his response, moved me to continue the conversation, even if my fledgling Mandarin Chinese was still on shaky ground.
So I attempted to suggest an alternative explanation. “Americans just don’t understand China. If they really knew China, they would like China.” It was a very simplified version of my own journey from an outsider wary of China to one who had gradually come to embrace and appreciate it. “We just need more international communication.”
Read the full piece here. And if you like it, share it!
Lita, the Atlanta, Georgia native who many of you may remember from a few years back when I featured her as China’s WeChat Cookie Queen, is facing great difficulty. Her husband was diagnosed in August 2020 with acute myeloid leukemia, and the family has no health insurance to cover the expenses for treatment:
Lujun “Lawrence” Wang is my brother-in-law, married to my sister Shalita. Lawrence was recently(August 2020)diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The diagnosis has been extremely hard for our family. Unfortunately, during this uncertain time of the pandemic, we were informed that he needs to start treatment immediately. He will need a bone marrow transplant and 3 months of chemotherapy; all of which is very expensive. Of course, as we all have experienced, they have a financial strain due to quarantine and lack of work. They are paying out of pocket because health insurance was 1 of the expenses they cut back on earlier this year(prior to the diagnosis)to get through the financial strain that coronavirus has brought to this world. Lawrence & Shalita, being faithful believers in God are both trying to stand strong and weather through the storm.
But if you’re low on funds at the moment, even just sharing this on your social networks or with people you know will be an enormous help to the family.
When it comes to dating, most people find their partners through a dating app or social media. But what was it like to find your life partner before the internet?
My parents have been in an interracial marriage for the past 30 years, and they have a truly unique love story that started with a chance encounter with a complete stranger.
Just to give you a little bit of background, my father is Caucasian and lived in the United States while my Chinese mother lived in Singapore. Despite geographical barriers and cultural differences, they made a miraculous connection in the 1980s and are still happily married today.
This video is a tribute to their love story and how they met. I hope their story can bring encouragement to all of us. Our YouTube channel is about the unique experiences as a (Chinese + American + Indian) multicultural family living in Singapore.
There’s something magical about cilantro — something that will inspire you to new creations in the kitchen.
Here in Beijing, like many parts of China, cilantro is one of the most ubiquitous herbs. In fact, if you patronize local vegetable vendors, they often give it to you free of charge with your purchases, resulting in a treasure trove of the stuff in your crisper in the refrigerator.
Even better, my husband and I both adore cilantro. Just a whiff of the stuff, with its slightly peppery aroma, gets my mouth watering and often thinking about what to make for dinner.
So I started experimenting by adding chopped cilantro to bread recipes I was making from scratch. Yes, cilantro!
I got inspired from those recipes that typically call for you to add basil or oregano — but instead of those, I turned to the surfeit of that fragrant cilantro in the fridge instead.
As it turns out, fresh cilantro, paired with generous amounts of minced garlic, will transform any humble bread into something so fragrant and delectable that it could grace the menu of an upscale restaurant.
In any event, after discovering the super powers of cilantro, naturally I had to see what it could do when applied to one of the most beloved foods around the world — pizza.
However, pizza — at least the typical variety — can be a tricky proposition in our home for a number of reasons. First off, my husband isn’t a huge fan of tomato sauce (except on those rare occasions when it doesn’t taste sour). Second, I’m vegan. And third, sometimes the ingredients we have on hand don’t always correspond to what you might find at your typical neighborhood pizzeria.
But who says you have to follow the beaten path of pizza purists?
I noticed I had a round eggplant, which of course reminded me of the baba ghanooj (Middle-Eastern eggplant dip) that I prepare almost weekly at home. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use a sort of baba-like eggplant sauce — with, of course, generous amounts of cilantro and garlic — to slather on the pizza.
And the meaty shiitake mushrooms in the pantry would round it all out as a savory topping.
The result — pizza perfection for this vegan in Beijing.
Jun and I each took one bite and declared it the finest pizza we had ever sank our teeth into, with fluffy, aromatic crusts bursting with garlic and cilantro flavor.
Even better, it recalls flavors from the East and West, and brings them all together, a beautiful representation of my own life and marriage, right on the plate.
If you happen to have a bread maker, you can whip this up easily for an amazing pizza night. But no worries if you don’t — see the notes for instructions on how to do your own dough from scratch.
Also, if you love the dough but not the sauce and toppings, see the notes for some inspiration on how to build your own heavenly cilantro pizza.
Let’s make some pizza and rediscover the joys of cilantro!
Vegan Cilantro Pizza w/ Shiitake Mushrooms and Savory Eggplant Sauce
- Bread machine (optional - see notes)
- Food processor
- 15 grams fresh cilantro
- 6 cloves garlic
- 360 grams bread flour
- 24 grams olive oil
- 6 grams salt
- 24 grams sugar (I prefer brown sugar, but white is also fine)
- 220 milliliters water
- 5 grams yeast
- 15 grams fresh cilantro
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 medium-sized eggplant (I prefer round, but any kind of eggplant that's good for baking is fine)
- 5 grams lemon juice (fresh or bottled is fine)
- 10 grams olive oil
- ¼ small onion
- 7.5 grams tahini or other sesame butter of choice
- 1.5 grams salt
- 5 shiitake mushrooms finely sliced
Prepare the dough
- Finely chop all the cilantro -- for dough and sauce -- then set aside in a bowl.
- Finely chop all the garlic, then set aside in a bowl.
- Add half the chopped cilantro and half the chopped garlic into your bread machine pan. Then add the flour, 24 g of olive oil, sugar, 6 g of salt, water and yeast into your bread machine pan as per your breadmaker's instructions (see notes for alternatives, should you not have a bread machine). Select the dough setting and start the machine (for mine, the process takes 1 hour 30 minutes).
- Once dough is finished, let it rest for up to 30 minutes for fluffier dough (though if you are in a hurry, you can use the dough right out of bread machine).
Prepare the sauce
- While dough is in progress, cut the eggplant into four equal pieces. Rub olive oil on the exposed meat of the eggplant, then place on an oiled baking tray. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour at 230 C (450 F), flipping the pieces at least once during the process, and ensuring both sides are seared. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes
- Peel the meat of the eggplant off the skin, then place eggplant meat into a mesh bag. Twist the top of the bag to place pressure on the eggplant, squeezing the majority of the water out of it. (Be careful not to squeeze too much -- otherwise you'll reduce the amount of eggplant).
- Add the remaining half the garlic and the cilantro to a food processor, along with the lemon juice. Then add in eggplant, onion, tahini, 10 g of olive oil and 1.5 g of salt. Pulse it until the eggplant mixture has the consistency of a paste; the onion may still be in small chunks or pieces, which is fine.
- Finely slice the shiitake mushrooms.
- Lightly oil your pizza pan. (I use a rectangular one that measures 22 cm x 30 cm (9 in x 12 in)).
- Work the dough into the shape of your pizza pan, then transfer it to the pan and continue working it with your hands, pushing down from the center out to form a crust on all sides.
- Spread the sauce generously on top of the pizza base.
- Top with the sliced shiitake mushrooms.
- For a crispier crust, brush the crust with olive oil.
- Bake the pizza for 20-25 minutes at 200 - 215 C (400 - 425 F), until the crust is golden brown. Cut and serve immediately.
- Dissolve the yeast in the water (making sure you use warm water) and let it sit for 10 minutes, until the water looks creamy.
- Add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, garlic, cilantro and yeast/water to a large bowl. Mix everything well to combine all the ingredients, until you have a sturdy dough.
- Cover the dough and let it rise until it has doubled in size -- for at least 30 minutes.
What do you think?
China Daily recently published my column titled Shaobing stack up as perfect treat even in sultry August. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:
When I think of shaobing, the fried flatbread that has become a favorite treat of mine from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in rural Zhejiang province, I often recall a sultry August afternoon a few years back, when, amid the drone of late-summer cicadas, she invited me to sit at a wooden stool beside her well-worn cutting board to teach me how to prepare it from scratch.
Making her shaobing involves frying with oil at a high temperature, which might seem an unsuitable thing for the month of August, especially when the “autumn tiger” pounces across the country with its ferocious summer heat that lingers around.
But if you had ever sank your teeth into a piece of my mother-in-law’s shaobing just fresh from the pan－where the crispy, golden exterior gives way to a savory filling of onion mingled with salted bamboo shoot－you would understand that this irresistible delight inspires cravings that know no season or circumstances.
Besides, preparing her shaobing proved easier than expected－something welcome on those muggy days when you’d prefer to spend less time in the kitchen.
Easy Vegan Shaobing (Chinese-style Stuffed Flatbread)
- Cutting board
- Rolling Pin
- Pan or electric fryer
- Onions minced
- Pickled or salted vegetable of choice (such as bamboo, mustard tubers or even olives)
- Cold-pressed oil of choice (such as canola oil or olive oil)
- Mince the onions and your salted vegetable of choice. Then mix them together with a spoonful or two of oil. (They should not be too oily – just enough to bind them together.) If the mixture is not salty enough for you, add salt to taste. (Note: There should be a half-half mixture of the onions and the salted veggie.)
- Pour flour into a bowl and add in just enough water to make dough that you can knead without having it stick to your hands. On a cutting board surface, knead the dough until it is elastic, shiny, smooth and without lumps.
- Roll the dough into a roll with a diameter of about four inches. Then, at about two-inch intervals, cut the dough with a knife into rounds.
- Cradle the rounds in the palm of your hand, and using your fingers create a bowl-like crater. (Note: don’t make this too thin – the edges should still be around a half-inch thick.) Stuff it with the vegetable mix, then pull the edges of the dough over the top to seal it inside.
- Place the stuffed rounds on a floured surface. Using your hand, press down first in the center of the dough, then out to the edges. Keep flipping it over and repeating this process, making sure to shape it into a circle, until it’s thin enough to roll out.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to the edges applying medium pressure. Flip it over and repeat. Keep flipping and rolling out the round until the edges are very thin. (Note: the vegetable filling may occasionally poke holes through the round; this is expected with this type of flatbread and doesn’t affect the final product.)
- Heat a spoonful of oil in a non-stick pan or wok over medium heat, or on electric fryer. Add the flatbread, cooking it until it no longer sticks to the pan and is crispy and slightly browned (about 1 and a half to two minutes.) Flip and repeat for other side.Once done, cut the flatbread into four pieces and serve immediately.
The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post titled Phillipa Soo of ‘Hamilton’ Speaks of Biracial (Chinese/European) Family Background. Here’s the introduction:
Call me “Helpless”, but after watching the live-stage performance of the musical “Hamilton”, I simply had to write about Phillipa Soo, who originated the role of Eliza Hamilton and also happens to have a Chinese American father and a European American mother.
Head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post — and if you like it, share it!
The YA novel Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell features a white girl and a biracial Korean boy falling in love in high school. While this sounds like just the kind of book I’d embrace and promote on this blog, Eleanor & Park is actually rather racist.
And now it’s getting made into a movie, which has renewed the criticism of racism in the book, as noted in an article about the movie on Vice:
Since the movie deal was announced, dissenters have taken to Twitter to denounce Rowell’s Cho-Chang–ass naming choices (Park is an extremely popular Korean surname, not first name, something Rowell acknowledged in an FAQ); the choice to hire a Japanese director to tell a Korean American story; her descriptions of Park as feminine; her description of another Asian boy’s “just barely almondy” eyes; dialogue between the two main characters where Park says “Asian girls are different. White guys think they’re exotic… Everything that makes Asian girls seem exotic makes Asian guys seem like girls”; descriptions of Park’s mother comparing her to a China doll that further solidify the misogynistic “exotic” stereotype; the fact that Park literally does kung fu against a bully at one point… the list goes on! And on! (Rowell and production company Picturestart did not respond to a request for comment.)
Just do a search for “Eleanor and Park racism” and you’ll find a multitude of articles that back this up, including a review in the Los Angeles Times titled ‘Eleanor & Park’: Where romance and racism seem to go hand-in-hand.
This novel dishes up awful representation of Asian characters, which will then get translated onto the big screen. And the thing is, such representation in the media does indeed matter.
A recent article titled The Psychology of Racism noted that media is one of the major areas that can amplify racism, as summarized in a post on Psychology Today:
The sixth factor the authors identify as contributing to racism in America is the media. The authors cite clear evidence that demonstrates people internalize what they watch on TV. A very early example of this research occurs in a 1963 study where preschool children witness aggression on TV and then imitate that aggression in their lives. The paper is the first in a large body of research that demonstrates how people internalize what they see in the media. The authors also cite clear evidence that the American media portrays idealized representations of White Americans and marginalizes and minimizes people who are not White.
So problematic portrayals, such as in Eleanor & Park, do have real-world consequences in terms of racism. In this case, the forthcoming film will further bolster negative stereotypes about Asians.
None of this has deterred the production of the movie — but then again, perhaps that shouldn’t surprise anyone about Hollywood, given even recent examples of yellowface and whitewashing of Asian characters in the movies.
Nevertheless, it’s just not right that Eleanor & Park became a best-seller and now will be made into a film, as noted in Vice:
…as books like Eleanor & Park continue to find success, the representation conversation will churn on with depressing regularity. It hurts to see that not only has a white author, catering to young people, has sailed along without reckoning with her racism, her fetishization and her lazy caricatures; she’s been rewarded with even more success. It’s hard to blame Asian Americans for focusing on the things that make us feel invisible, even if these debates may muffle the least visible among us.
What do you think about the outcry over racism in Eleanor and Park and the forthcoming film?
Singapore is a heaven for foodies, and this guest post and video from Pooja and Robbie shows some of the best Chinese street foods and desserts from the city. Let’s take a look!
What’s the best part about being in an intercultural relationship? For me, it’s getting to try new food.
Growing up in an Indian household, when we ordered Chinese food it was the standard takeout options like fried noodles, spring rolls and General Tso’s chicken. My boyfriend wanted to introduce me to some of the local Chinese street food and Chinese desserts that he grew up with in Singapore.
I tried so many interesting dishes including grass jelly, sea coconut sago, cheng teng, salted green bean bun, egg tart, soya beancurd and fried durian. If you enjoy watching a good taste test video, check out the latest Food Vlog from Pooja & Robbie!
If you’re looking for a new vlog to watch on Youtube, check out Pooja and Robbie, a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) couple who does videos highlighting their multicultural family backgrounds (Indian, Chinese, Singaporean and American) and culture.
In a Q&A about their interracial relationship, Robbie talked about how, when the two of them are in public, people often don’t assume they are a couple due to stereotypes — something I’ve also experienced with my husband.
Pooja also meets Robbie’s Chinese grandma, who shows how to prepare a special tofu dish that has been a tradition in the family. Watching this brought back memories of spending time with my mother-in-law in her kitchen, learning how to cook all kinds of specialty foods, including my favorite flatbread.
P.S.: Are you a Youtuber with a channel you’d like to recommend? Or do you know of a good Youtube channel you’d like to see featured here? Let me know in the comments — or contact me today about it.