With 6 years in China and more specifically Shanghai food plays a big role. I came here weighing around 75 to 78kg and currently am at 88 to 90kg with a bit more muscle but also a bit of a belly.
For the first 3 years I was basically not working out at all (apart from beerwalks if you would count them, they are a physical activity but certainly do not promote weight-loss in any way but certainly counteract the calories you would get from just sitting in a bar and getting hammered). I was also not cooking at all, unless you count boiling water for instant noodles (keep in mind I was studying in 2009/10 and therefore was on a very tight budget) or boiling frozen pre-made wonton. The first 1 to 3 years led to a net weight gain of around 10kg. Not good!
Back in China in 2011 and at around 82 kilos I had a better starting point with having worked out again, doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu twice a week and biking long distances every weekend. I was however still not cooking at all for another 2 to 3 years. Then I started to work in sales again and with no training or physical activity apart from biking to and from work the weight bounced back to a shocking 93 kg.
Obviously not happy with that I started to bike a lot more and signed up for MMA training twice a week. Good times! Fat got replaced by muscle and the weight went down to the current 88 to 90 kg. After a bicycle injury 18 months ago and trying to go back to MMA that was not really happening anymore without completely changing my game – so I had to put that on hold. I am recovered now, hopefully fully but still a bit scared that the pain comes back giving leg locks and heel hooks and general knee strain I believe I have to put that behind.
NOW to the cooking and eating habits. Student times eating out for the most part student cantina, cheap street food, instant noodles and wonton/dumplings and beers, beers are always there to this day.
After settling back in in 2011 and working 7 days a week it was more hole-in-the wall restaurants, street food and cheap food in ‘western’ restaurants. Then later given that I had no kitchen, still no cooking unless you count the smoothies I made in the mornings and here we go with the recipe number one:
The Weird Green Power Smoothie
Ingredients: 1 apple, 1 banana, a handful of spinach (any leafy green will do, it”s only funny with a spicy one I got one day), peanut butter (big spoon), chocolate protein powder (1 scoop)
Have a go at it: Put it in the blender and fill it up with water. Blend and drink. It’s fast and should be consumed right away, as a bit later it turns brownish and smells a bit earthy if that turns you off.
So yeah, for the longest time this was the first ‘cooking’ I did. Fast forward to the time when I weight the most and decided to train MMA and bike more, incidentally also roughly the time I met my girlfriend. We moved in together and even it was a relatively small flat too, it came with a ‘kitchen’ – meaning a kitchen counter with a washing machine where an oven would be and one electrical cooking stove. Enter cooking time!
The thing with my ‘cooking’ is that I don’t believe in recipes, so baking is definitely something that is not for me with being precise and all. I was trying to find this comic I saw years back, by a foreign artist here in China. So when I first came here there was this horrible, horrible, not so great ‘restaurant’ (they are not here anymore) this review goes very light on them, they were like a bastardised version of Saizeriya – which is fine dining in comparison (and I love their absolute honest price model) – it’s exactly worth that.
So this comic had, what most have been Babela’s, kitchen staff that looked at a picture of pizza to copy that. They asked questions like: What is the yellowish white stuff on top? and then someone said ‘Sweet Mayo!’ this was then scribbled down. At Babela’s the pizza tasted exactly like that – abominations of the product they might have seen and set out to copy.
I take a similar approach with my cooking. I eat a lot of stuff, if not everything and by trial and error (and I eat the errors too) I find a way to bastardise a dish or create on from scratch that suits my needs. A favourite of my girlfriend is my attempt at Laksa.
Ingredients: 3 small chilli peppers, 3 garlic cloves, the same amount of fresh ginger, a splash of Thai fish sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, a can of coconut milk (unsweetened of course), water, curry (either a paste or tons of powder) maybe 3 spoons, salt, your oil of choice, Sriracha. pepper, 1-2 paprikas, 1 small chinese cabbage, cheap and boneless fish like cod (frozen) and glass noodles
Have a go at it: Chop the chilli peppers, garlic and ginger in small pieces. Heat up the wok and splash some oil in it – go wild – fat is good for you and throw these three spices in. Smell it! Then quickly cut up the frozen fish in cubes (maybe the size of a dice), then on the pile sprinkle lemon juice and Sriracha and let that sit until the wok smells deliciously spicy and not burned, add some soy sauce and throw in the fish. Watch and stir a bit. Then wants the frozen fish is a cooked fish add some curry powder or paste and chug the can of coconut milk in. Pour a glass of water in the empty can and swish it a bit so you get all the milky goodness out and make everything swim until the wok is 70% full. Turn the heat down and let it cook while in the meantime you chop the paprika(s) and chinese cabbage in pieces of a size you like. Taste it and add pepper, salt, more lemon or lime juice, Sriracha and/o fish sauce to your taste then chug in the chopped up veggies. Let it cook! Then when all this cooks throw in the glass noodles and let them simmer until soft. Serve in bowls.
I don’t like washing up much and to use a ton of utensils to cook and if I can optimise a dish to just choose one wok, pan or pot then I will do just that.
Next up my current favourite:
Fake Spinach Soup
Ingredients: Butter or ghee, 1 head of broccoli, 3 spoons of mayo/creme fresh/miracle whip, 3 spoons of yellow mustard, water, salt, pepper, chicken soup powder/MSG/vegetable broth powder
Have a go at it: Put a pot on the stove and butter or ghee in and heat it up. While this heats up, put the broccoli head (washed of course) in a blender (with everything but unsightly/inedible parts) and blend with water until it is a bright green mush. Then pour this in the pot and lower the heat. Add the mayo/creme fresh/miracle whip and yellow mustard and seasons with salt, pepper and enhancer of choice. Let it cook and serve in a deep dish.
Breakfast during winter time is the following:
Oats with Power
Ingredients: Oats or any sort of non-sweet muesli (no raisins! raisins go home!), chocolate protein powder, a bit of honey, cinnamon, turmeric, a spoon full of coconut oil, water
Have a go at it: Take a big cup/mug and pour two (protein powder) scoops of oats in the mug, then add coconut oil and fill with water until 75% full – put that in the microwave and nuke it for 2 minutes, then add the spice, optional honey and cinnamon and turmeric, stir and dig in.
Something for dinner if you are just in the mood for some meat and you got some lying around:
Ingredients: Meat (good pieces of pork or chicken breast, cheap beef – no bones!), balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and a hot sauce of your choice, salt and pepper
Have a go at it: Put butter or ghee in a pan and heat that up. Cut up your meat into cubes and separate fat parts and lean parts (if applicable). Chug the meat in the pan, fat parts first and let them sizzle until they become crispy, bleed most of the fat out or become more palatable (think pork rind parts here) and then the rest of the meat. Let it brown a little then pour some balsamic vinegar on it and soy sauce and push it around the pan, also some hot sauce for a kick. When almost ready (you will know) sprinkle some good salt and pepper onto it and add to whatever you eat or indulge in your meat cubes just by themselves.
With the heat and trying to stay up for gaming a bit longer I found salad is an optimal energy spender for dinner where I can eat until full. Here is the current variation that gets a lot of love:
Ugly Crunchy Salad
Ingredients: White radish (maybe one third), 1 cucumber, 1 or 2 paprika, chinese cabbage, olive oil, 1-2 spoons yellow mustard, 1-2 spoons pesto, balsamic vinegar, some dashes of hot sauce, soy sauce, something acidic (I am going for this vinegar mix or any kind of funky vinegar will do)
Have a go at it: Chop everything into cubes, smallish pieces and when you are lucky like me you have this pot with a lid in the rice cooker that is a perfect salad shaker, then put all the stuff in there, add the sauces, pesto and mustard, maybe add some other spices that you feel like (I do pepper and cumin at the moment) and then put the lid on and shake until everything has a bit of sauce on it and around it. Then eat out of that bowl/pot!
As you can tell I don’t spend too much time or utensils while ‘cooking’ and like it easy and fast. Almost everything can be substituted for something that has the same consistency or the idea could apply too to. So have a go and become a rebel cook. Have I mentioned that all these recipes are insanely packed with nutrients and cheap?
Let’s end this with a little bit of a rundown of what I eat at the moment, apart from the mornings and nights. Shockingly when I was working in sales I have spend A LOT of money at lunch, being in the trendy area of Shanghai, hole in the wall restaurants were no options. So the cheapest lunch sets did set me back around 60 RMB. This was most of the time western food, like burgers, pizza, curries, sandwiches with soup and similar stuff.
Now having the office in a less developed and for my taste cooler area, I have Mala Tang maybe 2 or 3 times a week for around 25 RMB and Wontons in the summer I like them dry with the vinegar-peanut-soy-sauce on top (like in the third picture of this blog post, but think more street and no garnish and no spicy sauce) in the winter in soup and on Friday’s I pig out on McDonalds or Burger King.
That’s it for my Punk Cooking!