How to Survive: Cooking Chinese Food

There's no better way to learn a culture than by its cuisine

by Nicole Chia | Thu, March 23, 2017


One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in this culture is to learn how to cook Chinese food. Pretty soon you’ll have people banging at your door asking for your special dumpling recipe (frozen from Metro) or asking you to show them how to make fried rice like a pro. But first, you need to learn some of the basics. Here are some tips on how to survive cooking Chinese food:


1. Load up on the basic ingredients.

Go to Metro or Carrefour and buy oil, salt, and soy sauce. With these three things you can make ANYTHING taste like Chinese food or at least that’s how it is when you observe your Ayi cooking. How does she manage to make Italian pasta taste like Chow Mein anyway? Also you’ll want to buy garlic powder, fresh garlic, and garlic shoots – all essential ingredients for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take your groceries home and discover you didn’t actually buy any fresh vegetables, meats, or tofu; other things essential for Chinese fare. Realize that going back to the grocery store is too stressful so instead make a grilled cheese sandwich and promise yourself you’ll try harder tomorrow. 


2. Ask your Ayi or a Chinese friend to teach you how to make dumplings.

Watch as she manages to finely decimate the cabbage by hand while you silently vow to use your food processor because ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’ Observe her expertly balance the meat, egg and spices and then shoo her away because it’s so easy you can finish the rest on your own. Proceed to break half the wrappers while struggling to fold them. Folding dumplings is impossible because whomever can fold while pinching must be practicing the dark arts! Instead, fold them in half and press down with a fork, pastry-style. Ignore your Ayi who tells you that your dumplings are ugly while watching them completely fall apart in the boiling water. Pat yourself on the back for completing a successful Chinese dumpling soup recipe. 


3. Sign up for a Chinese cooking class at Community Center Shanghai.

It’s your last-ditch effort to learn something about Chinese food other than how to turn on your rice cooker. Gab with other ladies and drink a glass of wine while someone says something about coating ribs in flour. Finish with a lovely lunch comprised of delicious food that seemingly magically appeared.


One of the best things about Chinese cooking is learning to balance. Whatever you cook, balance your five flavors: salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter. Once these are in perfect harmony then anything you throw in your wok will come out just fine! And when in doubt just throw more soy sauce in there. Everything is better with more soy sauce.