Monthly Archives: May 2011

Shanghai and drinking – Chinese Coffee

Coffee is just starting to be popular amongst Chinese people, having developed a long history and a preference for tea. Polly would give us tea pretty much everyday: after all, it’s just boiling water that you pour into a teapot containing leaves. Nothing very complicated.

Starbucks is the great American coffee master in Shanghai, Costa Coffee probably being its most ferocious competitor, from England. Another café, 85°C Café, comes from Taiwan and is also very popular, known especially for its pastries.

Coffee and I have a long love-hate relationship. I easily abuse of it – during exams, by example – to reject it almost immediately, to finally come back to it a few months later. I like it dark, sweet, coarse, but I don’t say no to medium roast. I’m telling you this because my preferences will cause me many problems with Chinese coffee.

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85°C Café

My review on their coffee is… pretty negative: the drink had a very odd greasy taste. I found a similar one at the train station and I didn’t dare to finish it: I thought they poured the whole bottle of cream in my cup. And still, I’m not so sure it was cream, because the greasy taste in my mouth was just way too heavy.

However, Alex says he liked it. He describes it as “creamy, fat, nice.” It must be relative to everyone.

Let’s talk about the pastries. Chinese people (and Asian people in general) do not have a long pastry history, unlike French or Austrian people.  So they adapted foreign products with their own methods… And the result is sometimes quite questionable. By example, I didn’t hate these little bread filled with sausages shown on the following picture.

However, I didn’t like them either… Bread is lighter than baguette and usual supermarket bread, not heavy enough and has a very odd sweet taste that doesn’t blend well with garlic sausage. Unfortunately, all the salted pastries we tried ended up to the same conclusion: a deep feeling of uncertainty and awkwardness.

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McDonald

I tried their coffee only once and even if it’s cheap and they didn’t add this weird cream stuff, I didn’t want to try again the burnt coffee.

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Starbucks vs Costa Coffee

Now, let’s talk about the real stuff: Starbucks and Costa Coffee are the only places where you can actually find good coffee, but you have to be ready to pay the price.  Other coffees usually cost me up to 8 RMB, it is hard to take 20 RMB from your coin purse to pay for a double espresso at Starbucks or Costa Coffee. The espresso tasted the same as in Canada from both sides.

However, when Alexandre decided to try their frappucinos, the conclusion wasn’t the same from both coffee shops. The price is the same, but the taste is quite different. Since Alex was used to the sweet Frappuccino from Starbucks, when he tried the one from Costa Coffee, he was surprised to end with a bitter coffee with no sugar. I’m sorry, but when I buy a frappé at a coffee shop, I actually expect something that reminds me of a coffee ice cream. You should have seen the amount of sugar sachets he had to add to his drink.

If you can’t get rid of your daily caffeine dose, be aware that you will pay the same amount as in Canada or in the US. It’s pretty sad, knowing how many dumplings you can buy for the same amount of money for a small Frappuccino.

PS: you can buy 20 dumplings for the same price, by the way.

Back to Montreal

And back to my kitchen. It took me an awfully long time to get back to cooking, but I got tired really fast of eating sandwiches and instant pasta recipes. You wonder what made me want to cook again?

It’s a blog that I recently discovered “Eye It. Try It.“: I totally fell in love with her motto “Eat healthy and delicious”. Actually, combining the two is not an easy task (bacon, unfortunately, always looks terribly attractive). I’ve wanted to work in nutrition a while ago, but that is another story.

So I tried her alternative to the famous Blizzard made by Dairy Queen with the ingredients I had in my refrigerator and my pantry.

Raw Cookie Dough Bites

Ingredients:
Yields ~15 bites

  • 1/2 cup of natural scaled pistachios
  • 1/4 cup of quick oats
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips

Instructions:

  • In a mixer, add all the ingredients (except chocolate chips) and crush until you get a granular and malleable paste.
  • Add the chocolate chips to the paste and mix. Shape little round bite-size balls between your hands.
  • Freeze.

Agave syrup (as mentioned on her blog) is a sweet syrup coming from a Mexican plant called agave. In terms of texture, it looks like a liquid in between honey and maple syrup and is much sweeter. Because I didn’t know where to find it in Montreal, I thought honey could do the job, as long you dose properly with maple syrup.

For her pseudo-blizzard, her recipe gave me some sort of very consistent yogurt or banana sorbet, but I actually do not know what aBlizzard from Dairy Queen looks like (sorry, I’m guilty of never having tried one). I was actually expecting something in the range of a milkshake from Wendy’s.

Big plus for this recipe: the almost rotten banana that I had left in the freezer to save it gave an amazing flavour to the yogurt. The taste of rum actually gave an interesting kick to the pseudo-blizzard. Now, you know what to do if you ever have one last black banana after making tons of muffins and cakes.

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Another recipe that made me come back to my dear oven:

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread by les Grignotines.

The concept was too interesting to pass up and especially the excess of cinnamon and sugar. Unfortunately, even if I put a lot of flour and butter in the mold, removing the bread was not an easy task: well, I just butchered the poor little bread… However, every slice comforts hearts, especially with the crappy weather we had…

Oh Shanghai, I miss your humidity and your heat…

Little note: in China, people don’t actually like sweets as much as I do. I found some cookies I haven’t eaten since… ooohhh… ten years at least. Found them at Tesco: Apricot Barquettes from Lu. Oh my… I just fell back into childhood. My host and her daughter were not as excited as I was: they found them too sweet. However, I actually think there’s worst…

Oh! Please send me cookies from France!!! I want some Raspberry Paille d’Or, Strawberry Barquettes and Chocolate BN!!!

Shanghai and Eating – Weird fast-food

When I’m talking about weird fast-food, I actually think about the differences between Asian and Canadian junk food. I never eat at KFC, neither at McDonald’s, nor at Pizza Hut in Canada and I didn’t think about starting to do so in Asia. But for my own personal knowledge, I’d thought I’d give it a try!

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McDonald

Nothing really special, except iced tea that doesn’t taste at all like the Nestea served in Quebec and that’s very inconsistent from a franchise to another (sometimes, it’s sweeter or bitter). The sizes are also smaller and more reasonable.

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Blue Frog

Not really a fast food restaurant, more like a bar with hamburgers, very popular with expats. Their beef patties are enormous and on Monday, it’s two hamburgers for the price of one.

However, to counter the lack of profits, unlimited bottled water costs 20 RMB per person (might as well buy a beer for 15 more RMB) and the patties are not cooked as they should be. I asked for medium and I received a burger that’s very brown of the surface, but a tad too pink and bloody on the inside… The French fries are ordinary, a bit floury: they were not prepared with fresh potatoes, which lowers the quality of the meal (I’m sorry, I’m so used to the fresh French fries from Frite Alors! or Five Guys).

Be careful! The Portobello hamburger doesn’t contain meat. The patty has been replaced by a single Portobello mushroom… Yup… Not even a veggie burger. My housemate from Singapore was very disappointed… (And no, it wasn’t very clear on the menu that it didn’t have meat. Usually, if you have a vegetarian hamburger on your menu, you actually write in big letters: NO MEAT! or VEGETARIAN!)

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Food courts

Food courts in Quebec have acquired a pretty bad reputation on the gastronomical side: we usually eat there pretty quickly and quick rhymes with fast food and junk food (not really, but you get the idea!). Here, it’s easy to bring someone eat at a food court and not actually feel ashamed. First of all, the expansion of shopping malls in Shanghai probably contributed to the phenomenon. Secondly, we can ACTUALLY eat GOOD food. Like these fried dumplings and this stinky fried tofu. There’s always a huge line in front of the kiosk everyday.

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KFC

The Oscar goes to… KFC, with its surprisingly good congee (Chinese porridge, zhōu in pinyin, cháo in Vietnamese) with pork and fermented eggs. You eat it with a long fried bread (yóu tiáo in pinyin, dầu châu quẩy in Vietnamese).

When I was sick, my mom would cook me this kind of porridge with a very good amount of ginger and a FREAKING LOT of pepper to help me recover quickly. Here, it’s the usual breakfast for 6 RMB (1 CAD). You can have it with pork or sweet beans and for an extra 5 RMB, you can get it with beef or chicken. I personally preferred the beef one, but the pork one is good too, even though it lacks vegetables or that little extra kick that would make it even better.

Shanghai and Travel – Hangzhou, Suzhou and Tongli

Translation coming soon.

Shanghai and Travel – the Big Day

Translation coming soon.