One cannot escape the importance of food in China, whether it be as a foreigner seeking well-known comfort foods from home (poor bastards), a Chinese steeped in culinary traditions of one region to such a point that food from another part of the country is outright exotic (and not necessarily if that part is Xinjiang), or this eco-anthropologist on the hunt for chile peppers and their meaning.

One of the troubles with modern eating habits is that it is just too easy to go to a supermarket and buy meals which require not much more than to put them in the microwave. My personal béte noir for this is the “just add water”-pancake batter in a bottle.

Excuse me? Pancake batter?
That’s a cup of milk, an egg, and enough flour whipped in to make it a batter of desired consistency!

China, in this regard, fascinated me from the first day on.

There is something to say for being “backwards,” underdeveloped: it’s rather easier to go to the local market, buy fresh greens, vegetables, fruit, some tofu, a fish or a bit of meat. Okay, you can get the meat alive or butchered for you, you can also get dog (sometimes). Still, it’s a welcome change from having to get everything at the supermarket.

Thinking of Michael Pollan, that is how his “food rules” are implemented easily: Eat Food.
Not processed stuff. No high-fructose corn syrup.
Junk food? All you want, as long as you cook it yourself.
More greens.

Or is it easy?
Most of last year, I have been cooking. Now, I wonder if things have changed and can be tweaked a bit more.
So, I have decided – now that Spring Festival is coming up – to embark on a little experiment:
Except for the things which I already have at home (which is not much), the rest of the month I want to cook or bake myself, and otherwise do without processed foods. Make it from scratch, simply put.

I may have to make an exception for chocolate, but otherwise:

  • fruit and nuts for snacks, not potato chips and Snickers bars;
  • vegetables and, when called for, bits of meat as companion dishes to rice, not… well, actually, China doesn’t really have much in the way of ready-made meals, so that is already usual;
  • self-baked cookies, if need be, not cookies with dubious ingredients which are expensive and gone within seconds

I’ll keep you updated and, with that, want to start blogging more how-to’s for Chinese cooking, as well…