HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


chinese/chinese-americans: tell us about home cooking?

with all the debates on chowhound about chinese restaurants (you know, the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair when it comes to "authentic" vs. you know what, dim sum vs. banquet fare, regional variants, etc.) i'm often left wondering what chinese, or maybe specifically chinese- (north) americans, grew up eating at home. what's the good stuff that's not in the restaurants?

i guess i'm asking folks what chinese home cooking is. what did moms and grandmoms (or the boys, too) make for weekend meals, weekday dinners, and special occasions? what is left to the professionals, and what are the rest of us missing out on? what do the people with cantonese backgrounds eat at home? people from shanghai, beijing, wherever else?

and is scrambled eggs with tomato really ubiquitious across the board? so simple, but one version i had at a friend's house years ago is still on my mind.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My parents are from Beijing, growing up it was all about dumplings, baos, buns and lots of stuff made from dough that don't even really have English names.

    I also remember watching my mom make noodles with her hands, or hand-pulled noodles. While I was fortunate enough to pick up some of her talent for rolling dumpling skins and making dumplings, her noodle artistry has eluded me to this day. Sadly, that skill might just end with her generation.

    I still remember making literally thousands of dumplings for our Chinese New Years Eve celebration (and then trying to eat the one that was stuffed with sugar to bring good luck the rest of the year).

    We also made alot of tsongzi (or bamboo wrapped sticky rice) -- both sweet and savory kinds. There'd be days when one of the bath tubs would be solely reserved for soaking the bamboo leaves and then hours and hours spent filling, wrapping, tying, marking (gotta know which ones are meat and which ones are sweet, right?), and then cooking these suckers. Much too much work -- so much easier to just buy these things for like a 1.50.

    Most of these things you can get from restaurants, but somehow they just don't taste the same. I know that I have yet found a place that makes better dumplings than "mom".

    And, yes, there's little that is comparable to scrambled eggs with tomato ... I truly believe that eating enough of that stuff can cure just about anything that ails you.

    8 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      i identify with ricepad's experience as directly from my immediate family but for the most part many of my meals as a child lay somewhere between ricepad and ipsedixit's family with huge dependence on access to my paternal grandmother.

      mom and dad were big on those steamed meat cake type things of ground pork, bamboo, mushrooms etc that we took slices of and mashed into rice with an often generous helping of soy sauce. the egg tomato thing often appeared more as an incarnation with beef and was somewhat of a quick stew. congee on weekends or a variant of noodles, broth, bbq/roast meat or dumplings, and choy.

      i've learned to respect and feel ridiculously nostalgic about my grandmothers cooking though. it took a long time but the bamboo wrapped rice (purchasing it is no where near what my grandmother is capable of), soups (winter melon, papaya, ginseng, birds nest), perfectly steamed fish, multitudes of dumplings, perfectly tender stewed pork bones for congee, etc etc were what she would spend hours a day making for our home consumption.

      considering she immigrated to the french part of canada, i'm further amazed at how she accessed ingredients. granted, she did take over half of the concrete backyard and had rows and rows of melon and veg growing for her own use.

      btw. cantonese... dad's side was from china but other than speaking/being toisan, i can't give you any more specifics.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        just wondering...is it true that northern chinese people don't really eat rice? i've heard that in the north, these noodles, breads, buns, and baos are the staples. a taiwanese american friend of mine was surprised when she went to beijing and had to ask for rice, and the waitstaff at all the restaurants looked at her strangely, as if she had asked for something completeley foreign.

        plus, although i'm sure the climates are extremely different, korea and japan are located in a similar space to beijing or northern china in terms of latitude, yet korea and japan are totally rice-based cultures.

        1. re: augustiner

          My family is from the north and they eat rice. It's definitely not the staple and flour-based items are definitely more prevalent.

          Also, I wouldn't say Korean and Japanese cuisines are totally rice-based. I think that's a bit of an oversimplification, if not a bit incorrect. Think udon or soba in Japan and mandu or naengmyeon in Korea.

          I'd be very surprised any restaurant in Beijing would not serve rice, unless of course you were at a dumpling house and ordered only dumplings. Rice just doesn't go with dumplings. You'd even get odd looks here in the U.S. if you did that.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            noodles may be extremely popular, but i would still maintain that korean food is centered around rice. maybe my phrasing it as "totally" rice based is misleading. come to think of it, it makes me sound "totally" californian. or hella californian!

            i can't account for my friend, but she did express to me that she had trouble getting rice at multiple restaurants in beijing. i don't know if these were banquet level places, or street eats, or small eateries, it's just something i remember her telling me, and then i read that northern chinese people tend to eat wheat products like noodles, etc. it's actually one of the reasons i started this thread, because i was curious about the diversity of chinese home-cooking.

            so thanks for your response. but still, in a country whose language includes the word for rice when talking about eating in general, i'd say that correctly indicates a cuisine based on rice. noodles and dumplings are extremely popular, but they just don't hold the same significance.

            and, at least in my stomach, rice and dumplings definitely go together.

            1. re: augustiner

              The north/south, wheat/rice dichotomy has functioned for a long time as a shorthand way of looking at China's food culture, but in my experience it's never been a very reliable distinction. I've eaten lots of rice in northern China and plenty of wheat noodles in the south. (Taiwan, incidentally, is an exception to all of this, since it was overrun after WWII by mainlanders, many of whom brought their wheat-eating ways along, so starch of every kind is much in evidence.)

              I don't know if this applies to your friend's case, but getting a bowl of rice can sometimes be difficult nowadays in more affluent settings, simply because many Chinese now flaunt their prosperity by eating meals--especially festive or showy ones--that consist entirely of "cai" ("dishes") and no "fan" (rice or its equivalent), a reversal of the traditional formula.

              1. re: Barry Foy

                that makes sense. i wonder if in a few decades rice consumption will drop noticeably in affluent parts of some asian countries. if you don't have to eat it three meals a day because of hard living, i can see people skipping it or adopting more western practices. i sometimes cringe when my korean mother sort of puts on airs and flaunts an understanding of or access to western foods, after growing up with almost nothing to eat but rice and kimchi. although, when feeling under the weather or just out of it, all she wants to eat is rice and kimchi!

                anyways, thank you all for shedding some light on what is one of my favorite cuisines, yet one i know so little of, and one which is amazingly diverse. and please, continue talking about it. i love this thread.

                1. re: augustiner

                  In the 70s after Japan got rich people there stated eating much less rice. Since then they look at me like a barbarian (not that I'm not) when I ask for rice.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    huh. i wonder, at the same time, did the popularity of noodles rise, especially as quick one dish meals eaten on the fly? did ramen houses or soba or udon joints become more popular?

      2. Hong Kong/Hakka on the father's side and Shanghai on my mother's side.

        I typically ate with my dad's side of the family and basically it boiled down to lots of rice, lots of steamed things (fish, "custard", tofu, fish meat), braised items (brisket, sometimes curry, lotus root with pork, etc.), blanched vegetables (a choi of some sort, sometimes even iceburg lettuce), stir fries, and sometimes pan fried items (like stuffed bell pepper with fish or fish or pork chops, etc.). Special occasions usually warranted "fat choi", dried shittake, poached chicken, blanched shrimp (sort of the good luck foods). I really like S&S Pork so it was one of those special occasion dishes (and completely different from the stuff restaurants make). If we didn't go out to eat on weekend days we'd have congee (usually with turkey bones from the holiday) and stir fried noodles. My aunt/family cook also used to make "lop mei" like pork belly or duck and also daikon radish cake. And yes, I've had a lot of scrambled eggs with tomato. Okay, here comes confession time. My family usually likes to restrict the amount of fats and salt they're eating (either that or I've blunt taste buds) so I usually thought our family meals were a little bland. However, that's not to say she wasn't a great cook.

        Every once in a while I'd eat at my maternal grandmother's place, where we'd have rice, the absolute best lion's head stew, braised chicken and chestnuts, and usually a stir fry. Also made vegetable and meat dumplings for boiling, and used to make this very interesting braised vegetarian dish with tofu that we'd eat cold.

        1. I think a lot of this depends on when you grew up and where you were. We lived in Ohio and various places in the 70's where my mom had to make do with what she could find in the grocery stores (not much) and then we'd do a huge shopping trip to NYC to buy things like soy sauce and non-Uncle Ben's converted rice. So, I'm sure what we grew up with wasn't anything near what she would have made had she had access to good supplies. Being more "Americanized", we kids loved the occasional fried rice night and the biggest treat was getting American food. FWIW, we did have tomatoes, shrimp, tofu in scrambled eggs. Mostly dinner was rice, veggies and meat stir fries, less on the meat. Now she makes sticky rice in leaves, won tons, etc. but she's had to learn to do everything from scratch.

          My in-laws OTOH lived in DC where they had better access to supplies. Even now, the best meals I have are on Chinese New Years where they all spend a week preparing and have this table full of amazing food. Nothing like I grew up with. I can't begin to describe the food. The first time I saw it, I couldn't get over the amount and the quality of food. Better than any wedding banquet I've been to.

          3 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            my parents both grew up in Hawaii. mom Cantonese, dad Chinese/Hawaiian/dash of unknown. i grew up on Long Island and also vaguely remember shopping trips to NYC. dinners were mostly Americanish (baked spaghetti with strips of melted Kraft singles on top! iceberg lettuce with French dressing!) but for company they would do sweet & sour pork, tomato beef, fried rice. in the summer dad would make killer teri chicken, and he also did a mean steamed striped bass in soy that i've never had the equal of. i also remember packing bag lunches of teri beef sandwiches (they smell, after a while). we had congee (we say "jook") and long rice. scrambled eggs with shrimp (no tomato).
            cans of Spam and Vienna sausage in the pantry. and rice with everything.
            but i also grew up eating Shake&Bake pork chops, knockwurst, and sandwiches on Wonder Bread with mayo.

            1. re: rudysmom

              were my korean mother and your chinese mother friends? My mom used to make spaghetti with jarred sauce, ground beef, and she always added kraft singles to be mixed into the spaghetti

              SO GROSS...but I loved it as a kid

              1. re: bitsubeats

                My mom and dad worked two jobs each, and shared the cooking. When Dad cooked, it was a can of Chef Boyardi O's, or spaghetti with a "sauce" of mayo & ketchup. Gross, but we loved it as kids.

          2. Bona fides: Mom was born in China (Toishan Province), raised in the American Southwest, and moved to Northern California. Most traditional Chinese ingredients are available. In my family, Chinese home cooking was typically some sort of vegetable (choy) that was stir-fried with various seasonings and/or additions. It nearly always started with ginger, and included garlic. Onions, lop cheung (Chinese sausage), char siu, various kinds of mushrooms (black, straw, wood ear, cloud ear, etal), tofu, fermented tofu, fermented black beans, brown bean sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, just to name a few...all fair game to go into the wok. Meat was used, but sparingly. A fancy meal would be multi-course, and might include a whole steamed fish. A REALLY fancy meal would include bird's nest soup.

            Unfortunately, it's hard for me to 'connect' with a lot of menu items I see in many Chinese restaurants, because we never talked about what particular dishes were called...we knew them simply by their ingredients, or that it was just "dinner". For instance, I remember looking at a menu and wondering, "Who in the hell is General Tso??" And fried rice? Fried rice is for LEFTOVERS! We never had scrambled eggs with tomato, tho...could be because Mom hated tomatoes.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ricepad

              My mom and dad are both from Chaoshan and the older generation speaks Teo Chew and Cantonese. However, both parents grew up in Vietnam (Mom was born there and Dad emigrated there at the age of 6), so a lot of our food is influenced by Vietnam. Having said that, the chinese food we had at home was exacly like ricepad's. All the same foods -- we could have been siblings! One thing I should add to that description is that we always had several things for dinner - rice, a soup of some kind (usually clear broth), and a stir fry of some sort that included a veggie and some sort of protein.

              I agree with you about not understanding what the English translation of food is, but since we dined out about 1-2 times a week (like Friday nights and maybe Saturday too), I learned how to order in Cantonese and will do that when I go to Cantonese restaurants. The problem is when the waiter tries to talk to me in Cantonese. I don't know how speak it, just order food!

              1. re: lamster

                One time my brother and I, along with our respective spouses, went to a Chinese restaurant, and my brother asked if they had foo gwah (bitter melon). The waitress nodded and added it to the rest of our order, but somehow, we ended up with a crab dish! That's when it hit home how lousy our Chinese language skills were!

                1. re: ricepad

                  I've experienced mix ups like that before but yours takes the cake!

              2. re: ricepad

                Ricepad, I grew up eating very similar things as well! I was born and raised in San Francisco was raised by my paternal grandparents and father (Toishan) and mom (Hong Kong). Grandma would always cook multicourse meals when my grandpa was alive. I remember eating salted fish or lop cheung steamed with rice, steamed pork cakes, really excellent "lo faw" types of brothy soups, zong, lots of fermented black beans, the same sauces ricepad mentioned. We always had some sort of green veggie stir-fry and occasionally, a slow braised pork belly. My dad's side of the family cooked a lot of clay pot braises including lamb and pork. Grandma and dad still make their own salted eggs. We still supplement home-cooking with cha siu, roast pork, and roast duck rather frequently.

                My mom's main complaint about my paternal grandma's cooking was the browness of...everything. :P My mom has a lighter hand with most of the seasonings and did a lot of steaming...especially egg custard with Chinese donut.

              3. I am actually Chinese/Canadian. But i have to agree with most of the other comments. When you think about how large an area China covers, authentic could mean a lot of different things. For me it is the food of Hong Kong, seafood, noodles, congee...

                1 Reply
                1. re: sweetie

                  i tried to include chinese-canadians when i wrote "chinese (north) americans." i hope other chinese-canadians aren't holding back because of my US-centric language!

                2. Scrambled eggs with tomatoes is definitely not ubiquitous across China, it's a Northern dish. I never realized it was such a popular dish until my Mandarin friends would mention it. My family is Cantonese and home meals were mainly steamed or simple stir frys over rice.

                  some staples of my childhood:
                  Sea bass poached and then slathered with ginger, scallion, soy sauce and hot oil
                  "Meatpie" made with ground pork, dried shittake mushrooms, chinese sweet sausage
                  Sliced Tongue (as in pig...yes, really) steamed with preserved turnip vegetables
                  Beef with chili bamboo shoots
                  Sliced Chicken with peppers & black bean sauce stir fry then served over a plate of rice.
                  Steamed egg omelette with cellophane noodles and dried baby shrimps

                  I was born and raised in NYC. Imagine having sloppy joe for lunch at school and then trying to tell your friends that pig tongue is a possibility for dinner! LOL. =)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: moymoy

                    hm, then i dont know where my mom gets it. she does a wickeed scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and we're from hong kong .. its just so hearty and tastey.

                  2. Nice topic and an opportunity for nostalgia. I grew up in Toronto with Cantonese parents. My grandmother did most of the cooking when I was young and dinner was usually 3 dishes or so. Some stir fry with meat and greens, a steamed fish (with soy sauce and scallions sometimes a layer of crackers to absorb the juices) and maybe a steamed pork cake with duck egg or chicken and black mushrooms. In retrospect, it must have been a lot of work to get dinner on the table and was delicious but of course i wanted hot dogs or TV dinners. When my mom took over, she wasn't a good good cook but developed some excellent dishes over the years including her sticky rice Zong and i've still never had a better version. Some dishes were chinese-canadian hybrids like scrambled egg with corn, onion and bacon. Others like the soups were pure cantonese and not enjoyed as a child due to bitter herbs and odd ingredients (pig stomach). My stepdad had worked in restaurants and would occasionally make terrific over the top dishes like fried scallop toast or deboned chicken restuffed as a forcemeat and steamed.

                    1. In general, and as evidenced with this thread, northern Chinese dishes are more "doughy" with noodles, bao (buns), dumplings, and richer braised dishes with meats. Southern Chinese food is more stirfries and rice based.

                      1. I've been pondering your post for a while and I'm not even sure where to begin! I'm Chinese-American, grew up in Los Angeles, but the family's ethnically Cantonese (Mom's side) and Hainanese (Dad's side) with Mom being born in Vietnam and Dad spending a lot of time in Vietnam. Everyone ended up in Hong Kong (with stops in Taiwan and Paris) before transitioning to the States. So, with that mix, I grew up with Cantonese basics and special occasions comprising of dishes homemade pho (beef noodle soup), bun bo hue (spicy pork/lemongrass noodle soup), banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes), and Hainan chicken and rice. Some of our everyday dishes would be French-influenced Vietnamese (like a fantastic beef stew... not even sure what the name is). If we did special occasions at a restaurant, it would be a classic Cantonese banquet.

                        A typical weekday meal would consist of a meat or fish dish, veggies (usually stir-fried), and rice. There would usually be soup with a clear broth base. Some of my favorites are steamed tilapia, ginger honey chicken, fried flounder, a plate of crisp bok choy, spinach. I also love a dish of steamed chicken that's shredded and marinaded with a white pepper/salt/oil mixture. My mom would occasionally make Vietnamese cha (not the compressed chicken "sausage" that you'd slice and put in sandwiches or munch on), which is a quiche-esque dish. Baked egg with noodles, shredded mushroom, crab, and pork. Then it's served in slices, like a frittata. One of my favorite soups is soft-shell turtle in a chicken broth flavored with pungent Chinese herbs. Mom also made dishes like the sticky rice bundles and ma-po tofu (LOVE ma-po tofu and rice), which aren't Cantonese.

                        This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on. Now I want to visit the parental units. Hi, Mom!

                        Living in LA meant we could explore cuisines from all over Asia. I love having a good bowl of beef brisket soup with hand-pulled noodles (northern China) with scallion pancakes and dumplings. Or looking for the perfect shaved ice dessert to follow a plate of Taiwanese pork chops, rice, hard-boiled egg, and pickled cabbage, all topped with a delicious sauce. We also love laksa, a soup noodle dish from Singapore. My dad loves the Hong Kong-style Westernized cafes. I like them, too. Good tea drinks, lots of good food. Of course, there's dim sum. Can't forget dim sum.

                        I'm scrambling to learn as much as I can from my mother. I used to stupidly take this kind of food for granted. When I visit, my parents usually want to go out to try new restaurants or visit old favorites. All I want is home-cooking and our usual dinner with Chinese news blaring in the background.

                        As for the scrambled eggs with tomato, add me to the group that didn't see this growing up. My mother did, however, make a scrambled egg dish with onions and shrimp. I'd eat that with rice and Maggi seasoning.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: geekyfoodie

                          Quick correction to my previous post (since the edit feature is no longer available): the Vietnamese cha I mentioned is steamed, not baked. Hardly anything is baked at home. Since baking is usually associated with sweets, I should mention that sweets are not huge at my house. If they're made, it's classic Chinese sweets like red bean soup (is soup the right word), tapioca, and the ubiquitous almond jello (Mom jazzes up the mix with evaporated milk). She also likes making tofu fah, slices of super-smooth tofu in a gingery hot broth.

                        2. Both my parents are of Cantonese/Toisan (Taishan) extraction. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, we always had plentiful supplies for Cantonese cooking. Usually, our meals consisted of steamed items: fish, ground pork, eggs, chicken, beef, crab, Chinese veggies of all types, etc. We also had stir fried, but the stir-fried dishes were primarily of one item, unlike many restaurants where they add lots of stuff to the dish. Also, we had lots of Cantonese-style soups--clear soups boiled for hours on end. When we were sick, we at congee (jook) and my mom brewed some nasty tea. It was bittter beyond belief and so thick that I couldn't see more than a centimeter deep in the cup.

                          Most of the folks from my parents' generation worked in the restaurant business, so our weekend parties were always full of excellent food. The bad side effect of that we that we always complained about every restaurant we ever visited: "That dish cost only $2 to make! Why are they charging $5?! And the quality is so bad!"

                          In retrospect, the food was usually better homemade. Usually, only certain types of dishes would be left to restaurants because they required too much time, specialized equipment, specialized knowledge too much money, or was dirt cheap to buy. For example: roast pork, roast duck, shark fin soup, bird's nest soup, BBQ pork buns, egg custard, etc. We pretty much cooked everything else.

                          We also ate stuff not usually found in restaurants, such as beef brains, turtle soup, vegetarian dishes for New Year, etc.

                          And on special occasions, my mother made tamales and burritos, which she learned from her co-workers. :-)

                          1. Both of my parents are originally from Shanghai. My dad does most of the cooking. I have wonderful memories of red braised pork belly with anise and chestnuts, glutinous rice dumpling filled with either ground pork or the sweet kind that's filled with black sesame paste, pork chops with onions, noodles with diced pork, bamboo, shitake and baked tofu in chili bean paste, steamed fish and lot's of stir-fried veggies. We also had our share of egg dishes, scrambled eggs with tomato, dried scallops, mushrooms, steamed egg with clams or plain. My dad would also pick up roast pork, duck or chicken from Chinatown (SF's).

                            We also ate some rather interesting "western" dishes that my dad was fond of from growing up in Shanghai. This included potato salad with spam and apples and some times beets (so the whole this was pink, pastel magenta color), seafood casseroles, pasta casseroles, baked egg casserole (imagine deviled eggs but instead of mixing the yolk with mayo, it was mixed with a mix of sauteed miced onions and ground pork, this was all topped with a white sauce and covered in parmesan, Kraft, of course!) Now that I think about it, most of the non-Chinese dishes we had were casseroles...I'm not sure why that is.

                            1. My grandma is from a tiny southern Chinese seaside village. She mostly cooks fresh fish, very simply prepared with ginger, garlic, and a little soy sauce. Steamed brown and white rice, noodles, and Chinese vegetables that I don't know the names of. Tofu, mushrooms, shrimp, pork loin, seaweed, beef stew, and a curry chicken stew I think she made up are also very common for dinner.

                              1. thank you all for your feedback, and i hope it this thread doesn't trail off soon. a lot of the foods you've described have made me hungry and jealous and curious. i'm intrigued by the regional differences in how chinese people, or rather chinese people in diaspora, eat. i have a korean background, and while that cuisine will always be nearest to my stomach, korea is a small country and there just aren't distinct regional cuisines in the same manner as china. i want to hear more! is anyone out there rooted in sichuan? hunan? taiwan?

                                how do chinese-american families adapt around the weak heat output of western stoves in regards to stir frying in a wok? have chinese families abandoned woks in favor of western skillets? or is wok stir-frying downplayed in chinese home cooking? i'm reading a lot about steamed foods from you guys, and slow-cooked dishes, and these are rarely covered in cookbooks or most restaurants. please keep it coming. whether it was a grandmother recreating dishes from home, or a mother in the midwest adapting to western ingredients, it all sounds good. after all, most of my childhood my mother had to make do when making korean food, and now and then we would drive for hours to the nearest korean market for the basics. then i lived in korea for a bit and was able to dive right into the foods my mother wasn't able to make for me before. so i can relate to both the...i hate the word authentic, but there you go...and the more westernized food, too.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: augustiner

                                  Thanks for your interesting questions! My immediate family was born in Toysan, including me, and after we immigrated from China, my grandmother cooked in a wok in the back porch with LOTS of heat output - blue, red, and yellow flames would lick up the sides of the wok. My mom and I don't use woks - she has electric and I have gas, but there's just not enough heat to create "wok hay" (that smoky, je ne sais quoi quality from properly wokked food).

                                  Mom bemoans not getting Grandma's recipes from her before she passed, so I've captured my own childhood faves from my mom, but unfortuately I'll have to let go of the kidney, tripe, salt fish, fermented shrimp, dumplings, ding, and tongue recipes (unhealthy, laborious, or my own Americanized family unit will not touch them).

                                  1. re: augustiner

                                    My in-laws rigged up something like this idea (only I have the feeling it's not as safe) for the backyard:


                                    They pull it out once a year when they make a huge Chinese New Year dinner. Other than that, I think they improvise by using a large amount of hot oil in a wok on the regular stove.

                                    1. re: augustiner

                                      It's funny that you mention steaming, because the steamer seems to be on my mother's stove more than the wok lately. Last time I was home, she was making law mei fan (sweet sticky rice) and she makes it savory with Chinese sausage (like the bowls of it you can find at dim sum).

                                      She uses her wok plenty, but yeah, there's not enough wok hei. I don't think it's a huge problem for her. I've heard her say occasionally that a dish isn't as good as you'd find at a resto because of the lack of wok hei. However, she hasn't given up using her wok.

                                      Two trends I've noticed among Asian families I grew up with is a second kitchen (very basic... stove and sink), usually in the backyard (ours is in the laundry room), and a huge resistance to using a dishwasher. In fact, I read an interesting article about how immigrant families from all over the world often refuse to use that very American appliance.

                                      1. re: geekyfoodie

                                        They DO use the dishwasher, as storage space!

                                        1. re: Sarah

                                          Hahaha, my aunt does that too and as a result I think I grew up with a mistrust for dishwashers. In the past she used a couple of gadgets to facilitate wok cooking (like the ring that is place around the heating element to support the wok) and the curved heating element that cradles the wok, but these days she cooks for fewer people and resorts to regular pots and pans.

                                        2. re: geekyfoodie

                                          I totally agree with both of your posts - re the Vietnamese foods found at my home as well as the second kitchen / dish washer issue. Our second kitchen is in the backyard and that's where they do the big frying stuff, or use the gigantic steamer we have. As for the dishwasher issue, I think my family doesn't use it because they re use things too quickly for it to be run through the dishwasher. They often have tons of people over for dinner so while cooking, there's always someone steadily washing dishes / other cooking accessories while the cooks are at work. There's no way the dishwashing machine would be able to keep up and also no way that they could fit all their dishes in there to start with.

                                        3. re: augustiner

                                          We used/still use the wok but also other pots and pans, depending on what needs to be cooked. Stir-frying, while not optimal, can still be done even with the lower heat outputs of western stoves. However, much of the cooking was steamed, which is not limited by the wester stoves.

                                          1. re: augustiner

                                            The first Chinese dishes I ever learned to cook were taught to me by a man from China who lived near me in New Orleans. He used a wide cast iron skillet that he got smoking hot for stir fries because he said that American stoves just did not get hot enough. It was a frightening thing at first when he threw the food in there. Almost like Prudhomme's blackened fish recipes. Worked fine.

                                          2. Wow... home cooking.... there were several things that my mother would make. This is the stuff that I would eat and eat and eat... (yes, I was very well fed).
                                            She took some cooking classes in the four main styles of cooking in China and refined them to our tastes...example: with the rice congee on weekends: strips of pork with scallions, fried tofu, ground pork stewed with Wei Chen pickled mellon, and scallion omlettes; and stewed chicken legs with soy sauce and dried onions.

                                            She would also make her favorites.. although not mine... stewed tripe, stewed seaweed, and bowls of steamed egg with mushroom cooked in.

                                            Some other favorites: Catsup rice stuffed into an omlette, beef stew noodles, sauteed spinich with garlic, eggrolls, fried fish, chicken soup with these red seeds? .... these are all the tastes that take me down memory lane.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: drivenfast

                                              A couple of comments for augustiner, as a non-Chinese who's been married for 20 yrs to a Taiwanese woman:

                                              First, I still daydream about servings of tomatoes and scrambled eggs that I ate in Yangshuo in 1985. Made with the right, ripe tomatoes, there's nothing more satisfying and delicious.

                                              Second, the most succinct distinction I've arrived at between what you and I grew up with in Chinese-American restaurants and what Chinese people actually eat at home is that home-cooked food contains no GLOP. Following is a definition of this bizarre stuff (though for the sake of discretion I won't say where I got it):

                                              "GLOP: A versatile substance with a central role in the cuisine known as 'Chinese-American,' where it functions as a binding, flavoring, and lubricating agent all in one. Not a juice, not a sauce, not a gravy, not a starch, and not quite an emulsion, it becomes an element of presentation with the addition of red food coloring."

                                              Luckily, Chinese restaurants in North America have become much more diversified and sophisticated in the last couple of decades, so the dreaded glop component is less in evidence these days. Still, it was a hallmark of that category of food for many grim years, while at the same time you would have been hard-pressed to find anything like it in on an actual Chinese table.

                                              1. re: Barry Foy

                                                Barry, does "glop" include the thickener in soups? All of my soups growing up were clear, thin and flavorful (except for jook). Gloppy soups seem pervasive now, and I don't know how that happened.

                                                1. re: Claudette

                                                  Soup can certainly be gloppy, but I'm hesitant to attribute soup gloppiness to the presence of actual glop. If added to soup, I suspect that glop would act something like the substance "ice-nine" in Kurt Vonnegut's book Cat's Cradle: It would turn the entire tureen's worth into a quivering, immobile mass, literally impossible to drink. No, soup gloppiness is a more straightforward matter, presumably attributable to an excess of cornstarch, whereas it takes something more, some indefinable ingredient(s) or process, to produce actual glop. We're probably better off not knowing just what that is.

                                                  1. re: Barry Foy

                                                    If you've encountered GLOP all that means is that you were served the handiworks of a very unskilled Chinese chef. The GLOP should not be GLOP-like but rather a GLOSS or sheen over the dish and is not made up of some strange substance but a simple constarch & water thickener. The good chefs know how to use this thickener in proper ratio to oil and wok heat. There's a very fine line btwn Glop & Gloss but that's what separates the boys from the men in Chinese Chefdom.

                                            2. My parents are from Canton, China and I grew up in San Francisco.
                                              For some families rice was the every meal staple. However for our family rice was mainly eaten during dinner. For breakfast and lunch meals were whatever we had on hand, but it was mainly "American" food - sandwiches, bacon and eggs... etc.

                                              Dinner consisted of rice and some form of soup/broth.
                                              The soup was supposed to reinvigorate us from a day’s work - mainly some pork and the bones boiled with dried date, dried mushroom, bean curd sticks, various nuts and dried berries.

                                              My mom had the Taoist (maybe it was Confucius) belief that foods were "nget hei" (hot energy) and "leung hei" (cool energy) so our meals would try to balance our energies.

                                              The other dishes were at least one steamed dish. Steamed fish with soy, green onion, Chinese parsley (Cilantro) and scaled oil for flavor. Steamed meat patty (most of the time it was ground pork) mixed with a little chopped lop cheung and corn starch to give it some looseness and tenderness. Steamed beaten eggs.

                                              At least 1 vegetable dish, which was either stir fried with meat or just boiled and flavored with chicken fat.

                                              At least 1 chicken dish or fish dish. My mom read that chicken was low fat and fish was healthy.

                                              On the weekends, my dad was the one that made the braised dishes - pork ribs, chicken, beef. Also, some obscure stuff - braised tendon and beef diaphragm and pig's feet come to mind. The flavors varied depending upon the dish - preserved bean cured (foo yue), star anise, red cooked, salted preserved black beans.

                                              Scrambled eggs with tomato? Never heard of it as a Chinese dish. We ate tomato beef sautee or tomato beef chow mein.

                                              My parents were peasants, country folk/hillbillies of China. I remember an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies where Granny was gathering everyone up for a dose of spring tonic - to help everyone grow for the year. My parents had their own version of spring tonic. Once a year, they would gently steep ginseng root in a double cooker for 5 or 6 hours. In the evening, each of use would get a glass of ginseng elixir to help us grow. Afterwards, we weren't allowed to eat sweets (especially citrus), vinegars or hot sauce for a week. Any of those items would counteract the effectiveness of the ginseng elixir.

                                              In terms of authentic food in restaurants, Dim sum and the sorted mystery meat dishes on a dim sum menu are pretty authentic Cantonese. Red cooked, dished with black bean are authentic. The general rule of thumb I have is the less goop (or as Barry calls it glop... lol) the better. If it looks like it could glow in the dark, it's Americanized.

                                              Two dishes that I miss and are hard to find in my area are Beef Chow Fun and Salted Fish Fried Rice (hom yue fan).

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: chow_fun

                                                Your family is certainly more strict than mine about the whole warming and cooling foods, but I was often subjected to the ginseng soup, which to this day I despise and fear.

                                                1. re: Blueicus

                                                  LOL!!! As an adult, I won't touch ginseng nor chamomile because my mom made me drink them in yucky witch brews whenever I was sick.

                                                  1. re: Claudette

                                                    Bizarrely enough, I've developed a taste for what I call the "Chinese herb" flavor. There's a noodle soup dish where the soup is flavored with a variety of Chinese herbs (I could be wrong, but I thought ginseng was a part of it) and served with thin rice noodles and slices of lamb. I'm not sure where it's from, but in LA, I've had it at Taiwanese restaurants. I love, love, love this dish. My mom will make "yurk choi" soup and I'll devour it.

                                                    She still makes me teas and broths when I'm sick, even though I don't live at home anymore. There's some irony about this belief in healing elixirs because I'm a chemist working in drug discovery. Many interesting compounds have been discovered in Chinese medicinal herbs, so I've learned not to discount the stuff.

                                                    1. re: geekyfoodie

                                                      HAH! Those herbs worked by being so nasty that I'd get well ASAP in order to escape them by going back to school. LOL.

                                                      Actually, they must have some effect, as you say: my acupuncturist made me cook up a batch which, along with acupuncture, got rid of a 10-yr skin rash overnight. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes on my own skin!

                                                2. re: chow_fun

                                                  Same here! My parents were peasants too. We also had ginseng once a year and we were also forbidden to eat sweets and anything sour for a week. I thought we were the only ones who had to abide by those superstitions because my friends growing up didn't have the same restrictions.

                                                  As for soup, we always ate it last after the meal. My favourite was the dried watercress or bok choy soup in pork broth. I do remember those chinese herbal soups you mentioned.

                                                  1. re: mrsleny

                                                    Dried bok choy soup! I haven't had that in ages, 20 years. My g'ma would grow bok choy in the backyard and air dry the extra. Also, it was available in Chinatown.
                                                    What's the Cantonese name for dried bok choy? I don't remember anymore, so sad. lol.

                                                    I agree with the superstition part. I never bought into that. I guess I'm too westernized. lol. My brother on the other hand bought it hook, line and sinker. I guess there's got to be a black sheep in the family. :-)

                                                    1. re: dave_c

                                                      I think the Cantonese name is Goin Choy (or dry vegetable).

                                                      1. re: dpan

                                                        Oh man, I forgot about those soups made dried bok choy. I remember drinking that stuff on a weekly basis. I guess I must have blocked it out of my memory.

                                                3. I'll just echo what the others have said here. Mostly regarding the different type of stir fried and braised meats, and the abundance of fresh vegetables (growing up in NYC). But my secret guilty pleasure for home style Chinese food was the use of those canned vegetables you see in all the Chinese markets, and the bottles of spicy preserved radishes and such. I lived on some of that stuff when I moved out and lived far away from the city. My parents would send care packages of those canned goods for me to bring a little taste of home wherever I was living at the time.

                                                  1. OK, having read all of the various foods, I must concur with so much of it and it is making me so very hungry. Here are a few more to add:
                                                    -Rice cooked with chinese sausage on the top, to be cut up when the rice was done and chicken knuckles added to the rice.
                                                    -Fresh, hot rice, egg yolk and some butter, mix together, yum!
                                                    -mac and cheese w/ground beef, ketchup and kraft singles
                                                    -fried rice w/sweet and sour pork and bean sprouts (my family owned a take-out restaurant-left overs)
                                                    -marinated tongue, ears and the such
                                                    -one of my favorite dishes was a kind of savory egg flan w/pei dan (1000 year old egg)

                                                    My background is Toisan and Mandarin. Grew up working at my families restaurant, old fashioned Cantonese take out.

                                                    1. hahhaa, the scrambled eggs with tomato ..... it's more like a tomato sauce (my boyfriend calls it salsa, but it's not really) with scrambled eggs inside it, my mom makes a really wicked version of it. it totally wakes up your tastebuds. it's always a hit whenever she makes it ... we dont ever really need any other course when that's on the table for us to ladle over our rice. sometimes she'll cook some pork chops, and ladle the sauce over that.

                                                      chinese home cooking.. i think that the steamed fish is one that makes me think of home cooking. the fresh green onions, the soy sauce .. and the fish itself, of course, makes it homey. we would have that only once in a while, because my mom says the fish in north america (toronto, ontario) is not comparable to the ones we used to get back home. ha! so she doesnt even try to cook any other fish, only rarely ..

                                                      and just the smelling of rice cooking in the kitchen. that hits the spot. i remember i would invite classmates in high school to come to my house to do projects. and it would run late (we eat early dinners) and the smell of rice would so totally distract them. and they're not chinese either! it's so welcoming, so homey..

                                                      and another thing is chicken. steamed, plain chicken, with garlic/green onion with oil. soooooooooooooooooo good. again, only on special occassions, although she cooks that more now, 'coz i love it so much. i think i can eat that all year round.

                                                      last but not least.. soup. soup is so hearty, so warm, yet so light ('coz its mostly broth) and healthy. the aroma of it would usually fill the room, and again, invite you to go eat and drink it all!!

                                                      i reckon it's just the smell of it associated with the festivities that would usually occur... the family gatherings, the special occasions. its more of a social thing than the food itself that make people remember them. in restaurants, it's fast cooking with msg. i dont wanna say that the chefs in restaurants dont cook with love .. but theres just so much soul in home cooking that, i think, translates to all cultures, not just chinese.

                                                      14 Replies
                                                      1. re: jennjen18

                                                        WOW ... what a great thread. I'm Chinese Canadian and grew up in Toronto. My parents and grandparents are from Toishan. I used to quite dislike home cooking but found myself craving it when I left home. These were some of my favourites:

                                                        - steamed meat cake (usually pork with chopped water chestnuts and dried mushrooms or sometimes preserved mustard greens)
                                                        - steamed egg (similar to Japanese chawanmushi)
                                                        - stir fried green beans with fermented bean curd
                                                        - braised soy beans with preserved mustard greens
                                                        - tomato beef egg stirfry
                                                        - braised brisket with star anise
                                                        - stir fried shrimp with ketchup sauce
                                                        - braised cabbage with dried shrimp
                                                        - braised iceberg lettuce with oyster sauce
                                                        - braised glass noodles in lettuce cups

                                                        And on Sundays it was always congee or fried noodles/rice for lunch.

                                                        1. re: mrsleny

                                                          so this steamed meat cake seems to come up quite a bit. i'm wondering if i were to start a thread on the home cooking board, would many of you be able to or willing to share recipes? and that steamed egg dish, is it soft and custardy like chawanmushi, or is it soft and spongey? when koreans steam eggs, they tend to be very tender and spongey, rather than smooth and custard-like in texture.

                                                          also, a side tangent (but i think still relevant), what sort of rice did you grow up eating? it's been on my mind due to a couple recent threads (including this one). i grew up thinking that chinese people ate fluffy, separate grains of long grain rice, which i envied as a child, as opposed to the sticky short or medium grained rice that i grew up with in a korean family, which i now prefer. but since then, my "research" seems to indicate that different varieties of rice are eaten in different regions. or that rice is possibly less important in certain areas in the north. i've been lead to believe that taiwanese people eat the sticky short/medium grained rice that koreans and japanese people eat. is this correct? and conversely, does most of china eat long-grained fluffy rice? or what i've heard japanese people call "boro boro raisu," which is supposed to be onomatopoeiac for the sound and texture of eating long-grained rice.

                                                          1. re: augustiner

                                                            The low amylose, short grain slightly sticky Japonica rices are largely limited to Japan and Korea. The Chinese eat long grain, higher amylose Indica rices, as do people in the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand (except NE), Vietnam, Burma, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, ... People in NE Thailand and in Laos produce and eat a sticky rice that, to me, is the best rice in the world.

                                                            1. re: augustiner

                                                              our steamed egg dishes are more custard like in texture. So good with rice and the ensuing broth that from the dish is all so good. My grandparents use to make it with pi dan (preserved duck egg-1000 year old egg) and some pork. They also made the steamed meat and ours was a pork dish, that was one of my favorites growing up as well. As for our rice, grandpa use to make it in our gigantic woks (we owned a Chinese take-out kitchen) and it was always lite and fluffy, but my favorite part was at the bottom of the wok, where it was a crust. I called it lop-lop and use to take the chewier edge pieces and add smear it with some butter. How I miss those days.

                                                              1. re: justagthing

                                                                I love the rice crust. We just sprinkled it with salt. As for rice, I believe we cooked medium grain rice. It wasn't as sticky as Japanese rice but it wasn't long grain either.

                                                                The steamed egg dish was more custard than spongey. I remember glass noodles and ground pork at the bottom. I've been thinking of a way to veganize this maybe with silken tofu and TVP though I haven't tried it.

                                                                Even though egg rolls aren't a traditional chinese dish my grandmother always made them. Hers were chockful of bean sprouts, celery, onion, chinese mushroom and BBQ pork.

                                                                1. re: mrsleny

                                                                  Rice crust in the clay-pot rice was an absolute must. Anyone else have that? Take a clay pot with lid, fill it with rice/water and a bunch of goodies like chicken, chinese sausage, shittake mushrooms, gailan, etc. and cook. The rice is flavorful, everything is tender because of the moisture, and there's a huge crust along the pot. We called it "bo tzay fan" (I totally messed up the phonetics... the middle word is the same as "son" in Cantonese) or "little pot rice". My mother says it isn't done right if there isn't a crispy crust to munch on.

                                                                  Augustiner, thanks for the walk down memory lane! It's great to have an opportunity to celebrate our families and cultures.

                                                                  1. re: geekyfoodie

                                                                    I'm from Toysan, and we used to call that crust "fan dell," and we threw cold water on it to make it lift from the pot and create a hot "soup." Such a fragrant, simple ending!

                                                                    1. re: Claudette

                                                                      I've, also, heard the rice crust being referred to as "fan noong" and "fan dewey".

                                                                      My wife thinks I burned the rice and I believe many people try to avoid having a crust when they make rice. I, on the other hand, try to increase it's formation so I can have the crust. More for me! lol

                                                                      1. re: dave_c

                                                                        My Japanese rice cooker actually has a setting for the crust on the bottom. Yum!

                                                                        1. re: justagthing

                                                                          That crust is "ko-ge" in Japanese. Highly prized.

                                                                        2. re: dave_c

                                                                          we called it fan juew and after boiling with rice or tea made a soothing toasty broth at the end of the meal. Great way not to waste a single morsel.

                                                                2. re: augustiner

                                                                  I don't have a recipe, but my Cantonese (Loong Due) mom's steamed pork cake (gin gee yook?) was was just ground pork and chopped fresh water chestnuts sometimes topped with preserved Chinese vegetables. She steamed it in a double boiler. Also steamed there was an egg custard with a soy glaze, which was like a non-sweet custard.

                                                                  We ate the rice crust 2 ways: one buttered and reheated to melt the butter or as a soup with plain water added (fon jue).

                                                                  Other dishes cooked to please my China-born father: salted fish (hom mieu) or lop cheung steamed on top of the rice; chicken and pork soup with melon (jet gwa, mo gwa); various meat and vegetable stir fries thickened with corn starch; steamed whole fish with soy sauce and green onions finished off with a bit of hot oil.

                                                                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                                    My maternal grandmother made more refined dishes on the weekends when we visited: sand dabs w black bean sauce; steamed live crab with some sauce, maybe curry; fatback with pickled vegetables (cow yook); and that Chinese-American standard Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake (She lived just above Van Ness near the California St Blum's). I have no idea what she ate during the week, but she did make her own joong and hom don.

                                                                  2. re: augustiner

                                                                    I grew up in Taiwan eating the sticky short/medium grained rice, which is considered by Taiwanese a superior variety of rice than the inferior fluffy long grain rice. While sticky short grain rice is valued as premium variety for daily staple, the fluffy long grain rice is used primarily to be ground for making into rice products like rice noodle.

                                                                    I never had steamed fluffy long grain rice until traveling to the Phillipines when in college. My first reaction after eating steamed fluffy long grain rice is that the rice was too undercooked to be edible.....

                                                                    By the way, when cooked properly, the short grained rice should not be "sticky" or "mushy", it should retain its shape, has slight resistance to the teeth (similar to pasta's being "el dente"), and is just starchy enough to hold on to the other grains without being "sticky" or "mushy". Speaking of stickiness, the "Sweet rice" should win the "sticky" award.

                                                              2. Ken Hom's book about growing up Chinese American is good reading and has quite a few recipes ......

                                                                1. We have a houseguest (daughter's friend) right now who is from China and going to college in the US. Last night he made egg tomato soup and it was just delicious! When we shopped for groceries I couldn't really imagine that the soup would be as tasty as it was. We really enjoyed it. Last night he promised to make a drink using ginger and brown sugar for breakfast today. I can't wait! He's a dreamboat of a kid and cooks, too. Sure wish he didn't have to leave later on today! We were all busy in the kitchen at the same time preparing the meal together so I didn't get to watch him but discovered later that he has great knife skills. The results of his slicing and chopping were beautiful. The tiniest uniform sticks of ginger, perfect romaine ribbons for salad... He said he cooks at home often, being the only child of very busy parents.

                                                                  Would love to know how you all make your scrambled eggs with tomato.

                                                                  1. My parents are both from Taiwan, but I born and raised in Southern California. Probably none of the food I ate at home was 'authentic', but I love it all just the same.

                                                                    For breakfast my mom often whipped up a few 'dan bing', using egg, green onion, and Mission flour tortillas. We would dip them in hoisin sauce and wash them down with sweetened soybean milk. If she had more time, she would cook rice porridge with sweet potatoes, and we would eat that with various condiments, and maybe leftovers from the night before. If we were lucky, she would buy 'you tiao' and unsweetened soybean milk, and she would make 'fan twan' (a 'you tiao' wrapped in steamed sticky rice with pork sung and pickles) with salty or sweet soybean milk.

                                                                    Dinner was usually steamed rice (we only ate short/medium grain rice at home) with 3 or 4 dishes. There was always sauteed leafy green vegetables, a meat dish, and then seafood and/or tofu. The ones I remember most vividly include:
                                                                    - my mom's mapo tofu (atypically made with ground pork, tomatoes, and tofu)
                                                                    - a whole pan fried pomfret or salmon steak
                                                                    - steamed sea bass with ginger
                                                                    - little squids sauteed whole with ginger and green onion
                                                                    - steamed ground pork with soy sauce cucumbers
                                                                    - scrambled eggs with salted radish and green onion
                                                                    - boiled fatty pork, sliced and served with garlicky soy paste
                                                                    - boiled squid and cuttlefish served with her special garlic/ginger-y sauce
                                                                    - silken tofu served cold with soy paste, green onion, and bonito shavings
                                                                    - and many things cooked in a vat of soy sauce-y liquid: pork spareribs, chicken wings, fried/baked tofu, hard boiled eggs, etc.

                                                                    Sometimes we would wash this down with a bowl of broth (pork spareribs with daikon or lotus root, clams with ginger and green onion, etc.)

                                                                    She would also make various noodle dishes like chow mi fun, chow nian gao (the oval shaped noodles), niu ro mein (beef noodle soup), or we would substitute the rice for our meal with plain noodles topped with a little shallot oil.

                                                                    Being from Taiwan, my mom would also cook a lot of Japanese influenced dishes like she had her own version of oyako-don and chawan-mushi, and we would eat a lot of soba and somen. On cold days, she would cook a big pot of oden. On special occasions, my mom and grandmother would fry up 'koroke' (potato croquettes) and make sushi cut rolls filled with egg, pork sung, cucumbers, and pickles. Sometimes she would also make muaji (what we call mochi in Taiwan) with red bean paste mixed with peanut butter or just rolled in ground peanuts and sugar.

                                                                    Birthday dinners were always noodles dressed with a little shallot oil, hard boiled eggs, and pigs feet. During the holidays or in the winter, we would pull out the hot pot. My mom also made a lot of stews and soups. Two of my favorites are: 'ba ghee' (pork strips dipped in fish paste and then boiled to make kind like a fish dumpling) with daikon, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, and her corn egg flower hot dog soup (yes, hot dogs...she also made fried rice with hot dogs). On the sweet side, she would make red bean soup (w/ rice balls), green bean soup, and peanut soup. In the summer, we would also make a lot of shaved ice (w/ condensed milk and red beans) or mix a can of ai yu (love jelly) with lychees and lemon juice.

                                                                    Sorry, that was probably a lot more detailed than you could ever ask for, but once I started, it was hard to stop. Anyways, hope that brought insight into what it was like eating in my Taiwanese-American household.

                                                                    Oh, and my mom also made scrambled eggs with tomato, which I still love.