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Mar 13, 2008 11:58 AM

What would your Chinese Grandma cook?

Well ,the dishes my Sicilian Grandma would cook aren't for the most part available at the local joint's but anyway I'm interested in what your Chinese Grandma would of cook during the week oh of course with recipes . Thanks

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  1. Not sure if many people would eat what my Chinese grandma cooks. Sorry, no recipes. These very basic peasant type meals include:

    - steamed dried anchovies
    - pickled veg braised with soy beans
    - steamed meat patties
    - steamed egg custard
    - stir fried greens with fermented bean curd
    - braised cabbage with dried shrimp
    - dried bok choy soup

    4 Replies
    1. re: mrsleny

      i love all those things, especially fermented bean curd and greens, they go best with crispy hallow greens i think, yum.

      I would add:
      -egg, scallions and tomato
      -"kafu" (marinated gluten??)
      -bitter melon and pork strips
      -stewed pork shoulder with fat
      -any time of steamed fish and ginger with soy oil drizzle
      -homemade scallion pancakes filled with pork

      1. re: gibberisimo

        and I also love fermented bean curd with eggplant and bacon...

        1. re: Cynsa

          it's funny cuz my non asian friends are scared to s*** of fermented soy bean. i also add it to friend egg sandwiches and shredded dry pork between toasted english muffins...and it's one of those things like spicy food, you could eat only a little at first, but then you develop resistance, so you have to eat more and more. i used to be only able to eat half a cube of fermented soy bean with porridge, not i practically need half the jar =P

      2. re: mrsleny

        I love the steamed meat and also the steamed egg custard but I would add salted duck eggs to both. I have made some ready for "joong", another item that my Chinese grandma would make!

      3. No recipes, but my late Grandmother would make the most fabulous baos, dumplings, and mooncakes.

        Other things that she made that were truly amazing:

        -Lions Head meatballs
        -Oxtail soup
        -Braised pig's feet
        -Steamed pork meatloaf
        -Nian gao

        2 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          well ...Thats what I'm looking for I'll do the recipe search myself and I do appreciate it I know what its like my Grandmother's recipes were also peasant but so good I duplicate some and some I still cant get Couscusu con Fave(Sicilian cous cous)but I'll keep trying

          1. re: scunge


            You know the thing is I'm pretty sure my grandmother never had written recipes, everything was from memory and experience.

            Same way with my mom now, everything she makes is just by feel and intuition. Which is why to this day, I make sure I have my mom show me how to cook everything she knows, at least once. So far, I think I've mastered dumplings, stir-fried pickled mustard greens, mi-fen, beef noodle soup, and her own special chicken soup.

        2. My grandmother didn't cook for us, although she did cook for herself--she lived alone in a second floor walk up till she was 93! The two things we always had when she came to stay with us (a week or two at a time) were jook (rice porridge) and Rice Krispies Treats. Sorry, no recipe for jook but you can find the Rice Krispies recipe on the box!

          1. Like mrsleny, my grandma did very plain every day cooking. Grandmother put dried citrus peel (a specialty from her village) in alot of savory things...including steam pork ribs, pork chops etc. I am not a fan of it, but in my family, it's better not to say anything! Otherwise I recall steam egg custard, steam meat loaf/patties for dinner.

            She is a good cook, but doesn't do it all that often (she taught my mom, made mom cook for my mom's 6 younger siblings, as a result, my mom is quite bitter, but a much better cook). I do recall her kitchen always had some herbal soup/medicine brewing.

            I am the only one of my grandma's grandkids who can (and am interested) in cooking, so I would love to know her Put Chai Ko (my mom could out cook grandma in everything except this, and no restaurant ever made one as good) recipe..but she isn't the teaching type, and I also suspect she thinks I don't understand chinese (I don't know her village dialect, which she unintentionally slips into).

            10 Replies
            1. re: gnomatic

              I can relate on all the dishes like steamed spare ribs, egg custard, meat patties w/ minced chinese sausage, water chestuts and black mushrooms or the salted fish -- but what is Put Chai Ko? Is this Cantonese? Also, was the village dialect Toisan?

              1. re: kc72

                My dad's family is from say yep (four counties), his county was Hoiping, we spoke Toishan which was the dialect of say yep. My grandmother would cook in country style from that region. Growing up I hated it. As an adult I realize the the following dished she cooked was quite good.
                Jook (congee}, with salted duck eggs that she salted in jars and lop choong (Chinese sausages}.
                Doong, sticky rice, eggs, lop choong, peanuts, dried shrimp steamed in wrapped lotus leafs.
                Steamed pork cake.
                Steamed eggs.
                Salted Fish, that she salted and dried out in the backyard covered in a screen to keep the flies off.
                She also had a garden in the back yard growing bitter melon and winter melon.
                I haven't thought about the food of my paternal grandmother in years.
                Sorry she didnot have recipes, if she did it would have been in Chinese and like all of her grandchildren we are functional illiterates.

                1. re: kc72

                  Put Chai Ko is this: Wikipedia has the wrong picture.

                  Unfortunately I don't read Chinese so I really have no idea what the heck is in it (all I know is that grandma's taste great). If anyone could translate that recipe I would appreciate it :


                  My family is cantonese, but it's not Toisan dialect my grandma has. It's some really local dialect I don't even know the name of (if it has one), I understand some of it...but most is gibberish to me. No one in the family speaks it but grandma, but they all understand it. I was the only grandkid that didn't live with grandma full time, so I never learned it.

                  I don't cook Chinese food that often, especially since mine never turn out as good as mom's!
                  But I do a very good jook(congee), steam custard, decent black bean garlic steam spareribs, wontons.
                  Neither mom or grandma cook by recipes, they do it all by instinct, so nothing is written down. Even when my mom teach me to cook something, it's usually just a list of ingredients. I figure out if it's the correct amount by the smell and look.

                  Unfortunately, my brother is a by the recipe kind of cook, and in my (pathetic) attempt to ween him off greasy takeaway & delivery food, try to write down the recipes for him. He once thought to make jook, you used MORE rice to get the thickness...needless to say he made a big old soggy mess! We still laugh at him about it :D Anyways, I have the jook, wonton, custard recipes (somewhere eons ago) on my blog

                  We just returned from a short visit to Hong Kong last week (last we were there was 1996), and one of the things my mom made us smuggle back are precious aged dried citrus peel from grandma's village/area. They are precious because the area doesn't have many orchards any more.

                  1. re: gnomatic

                    缽仔糕 - this recipe (in Chinese) calls it steamed-rice-cup-cake-with-red-bean.

                    The things I missed most that my late grandma made were the treats for Chinese New Year - taro balls, peanut pastries etc.

                2. re: gnomatic

                  I'm very interested in the herbal/soup recipes(remedies) so if you have please if you will post them.I do have several Chinese markets to obtain herbs and black skinned chicken etc.Thanks

                  1. re: scunge

                    If you do have large Chinese markets then next time you go then ask the staff where they have the dried herb section. Then there should be prepackaged herbs for soup. Then you could buy a couple of kinds and hopefully there is English instructions on the package. Many do not require black skinned chicken. Unless it says black skinned chicken then any chicken will do. Many required just a piece of pork for the pot.

                    Then after trying a package mix and you find it to your taste you should take the package to a Chinese herb store and ask them to pick the ingredients out of stock. You will find fresher and nicer ingredients there. The prepackage soups are not fresh or high end ingredients.

                    I am sorry to say I do not know of any cookbooks still in print with recipes. I once saw one a friend had from Taiwan (out of print for over forty years) which had nothing but herbal soup recipes. I have had friends try to find this book but no luck.

                    For those who still have Mother and Grandmother better get the recipes before they are gone froever.

                    1. re: scunge

                      Scunge: if you can't find the prepackaged soup herbs as mentioned by Yimster, here's what I always have around to throw into the pot for a simple Chinese soup -

                      goji berries AKA Chinese wolfberry (they look like little dry red seeds)
                      conpoy AKA dried scallop (
                      )dried octopus

                      My favorite go-to soup when I'm short on time is to place raw pork ribs in a pot of water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim the grossness that floats to the top. After 10-15min of constant skimming, the ribs and liquid it's been cooking go into my slow cooker, to which I add fresh corn chunks and fresh diced carrots. A handful of goji berries, 1 dried octopus cut into pieces, and 5-6 conpoy are added before covering the crockpot and setting it to cook on low for 7-10 hours. Salt to taste before serving (I find it generally needs very little), and you have a well-balanced way to end your day!

                      Also, if you do use a prepackaged herbal soup, check to see if it's chicken or pork that you need (it's very rarely any other kind of meat). Don't forget to remove as much chicken skin and fat as you can, as you'll wind up with a very oily soup otherwise - I do it as I like eating the soup right away, but if you have the time to let the fat congeal in the fridge you can skip this step. Just remove the layer of fat on top before reheating.

                      If this helps, my favorite prepackaged Chinese soups are generally by a company called Eu Yan Sang...those have English directions on the back.

                      1. re: lilingenue

                        Yes, if you can not find the packages then ask on the board. I am sure someone can help.

                      2. re: scunge

                        Okay I'm replying in 2 spots because I have 2 things to answer. Here's a great link I found for making chinese soups as I decided it would be the next thing I tackle now that I've made alot of the Chinese new year recipes.

                        She has some great tips ...I can't even remember how I found her but I think I was looking for chinese soups and found her.

                        1. re: scunge

                          There's a lot of history and folklore about the herbal soup/remedies-- traditionally, soup made from black skinned chicken is considered a restorative but is thought to be harmful for people with certain medical conditions (ie. cancer). I'm not sure how much of it I believe, but thousands of years of experimentation can't be all be untrue. Anyways, my point is that you might want to do a little research before you start making/drinking a lot of herbal soups/remedies.

                      3. Here are some homey dishes, with photos, pics of ingredients and recipes --

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: Sarah

                          Sarah -- bless you for posting this! My Mom's family is from Toyshan but she didn't teach me to cook Chinese food and I am just plain horrible at it. I'm going to try and tackle these dishes. I would never have found them on my own - so, thank you so much! And thank you, scunge, for starting the thread.

                          1. re: amyleechen

                            Sweet Sarah... I checked your link and love your pictures. My grandmother didn't do most of the cooking in my did and my mother spent alot of time making soups for us so that would be her specialty. Grand-ma was good at deep frying!
                            For food it was simple steam ground pork with dried turnip & chinese sausage, steamed black bean ribs, steamed fish, beef stir-fry with almost every vegetable. My mom has passed away so I will use your website for some recipes I don't have either. I mostly got the recipes for the special occasions. I am Toyshan as well so the names may not translate as well. But for Chinese new year I made the Taro cake and tapioca dumplings stuffed with pork/chinese sausage, water chestnuts, peas, dried turnip, eggs. I don't imagine anyone would want to make these unless they are crazy like me, as they are far more work most people realize. I have a lot of recipes from my mom from Chinese new years but I don't have time to make them all so every year I make different ones..though I have been making the taro one for the last 2 years because it's easy and I like taro. Thanks all for their links ..I don't have a blog for my recipes but if anyone really, really wants it. I will check back and can write some of it out.

                            1. re: Janine

                              Those are not my postings, pictures or recipes! I'm just another second-gen who cannot cook the way my dad and mom (did) and does. Of course, no recipes are available, just the standard "you know when it's right"!! Huh? I'll never live down my one and only dim sum party fiasco...
                              I would appreciate any recipes.
                              alc - let me know how your dishes turn out!

                              1. re: Sarah

                                Sarah, even if they are not your postings, I thank you for pointing the way to them. And Janine, I woud love to see some of those recipes. It is a big thorn in my chowhound paw that I am such a lousy Chinese cook. It's absurd!

                              2. re: Janine

                                Janine: please share the taro cake if you will! I love taro, too! Is it the steamed one dotted with chinese sausage and mushrooms that my auntie used to make around New Year's? I've got recipes and would like to attempt it, but have not yet gotten around to it.

                                Like others, my parents are of Toisan descent. I can fake simple home-style Chinese dishes, but miss the goodies that auntie used to make.....As a team effort, Mom and I would make the Chinese tamales but have not done that in a long time, it's a lot of work....She'd prep, I'd fold, she'd boil...Mine weren't pretty, but they were edible, and I do miss them!

                       parents used to make us a beef soup when we were younger, supposed to stimulate the appetite, typically made in winter....My dad put hard boiled eggs in with chunks of beef into a jug, and then place the jug in a soup pot with water, boil for a couple hours to extract the meat juices....Anyone familiar with this? I hear the boiled egg part might not be common.

                                At any rate, we tried to recreate this soup, this past weekend and suspect not enough meat - not much soup and it was kind of weak, probably needed to perk awhile longer......Very simple, tho, no herbs, just beef, eggs and a rice bowl of water.....

                                Great topic, thanks for sharing, everyone!

                                1. re: smalt

                                  Okay here's the taro cake recipe I make

                                  Taro Cake
                                  This will make about 1 large pan or 2 medium sized ones.

                                  1 chunk of taro root about 3-4 cups
                                  2 chinese sausage diced up
                                  1 piece of pork diced up (size will depend on how much you like and I look at how it looks when it's all mixed in with everything else to see it looks uniform)
                                  3-4 medium sized conpoy (dried scallops)
                                  a good handful of dried shrimp
                                  5 dried black mushrooms
                                  3-4 garlic cloves
                                  1 tsp white pepper
                                  1 1/2-2 tsp salt
                                  1 bag rice flour (400g)

                                  1. Soak the dried stuff for 1/2 hour or longer for scallop. Save the water. Dice up mushrooms and remove hard piece in the scallop and break apart
                                  2. Fry the mushrooms, shrimp, meat and garlic. (topping)
                                  3. In another pot, cover the taro with just another water to cover and bring to just a boil. Then add rice flour and some water (how much? I don't know I will try to measure it this year...sorry folks..still didn't measure. Keep the heat just under high so that it will bubble and this will allow the taro to release the starch which you need to thicken. How much I put in went on looks. The mixture should look like creamy clam chowder soup. So that is how I judge if it needs more water or not or flour. Once it reaches that consistency, add s&p and 1/2 of the topping.
                                  4. Pour into greased pan and sprinkle with the other half of the topping. Pan should be full but leave a bit of room for swelling. Steam for 30 minutes.

                                  NB. some people like chopped green onion (green part only) on top and when it's done you can add that on and leave the lid on for a minute. It looks prettier with the colour but will not keep as long so I don't usually do it.

                                  Thia Mi Gai Leung

                                  Filling: make first as the dough will dry out
                                  Fill with whatever suits your fancy, ours is filled with diced pork, chinese sausage, peas, finely diced dried turnip, scrambled eggs & dried shrimp. I also like diced up water chestnuts. This is all diced up and fried, salted before hand so it is room temperature when it is put into the dough. How much? well my mother had a favourite bowl she would fill and I go by looks. Uniform mixture of peas, meat and by taste as well. The water chestnuts give a good crunch and should not over take the saltiness of the meat etc. I usually make this the day before and let it cool and refrigerate overnight.

                                  7 oz bag tapioca soaked overnight then drained
                                  1 bag 14oz-16oz of wheat starch
                                  1 tsp/tbsp shortening
                                  boiling water

                                  Make a dough by mixing starch with boiling water. Use wooden chopsticks to mix enough water to form a dough. The dough should be dryish because the tapioca will be wet and adds moisture. Add drained tapioca and shortening and mix well to form a dough. I use a tortilla press lined with wax paper and roll 1 1/2" balls out and press into a circle. Otherwise if you use a rolling pin you make find it works to roll between 2 pieces of waxed paper and if it still sticks I think I grease the waxed paper as well sometimes.

                                  Steam for 10-15 minutes until transluscent. This will make at least 4 trays of dumplings. The filling is salted so no dipping sauce is needed. It meant to be eaten room temperature as a snack.

                                  I make doong every year in spring so if anyone is looking for a recipe for that..that is really easy compared to the dumplings. I also make the cheung foong from scratch and the deep fried dumplings, mah doohl and guy loeung. I'll check back later on to see if there are any other requests for those or others.

                                  Also, when I was searching for recipes I did find a link on epicurious for taro cake though I make it like I mentioned above but I thought some of you may like to try it her way. there's several recipes from her book there. Her name is Grace Young..someone already mentioned her book.

                                  1. re: Janine

                                    Yum! Thanks so much! I'm hungry!

                                    1. re: Janine

                                      I would love to know how to make cheung foong from scratch as well as the deep fried dumplings, guy loeung. I tried to make these once and failed miserably! Thanks for any suggestions or ideas.

                                      1. re: dimsumgirl

                                        Hi DimSumGirl,

                                        6 potatoes peeled & mashed (we used to use sweet potatoes but my mother liked using softness of regular potatoes, so you can experiment)
                                        2 bags of glutinous rice flour (may need a bit more depending on how wet your potatoes are)
                                        Mix hot mashed potatoes with flour and abit of boiling water to make a dough. It should be dry to the touch but still a bit tacky. You will need floured hands to handle the dough.
                                        Make into balls and press one side with sesame seeds then press/roll out to 1/8" thickness and fill with your favourite filling. And seal together to make a half moon shape.

                                        We always made the filling the night before: diced up pork, chinese sausage, dried turnip, peas, scrambled eggs, a bit of green onion (white part only). Fried and salted of course.

                                        The harder part was frying them. Best to toss in a piece of bread to see if the oil is hot enough. It should bubble. Then don't add too many. Slide them into the wok/pan and cook until golden. Best eaten fresh. If you make the dough too thick it will take longer to cook. My last comment was that I didn't make them thin enough and my family thought they were a bit too doughy (but they still ate them since no one else makes them!).

                                        Well for the cheung foong..I'm sure you could find an easier recipe than mine but I will share how we've made them.
                                        This is a rather large recipe.
                                        Wash & soak 2 lbs of rice (nothing starchy so it has to be a rice that isn't too sticky when it cooks otherwise your cheung foong will be gummy) Also 2 lbs is a lot so you can always experiement with 1 cup of something.
                                        Wash rice and soak the rice overnight or a least a few hours.
                                        Using a blender (kitchenaid has a great motor), blend a bit of rice with boiled water (room temperature) until it is pulverized. If you don't add enough water, it will become a paste but you don't want to add too much otherwise you run the risk of making the batter too runny. So you have to play. If you don't have a kitchenaid or other powerful blender, then it takes about 5-10 minutes for each batch to beat. With the kitchenaid I found it only took about 3 minutes. Anyways, you repeat this process until all the rice is beaten. And put beaten rice in a pot or other container.
                                        Add some salt to taste.
                                        The batter should have a runny consistency that needs to be stirred. Otherwise, the rice will separate from the water. It reminds me of chalky milk.

                                        It's best to do a test one before cooking.

                                        My family makes them quite thin and fills them with dried shrimp, minced pork, dried turnip and egg. Made the day before and cooled.

                                        To cook:
                                        Heat up water in pan wide enough to fit the cake or similar pan. Grease the pan with a bit of cooked oil. My mom used a piece of cut of ginger, dipped it in the cooked oil and greased the pan.

                                        Stir batter and coat the bottom of the pan with scoop of batter. My family likes it thinly coated but if you want the dim sum kind they are thicker. Sprinkle your filling on top. I sprinkled mine all over. And put pan into frying pan/wok with boiling water in it/ or use steamer. Cover the pan/steamer and steam for 3 minutes for the thin ones and longer for the thicker ones. It should be rapidly boiling so the steam should be coming out of the top of your pan or it won't cook properly. When you open the steamer, if it's thin (I never make thick ones so I can't say), the batter should be bubbly looking from air pockets that lifted the batter.
                                        Take pan out and using chopsticks to pick at one side of the pan and start to roll it and roll onto a square pan that is lined with oiled wax paper or your plate if this is your test one.
                                        Taste for softness, saltiness, etc. Add extra room temperature boiled water a bit at a time as it is harder to fix that if you add too much. Anyways, if the batter seems good now then, continue making them until batter is used up.

                                        Good luck! You can always email me at

                                2. re: amyleechen

                                  You're very welcome and its been my pleasure.I realize that many of the dishes from my Grandma's kitchen have been deleted.Just the other day I was in a Italian restaraunt with pictures of Palemo Sicily .The menu did not have any of those dishes I grew up eating such as Babaluci(snails) capocelle(lambs head) or the national dish of Sicily Pasta cu le sarde.The menu had the typical fare found in many Italian American restaurants gobs of mozzarella ,peasant dishes that take minutes to make at home for pennies at high prices such a macaroni with either greens or beans so I 'm on a journey not only to obtain my own cultures comfort foods but those that made others happy at the table some simple some more complex

                                3. re: Sarah

                                  That is an amazing link- thank you for finding it.