If your considering spending some time living in China -be it for an internship, permanent employment, for a semester abroad or just for a holiday- you will want to know what kind of food you can expect to buy and prepare in China. You might have heard some stories before of how difficult it can be to find Western food that is “original” and which has not been adapted too much to Chinese taste buds. Indeed, Chinese people like Chinese food and if you live in a smaller city or town it might not be easy or it can even be impossible to eat the food that you know from home. However, you will be in China, food is delicious, nutritious and various here. If you want to know more about Chinese Cuisine check our blogs about the Sichuan Cuisine or the delicacies of Qingdao.
After more than three years in China and trying numerous “Western” restaurants here, I also can understand if you want to cook at home and prepare dishes that you know from your home-country to ensure it has an original taste.
There is a lot of foreign owned and Chinese supermarkets and shops, where you can buy imported goods or Chinese goods which please the Western palate:
- Carrefour: Is a French chain which you can find in almost all cities in China. They have an “imported goods” section for preserved (pasta, baking goods, olive oil) and fresh products (cut meat, dairy products).
- Ito Yokado: Japanese Chain in Chengdu with plenty of imported goods, offering great sushi and sashimi
- Jusco: Japanese owned supermarket chain in Qingdao and Zhuhai offering a good variety of imported goods (pasta, bread, sweets, sauces, Olive oil etc).
- Sabrina’s Country Store: Chain store in Chengdu with several locations. Speciality: they offer a wider variety of baking ingredients, herbs and frozen bagels imported from the US. They also offer American beverages and sodas such as Dr. Pepper. You also can buy cleaning and household products here (e.g. washing powder for allergy sufferers).
- MYKAL: Half Japanese – half Chinese owned department store including a super-market in Qingdao. The imported goods are not offered in a special section so you need to find them like hidden gems within all the Chinese products. Take your time and have a look through all shelves, there might be a few little things that you didn’t expect to find in China!
- Hisense Plaza: High-end shopping mall including a super-market offering a great variety of fresh meat, fish and cheese. Best place in Qingdao to buy your sushi fish. They also have a German bakery.
- Metro: German whole-sale market in Qingdao and Chengdu with lots of imported goods – however be aware that prices are not always cheaper than in other super markets. About half of the products are from China! You also need a customer card.
- Ikea Shop: Ikea in Chengdu has a little shop selling Swedish goods such as (frozen) salmon, Swedish meatballs, Swedish beers and refreshing beverages.
- Zhuhai Deli: This popular shop in Zhuhai sells snacks, cheese, sausage, and bread.
- Trip to Macau: If you live in Zhuhai, you can buy imported goods like olive oil much cheaper when you hop over the border to Macau.
There are plenty of other little shops in Zhuhai, Qingdao and Chengdu selling high-end delicacy products imported from abroad. Nowadays, it is not a problem anymore to purchase a great bottle of wine for a fair price in China.
Your favourite international dishes…home-made!
As I really enjoy cooking dishes from different countries, I can give you some tips for dishes which are easy to prepare if you have your own kitchen or in case you want to cook for your host-family:
- German: Potato salad, potato soup, fried potatoes, schnitzel, fried sausages and meatballs are all dishes that you can make very easily… Potatoes are treated as vegetables in China, so you cannot buy them in big bags – I would recommend to buy them in a little shop near your apartment or order them from an organic farm. For schnitzel you need breadcrumbs, which are difficult to find – you can use either Panko (Japanese rice crumbs) or Cornflakes as an alternative. Meatballs always go down well, you can find all ingredients easily. For bakers: You can get all ingredients to make a traditional German apple pie!
- British: British food might be more difficult to prepare as in Chinese kitchens you traditionally don’t find an oven. Alternatively you can prepare steaks, beef in China is comparatively cheap. For an English breakfast, you can purchase almost everything – only for bacon you need to find substitutes. It might be worth to purchase a little oven (ca. 400-800 RMB) if you are a fan of pies and roast dinner.
- French: You are lucky! Carrefour offers you a great variety of products that you know from home. But I haven’t found a really good French baguette yet. Pain au chocolat and croissants is also not easy to find. You might have to look in Japanese bakeries to find these goods.
- Italian: Pasta is easily available (but not in a very big variety as you know it from Italy), you can get pesto and tomatoes (chopped or peeled) in most supermarkets. You also can buy dry yeast to prepare your own pizza dough. You can also make your own pizza bread – delicious!!
- American: It is easy to get all the ingredients for an awesome burger including bacon and cheese!! Onion rings and French fries you can just easily fry in a pot full of hot oil. It is cheap and delicious! You need an oven to prepare chocolate chip cookies, muffins or a chicken pot pie! For a perfect breakfast you can even buy Maple syrup for your home-made pancakes.
- Mexican: We have managed to find all the ingredients for great tacos, beans and even guacamole!!! If you look carefully, you might be able to purchase chorizo and corn flour to make the tacos shells at home.
- Swedish: If you have an Ikea in town, you can buy salmon and Kottbullar frozen. If you are a skilled baker, try to make cinnamon rolls (Kanelbullar) – you can find all the ingredients that you need in China!
- Japanese: If you are a fan of miso soup, Tonkatsu and Co. you can purchase all the basics in Carrefour or Ito Yokado and prepare these tasty dishes at home. There is no original silk tofu here but alternatively you can use the soft tofu which is used in “Mapo Tofu”.
If you are new to cooking at home, please don’t be shy, there are plenty of recipes online which are easy to understand. Websites, that might be useful are www.recipes.com, www.chefkoch.de or www.jamieoliver.com.
With all these great delicacies in mind, please don’t forget, that whilst you are in China you should use the chance to try as many different Chinese dishes as possible – be assured you will miss them when you leave! Besides that, it is surely healthy to diversify your diet – so be open to try new dishes from all over the world whenever you have the chance to. We can recommend to join one of our great international food parties – where everyone can bring a dish from his/her home-country and share your experiences with other international interns! If you live with a Chinese family in a homestay, you can also reward them for their hospitality by cooking a dish from your home country.