Peach braised tofu, fried mooncakes with peppers… in fact, quite a few “weird dishes” are actually “good combos”.
East China Normal University (stir-fried corn and grapes): Although most students said they “don’t dare to try it,” this dish actually looks pretty good.
Hubei Institute of Economics (stir-fried tomatoes and pineapple): When trying to prevent the spread of Avian Flu, the chef of this cafeteria took inspiration from two dishes, scrambled eggs and tomatoes and pineapple chicken, and put them together.
Fujian Normal University (stir-fried mooncakes and peppers): Mid-Autumn Festival is coming, and they’ve already told everyone, this dish is how you deal with left-over mooncakes.
Guangzhou College of South China University of Technology (bean sauce chicken heads): When students found out about this dish, they protested in disgust. The next day, the cafeteria had not choice but to remove it from the menu.
Aside from fried apples and watermelon, the cafeteria at Wuhan University also makes sweet and sour hami melon fried pork, Chinese dates and white tree ear boiled with watermelon, flash fried bugles chips, and many other dishes.
Peach braised tofu, stir-fried pumpkin and pork liver, stir-fried lettuce and greens… the strange dishes at the cafeteria often cause students and staff to complain, but many of the cooks feel there’s nothing wrong at all, with a reason behind it all. Whether or not the cooking is weird, no matter the final judgement, Yangtze Evening News reporters went to interview culinary experts and got the backstory on these strange foods.
Cafeteria Food (食堂才): refers to food made in the cafeteria, widely distributed around all parts of the country, of highly varied quality. Due to the wide distribution and high number of individuals eating the food, internet users have dubbed it, “the nation’s ninth great style of cuisine.” Since it doesn’t contain meat and contains almost no oil, it is called “expensive, unsightly, and small in quantity.” Its specialty is cooked fruits and reprocessed baked goods such as cakes and buns (boiled, stewed, stir-fried, etc.).
Weird Dish #1: Peach Braised Tofu
Chef: “I’ve gotten used to seeing this,” all sorts of fruits can go into a dish, it’s creative and healthy.
To use seasonal fruits as cooking ingredients is a strange thing in the eyes of many people. Previously, it was even “meat-stuffed lichee” that was derided by internet users as “evil cookery”. The skin and nut are removed from the fresh lichee, then it is stuffed with minced meat and cooked. Many people couldn’t stand this combination, and TV show hust Cai Kangyong even said, “Where in the world was this lichee spy sent from? It is truly formidable.”
But reporters found that combos such as this are not at all uncommon in cafeterias. “Aren’t peaches all over the markets in the summer? We recently had a ‘peach braised tofu’ dish, you tell me whether or not that’s gross enough. Right at the beginning I thought it was carrots, I was eating it for a while before I noticed it was sweet,” an employee of the school surname Wu told reporters. Mr. Wu is a northern, and finds this kind of half-sweet half-salty combination highly unpalatable. Aside from this, all “melon fried pork”, “strawberry sweet and sour pork,” “pineapple braised spare ribs,” and so forth were once considered strange foods.
But regarding these types of pairings, Yangtze Evening News reporters interviewed a number of chefs who said they’ve “gotten used to seeing it.” A Chef Zhang from a certain cafeteria told reporters that in many places, especially those with an abundance of fruit, basically all local fruits can go into the dishes. “I was once a culinary student in Guangdong, there you can use all sorts of fruits in dishes, it’s not only not weird, it’s a creative element in the cooking.” He told reporters that fruit is common in western dishes, and that these cooking methods are especially good for summer, mixing the crisp freshness of food with the deliciousness of meat and vegetables, it can relieve the summer heat, cut grease and fat, and cleanse the palate. Commonly seen dishes with fruit include: stir-fried pears and flower petals, stir-fried pineapple and fish, stir-fried dragon fruit and eel balls, curry apple chicken, and others.
Weird Dish #2: Big Potato Reunion
Chef: It’s easy to store potatoes, onions, and such other stocking vegetables, so we use them a lot.
“Yesterday when I went to the cafeteria, sliced potatoes, shredded potatoes, and mashed potatoes suddenly all appeared on one plate in the company’s lunch on the same day. Uncle Chef, did you always to get them together for a big family reunion?” One IT worker in Jiangning District of Nanjing complained that he most dislikes eating potatoes, but that it’s the food that appears most frequently at the cafeteria.
It’s not the only case. A Ms. Liu in a Xinjiekou office told reporters that one day in the cafeteria she got dishes including shredded cabbage and meat, hand shredded cabbage, and shredded cabbage soup.
“When we see a food that keeps appearing on the menu of the cafeteria, we know that the food is the cheapest one on the market at that time.” Ms. Liu summed it up , saying that the foods that frequently appear in the cafeteria are always the ones that are relatively cheap.
“Every dish has some carrots and onions in it, you can’t find a single dish that doesn’t have some.” Mr. Gu, who works in a Nanjing IT office, told reporters that the cheapest vegetable in the market, potatoes, was what could be found in every dish in his cafeteria at that time.
“Vegetables are more and more expensive, and that increases the operating expenses of a cafeteria. But there’s a lot of pressure if you raise prices, so we pick staple foods like potatoes and onions that we can purchase in bulk, don’t spoil easily, and are cheap. Use a bit more of them and you can reduce the necessary capital, and additionally, people generally can accept these kinds of vegetables and don’t complain much about them,” said Chef Wu, who is a cook at a company cafeteria, revealed this reason for the appearance of these staple foods.
Weird Dish #3: Stir-Fried Lettuce and Greens
Chef: Although it’s weird, as long as it doesn’t clash, you can mix them up to reuse them.
“I was eating in the cafeteria a couple of days ago and got a green vegetable dish. I looked at it, and it was all mixed up, not only was there the green vegetable in it, but also lettuce.” Ms. Yang told reporters that she’s been cooking at home for several decades, and has never combined two such ingredients. She doesn’t understand what in the world the cooks in the cafeteria were thinking.
“I was eating some pumpkin, eating and eating, then suddenly felt something hard. I thought the pumpkin skin had not been removed, but I took a closer look and was surprised to find pork liver, what kind of a crappy combination is that?” Several days ago on weibo, a media organization worker named Mr. Liu complained about his company’s cafeteria’s food, with numerous coworkers quickly agreeing with him.
“I don’t know why our company’s cafeteria like using fried dough sticks so much. Just like cabbage and fried dough, luffah and fried dough, I can deal with that, but one time there was this sweet and sour pork, and I ate it and found there wasn’t any meat inside. Actually, it was sweet and sour fried dough.” As for this cafeteria’s multi-use fried dough sticks, resident of Nanjing Ms. Wang said she really doesn’t understand why the cooks at the cafeteria love fried dough so much.
As for these strange foods, a cook at a certain company named Chef Li revealed to reporters that in fact many things influence the ingredients used in cafeteria foods. “There are some times when you just happen to have these two ingredients, so you just have to put them together. Even though it’s a little weird, they don’t clash, and as long as you can still eat it, that’s fine. And as for fried dough sticks, that’s even less weird, since generally mostly sell fried dough sticks and we use the ones that we don’t sell to make pancakes with them inside. In the evening, we use the ones that are still left over to make stir-fried cabbage. There was one place that once even made stir-fried mooncakes with peppers. That must have been because they didn’t sell off the mooncakes they’d made before, so they just mixed them up with something else.
Original publication date: 09/09/2013