Five Things NEVER to Buy at the Grocery Store Again

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredient. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it…

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredients. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it.

The peanut butter example is to show that there’s no reason to buy something like this in the store when it’s so simple. The other examples illustrate all of the useless and complicated things that are in basic products. I’m here to tell you about 5 things that are ridiculously easy to make in your own kitchen. There’s no need to EVER buy any of them in the store. You’ll save money, get creative, be healthier, waste fewer containers, and most importantly be able to show off to your friends.

#1 – Peanut butter

Why God, why? WHY do we insist on buying this crap when it literally has two ingredients! You have been LIED to your whole life that peanut butter is something to buy at the store! Not only is it always sold in wasteful plastic, it’s usually loaded with extra salt, sometimes sugar, and all sorts of other chemicals. “Oh, but I buy the fancy organic peanut butter” I hear you say. Again, WHY? This can be made at home in ten minutes, for a fifth of the price. Here’s how.

1. Put peanuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 190 degrees C.
2. Put peanuts in a food processor and pulse. Scrape down the sides. Pulse.
3. Repeat until it’s peanut butter.

That’s it. Never again will you pay $10 for a jar of peanut butter containing $2 worth of peanuts.

#2 – Milk

Okay, yes, I’m vegan, but that isn’t my point here. Obviously, most of us don’t have a cow out back that we can milk for cow’s milk. I’m referring to the alternatives, like rice milk, cashew milk, almond milk, etc. This is also something that’s insanely easy to make at home. Most alternatives to cow’s milk are healthier too! You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate the smooth taste of freshly made almond milk. Instead of buying a $5 carton of milk every week, try this:

1. Fill a large mason jar 1/3 of the way up with almonds. Fill the jar with water.
2. Wait a few hours, or overnight.
3. Drain the almonds, fill the water up again (drinkable water this time).
4. Dump water and almonds into a blender.
5. Blend.
6. Strain out the almonds with a fine strainer or nut bag, back into the mason jar.

That’s it. You can do the exact same thing with rice, any nut, oats, chia seeds, pretty much any grain. No more wasting cartons, wasting money, or torturing cows for no reason.

#3 – Tortillas

Again, two ingredients, maybe three if you’re feeling frisky. Ignore the novel on the back of your overpriced tortillas and grab some flour. You can make literally hundreds of tortillas for the price of that package, and your gut will thank you for it. Here’s how:

1. Dump a bunch of flour into a bowl. I don’t know, let’s say 300 grams.
2. Add a cup of water and stir until it’s doughy. Not too sticky. Imagine pizza dough.
3. Sprinkle some dough onto your (clean) counter.
4. Grad a golf ball-sized wad of dough and flatten it over the flour. Use a rolling pin or your hands. You’ll get better with practice. Flip it occasionally.
5. Add a LITTLE oil to a pan and get it SUPER hot.
6. Cook the tortilla on that pan for 30-60 seconds on either side.

That’s it. If you like it salty, add some salt to the dough. Or anything. Cinnamon, garlic, any seeds or grains, all can be additions. Play with it however you want. Keep the packaging of your old tortillas in the bathroom for some light reading on those especially long visits.

#4 – Oatmeal

This stuff can be SUPER expensive when you buy the fancy kind. But let’s not do that. Let’s see what’s lying around your house and make it into something you can have for breakfast for a week or more. Grab any nuts you have (peanuts, cashews, almonds), some cinnamon, rolled oats, and some honey or agave.

1. Put all the things listed above into a bowl.
2. Mix them around a bunch with your (clean) hands.
3. Spread it all out onto a baking pan and bake at 200 C for 20-25 min.
4. Lick your fingers.

That’s it. Once it cools, put it in a big container and it’ll store for weeks. Use some of that milk you made earlier for an incredibly healthy and delicious breakfast.

#5 – Guacamole

Ah yes, the caviar of the hipster. People will shell out 10 bucks for a jar of this (welcome to China). You can make it at home for $3. Go and get three avocados, half an onion, as much garlic as you can stand, a lemon and a tomato from your kitchen.

1. Chop up the ingredients above and throw them into a food processor (obviously, squeeze the lemon; don’t chop it…).
2. Press the “On” button.
3. Wait one minute.

That’s… Yeah. That’s it. You just made some delicious guac to serve with the two-ingredient tortillas you made earlier. Make both these things for less than $5 at your next potluck and you’ll be famous. Take THAT, Cindy and Martin from down the street.

So yeah. You can make all this at home, mostly with stuff you have lying around anyway. Hopefully, you found at least one of these things useful, and even more importantly, I hope that next time you’re at the supermarket and pick up a product, you’ll think twice and maybe do a quick Google search of “How to make ______ at home.” You’ll be surprised what you can do yourself!


DOHA Cafe Review: Da Lat, Vietnam

The cafe has lots of seating across three floors, although the top one wasn’t being air-conditioned when I was there. However, the view of the Xuan Huong lake and Lam Vien square was worth it. They have a great selection of drinks including coffees, teas and juices. Although the prices are relatively steep for Vietnam, it’s still affordable on a Western budget. We didn’t get a chance to try any of their food although we were definitely tempted by their cakes and pastries.

DOHA Cafe is a great place to grab a coffee in Da Lat, Vietnam. It’s a modern cafe shaped like a flower bud and it’s as cool on the inside as it is on the outside. Speaking of cool – it’s also the perfect place to cool off during Vietnam’s steamy summers.

The cafe has lots of seating across three floors, although the top one wasn’t being air-conditioned when I was there but the view of the Xuan Huong lake and Lam Vien square was worth it. They gave a great selection of drinks including coffees, teas and juices. Although the prices are relatively steep for Vietnam, it’s still affordable on a Western budget. We didn’t get a chance to try any of their food although we were definitely tempted by their cakes and pastries.


Restaurant Manners in China

A typical Chinese restaurant offers a wide variety of food including tofu in all shapes and forms, at least four different styles of pork, dumplings, rice, noodles, veggies, fish and chicken. When you order a dish, you’ll notice immediately that the portion is huge – that’s because you’re supposed to share everything.

At a typical Chinese lunch or dinner, the organizer/host of the event will order many different meals. These will be brought out in a random order and placed on a rotating table. Everyone gets their own bowl and helps themselves to whatever they like. There is no Chinese saying like “bon apetite”, as soon as there’s food you can just dig in!

It is customary in China to provide your guests with much more food than you could ever eat. If you finish everything in front of you, more will be ordered. Taking leftover food to go is iffy. It can be considered rude if you’re among colleagues, for example, because it’s not fair for one person to take home something that someone else might want. This leads to a lot of wasted food.

When it comes to drinks, there is usually tea and hot water served for free. 2% alcohol beers and low quality Chinese wine is commonly available, however it is completely acceptable to bring your own drinks. We often buy wine, beer or cold water from a nearby convenience store and the locals do it too.

Communicating with restaurant staff is quite different too. It’s completely polite to yell for a waitress to come and to ask for whatever you need without saying “please” or “thank you”. Nonetheless, I’m sure they won’t be offended if you say it as long as you don’t try to tip them. Seriously, they’ll chase you down to return even the tiniest change, so don’t do it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced at a Chinese restaurant?

Thai Delicacies: Roti Pancakes

Have you ever noticed that most countries have their own version of a pancake? China has the za liang jian bing or fried pancake served as a breakfast food from street food vendors. The French like their pancakes thin, crispy and savory while Americans prefer them fluffy and doused with maple syrup.

Thailand has their own version of pancakes too. The first difference that you will notice, is their shape. While the rest of the world makes pancakes round, in Thailand they are square. They are deep fried and very crispy with a choice of various ingredients sandwiched in the middle. These can be Nutella, bananas or even tuna!

These pancakes are called “Roti” and it’s origins are debated. Some say that they come from India where they are also known as chapati. Chapati is a flat bread made from stone-ground wholemeal flour. Others say that the pan-fried bread has Muslim origins.

Whatever it’s origins, the fact is that Roti are delicious pancakes. They resemble crepes and are served hot, cut into bite-size squares. Like most pancakes around the word, they are meant to be eaten for breakfast. Here’s a video that shows how they’re made.

You can read more about different pancakes around the world here. I’m on a mission to try them all!

Photo from:

Chinese Delicacies: Calorie Bombs on a Stick (Tanghulu)

Candied fruit on a stick seems like a healthier choice than ice cream. Think again! This delicacy has more calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger!

Tanghulu (糖葫芦) is a popular Chinese snack that can be sweet, sour or both at once. If someone is selling it nearby, you’ll smell it from miles away. Just follow the caramelized scent until you find the brightly-colored sugar-coated fruit on a stick!

Also known as bingtanghulu (冰糖葫芦) the name can be translated as “frosty sugar gourd” although no one knows where “gourd” comes from. The most commonly seen tanghulu is made with hawthorn berries. Until I came to China, I had no idea that hawthorn even existed. In case you know as little about the mysterious berry as I did, here’s some info:

Hawthorn is a useful plant and it’s flowers, leaves and berries are commonly used in medicines for heart disease, blood pressure irregularities, digestion problems and many others. It looks like a small red apple the size of a strawberry. It can be eaten raw but it’s extremely sour and has an unusual texture. Instead, it is used in jams, wines, fruit leather and the reason we are all here: tanghulu!

I’ve eaten two different kinds of hawthorn tanghulu. My favorite has the berries flattened and I assume preserved in some sort of way, because they are quite sweet on the inside. After they are dipped in caramelized sugar with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

The second kind of hawthorn tanghulu is simply raw berries on a skewer. It is much more sour than the flattened kind, less crunchy and full of seeds that you need to constantly spit out. I strongly recommend trying a different kind on your first try. Luckily, there are so many to choose from! You can use a variety of fruits and even tomatoes to make tanghulu.

Fun fact:
There is no fruit-vegetable debate in China when it comes to tomatoes. You will find them in fruit juices and the fruit section of buffets. Anyway, cherry tomatoes are a common alternative to hawthorn but they also use melon slices, grapes, plums and strawberries.

While tanghulu seems like a relatively healthy treat, especially when it’s made out of “negative-calorie” strawberries. But don’t be deceived, it is estimated that they have 400 calories on average. That’s just as many as a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s! But at least it’s rich with vitamin C.

In China, the tanghulu is more than just a traditional snack. According to legend, it saved the life of emperor Guangzong’s most beloved concubine during the Song Dynasty. She got sick and was unable to eat anything. The emperor was desperate when his doctors failed and asked the villagers for help. A common doctor suggested eating 7-8 candied hawthorns with each meal – this saved her life! For more interesting facts about tanghulu, go here.

Have you tried tanghulu? Share your experience in a comment below!

Drinking Hot Water in China

Hot water is healthy to drink and it’s all the rage in China. Even vending machines have it! Water isn’t only thing that’s hot either…

It was about 40°C (104°F) when we first arrived in Shanghai on July 27th 2016. During the day it was too hot to even walk outside because it felt closer to 50°C (122°F). Despite this crazy temperature, when we arrived at Isaac’s school for a meeting, we were offered hot water to drink! We assumed that their water cooler was broken or something, but no, Chinese people just like their water hot.

There are many online debates about whether it’s healthier to drink water cold or hot. Many claim that drinking hot water burns more calories, some say that it’s more hydrating than cold water and others claim that it helps cool you down. In China, kids grow up drinking hot water at school and it doesn’t stop there…

When you go to a restaurant, you will be served either tea or hot water. Don’t bother asking for ice, you will be most likely be met with head scratches and “mayo”s, which means “don’t have”. If they are extra accommodating, they may run out to a nearby shop to buy you a bottle of water – it’s happened to us!

The airport might as well be the Sahara dessert if you’re craving cold water. You will find plenty of hot-water dispensers that are completely free, but cooler water is much more challenging to find. Alcohol and tobacco shops sell fresh crab but not water. KFC only offers tea, but if you meet a creative employee, they will put some ice in a cup of hot water for you.

Finally, there’s vending machines! Hooray! But wait… even those will sometimes only sell hot water. No matter how desperate you may get, don’t you dare drink that tap water. It is full of dangerous chemicals and will, at best, have you sitting on the toilet all week.


Speaking of vending machines… they are truly unique in China. If you explore the metro stops in Shanghai, you will quickly discover that there are three types of vending machines. Ones offering cold water, room temperature water and hot water! The best part? It’s not just water that’s served hot…

I didn’t grow up in America where every restaurant offers you free ice-cold water, but I did grow up drinking cool sink water from restaurant bathrooms in Europe. But whatever, I understand the health benefits and I’m happy to give hot water a chance. However there are some liquids that should NEVER be hot.

7-Elevens are a popular chain in Shanghai. They sell delicious on-the-go food like sushi as well as practical items like cheap chargers. Also, to my ultimate horror, some of them have what looks like a freezer except it is full of hot beverages. Fizzy grape-flavored drinks, apple juice and liquid cranberry yogurts are all heated up – ON PURPOSE!

As yucky as drinking hot apple juice may seem to you (and me!!!) it is important to understand and appreciate different food cultures around the world. I know plenty of Asians who want to puke at the thought of moldy blue cheese smeared on crispy unsweetened bread. I also wouldn’t dream of offering a Chinese person beef tartar, a Czech delicacy consisting of raw beef mixed with raw egg.

After all, culture shock is the reason we all love to travel. Isn’t it?




Living in Huaqiao: Chinese Food Review (Guest Post)

Chinese food is great! Here are some of the dishes you should try in Huaqiao!

Written by Alice Li, this is a chapter of the KCIS Survival Guide.
This guide was sent to all new teachers coming to teach at the Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao.

If you are interested in trying Chinese food, there are a lot of good restaurants in Huaqiao. Generally, Chinese food is cheap and delicious. I recommend these five places for different kinds of Chinese food:

1. Traditional Beijing Hotpot/Lao Beijing

Average cost: 70 RMB per person

Here you get to try Chinese northern style hot-pot in the traditional way: a bronze pot with a small chimney heated by charcoal. There are 3 kinds of soup base: plain, mushroom flavored and spicy. Choose one base you like, or you can do two as well.

Order sliced meat (lamb or beef), leaves, mushrooms, tofu, boodles and many more. The dipping sauce is charged per person (6 RMB). You can find sesame paste, peanut butter, chili oil, leek sauce, soy sauce and so on. Mix them together to create your own. When the soup is boiling add the raw food for a short time.

The food cooks right in front of you! Pick it out of the pot with your chopsticks and dip it into your sauce – and ENJOY!

Must try: lamb, beef, see-you-tomorrow pin mushroom, fried dough sticks, crystal noodles and fresh tofu.

2. My Old Classmate

Average cost: 60 RMB per person

If you like spicy food, this is a good place to go. My Old Classmate features Sichuan cuisine, so more than half of the dishes are spicy. Its setting is quite different; the dining table is a copycat of the old-style desks in Chinese classrooms. Dishes and chopsticks are placed in the desk drawer. It is always crowded on Friday night so go early or make reservations.

Must try: mushroom buns, sliced beef and cucumber in hot chili oil, sliced chicken with bones in hot chili oil, crispy chicken strips, Chinese style beef steak served with 3 creamy mango rolls and stir fried potato chips with sour and spicy sauce.

3. My Family Style Fish with Pickles

Average cost: 60 RMB per person

Freshly cooked black fish is the specialty of this place. Both the fish and the soup are so fresh. A waiter will catch a fish alive in front of you, weight it, and pass to the chef to slice it. The fish is then served in a big ceramic pot with pickle soup. The soup can be made mild, a little bit spicy or really spicy. You don’t have to worry about fish bones. The fish slices don’t have many bones. This place also serves really good parathas with all kinds of flavors. The pineapple one is the best.

Must try: pineapple parathas and a little bit of spicy soup base

4. Yang’s Dumplings

Average cost: 30 RMB per person

This is the must eat food in Shanghai. Pan fried pork buns/dumplings are the most famous food in Shanghai and Yang’s Dumplings is a newborn chain restaurant. It was three kinds of buns: pork, pork with vegetables and shrimp. They are all really good.

The correct way to eat this kind of bun is to first bite the wrap to open it, then give it a few seconds to cool down, suck the juice and finally eat the remainder. Be prepared for a stream of hot liquid squirting everywhere if you’re not careful! Yang’s has a few kinds of side fishes and noodle soups as well.

Must try: shrimp buns, and sour crystal beef noodle soup

P.S. A Hui’s Dumplings is a copycat of Yang’s. There is one at the Pyramids next to My Bakery and one on Guangming Road. There is also a dumpling shop in the E-mart food court.

5. Zhonghe Wang’s Taiwan Style Noodle House

Average cost: 25 RMB per person

This little place serves good noodle soups and rice combos with low price. According to the waitresses, the rice grains used in the restaurant are shipped from Taiwan. It does taste good. Except fried food, everything else is served really fast.

Must try: fried chicken leg, braised pork with rice and beef noodle soup.