Nothing is more daunting than the fact you are about to graduate and you have no concrete plans for the future. The questions that arise are; do I carry on with education and do a masters or do I take the plunge into real life by becoming a full time adult and start work as a graduate?? Well, that was my predicament until I came across InternChina. I applied for the marketing & business development position in the Qingdao branch and was offered the 3 months internship (yay!). Interning in China has given me the opportunity to gain great experience whilst figuring out my future plans!
On my arrival, I was picked up from the airport by one of my soon to be colleagues. She was incredibly welcoming and helped me settle in the shared apartment. What I like the most about the apartments in Qingdao is that they are graciously spacious yet have a very cosy vibe to them. My roommates are my fellow colleagues at the IC Qingdao branch, so it was great to be able to meet them outside of the ‘work’ environment. (I did find it rather humorous that each one of us were from a different European country, one Brit, one French and one German… it almost sounds like one of those bar jokes).
As I had never been to Qingdao before, my roommates took me out and introduced me to fellow individuals who are part of the InternChina programme but are interning at different companies. As we are all connected through InternChina it was very easy to get along and feel comfortable with one another. Plans for the weekend were discussed and I was thrown into the mix and was able to explore Qingdao with them all!
There are really cool cafes, bars and restaurants in China, so regardless of the city you’re in, you will always be able to find somewhere that is to your liking. The food is cheap and cheerful -some meals will cost you max 3 pounds (I can’t find the pound sign on my macbook sigh). Moreover, you can actually find food that is halal and great for vegetarians!
Honestly, I have only been here a few days and already I have some ideas on what I wish to do once I get back to the U.K. It also helps to be around people from all over the world as it is a great way to broaden your horizon and learn more. So if you’re currently unsure and undecided, I would wholeheartedly recommend an internship (especially one in China).
To start your own internship adventure in China, apply now!
So one thing that has caught my attention in the two weeks I have been living in the beautiful city of Qingdao are the large numbers of shops selling 海参 haishen – or sea cucumbers. Their English name is somewhat misleading, since sea cucumbers are certainly not cucumbers, let alone plants! In fact, they are animals that live in the Deep Seas and spend most of their day making their way slowly across the sea floor. So why are they so sought after here, and why would anyone pay up to 400RMB (around 60 Euros) for one single haishen?
Filled with curiosity, I recently ventured into one of the many shops specialised in selling haishen and was fortunate enough to meet Ms Qin, a sea cucumber expert who works at a store called “Di Yi Ming” (帝一铭). She was so kind as to enlighten me on several fascinating facts regarding haishen and also gave me the permission to take photos of the store and its products.
“Di Yi Ming” – which cleverly sounds like the expression for “number one” in Chinese, but is written with different characters – is located on Ningxia Lu in the southern part of Qingdao. Beautifully furnished with carved wooden shelves and a large Chinese style tea table in the middle of the room, it altogether feels more like a jewellery boutique than a shop selling sea cucumbers. But that is because here in Qingdao, sea cucumbers are regarded as treasures, with prices starting from 1800RMB (around 250 Euros) per jin (1 Chinese jin equals 500g) for the least expensive, and up to 11’800RMB (around 1600 Euros) for 1 jin of the most costly haishen.
Put differently, for the crème-de-la-crème, the price for one single haishen can go up to 400RMB (around 60 Euros). However, it is possible to get ones starting from a mere 10RMB per haishen. The price depends on which type of species the haishen in question is, and whether it was caught in the ocean or came from a farm.
The high wooden shelves are all filled with large glass jars – which in turn are all filled to the brim with dried haishen, waiting to be sold. Their appearance is somewhat underwhelming, at first sight it may be rather hard to understand why these small, dry, dark little knobbly sausages are in such high demand around here. However, after learning about the wide range of benefits that eating haishen can bring, I realized that they are not to be scoffed at. In fact, the medical benefits of haishen are mentioned in the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国药典), an official compendium of drugs that covers Traditional Chinese and western medicines, as well as in the Chinese Journal of Marine Drugs (中国海洋药物).
Here is just a small selection of the health benefits that eating haishen can provide:
- Enhances immunity, prevent colds, helps staying in good shape and not become tired easily
- Helps heal wounds quickly
- Helps with all kinds of stomach problems
- Helps lower high blood pressure
- Is good for the skin, as it helps keep it smooth and prevents wrinkles
- Enables better sleep
- Relieves back problems
- Keeps brain cells active and enhances faculty of memory
Ms Qin told me that she recommends her customers to eat one haishen per day and that on average, customers buy 1-2 jin (500g-1kg) of haishen per purchase. I asked her whether the store sells live sea cucumbers, but she told me that all haishen sold here are dried, because this way, their nutrition value is fully preserved, and they can be kept for a much longer time than if they were not dried. In fact, according to Ms Qin, in this dried state, the haishen can be kept for 3-5 years! A dry sea cucumber is approximately the size of your thumb, but before it is caught, it is actually rather large, about the size of your hand. When buying dried sea cucumbers, one needs to first let them soak in water for about 3-5 days before preparing them for eating.
Finally, I asked Ms Qin for her favourite haishen-recipes.
- Sea cucumber porridge (海参粥)
Sea cucumber porridge is a very nutritious breakfast. First, boil the rice until it is cooked, then add chopped sea cucumber into the porridge. According to your personal taste add a small amount of salt and sugar, also add a little ginger, then boil for 5 minutes. This way, the nutrition of the sea cucumber is retained, and the porridge is easy to digest.
- Honey sea cucumber (蜂蜜海参)
Sea cucumber dipped in honey is a very popular recipe because it is very easy, and best of all, the sea cucumbers nutritional value is very well preserved. Simply steam the sea cucumber and dip it into honey.
So, in case you want to experience the taste and health benefits of haishen for yourself, you now know how!
PS. Check out “Di Yi Ming” online: www.chinadiyiming.com (totally worth it!)
One of the most notable differences between Chinese and Western cuisine is breakfast. When most westerners think of breakfast, images of toast, cereal, pastries, eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee come to mind. In China, breakfast is a whole different ball game. A major difference in Chinese cuisine is the lack of dairy. Milk, cheese, butter and yogurt are not staples in Chinese cuisine and often aren’t readily available in smaller markets and grocery stores. So many Western breakfast staples aren’t eaten often here. Chinese breakfast is usually savory and people don’t shy away from stronger flavors such as preserved eggs, pickles, and spicy oil to eat first thing in the morning. Many people go out for breakfast and grab a quick bite to eat on the way to work or school. Street vendors will open up early to sell their goods to passing commuters – always at a very cheap price!
Below I’ve listed some of the most common breakfast foods in our cities. This, however, is only a sampling of what options are out there – especially for the more adventurous eaters. So get your taste buds ready, and before you know it you will be a Chinese breakfast convert!
粥 Zhōu (Congee)
Zhōu (congee) is a popular breakfast dish, which can be eaten all over China, but especially in southern China. Usually made of rice, although there are variations made with cornmeal, millet, sorghum, etc., zhōu is similar to oatmeal or porridge. Zhōu, however, is not sweetened and instead of adding sugar or fruit as a topping, popular toppings include zhàcài (pickled vegetables), salted eggs, soy sauce, and bamboo shoots to name a few. Yóutiáo, (long, deep fried dough) is often served as an accompaniment to zhōu.
馒头 Mántou (Steamed Buns)
Another very popular breakfast food in China is mántou. The classic mántou is white and made from wheat flour, though they come in various shapes and forms. Fresh from the steamer, mántou are soft and pillowy, and make for a great breakfast or midday snack. In northern China, often times mántou will be served with a meal instead of rice, and grilled mántou are one of my favorite street barbecue items.
包子、饺子 Bāozi, Jiǎozi (Steamed Bao, Dumplings)
Dumplings are also a classic Chinese breakfast. Bāozi are large steamed dumplings you can eat straight out of your hand. They are usually filled with minced meat or vegetables, though some have sausage, egg and other goodies inside. Jiǎozi are smaller steamed or boiled dumplings you eat with chopsticks and dip into a vinegar and soy sauce mixture – and of course as much spice as you want.
煎饼 Jiānbǐng (Fried Pancake Wrap)
Jiān bǐng is a common breakfast food that is popular all over China. Similar to a French crepe, jiān bǐng are always made to order, and usually filled with egg, hoisin sauce, chili paste, scallions and báocuì (fried, crispy cracker).
肠粉 Chángfěn (Rice Noodle Roll)
Chángfěn is found in southern China – more specifically in the Guangdong province, and is definitely a staff favorite here in InternChina. For those lucky enough to be in Zhuhai, every morning you will walk past huge trays of steaming metal contraptions, with cooks churning out chángfěn faster than you can blink. Chángfěn is made from rice milk that is mixed with minced pork and egg, then steamed on large metal sheets. The resulting steamed rice noodle is then scraped onto a plate and covered in sweet soy sauce. Chángfěn may not sound appealing, and it definitely doesn’t win a beauty award, but is by far one of the best breakfast foods to be found in China! So if you’re coming to Zhuhai, make sure to give it a try.
And of course, no breakfast is complete without a cup of dòujiāng (豆浆), fresh warm soy milk, to go along with it!
An estimated 33% of the world’s population (give or take) use chopsticks on a daily basis. For the hungry first time user, guzzling down your meal with two small wooden sticks can be a real challenge. Chopsticks might seem tricky to master and somewhat unnecessary for those of us that grew up with a plastic knife and fork in hand, so why have they come to dominate the culinary habits of much of Asia?
Chopsticks are over 5000 years old, long sticks of bamboo were first used to retrieve morsels of food from cooking pots on the fire. Later on, evidence of chopsticks used as table utensils emerged as far back as 500-400 AD. It’s said the spread of popular chopstick use across China was down to population boom and fuel shortages; food was chopped into smaller pieces in an attempt to make the meagre rations go further (thus eliminating the need for knives at the table). Whatever the reason, people in Japan and Korea soon followed the trend not far behind!
The ultimate legend of Chinese culture Confucius (or debatably perhaps his disciple Mengzi) added his own two cents on the matter too, which always helps. Apparently a firm believer that “the honourable and upright man keeps well away from both slaughterhouse and kitchen, and allows no knives on his table.” 有名望的和正直的人要远离屠场和厨房。
FUN FACT: Did you know that Confucius was a vegetarian?
I’m not ashamed to admit that after 3 years in China, I am a total convert. Using chopsticks makes me appreciate my food more. Whatsmore, the sociable side to Chinese dinning, sharing and array of mouth-watering dishes, picking out tasty tit-bits from any dish at will, never gets old.
So here goes, top facts you should know about different types of chopsticks:
THE CHINESE CHOPSTICK
Typically unfinished wood, slightly rectangular top with a cylindrical blunt end. Doesn’t roll off the table so easily and more surface area means you’ve got a higher chance or transferring those tasty morsels all the way from the middle of the table right to your bowl!
FUN FACT: It’s a faux-pas to tap your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl, as this is what beggars do to attract attention.
THE JAPANESE CHOPSTICK
Traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo, with a rounded top and a pointy end that’s perfect for de-boning fish. They’re a little bit smaller than the Chinese equivalent and you often find red pairs for the ladies and black ones for the gents.
FUN FACT: Never stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl, it’s reminiscent of incense sticks at a funeral.
THE KOREAN CHOPSTICK
The shortest model of the three, Korean chopsticks are usually stainless steel and flat or rectangular shaped. Potentially more hygienic but it definitely makes it harder to get a grip on your food!
FUN FACT: The king used pure silver chopsticks which would change colour if they came in contact with certain poisons. The people started using metal chopsticks to emulate him.
Anyway, hope this can inspire you to pick up a pair of chopsticks and come to China yourself. Even if you struggle to start with new chopstick inventions are coming up every day, so keep your eyes peeled for the latest ‘Chork’ on the market!
Hello, everyone! My name is Meredith, and I am one of the new interns here at the InternChina office in Qingdao. This past week, I celebrated my first ever Mid-Autumn Festival! The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, is a national holiday that takes place every year on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Lunar Calendar. This date marks the full moon, when the moon is at its roundest and brightest. In Chinese culture, this is very significant as circular shapes symbolize reunion and wholeness.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time when friends and family gather together to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. In honor of Chang E and in the spirit of togetherness/reunion, people often make and share mooncakes with friends and relatives.
Mooncakes consist of fillings, such as red bean, lotus bean, orange, duck egg yolks, and mixed nuts. These are just some of the fillings I have come across during my time here in Qingdao. There are certainly others!
After consuming many, many mooncakes in the week leading up to the festival, my colleagues and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and make some of our own “laowai” mooncakes! In addition to the traditional fillings of lotus and red bean paste, we decided to incorporate some flavors often used in sweets back home, such as strawberries, bananas, Nutella, and peanut butter.
Some mooncakes turned out better than others – mine ended up looking more like blobs than mooncakes, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?! 🙂
I thought the peanut butter filling would be the clear winner in the taste test, but I was very, very wrong! Although widely debated amongst my colleagues, I believe the mooncakes filled with the traditional fillings were actually much better than the ones made with our own special ingredients.
Even though the mooncakes did not turn out quite like we thought they would, it was still great being able to spend the holiday with friends!
If you are ever in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival, I would encourage you to give mooncake making a try!
So I’ve been roped into writing another blog. Last time I was writing about wacky shrimp-charmers and typical Chinese benevolence but I’m toning it all down a bit in an attempt to brandish my questionable cooking talent. However, do not fear these recipes, for they have earned critical acclaim from seasoned pundits such as my ex-flatmate and anosmic sausage-dog. What’s more is that I present an opportunity to make friends with your local veg-stall owner. Just visit every day and say ‘shēng yì xīng lóng’ after you’ve paid and you’ll be friends for life.
Perhaps I should stop flaunting my credentials get on with what you came here for.
Dish One – Egg Fried Rice
‘It sounds boring!’ I hear you cry. “It’s too easy!” you moan. Pfft. Don’t you remember the social sec from that questionable university rugby club telling you not to knock something until you’ve tried it?
- Egg, obviously. You’re going to need 2-5 of these, depending on how much you hit the gym.
- Rice. Try to scale this with the number of eggs you’ve used.
- Some kind of oil to grease your wok. I use peanut oil because it’s the cheapest.
- Vegetables. Normally I go with a solitary carrot because I’m boring, but you should try adding broccoli, pak choi or cauliflower. If you’re feeling really adventurous then add all four.
- Soy sauce, obviously. This is China after all.
- Sesame oil. This is the secret ingredient that sets apart the Jamie Olivers from the normal Olivers.
Start by getting your rice cooker on the go. While she’s doing the hard work for you, chop up your vegetables into little chunks and crack open your eggs into a small bowl. Then, fry the veg in your wok on a medium/high heat in some oil.
Once those seedless fruits are looking nice and cooked turn down the heat to low/medium and throw in the eggs. Be sure to give them a good whacking with a wooden spoon. Beat them until it looks like that scene from Team America when the hero-guy comes out of the pub.
Now you need to add in the rice. Make sure that it isn’t all mushy with water then throw it into the wok. Pour some soy sauce over it and stir it in. Usually you’ll need about 10-20mL of soy sauce, but you’ll soon work out how strong you like your flavours. Finally, pour some sesame oil into the wok and mix that in too. About 3-5mL is all you need.
And voila! That took about 15 minutes.
Dish Two – Chicken Stir Fry
This is my signature dish in China. My old housemates back home in England know how proud I was of my first bhuna and others find my bolognese irresistible. However, China isn’t fond of curry and you’ll pay a lot of money to cook yourself a proper bolognese so I’ll try to keep on topic.
- Chicken. Cluck cluck.
- Rice or noodles. This is a great opportunity because you can disguise this single recipe as two by using either carbohydrate base.
- Carrots. Feel free to add other vegetables but the carrots are the best thing about this dish.
- Ginger. You’ll need about 5cm of this, maybe more. Who knows? You’ll find out how much you like soon enough.
- Garlic. While we’re on the subject, anyone reading who hasn’t been to China might be interested to know that the Chinese like to munch on whole garlic cloves. You’ll need about three for this dish.
- Soy sauce. You’ll work out how much you need.
- Oil. Again, I use peanut oil because it’s the cheapest.
- Honey (not essential).
- Peanut butter (not essential).
- Peanuts (not essential).
Choose if you want rice or noodles. Prepare them but wait until later to cook.
Slice and dice your chicken and slap it into a moderately oiled wok. You don’t want to turn on the heat yet unless you like your chicken black. Wash your chopping board if you don’t have access to another and use it to chop your carrots. Slice them into 1cm thick batons, wash them and leave them aside. Turn on the chicken to a medium heat. Then start chopping up the ginger and garlic into tiny pieces. A big meaty cleaver helps with this. The smaller the better. You’ll see what I mean.
Somewhere in the middle of chopping up the ginger and garlic you’ll hear a mysterious voice whisper in your ear: ‘don’t forget to turn on the rice’. This will only occur if you chose to cook rice. Obey the voice.
When the chicken is almost cooked, which is usually when you’ve just peeled the garlic and ginger, put your carrots in the wok. If you’re cooking noodles, boil the water now.
When you feel like you can’t be bothered to chop ginger and garlic anymore, put them in the wok and turn the flame up high. I try to make some room in the middle of the wok and put them there, adding the soy sauce at the same time. I find that the flavours come out better when it’s been blasted with heat. Leave it for about 15 seconds and then stir it all in. After a few minutes I like to pick the wok up and toss the ingredients up into the air and catch them again in the wok. (I actually do this with the lid on but it’s still good practice). Finally, add a squirty of honey and a spoony of peanut butter. Stir it like that rumour you spread about Tom and Lucy back in ‘08.
If your choice was noodles, start cooking them now. They need about one or two minutes. If you chose rice, it should be cooked by now. Put it in a bowl and add a little bit of soy sauce. I like to add the noodles to the wok and stir fry them with some extra soy sauce.
About now everything should be ready. Just serve it up. Garnish with peanuts to add extra protein and a new crunchy texture.
And that’s it! Another just-satisfactory blog that has slipped through the editor’s occasionally slippery net.