“To be a decent cook, only 5 things are required: tools, materials, literacy*, patience, and courage.” ~ Me

Who are you?

Hi! My name is Manda, and I’m a Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in Northwest China. I love food from all over the world, both cooking and eat it. As a supertaster, I feel that I get the ultimate food-eating experience out of every meal.

What is the “好吃 Challenge”?

The Hao Chi Challenge (pronounced ‘how-chur’, meaning “tastes good” or “good food”) is a challenge to prepare 250 Chinese recipes in 273 days. Recipes are taken and personalized from various Chinese recipe books and websites, as well as learned from Chinese locals in my town.

Oh, yeah. And I have to cook all of them using only a hot plate and a toaster oven, Chinese-style!

Why should I read this? What’s in it for me?

Most Americans (or any Westerners at that rate) probably don’t know what real Chinese food tastes like. We know what southern Chinese food, prepared Western-style, is like.

Most people probably think ‘Chinese take-out is fast, cheap, and good. Making Chinese food at home would take too long, cost too much, and be too difficult.’  I am here to prove that assumption (that I once had, as well) wrong. Let’s tackle each of those at a time…

Making Chinese food at home would take too long!

While I do have more free time than the average worker, that doesn’t mean I like to fill all of that time up with cooking. I usually don’t like to spend more than 1.5 hours cooking something, especially if it requires constant supervision (as most things cooked on a hot plate do). All of these recipes can be cooked in less than 2 hours–most in about an hour, in fact–save maybe some marinating time which doesn’t really require supervision.

Making Chinese food at home would cost too much!

As I stated above, I am a volunteer. I don’t have a salary. I get a small stipend of about $200 USD. Of course food is cheaper in China, but I make about half as much as the average Lanzhou resident per year, and I can still afford to eat well. Sure, I share costs with my husband, but two people eat twice as much food, remember? And according to my calculations thus far, I usually spend less money by cooking my own food than eating out (which is also very cheap in China… from about $1 USD for a basic lunch, to about $20 USD for an extravagant, 15-course meal!) The point is, cooking your own Chinese food at home would be as much as, if not cheaper, than getting take-out. Not to mention healthier!

Making Chinese food at home would be too difficult!

I am not the world’s most motivated person. I’m probably not even in the top 50% on most days. Nor am I trained in cooking in any way. I am willing to do some difficult cooking on special days, but mostly I just want something easy so I can get to the best part: eating. Mind you, I love cooking. But I also hate making things that are overly difficult (sorry to disappoint, but you’ll never see me make a faux strawberry out of strawberry gelatin or any other food art). When it comes to cooking, I think anyone can do it. If you have the internet and are literate, that’s a great start. So many people think it takes magic to cook. Sure, gourmet chefs and people who make food art have magic, but everyday cooking doesn’t require it. Does it help? Sure. And passion doesn’t hurt, either. But they aren’t necessary. People that say, “I can’t cook” are people who don’t try. *Heck, literacy isn’t even required now that we have Youtube (but I assume you have this ability since you are here). Cooking is a learn-by-doing process. Fear not; in time, you will learn how to make substitutions and other tricks. For now, make friends with Google. And keep coming back!

Did I mention that I do all of this cooking with only a hot plate, toaster oven, and a wok? (Ok, you got me, I use the odd pot or pan every now and then). So for those of you that have standard Western kitchens, this should be a piece of cake!*

*But not the Chinese kind, because they have tomatoes.

**My posts and opinions do not represent those of the Peace Corps nor the American government.**


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