The China expat is an epicure, and therefore faces the epicure’s dilemma. Thai food? Again? No sushi tonight – not after that saki bender last week. How ‘bout a mess of jumped up pasta at that Italian place, where the wait staff ignores you if you don’t order wine? Nahhh.
Your body could actually afford to skip a meal, but what your soul craves is not on any bill of fare. You need to cook something yourself. Think about it – when’s the last time you made something with your hands, besides tapping noises? The cooking process soothes a mind addled by hours of multi-tasking.
Cereal and instant noodles don’t count, either, not at dinnertime. Instead, try something simple yet sustaining, cheap but nutritious, engaging if not overly involved. That’s right, the one and only ma po dofu. It possesses all seven characteristics of Chinese culinary virtue: numbing, spicy hot, hot temperature, fresh, tender and soft, aromatic, and flaky.
The whole affair can be managed in ten to fifteen minutes. You can leave out the meat, as well as reduce the numb and spicy factor according to taste. If done right and not rendered a gloopy mess, you’ll have a recipe to tide you over on those inevitable nights when eating out just isn’t a treat anymore.
250 g of fresh tofu (firm or extra firm, not silky)
50 g of ground pork
2 tablespoons of fermented soy bean paste (look for a jar that has 郫县豆瓣 on it, or ask the vendor for pi xian dou ban)
4 slices of ginger
4 cloves of garlic
2 fingers’ lengths of Chinese onion
1 tablespoon of peppercorn
2 teaspoons of cornstarch
4 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of chicken broth powder