{Guest Post} Amanda Roberts: From Famine to Feasting – Learning to Cook While Living Abroad


With the cooler weather, isn't it a great time to eat and talk about food? For those who are from North America and figuring out the ins and outs of cooking in Asia, here's someone who gone through it all! Welcome Amanda!

From Famine to Feasting – Learning to Cook While Living Abroad by Amanda Roberts

I’m an American who has been living in China for over 4 years. When my husband and I were preparing for our move, we were worried about a lot of things – leaving our cats behind, Internet restrictions, making new friends – but food was not one of them. Who doesn’t love Chinese food?

It ended up being one of our biggest issues.

We were stationed in northern, rural Hunan. When I say rural, I mean the middle of the middle of nowhere. By American standards, it would be a medium sized city, but in China, it was considered a country town. There were no Western conveniences. By “conveniences,” I’m not even being too picky here. I can live without a Walmart or McDonalds, but can you imagine not being able to find chicken breasts, canned beans, or milk? You don’t realize just how much processed food and dairy Americans eat until you don’t have it anymore.

Of course, who needs to cook in China? Local food is cheap! You can get a bowl of noodles for 5 kuai (about 85 cents American)! But, remember when I said we were in Hunan? Hunan is one of the two provinces in China known for its spicy food. Oh, no, this is not just spicy food. I like spicy food in America. This is set your-mouth-on-fire spicy. And it is like that for every single meal, even breakfast. I know you probably don’t believe me because it seems unbelievable until you live here that the food would be too spicy for an American palate, but here in China, there is “spicy food” and then there is “Chinese spicy,” and if you live here you understand the difference.

Some people are able to adapt to the spicy food. I was not one of them. I quickly learned to say “bu yao la” (I don’t want it spicy), but most restaurants didn’t have non-spicy options so they would just look at me as if I had grown a second head or something. If anything, my tolerance for spicy food went down because I couldn’t eat local food at all. After arriving at our assignment, for the first few weeks, my husband and I went through “the starving time,” a time when we ate Raman-style noodles, crackers, and peanut butter, and that was about it.

Even though I was a good cook in America, I really had no idea how to cook purely from scratch. I also had no idea how to function in my new kitchen. There was no oven, the stove had an external gas tank, and there was no hot water in the sink. The kitchen was also so small I had no counter space for preparing ingredients and everything was set so low I would get a backache from hunching over the stove. But I did it. Slowly but surely, I learned how to cook in my foreign home with local ingredients.

Crazy Dumplings is my first attempt to codify some of the things I have learned while living overseas. Don’t worry, the book is written with everyone in mind, people living in Western countries and expats living abroad. Most of the recipes can be made from “scratch” or you can supplement some of the ingredients with more convenient versions if you have them. Crazy Dumplings is not a Chinese cookbook exactly, though there are some recipes for various kinds of Chinese Dumplings. Mainly, it is a fun, fusion food cookbook that takes the best of Chinese food and Western foods and mashes them together. From Chicken Taquito Dumplings to Timey-Wimey Dumplings to a dumpling for your dog, Crazy Dumplings will show you all the crazy things you can stuff into a dumpling wrapper for an easy meal or snack.


About the Author 

Amanda Roberts is an American writer, editor, and teacher who has lived in China since 2010. She has an MA in English and has published books, short stories, articles, poems, and essays in publications all over the world. She blogs about her life in China at TwoAmericansinChina.com and also heads the Women Writers of Shenzhen writers circle.




About Crazy Dumplings by Amanda Roberts: Wontons. Jiaozi. This remarkably simple food is found throughout Asia and in Chinese restaurants and kitchens around the world, but have you ever filled a dumpling wrapper with chicken? Lobster? North American Plains Bison? Hardly anyone has! The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook features over 100 recipes with some of the craziest and most delicious dumpling filling recipes you will ever see. From Chicken Taquito Dumplings to Timey-Wimey Dumplings to a dumpling for your dog, Crazy Dumplings will show you all the crazy things you can stuff into a dumpling wrapper for an easy meal or snack.


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