Living without an oven
I’ve been lucky enough to live in various countries away from my native Yorkshire in England a few times before I became a Language Assistant in Shijiazhuang, China last month. I went to university in Swansea, Wales, and experienced the deliciousness of Welsh cakes whilst adapting to sharing a kitchen with other people. I studied abroad in Australia and dealt with the lack of prawn cocktail crisps and proper pork pies. But China has given me the greatest food challenge yet … no oven.
The stereotype is that English people only eat fried food, but that’s simply not true! The traditional Sunday roast is central to life in the UK, and the Yorkshire puddings from my county are a key part of food. Yet in China, I have just a hotplate and a microwave. Whilst I love a good stir fry, I am starting to really miss having an oven. I miss just the simplicity of throwing a frozen pizza in and waiting 20 minutes, or cooking salmon and homemade chips like I often did at university. Plus for me, baking is a form of stress relief. Making some ginger biscuits, scones or cupcakes after a hard day became a sort of tradition throughout school and university. I could take out my frustrations on the mix rather than people! I’m an avid watcher of BBC’s Great British Bake Off, and love to imagine myself attempting more complicated recipes. That’s much harder when you don’t have an oven.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Chinese food, and make a mean stir fry and egg fried rice. I’ve also discovered some amazing dishes close to where I live. The nearby restaurants and street food vendors always look extra happy when they see my fellow teachers and I headed for them, and they have become an informal meeting spot for us. We have our regular places and vendors who know our orders and chat to us whilst they make our food. They are learning that I don’t like spicy food that much, so avoid putting it in what I order. Equally, we are learning bits of Chinese from them, proof that when you are surrounded by a language, you will pick it up.
But still, I miss having an oven.
Note from editor: If you want to know more about The Great British Bake Off have a look at this post: Cake, culture and competition