23 January 2009

January Tomatoes

Chinese tomatoes are generally not of the variety that make you want to take a big juicy bite. See item A to the left, for example. On the other hand, the only pasta sauce available comes in a can and costs over $3.00, which seems like pittance to most Americans but is about an hour of work for us in China and a day’s toil for your average factory worker. A bag of tomatoes costs half that (though in the summer they are half this price and twice the quality). So, when choosing between chemical-laden, who-knows-how-long-it’s-sat-on-the-shelf sauce and fresh tomato sauce, we usually opt for the latter. The tomatoes we bought today (in about 5 degree plus -20 degree wind-chill weather) were less than inspiring, but they were all we could find.

The Chinese use tomatoes for one of two things: first, the large tomatoes are used in a few savory dishes, usually basics like “xi hong shi chao ji dan” or “tomatoes fried with eggs;” second, the small grape or cherry tomatoes are set out fresh for dessert alongside other fruit. I use tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce or chili, methods of cooking completely foreign to the Chinese because they entail cooking something for longer than 5 minutes. Luckily, we don’t have to pay for electricity, so we can leave our burners on for hours. I know it’s not environmentally friendly, but we walked to and from the grocery store, which must make up for leeching power from China’s grid.

So, I made spaghetti sauce with ground pork for dinner tonight. It didn’t taste authentically Italian, but it was awfully fulfilling after freezing my fingers off carrying home groceries. On a side note, the only Parmesan cheese we can find in Qingdao comes in a green tube. I would not use the stuff if I had any other option.

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