Archive for food

market finds


If you’ve been away for the holiday, as you return to your regular shopping routine, you may notice something like this at your local supermarket. Most of our American friends in the US weren’t very excited about a Chinese company buying Smithfield Foods in 2013, but for those of us living on this side, the case above is what that acquisition means to us here in Hohhot: US style bacon and ham readily available at local markets for local prices. The pork is not imported, but is processed by Smithfield and whatever local affiliate they’re partnering with.

Read more about that buy/merger here.

and here.

What do you think? Does the Smithfield label make you more likely to choose this bacon over another? Have you tried any or all of the products yet?

I tagged this in “stuff foreigners like” because of bacon. Am I right?

Happy New Year!


The cacophony of fireworks have already begun near our house.

Here’s to hoping that all of your have a wonderful time saying good-bye to the year of sheep and welcoming the year of the monkey (and that your children are able to sleep through the noise)!

We wish you a very, very happy lunar new year!

If you’re celebrating with Chinese friends here and here are some fancy ways to make jiao zi if you really want to impress.

And here is a list of Chinese new year greetings, complete with audio!

And here is another list of 108 Chinese new year greetings. (some duplicates)



Free Meat!

A local beef and mutton company has a fantastic promotion going on now: GET FREE MEAT!

The full details are in Chinese below, but the basics are you go to their store on January 30, scan their QR code, take a photo in the store and share it on your moments, and walk out with 2 boxes of mutton (a 118 RMB value).

There are other promotions if you spend 500 or 1000 RMB, or just get your free meat.

Here are the two addresses: (maps are on the link below). Click here if it doesn’t display properly.

This one is near dong wa yao.


This one is a bit south and east of the exhibition center.
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some of my favorites

Today is my birthday. (I know, I’m surprised as you that it’s not honored as a public holiday, too). Because it’s my birthday, I wanted to share with you some of my favorites so you can enjoy them too.

My favorite shopping:

  1. Chang le gong, 4th floor, stall on east side of furthest west hallway. This stall is full of intended-for-export clothing and shoes which means you can find foreign brands for local prices. This also means they have foreign sizes to fit those of us who aren’t Asian size. It’s not displayed well…no racks just stacks of stuff, and each time I go it’s a completely selection than the time before.
  2. Erlian Wen Zhou Shang Chang: This isn’t in Hohhot but in Erenhot/Erlian on the border of Mongolia. (This is also where all the jeeps to cross to border park and wait to fill their cars before crossing over). This market has 4-6 long hallways of stall after stall of anything you could possibly need. Some of the stalls are items intended for export, some are from Russia and Mongolia, and the selection is great. I’ve found great deals for clothes for my kids here, sometimes western name brands.
    Erlian jeeps
  3. Guo Mao/Tong da
    Both of these markets are near the train station. Tongda is diagonal toward the southeast, guomao to the south. You can find all the household items you need, stationery, clothing, Christmas decorations, and lots more. Find a map here. 

My favorite restaurants:

1.  Ban Mu Di You Mian Da Wang
You Mian (pictured below) is my favorite local food and Ban My Di is my favorite place to get it, although I’m not that picky. It’s a noodle made from oats that has a soup to dunk the noodles in. I like the cold vegetable soup but James prefers the hot mutton soup. Ban Mu Di has multiple locations throughout the city. It’s also a plus for the kids because they have a large glass window into the kitchen where you can watch the cooks work.
IMG_20150325_172624 IMG_20150325_172629 IMG_20150325_172638

2. Western: Cheese Factory
We eat at home more often than anywhere else, and we cook mostly western food at home. So if we eat out, we generally eat local food, but if we eat Western out The Cheese Factory is our favorite. Remember to use the code 0471 when you pay your bill for a 10% discount.

3. Korean: Hang Guo Gong
This is now on Wanda’s walking street but it used to be near the bridge. The owner is the sweetest lady in Hohhot. She will speak slow and smooth Chinese so that you can understand clearly.


My favorite local treats:

1. Bottled jasmine tea
I don’t have a picture but I love the one with the green and white flowers on the packing. I should just buy these bottles by the case or invest in the company or something.

2. spicy peanuts

Any brand, any kind. Packaged or the kind you buy by weight at the supermarket. It’s my favorite TV watching snack.

3. Nai Dou Fu (horrot)
This is a Mongolian traditional food that they eat dipped in milk tea. I don’t love milk tea but I do love this particular kind of nai shi pin. I usually go in phases of loving this for awhile, then not wanting it for a few months, then craving it again. It’s pictured below, but it’s generally served cut in small square slices.



I could add to all these categories and make even more categories, but that’s all for today. Share your favorites with us in the comments.

this week’s market finds

Here’s another edition of what you might and might not want to buy around town.


A large box of French chocolate truffles for 99 RMB. I didn’t try them, but they seemed legit so it seems like a pretty good deal.

Located at Beijing Hualian across from Runyu (Xing An and Hailar)


Small Jif peanut butter for 47 RMB. I will personally be angry with you if you buy this for this price. We can’t let the stores think this is the market value for this product. You can get 2-3 times as much for 35 RMB at Dong Wa Yao.

Also located at Beijing Hualian across from Runyu (Xing An and Hailar) but I saw a similar size and price at the Weiduoli in the basement of City Mall.
And it seems avocados are becoming a staple at many of the larger fruit markets. However, this week, the one near our home on the corner of Zhan Dong Lu and Ai Min Jie has them for 5 RMB each. Join us for guacamole later this week. 🙂


What interesting, cool, tasty, or overpriced items have you seen this week?



market finds

Here’s another edition of great, helpful, odd, funny, or random things I’ve found in our fair city recently.
I’ve seen these a few places around town. Is this a legitimate Starbucks product? I’m not really a coffee drinker (although three kids have pushed me closer to becoming one than I used to be) so I don’t buy coffee often. Something just seems off about the packing in making me believe it’s an authentic product. Plus, I don’t remember seeing these in the actual Starbucks. Thoughts, anyone?

If you’d like to try them regardless of their legitimacy, you can find them at the large convenience store inside our complex, which is Ming Du Feng Jing. The store has quite a few interesting imports including Dr. Pepper, Root Beer, Russian Tiramisu (and other Russian products), and random cookies and crackers and such.



Florida Marlins bedding fabric. Of course. and spelling mistakes. of course.

IMG_20150619_092951This picture is here to serve as a warning: do not buy these. I got them on clearance at a small import store near our home. I did not expect them to be “fresh” blueberries, but I should have read the Chinese more carefully. They were blueberry flavored (only not quite) dried plums with big seeds in the middle.


IMG_20151206_193838 IMG_20151206_193854
I found these at the 5-4 market (wu si shang chang) the other day. They may not be the best socks I’ve ever had, but they are close. And they are DEFINITELY the best 5 kuai socks I’ve had.


What great or crazy items have you encountered recently?  Leave us a comment.

Hohhot life Hacks, part three

Today is our third post in a series designed to help make some everyday aspects of life here cheaper, easier, or more functional. We’ll offer five hacks per post.


Have a Hohhot hack of your own? Leave a comment for us!


Read our previous hacks:


Hohhot Hacks, Part One

Hohhot Hacks, Part Two: Kids in Hohhot


ELEVEN: I’m too lazy to wash and cut salad greens and vegetables.

I like to eat salads, but some days it seems like more work to properly wash and cut the greens and other vegetables. (Yes, I truly am that lazy).

Hack: Visit the liang cai counter at your local grocery store. 


Most of the larger grocery stores (Hua Lian, Carrefour, Spar, Vanguard) have a counter like this that sells 凉菜 liang cai or cold dishes. They almost always have endive, shredded carrots, cut or shredded cucumbers, broccoli, mushrooms, and sometimes spinach. They have lots of other things too, but most of the others aren’t generally found in salads in the West. You can ask for it without any of the sauces, take it home, and add the dressing of your choice. I usually add it all to romaine or leaf lettuce and throw in some tomatoes. They may think you’re crazy for not wanting the sauces, but I’ve already done it at most of the big supermarkets so you can almost guarantee you won’t be the first 🙂


TWELVE: Eggs are hard to get home without breaking. 

I know that now you can get eggs that come in very handy plastic cases. However, those cartons are a relatively new concept here in Hohhot, and the eggs not in the carton are almost always cheaper. The problem is getting them home without cracking the shells. Whether it’s bumpy bike rides or people crowding into you on the bus, your non-carton eggs probably won’t make it home in one piece.


Hack: Crack the shells 

All of them. Just go ahead and crack all of them into a plastic bag before you leave. I learned this trick from my Outer Mongolian classmates when I was a student at Nei Da. Double or triple bag it to prevent leakage and just bring them home as a liquid. You can use a large spoon or measuring cup to scoop out what you need when you need it. The only thing this won’t work for, obviously, is boiled eggs. But for any other use-baking, scrambling, frying, etc, it will work.


THIRTEEN: Rugs are expensive.


Where we lived in the southwest United States, most homes have carpet in at least some of the rooms. For us, it just feels “homey” to scrunch up your toes on carpet. Also, with our little ones running about, we think our neighbors may appreciate our attempt to at least somewhat muffle the noise. However, even small area rugs aren’t that cheap here. The 1.7 X 2.4 meter size were 600 RMB and the larger sizes a few thousand RMB when I priced them last.

Hack: Buy carpet at any made-to-order size and get the edges sewn.




Most carpet stores can cut any style of carpet to any size and sew the edges so they won’t fray. The price depends on the style/quality of carpet, but for somewhere between 30-50 RMB per square meter, you can get an area rug made for cheaper than you can buy one. Some stores will sew the edges for free, others charge a few yuan per meter.

The styles above were purchased at run yu for 30-40 MB/square meter. I have a trike so I didn’t have to pay to have it delivered, but you’ll need to consider how you’ll get it home.

The cost to cover an entire living room was less than the pre-made small size rugs.

You can go ahead and get the carpet installed wall-to-wall in your house, but that will be pricier and, in my opinion, a bit harder to keep clean. (I could write an entire post here about methods I’ve seen locals use to clean carpet that did NOT involve a vacuum, but we’ll save that for another day).


FOURTEEN: Stuff breaks all the time. 


One of the things I like about living here is that generally you can get any item repaired without having to purchase a new one, contrasted with the US where you can almost always buy a new item for the price it would cost to repair.
This problem isn’t just us, right? Appliances, clothing, suitcases, shoes, household items….something is always broken. Here are a few tips for saving money on replacements.

Hack: Get it fixed!

replacement parts on tao bao:

We broke the canister to a blender while staying at a friend’s house and were able to find the replacement canister on taobao for much cheaper than the whole blender would have cost. We’ve also bought replacement parts for an air filter, vacuum cleaner, computer, cell phone, breast pump, and much more on taobao. You need language skills or a kind local friend to do it, but it’s nice not to have to re-purchase the entire item.

replacement parts from distributor:

We needed a part for our washing machine and even though it’s an older model, you can go to a store that sells the same brand and they should be able to help you figure out how to order one.

dry cleaners:

Almost every local dry cleaners can repair clothing items for you or do minor sewing projects.

shoe repair:

These guys are awesome. Some are located on corners with bike repair guys, and some have small shops. They can (obviously) repair shoes, but we’ve also had them repair suitcases.

second hand appliance stores:

Most second hand appliance stores can also repair appliances. If they can’t help you, they can probably refer you to who can.

hardware store:

Most hardware stores will have the names and numbers of various handymen, plumbers, electricians, etc who will be able to repair a large variety of the stuff you have broken.


FIFTEEN: You can’t buy clothes that fit here.

I am tall, even by American standards, which makes me much larger than the average Chinese lady. This means clothes and shoes that fit properly are hard to find here. When me and another American girl played on the basketball team at Nei Da they had to custom-order our uniforms: size 4XL!

Hack: Get them custom made. 

If you are someone who is shaped differently from the average Chinese, you can get almost anything made to order. There are some small shops that do this kind of work, but the five-four market is probably the largest and most well-known. (It’s located just north of the Shang-ri-la).

nov 024

This market is lined with chops that sell cloth. Each shop has books of clothing styles you can choose from. They can truly make almost anything. Traditional Chinese clothes, Western suits, dresses, shirts, whatever. If you don’t want to choose from the book or if you just really like something that you have, take it with you. They can use your item as a pattern to make a garment just like yours. I’ve taken in jeans that fit well and had them make another pair like them.

Prices clearly depend on the kind of fabric you’re choosing, your size, and what you’re having made.

A few cautions/tips if you’re going for the first time:

  • If you don’t have an item with you, they will measure you. In public and probably comment out loud to others about your measurements.
  • In my experience, they tend to make garments with much higher waists than is standard for clothes purchased in the West so if that’s not the style you’re going for, be sure to communicate what you want beforehand.
  • Definitely try it on before you leave. They can make further adjustments if it doesn’t fit right.
  • Again, in my opinion, the idea of “the customer is always right” isn’t really a thing at the 5-4 market so they may try to convince you to do something other than what you requested because it’s not their general way of doing it or because they don’t think it looks good. However, if you want something done a certain way and are clear about that, they will generally do what you ask if you state it clearly.




Happy Double Eleven Day!

Today’s date is November 11th, or 11-11, or 双十一. This is a “holiday” that began in the 1990s in China to celebrate being single, but has evolved into a day of retail and restaurant discounts.

Here is a little bit of the history of the “holiday.” Quotation marks are intentional as I’m not certain the distinction is valid 🙂

And below is an advertisement from Wei Duo Li about all the restaurant specials today at Mo Er Cheng (City Mall). If it doesn’t display correctly use this link.

I think archery may also be free to females today.

I saw a lot of promotions on wechat today for getting discounts or coupons for following public accounts or sharing information on your moments.

Basically anywhere you go today, I would ask if they are having a “shuang shi yi” special. Chances are, you can save some money or get some free stuff!

If you know of a great shuang shi yi deal, let us know in the comments!


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Hohhot Breakfasts: You Tiao

One of the most classic breakfasts in Hohhot is a you tiao paired with a cup of warm soy milk (dou jiang). You can get this from roadside vendors, in fast food restaurants, or in almost any place that sells breakfast.



My husband has been a fan of the Chinese History Podcast for a long time, but recently one of the episodes he listened to references the history behind this breakfast food. Here’s the link if you’re interested. You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get to the connection to the you tiao, but check if out.

Or check out any of the episodes to learn more about China’s history.


cook like a local: men mian

I’m excited to share this recipe with you! Our house helper, who actually works for three foreign families here, taught this to the other families she works for while we were back in the States. Turns out, she had been holding back on us! Since we’ve learned to make this dish, we have it about once a week and I think the other families do as well.

Check out our other recipes here

This is a local dish called “men mian.” (For the record, I thought the pronunciation of this dish was meng mian for years and I still hear locals say it with a “g” but officially it is actually men mian).

There are a number of great places to get this dish locally if you don’t want to cook at home, the most famous one being the chain Tie Guo Yi Ju 铁锅一居  that has multiple locations throughout the city. However, I think after you try this and see how delicious and simple it is, you’ll eat at home more often.

Some attribute this dish to being a local dish of Ba Meng, but others say it comes from Shan Xi. My guess is that it’s both. I think a large number of Inner Mongolia’s population migrated from Shan Xi to IM so they probably brought this dish with them. (Thanks to JS for the help finding the sources).

Let’s not get caught up in arguing over where it originated and just get started learning how to make it!



Meat: we use a tender cut of pork, but you can also use ribs.

Vegetables: Must have green beans and probably potatoes, but the rest is up to you. The tomato is needed to make sauce during the cooking process.

We used: 1-2 carrots, one large potato, about 2 cups of green beans, and one large tomato

Seasoning: green onions (2-3), salt (to taste), soy sauce (about 2 teaspoons), and shi san xiang (13 spices) (about 1 teaspoon, or less, to taste)

Noodles: qie mian or cut noodles. These are available at your local flour/grain shop, supermarket, and sometimes even the small vegetable seller stalls have them.

cooking oil (1-2 tablespoons)

water (1-2 cups)


pork, carrots, tomato, and green onion


potatoes, carrots, and green beans


qie mian or cut noodles


shi san xiang (13 spices)



Heat oil in skillet and add meat. Stir fry until almost done.

Add all vegetables except tomatoes and green onions and continue stir-frying. This dish is going to cook in the rice cooker, so you don’t need to stir fry until completely done, just until vegetables have softened a bit.

in wok

Add spices

Add in your soy sauce, 13 spices, and salt. Stir fry until thoroughly mixed, fragrant, and veggies softened (again, you don’t have to wait for them to thoroughly cook yet).

add spices

Transfer contents of wok to your rice cooker. Add enough water to cover about 2/3 of the contents of the cooker. The dish should be dry, not saucy when finished. However, if it’s too dry the first time you try, add more water and/or more tomatoes the next time you try.

before tomatoes

Add tomatoes and green onions in a layer on top of the cooked mixture.
add tomatoes


Place the noodles on top of tomatoes and close the lid of the rice cooker. When we make this, our rice cooker is FULL by this stage. (like lid barely closing full, but that depends on the size of your cooker). Use the setting you would use for rice. For us, it takes about 35-45 minutes for the cooking process to finish. I’m sure the time will vary based on the amounts of vegetables you used and the size of your rice cooker.

in cooker 1


When the rice cooker has finished, it will look something like this:

in cooker


Mix the noodles in with the mixture on the bottom and you’re ready to serve!

It should look something like this:

men mian

This is really a delicious, easy, cheap, local meal to make. You have some prep time washing and cutting and a little time stir-frying, but mostly the rice cooker does the work for you.

If you try it, leave us a comment and tell us what you think. Does it rival Tie Guo Yi Ju?

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