Chinese Eggs With Tomatoes
“He makes no mention of what would become the most widely recognised Chinese tomato dish, Tomato Scrambled Eggs (fanqie chao dan), as that arose only in the 1940s, presumably when the Japanese occupation of Shanghai left the local tomato growers with no outlet for much of their crop [only foreigners liked tomatoes]. One of the first mentions of the dish comes from Kunming, where the Nationalists had fled during the civil war with the Communists, and where deprivation and desperation may similarly have led to such a low-tech combination of east and west.”Jonathan Clements, The Emperor’s Feast
A year ago my daughter was living in Shanghai and she invited me over for a month of travelling all around China.
“Where would you like to go?” she asked. “You choose” I instructed imperiously – I couldn’t even pronounce most of the places there, let alone hold much of a view on them – “but I’d like to go to places off the main tourist track and to cover as much of the country as possible”.
It was quite a tall order but, indeed, we met on the east coast in Shanghai, and travelled to the border with Cambodia in the south, to Tibet, to the desert in the west, and to extraordinary places in the centre. An incredible country.
This type of travel in China was only possible thanks to my daughter’s fluency in Mandarin… and buses.
Many of these out-of-the-way places are only accessible by bus, and because of the vast distances, inevitably these journeys were often very long – twelve hours was not unusual.
We soon devised a comfort-enhancing system involving blow-up pillows, loo paper….biscuits. And we also decided that it was a good idea to set ourselves up in the bus station café with some wholesome hot food which did not offer any risk of tummy upset.
Chinese egg with tomatoes – ubiquitous throughout China, delicious, easy and quick
Chinese egg with tomatoes was the solution. It was conveniently ubiquitous throughout China, it was reliably kind to the stomach… and it is delicious, easy and quick. Not only that, but in the course of researching this post I came upon the recipe given by the Travel China Guide and found that they recommended it due to its “body-building and senility-resisting” capabilities. ‘Senility-resisting’ eh? Well, maybe I should be having it every morning for breakfast….
In essence it’s a sort of scrambled-eggs-stroke-omelette with tomatoes and Chinese garlic chives – if you can’t find or grow these – spring onions are a good substitute, perhaps with a garlic clove or two fried before eggs are added. To intensify the Chinese-ness of the whole affair, drink some Chinese rice wine with it.
Recipe for Chinese eggs with tomatoes and spring onions
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium tomato
- 4 spring onions
- Sesame oil for frying
- Some smoked salt
- ½ tsp golden caster sugar
- White pepper…well, black pepper is also fine
- Wash the tomato and chop it into smallish chunks using a tomato knife – go here for the best, and almost cheapest.
- If you aren’t lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean country where tomatoes actually get some sun and are able to acquire real flavour, sprinkle the chopped tomatoes with the sugar and a few grinds of pepper.
- Warm your plates
- Beat the eggs
- Chop the spring onions, including about an inch and a half (3 cms) of the green – keep them separate
- Heat some sesame oil in a wok (or a small frying pan, or even saucepan) – enough to coat the wok and prevent sticking – and get it hot
- Add the beaten egg and the white part of the chopped spring onion and stir-fry for 10-20 seconds until it just begins to set (not like concrete, still quite liquid – it will go on cooking)
- Take off the heat and break up the egg with a non-stick implement. Transfer to a warm plate, and keep warm (cover with foil).
- Add a bit more oil to the wok if necessary to make sure the sides are still coated, get it hot, and add half the green spring onion and the tomato chunks, a little salt, and cook for about a minute.
- Then you can either add to the egg, mixing in well, or, very briefly add the egg back into the pan, and mix together there.
- Serve, garnished with the remaining green spring onion.