Surviving rules of a Chinese expat in Florence
Taste is part of our memories. A special taste may not remain in our mouth for a long period, but it will always take a place inside our brains and heart! I deeply believe that no matter how many years a person lives abroad, and how much he/ she adores the local food in the expat country, he/ she from time to time still get cravings of the food from his/ her home country.
I’ve shared to many friends about how much I miss the food in Asia. Lack of food variety, it is so far my number 1 struggle of living in Italy (while, maybe also the bureaucracy). However after all the complaining and disappointments I had to those crapy Chinese restaurants near the station, I still need to keep searching and find a way to feed my Asian stomach. That means move my ass, search online, ask around, and see if something good can be found. It is impossible that I am the first Asian living in Florence, who has the demand for qualified oriental taste!
After one year and half, I’ve found my tiny little path out of pizza & pasta swamp (wonderland). If you are interested in taking a break from Italian cuisine and try something “bold”, or just curious to see some surviving skills developed by an Asian local expat, then keep on reading and enjoy the show.
Making dumplings at home (with recipe)
Dumpling is a big deal for people from north China like me. It is like Tortellini for Bolognese. During the old days when people were poor, dumplings were THE festival food.
In 1990’s I remember we only had dumplings when we had big family dinner, or during Chinese New Year holidays. My grandma and my father were experts in dumpling-making: from the stuffing to the wraps, they got them all. It took them almost the whole day to prepare a dumpling dinner for the whole family. And I remember I loved to sit on my father’s laps, watching my grandma rolling the dough into pieces of wraps, and my father taking each of them and making them into good-looking dumplings. At that moment, I would always ask for a small dough and play with it, trying to make a dumpling on my own, but never succeed.
Nowadays it is cheap and convenient to have a plate of dumplings. Even in Florence, I find frozen dumplings in the Chinese supermarkets. However sometimes I’d prefer to make my own stuffing: more veggies and qualified ingredients.
Cabbage is my first choice of vegetable for my dumpling stuffing, as it is easy to cook and adds a bit of crispy. As for the meat part, I find the most convenient yet delicious solution, perfect for lazy dumpling lovers like me: the sausage meat! Half or 2/3 cabbage comes with 300g sausage meat.
The ready-to-use dumpling wraps found in Vivi Market (via del Giglio, 8).
Steps on making dumplings:
– Chop the cabbage into small pieces, then season it with salt for 30 minutes; squeeze to get rid of the water, and put all the “dehydrated” cabbage to a bowl for later use.
– Add a little water into the meat to make it smooth. Throw in chopped ginger, spring onion, one egg, and mix well with the meat. Soya sauce and a little pinch of salt as flavoring.
– Combine veggie and flavored meat together, and the stuffing is ready!
Then it comes the fun part: The Wrapping!
The master of wrapping dumplings in the Wang family has to be my father. The dumplings coming out of his hands look almost the same. And he is also proud of it and sometimes even refuse the help offered from my Mom. 😆
An authentic yet seldom told way of cooking dumplings:
- Put dumplings into a pot of boiling water, stir gently to make sure they don’t stick together.
- When the water is boiling again, pour in a glass of room-temperature water.
- Stir and repeat step (2) for another two times.
- Take out the dumplings, and enjoy it!
After our first meal in Fulin, my husband said to me: finally there is a “Right” Chinese restaurant in Florence. Decorated in the right style, serving the right food, and attracting the right people!
I couldn’t agree more on his point!
I’ve been once to a Chinese restaurant among those near the SMN station, and I was upset afterward. I finally understood why there were so many Italians, who had never been to China, would think “low” of Chinese cuisine. I probably would do the same if I saw most of the Chinese restaurants in town are with old interiors and ugly printed menus. Then their customers are most likely local Chinese who work near by, or Chinese tourists who desperately want some Chinese food after several days eating pizza & pasta.
Fulin locates the east side of Ponte San Niccolo, a bit far from the city center, which insures a better dining environment. I’ve been there three times so far: first time was quite random, just to try it out and see how is the Chinese cuisine there; the second time was for my husband’s birthday dinner, and 3rd time with a group of Italians, who adore Asian food. It is not that kind of restaurant, where you want to go everyday for casual meals. However it is perfect for a special night, and a friends gathering who are critical to food.
One of the owners, Francesco, is also from the same city of my home town. Talking with him, I learned that he hired the chef, who has already worked in restaurants for years, from north China. And before let him work in Fulin, Francesco sent the chef to a cooking school to get proper training in making Canton (South China) cuisines. And I recognized that Canton flavor in the stir-fried rice noodle when I had it in Fulin. That made me happy because this is a key difference from those Chinese diners near the train station, whose “cooks” are just normal Chinese immigrants that need to make a living by opening a restaurant.
Some of my favorite dishes: Peking duck, steamed dumplings, the appetizer Bamboo (a vegetarian wrap).
Address: via Giampaolo Orsini 113r, Firenze.
San Tea House for an Asian tea drink
As the name says, this shop serves tea. But not the traditional tea, the Bubble Tea. Origin from Taiwan, the bubble tea is a tea based drink, mixing with fruit juice or milk and the chewy jelly balls. There are many different flavored bubble tea drinks. And my favorite part is that I get to order a hot drink in a paper cup and take it away with me.
Opened by two Chinese girls, San Tea house is furnished by traditional Chinese furniture shipped from Shanghai, and decorated in a neat and clean style. You might think it is a Japanese restaurant/ bar at the first sight.
The two Chinese owners went to Taiwan to learn how to prepare this traditional drink before opening the shop. I am super happy they bring this drink to Florence. 2-years later after San Tea House is opened, not only the local Asians are pleased, lots of young Italians are becoming fans to it as well. I’ve seen many times a bunch of Italian students come to this place and drink the bubble tea outdoor (the Italian way).
Taking my friend Valentina for a tea drink.
Tips for first-time bubble tea drinkers: try their classic bubble milk tea, and you can’t go wrong with that. And don’t hate me if you turn out falling in love with it.
San Tea House
Address: Via de’Barbadori 23, Firenze
Zushi home delivery
Although not many great Chinese restaurants are opened in town, there are quite numbers of Japanese as alternatives. The one that usually “come to” our home is Zushi. I said “come to” because we havn’t physically been to the restaurant yet, every time we have Sushi from Zushi, we order the home-delivery on internet, and wait the sushi come to us.
Minimum order for dinner delivery is 30euro, and if you order over 40euro, the extra delivery fee (3euro) will be waived.
Tips on ordering Sushi from Zushi:
- Choose the mixed combo packs (Nigiri mixed, Sushi mixed, Maki mixed, etc.) rather than the single sushi. Spend economically and eat diversely.
- Give the Japanese beer Asahi a try.
- Make sure you have enough cash, as they don’t take card for delivery service.
One of my perfectly calculated order: Zushilover Supermix + Satrincha + Yakisoba Veggy noodles + Spring rolls = 40euro. No more, no less, just enough for the delivery service! Lol
Address: Via Belfiore 6a, Firenze
Dipping sauces: 老干妈 & Gochujang
Although my husband has become a fan to the Asian cuisine after marrying me, his buds still prefer food of his own country. And as a good wife, I’ve mastered and cook Italian at home quite often! Food in our home is in a good balance: half time Italian, half time Chinese. And what do I do if I want some Asian flavor in my plate while we are having Italian dish?
The Asian dipping sauce is the answer!!!
My all time favorites have been 老干妈 (Lao Gan Ma): the Chinese peperoncino and soya spicy sauce, and Gochujang: the Korean spicy sauce.
When I feel like a taste of Asian in my pasta, I would add a tea spoon of either one of them, replacing the Italian spicy oil, or the spice flake. And believe me or not, the taste matches with the pasta perfectly! In fact, they both go well with every dish!!!
Lao Gan Ma: spicy, salty and a little oily. I usually use it when having noodles or pasta.
Gochujang: spicy with a touch of sweet. I add a tea spoon of it into my rice, or to flavor my sauteed vegetables.
And while I was drafting this post, the new Chinese restaurant Beijing 8 opens in Via dei Neri. I’ve heard that it is dumpling & tea restaurant inspired by Chinese cuisine, and some of my friends have been already.
I am happy and exciting to see so many westerners are keen to learn and spread foreign food cultures to the world. While same time it feels shabby to see our fellow local Chinese hardly open a high qualified diner in town.
But bright side is more and more choices are emerging, and we no more only rely on those trattoria in the city center, who barely make changes to their menu for centuries.