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Have you eaten yet? E-mail
City Life - Culture
Written by Bro Fan
So, I was back in China last week, and thought I’d put in a goodwill visit to the old office - you know, to say Hi, how’s it going, oh, and if you have any spare jobs going in Xi'an etc etc… A few excited faces from behind the brain-numbing draw of Excel documents and the inevitable questions about whether I had updated my digital camera and/or computer and how much it cost me - and before I knew it, we’re back to the familiar humdrum of casual office banter.

I enter my old boss' office. What’s the first thing she comments on? My beautiful golden spring tan? My sexy four-day facial growth? My impeccable dress-sense? My fearsome level of Chinese? “Leih fei-jo la!” (You’ve put on weight!) she says, without a trace of embarrassment, and beams from ear to ear, as if what she has said is one of the highest compliments that could expect to receive on a long Friday afternoon.

“Oh, erm. Ha.” I mutter something about my diet of endless seafood barbecues and drowning myself in strong Thai beer not quite living up to the hype of Atkins. Besides, she clearly hadn’t heard about The Quest.

Now, whilst my weeks of inactivity may have provided an extra internal layer with which to fend off the Beijing cold, I’ve hardly turned into Jabba the Hutt in the few months since I last saw my boss. And indeed, I seem to remember her informing me of my bodily proportions hte last few times also, incidentally after I’d been wiped out with a fever for a week or so, so hardly after a monster fried noodle party with a side of Big Macs.

So, after another pondering of the crazy-mad-impenetrable world of the Chinese psyche, I wonder if this could be in any way a positive greeting, a compliment suggesting that you are clearly looking healthy, and taking good care of yourself. The Chinese world, it seems, is centred around food. Chinese people cannot make it through an hour of the day without feeding their face with something, be it fruit, instant noodles, biscuits, dried meat, 1000-yr old eggs, duck gizzard or a tasty mid-morning scorpion.

If a typical Chinese person is not eating, he is preparing for the next feast. Take a train anywhere in China - even on long, night journeys, there is always someone cooking up a feed for the extended family of thirty, and regardless of the time of day, restaurants are never empty. Even that disgusting Muslim restaurant round the corner with the small child who always throws up on the floor when I am there.

I mean, it borders on the obsessive. The standard greeting in China is a concerned “Chi fan le ma?” (Have you eaten yet?) which, more often than not, leads to a half-hour conversation about what exactly you have eaten, whether it was good or not, where you went, have you been there before, oh that place, yes it’s down the road from that other Xi'an noodle shop isn’t it, it tastes better if you fry it with garlic, I love/hate spicy food, and of course, that other staple of Chinese conversation, how much did it cost (oh, that’s very cheap/expensive, it’s cheaper in this other place, did you get a free drink with that etc etc etc).

Whilst it certainly features heavily on a daily basis here on the mainland, I found food conversations to provide literally about half of the daily interaction I had with many of my colleagues in China, where people would be seriously concerned if I hadn’t yet managed to wolf down a kilo of spicy noodles before 11am.

So why are we all so concerned about whether I have had lunch yet? And when I do have lunch, why oh why do we always insist on ordering pretty much double the amount of food necessary?

Perhaps my boss’s greeting really was tinged with pleasant surprise to see that I had not withered away during my time away from chinese food, and without any sense of inappropriateness, she will continue to address me in this way for the rest of my life, even if my life becomes nothing more than an endless succession of Cabbage Soup Diets.

But for now, pass the Gong Bao!:


  • 1 pound of chicken breast (diced into half inch cubes)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of rice wine
  • 1/4 peanuts (chopped)
  • 6 dried chili peppers
  • 1 pack of Gong Bao seasoning mix
  • Sea Salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • White Rice (Cooked)


Whisk the cornstarch and rice wine in a bowl. Mixing a starch with a liquid is called a slurry. This facilitates the dissolving of the cornstarch and will inhibit clumping. Next, season the chicken with some salt. Mix the chicken and the slurry and allow it to marinate for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat up the vegetable oil in a skillet and add the chills. Salute for a few minutes until the chilies become fragrant. Add the chicken and saute until almost done. Add the seasoning packet and the peanuts. Cook for a minute or two more. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Pour over a portion of white rice and serve!

Our valuable Editor Bro Fan has been with us since Sunday, 06 June 2010.

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