A vegetable vendor at Sanyuanli Market in Beijing, China (2013)
The first time I had the classic Chinese dish stir fried eggs with tomato (番茄炒鸡蛋) it completely threw me for a loop. I have it on good authority that this dish is so common in China that it could almost be the national dish, the one dish that everyone knows how to cook. So why had I never seen it before? At the time, I wasn’t even aware that tomatoes were really used in Chinese cuisine at all – much less that they were common. I instantly realized I was missing something and had to start looking for things I hadn’t looked for before. There are a couple of reasons I had never seen this dish, first and foremost, I didn’t know to look for it. Second, it’s more of a Chinese home cooking dish than restaurant food. Which brings to mind a question. If so much of our first hand experience with cuisines is based on restaurant food and not home cooking – how much do we really know about those cuisines? It seems obvious that there are whole categories of cooking, in every country, that we may never experience unless a home cook makes the dishes. In my quest to learn everything I could about Chinese cuisine, I had almost entirely focused on cooking you could find in a restaurant. Home cooking was a (big) detail I overlooked. Unfortunately, sometimes we miss things and have to go back and look again. I’m sure you see the smiling lady vendor in this photograph and likely notice all the Chinese vegetables and even the tomatoes, but do you see the fennel? Do you see the asparagus, the cauliflower, the lettuce, the European broccoli? They are all clues that there is more to this market than first meets the eye. Which is true of so many things.