Monday, December 11, 2006

Chinese Comfort Food For The Nostalgic (And Homesick) Soul

As I was growing up, school holidays meant watching cartoons and children's TV all morning, playing outside with the neighborhood kids all afternoon, and being allowed to stay up later than usual, perhaps to play video games on our Atari 2600 or watch television dramas like Dynasty even though I wasn't old enough to understand half of the grown-up themes on those shows. Staying home from school also meant home-cooked lunches by Mom, a nice break from sandwiches and school cafeteria food.

We were very lucky children, my brother and I, in that we had the best of both cooking worlds.
My Dad liked to be a little more extravagant with his cooking as he cooked with bolder, richer flavors and ingredients and whipped up multiple dishes for each meal--two meats, a vegetable and a soup were the norm for dinner at our family's house. My Mom, however, is more of a simple cook who takes pride in her comforting, usually one-dish meals.

One of my favorite Mom foods to eat both growing up and in the present is something we call wui fahn in Cantonese, basically a stir fry of simple ingredients served over rice. Maybe it's homesickness, maybe it's stress, but I've been cooking alot of wui fahn lately--it's hearty, comforting, and incredibly simple to make.

The options of wui fahn toppings are wide open--you can pretty much use any type of meat and vegetable--the key is to make the stir fry a little more saucy than your average stir fry so that the gravy mixes with the rice. For this post, I'll show you how I make wui fahn with boy choy and chicken. Some other fave combos of mine include beef with Chinese long bean, pork with napa cabbage, and creamed corn (yes, creamed corn!) with chicken.

Check it out:

First make a pot of rice (long grain recommended).

Take some chicken thigh and cut it into thin pieces. Marinate with soy sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing cooking wine, sugar and a little cornstarch. Don't ask me how much because I couldn't tell ya--it's all trial and error.

Then prepare your vegetables. I like to cut the bok choy into thinner pieces, almost like a chiffonade but a little wider. It's really all personal preference however. Smash, but do not chop, one clove of garlic.

Make a mixture of a little water (half a cup, maybe?) and a teeny bit of cornstarch and set aside.

Heat a wok and add oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and the garlic clove. Stir fry the chicken in the wok until the chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from wok and set aside.

Add bok choy into wok and cook until tender. Scoot all of the bok choy onto the sides of the wok, forming a little well in the middle and add the water and cornstarch mixture. Stir to get some of those tasty browned bits into the liquid. When the liquid starts to simmer & thicken, add the chicken back into the wok, stirring together with the bok choy and cooking for just a couple more minutes until the bok choy, chicken and sauce have all had a chance to mingle. Spoon mixture over rice and dig in.

Because I would give anything to be on school holiday again, I like to eat my wui fahn in original old school kid style--with a spoon. There's just something about eating warm, tasty rice with a spoon that makes you feel like life is simple again.


Jeni said... mom and I used to always watch Dynasty. Blake, Krystle, the Carrington's, the Colby's! Good times!

Thanks for the memories. I'm gonna write a post on V. ahahah! Lizard Aliens!

Chubbypanda said...


I'm so there with you. Food over rice evokes so many memories for me. If it wasn't stir-fries over rice, it was braised dishes over rice. A biiig bowl of rice. Those were the days...

- Chubbypanda

Passionate Eater said...

Creamed corn? Ah, finally a woman after my own heart! That stuff is like golden niblets of creamy, err, "gold," for lack of a better word. Chinese people probably invented that stuff! Or so I'd like to believe. You know, the Chinese invented ketchup, so they probably invented canned creamy corn too! (They are essentially related I guess.)

elmomonster said...

What a ko-inki-dink! I made something similar last night. Except I didn't realize that was what it was called. Thanks for the lovely post, as always.

Kirk said...

Hi DG - Such wonderful memories. I guess that's why they call this stuff "comfort food".....

eatdrinknbmerry said...

There is nothing like Chinese home-cooked food. Speaking of it, I just had ground beef mixed with creamed corn and onions and also bokchoy/laapcheung over rice. So good. J doesn't know it, but that's her surprise lunch for tomorrow. She'll probably end up trading it.

Daily Gluttony said...


funny, i always liked to be allowed to stay up & watch shows like that, but i always ended up falling asleep!

can't wait to see your V post! LOL!


gimmee a bowl of rice any day & i'm all good. that's why as much as i like fancy chinese banquets, i hate how they don't include rice unless you ask for it.


Hey, I wouldn't doubt it! We Chinese invented just about everything! =)


Thanks! What did you make yours with?


My thoughts exactly! =)


Mmm, sounds good--I'm sure J will love it!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanls for this post, I'm going to give it a try. Where can I get a good quality (yet cheap) wok?

elmomonster said...

I had some mushrooms, onions and water chestnuts with my chicken (same marinade as yours), and thickened the broth with a little cornstarch. Dump on top of rice, eat out of bowl, happy for the night!

The Guilty Carnivore said...

I also had the same trajectory growing up - Atari 2600 (Kaboom! and Pole Position), which led to my Intellivision and Apple IIe (Lode Runner and Wizardry). I too watched Dynasty — my Vietnamese mom would count on me to parse what was going on in real time.

My comfort faves include bulgogi with thinly sliced strip steak - we grew up overseas and had a Korean neighbor who taught my mom the basics, though I don't think she ever went as far to bury the jar of kimchi in the backyard. Also, the Viet standards I enjoy to this day - my mom's ginger chicken, using an entire chicken that is cleavered up into a myriad of random pieces whacked mid-bone...I can never seem to quite duplicate this. Also an incredibly simple squash and shrimp soup with cilantro and onions - scoop in some rice and give it a few dashes of Maggi and it's instant comfort.

Acme Instant Food said...

MMmmmmm...I can almost taste that now and reading this has made me very hungry! I must try this soon.

Anonymous said...

I used to make this a lot in college too! Though with spinach and often bastardized with a Mr. Yoshida Teriyaki Reduction. Yes, shameful.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

I haven't made this in a long time....but now I'll have to. Looks so good I can almost smell it! Hope you guys had a great holiday, and iyo iyo toshi-o!

GT said...

I make that sometimes, too! But I also like to have ground meat with these chinese pickles over rice. mmmm...

tigerfish said...

I made such dish often-stir dry top over rice but did not know the name of such dish is wui fahn. I learnt something today :)

sym said...

Happy New Year. I've been reading your blogs for about a year now, but didn't sign up on this thing until just a minute ago. Anyway, I made a rendition of this comfort food dish tonight by substituting bok choy with spinach given that the market had only big bok choy and not the baby kind... the big kind didn't attract me, I suppose. Anyway, I had a great dinner thanks to you. I'll likely make this kind of dish a few times a week because it's so easy, comforting, and economical.

Melting Wok said...

Wui fan reincarnation !! :)You made yours so simple & nice, yummy ! I used to dine at this JJ Cafe in Monterey Park where they hv this really great roast duck, dried chinese scallops, with eggs gravy over the baked rice kinda wui fan, was really good. hmm.. time to hit out there again. Cheers ! :)

Ulla said...

that looks great!

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