Local Food

The Chestnut’s Cousin

One of my favorite things about shopping at farmers markets is trying new things. This has been a big part of how I learned to cook. I buy things that catch my eye and figure out what to do with them later.

Here in Hong Kong, I go to Island East Market. While there are a lot of non-farmers hawking their wares as well (baby clothes, jewelry, err..imported olive oil?), I still love going there every Sunday for the fresh, local produce. Yes, you can farm in this concrete jungle of a city!

As with ramps and fiddlehead ferns back in NYC, I get a little sucked into the hype of buying things I don’t particularly need but have a short growing season. I came across this funny-looking thing:


I asked the lady what is was, and she explained it was similar to a chestnut but has a very short growing season so it wouldn’t be available by next week. So obviously I had to buy this unidentifiable nut! I believe she said it’s called “fung ngang guo” but I have no clue how to write that in Chinese and if I even got the right name. Can anyone confirm this? Or know what it’s called in English?

Boiling unidentifiable Hong Kong nut

Following her instructions, I went home and boiled the nuts, which were sticky to the touch, for about 10 minutes.

Peeled unidentifiable Hong Kong nut

After letting them cool, I peeled them and had them as a snack. They were more difficult to peel, but were indeed a lot like chestnuts in texture and taste. Though, these being summer nuts, their taste is more subtle and lighter.

And by the time you read this…these nuts are probably long gone from the market!

Food Thoughts

Back From The Dead

eating clean fruit bowl rambutan mango cherry mangosteen

It’s been almost a year since my last post on Eating Clean in the Dirty City. Life got kinda crazy! Relocating to HK and starting a new job function in a new industry was a lot harder work than I thought it would be, no matter how much I love both my work and my city. On top of that, it’s been a tough year of facing my demons and doing a lot of personal development/soul-searching/healing/finding one’s self…whatever you wish to call it.

The good news is, I’m back! I’m still a little stressed and overwhelmed at times, but I finally have the space and capacity to feel inspired, be creative and share with the world again.

I’ve also gone on a bit of a journey with nutrition and my relationship with food, experimenting with foods and diets, but I’ve come back to what I’ve always known and loved–a healthy diet is one that is made up of real, fresh food. It is a balanced diet without cutting out any major food groups, but is predominantly made up of plants. Preferably vegetables. And it allows for “treats” because we live in society and all food is deeply tied into culture, history, and human connection. Foods do not have moral properties. Kale is not a saint. Oreos are not the devil.

OK. Enough philosophy and over-sharing. Expect posts about cooking, local seasonal produce, growing food and the Hong Kong food scene!


Chinese Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup (Yup, Soup for Dessert)


Growing up in Hong Kong, I was always aware of Chinese dessert soups. But aside from sweet tofu and black sesame tong yuen, I wouldn’t touch the stuff. I used to think, beans? FUNGUS? That’s not dessert. But cheesecake and chocolate cookies? Now those I can get down with.

Since moving back to Hong Kong this year, I’ve learned that there are a lot of little stores dedicated just to Chinese dessert soups. One in my neighborhood is particularly famous, so I mustered up the courage to try it out. And you know what? Red bean soup is delicious. Papaya and snow fungus, despite the name, is lovely. I must be getting old, or I’m starting to truly understand the crappy effects sugar has on the body, because I’ve started to enjoy these simpler and less sugary desserts.

But my absolute favorite discovery is Sweet Potato and Ginger Dessert Soup, which my friend Rach’s auntie introduced me to. You can serve this hot or cold, but even if it’s still 80 degrees everyday in Hong Kong in October, I love having this soup hot. With a hint of sweetness and strong ginger kick, it’s like a warm hug in a bowl! It’s traditionally made with a slab of raw brown sugar, or in Rach’s auntie’s case, Red Sugar. She was disgusted to hear that I used regular brown sugar in mine and handed me a bag of Chinese “Red Sugar”, saying the soup would taste bad with gwailo sugar. Seeing as red sugar is basically brown sugar with food coloring, I’d say we’re all OK using brown sugar, hehe. Feel free to adjust the amount of ginger depending on how much you like. I personally like to add more than the below recipe, but not everyone does!

Chinese Sweet Potato and Ginger Dessert Soup
Makes 2 servings (can be easily doubled)

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
1 inch piece of ginger, skinned and sliced
1 3/4 cups water
2 tablespoons of brown sugar

Pour the water into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes and ginger, and lower the heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes have softened. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Take off heat, remove the ginger if you wish, and serve! Dassit.


The blog

On Hong Kong, Life, And Blogging (Yes, I’m Alive!)

Hey friends! You may have noticed (or probably didn’t notice, let’s be real) my extended absence from blogging. Just wanted to throw up a quick post to say, yes! I’m alive and very well. My new, exciting job as well as my big relocation to Hong Kong has kept me very busy indeed, but I’m ready to start cooking, snapping photos, eating clean, and writing again.

A quick update on what I’ve been up to during my hiatus:


I’ve been re-discovering Hong Kong food! Sadly, I need to drag my sister with me to help me read menus because my Chinese sucks. I spent my first month gorging on childhood comfort food which I now realize is pretty gross, but there’s definitely been some good finds in my hunt to get to know my cuisine and culture. Disclosure: most of this was NOT clean eating, har har. My waistline is paying for it.



As mentioned before, my beautiful and fabulous friend Rach (editor of Sassy Hong Kong who also blogs at Through The Looking Glass) let me guest-post about restaurants in HK. Check out my reviews and photos of Issan Thai Cuisine, Vietnamese street food, and a fancy-ass private kitchen.


Eating local and organic food is a challenge in Hong Kong, which drives this NY farmers market-spoiled girl ca-razy! But it is possible. More on HK’s unique food system soon.


I’m really grateful to have found an affordable, comfortable apartment that’s not too far from my job. But what’s the deal with this kitchen?! Yeesh. Let’s see if I can make it look a little less miserable.


After being in a stable job that I was very grateful to have but didn’t love about for six years, I’m excited to say I’ve broken out of my comfort zone and started pursuing my passions. Soon after arriving in HK, my friend hooked me up with a job on the management team of an amazing “fast slow food” business. Running a small business is full of daily frustrations and challenges, but with health, sustainability, and well-being for the planet and its people built into my job description, work doesn’t feel like work. How did I manage to conjure up a job that is so in line with my values and interests? I’m one lucky girl.

Eating Out in the Dirty City

I Wrote A Dim Sum Restaurant Review for Sassy Hong Kong!

tsui hang village dim sum hong kong

What is this half-eaten pig-shaped bun with a purple sweet potato filling, you may be wondering? In usual Iris-style, I’ve kept myself super busy and have already started new side projects as soon as I moved to Hong Kong. My good friend Rach, editor of Sassy Hong Kong, hooked me up and I’ve been contributing as guest blogger. Check out Rach’s own fabulous blog, Through The Looking Glass, for beauty, good eats, and more! My first post is about one of my favorite foods: dim sum. You can read my review of Tsui Hang Village and drool over photos of barbeque pork, custard buns, and glutinous rice dumplings.

Also, I apologize for the lack of new posts! My first month in Hong Kong has been fun, exciting, and inspiring, but getting settled in and looking for a job is very time-consuming. Hope to bring you more content about eating clean in this NEW dirty city soon.

Lunch and Dinner

The Minimalist Kitchen: One Pot Pasta

hot plate

I’m currently crashing at my sister’s studio apartment. The “kitchen” I’m working with includes a tiny sink, a foot of counter space, and one hot plate. Despite the fact that I will be moving to bigger place soon, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will probably be dealing with tiny kitchens for the rest of my stay in this city. Hong Kong has so many amazing things to offer but alas, space is not one of them. I’ve decided to start a new series on the blog called The Minimalist Kitchen. I’ll be exploring what you can and can’t get away with in a seriously small kitchen. For those who are in my boat, hopefully I can share what I learn about doing more with much less.

I read about Martha Stewart’s One Pot Pasta on The Londoner. It’s elegantly simple and you need close to zero cooking skills to make it. You end up with a comforting pasta dish that tastes light and fresh, and is full of vegetables. It’s also a flexible recipe–I had some bell pepper I needed to use up so I threw them in as well. Best thing about this one pot pasta? The entire process of making a big batch will not take you more than twenty minutes!

Not only is this a great lazy or time-saving meal for people with normal-sized kitchens, this recipe is a life-saver for people who only have one burner. Sure, I can still make a normal pasta dish with one burner and just switch out pots or pans, but when you have no counter space, a one pot meal is amazingly convenient when it comes to avoiding kitchen accidents! I managed to burn through a plastic curtain with a very hot pot my first week here.

Oh, well. You live and you learn. And you learn that one pot pasta is awesome. Check out Martha Stewart’s Recipe and I’m sure this will become one of your go-to meals.

one pot pasta

Lunch and Dinner

The Ultimate Healthy Fast Food: White Bean Tuna Salad

white bean tuna salad

Even when you’re someone who loves cooking, there are just some days where you don’t have the time or motivation to make yourself a proper meal. Or so you thought. White Bean Tuna Salads have become my go-to back-up plan meal. It’s perfect for those days that I can’t imagine spending even twenty minutes cooking but still don’t want to spend extra money ordering takeout or wasting so many calories on a crappy fast food meal.

I used to hate the idea of salads, probably because before I started cooking, the only salads I ate were those sad ones you buy near your office made with rotting iceberg lettuce, croutons, and a few pieces of tasteless chicken that come with a side of nasty packets of dressing. I’ve since realized that even the simplest salad, made with good ingredients, can be as tasty and satisfying as they are healthy.

Despite how simple it is, this is a pretty nutritious meal. While I don’t think tuna is a fish you should eat every week because of it’s higher mercury content, I think it’s perfectly healthy once in a while and it’s a good trade-off considering how convenient it is. Stock up on a few cans of tuna and white beans. You probably already have olive oil and vinegar. Then on those special days when you need something filling and healthy, and you needed it five minutes ago, you’re only a bag of baby spinach away from a great meal. Bonus points if you prep the day before and cook your own beans, but canned beans are perfectly fine. Just give them a good rinse before you put them in the salad so that you can avoid that gassy feeling we all just LOVE.

White Bean Tuna Salad
Makes 1 serving
About 550 calories per serving

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups baby spinach
1 cup drained whites beans (rinsed if using canned beans)
3oz drained canned tuna, albacore or skipjack

In a large bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar into the olive oil as you whisk vigorously to make a vinaigrette. Put the spinach in the bowl and toss to coat with the vinaigrette. Top with beans and tuna. Dassit!

tuna white bean salad


Make Your Own Healthier Fruit-On-The-Bottom Yogurt

fruit on the bottom yogurt

Today I’d like to suggest making one simple swap in your diet. It’s so obvious it feels silly to write about. But considering the fact that cafeterias in schools, offices, and airports provide non-organic, sugary fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt as the only “healthy” breakfast option, I have to address this issue.

Here’s the thing. Yes, yogurt is a healthy food. I often eat it for breakfast because is gives me protein and probiotics, and I love the taste of full fat yogurt. The problem is, I don’t consider most supermarket brands to be real yogurt. These brands have made their way under the health halo of yogurt being good for you. People might even think, hey! They have fruit in them too–that’s even better for you. Sure, I guess they are still a much better alternative to a chocolate frosted donut for breakfast, but I can’t endorse them when there’s a superior choice in yogurt.

First of all, regular and organic dairy is probably nutritionally similar, but buying organic reduces the use of antibiotics in livestock. Most conventional brands do not use organic dairy. Then there’s the issue of additives. In a popular supermarket brand of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, the ingredient list includes some strange stuff that isn’t real yogurt or fruit: sugar, fructose syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, kosher gelatin, sodium phosphate, malic acid, natural flavor, and calcium phosphate. In a 6oz (not even one cup) serving of this yogurt there is 25 grams of sugar! Let’s not even talk about how devoid of nutrients the “fruit” on the bottom probably is.

fruit on the bottom

So here’s the swap. Make your own fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. It will take you less time to assemble this at home than it will to wait in line at the cashier to buy your pre-made yogurt with the nasty additives. Get some real, plain yogurt, preferably organic. This should only have 12-14 grams of sugar in one cup of yogurt and you’ll see from the ingredient list that it is not added sugar. Then get some fresh or frozen organic fruit, either berries or chopped up fruit. Put your fruit on the bottom of a mason jar, top with a cup of yogurt, screw the cap on and take your breakfast with you! If you must, add a teaspoon or two of jam or honey, but if you’re getting good fruit, you shouldn’t need the extra sugar. There you go. Brekkie has been upgraded.

Book Review

Book Review: Foodist by Darya Pino


I’ve been a big fan of the healthy eating blog, Summer Tomato, for the past two years. Along with The Nutrition Diva, Summer Tomato has been one of my go-to resources for trustworthy nutrition info. What I like about these two ladies is they both use science to back up their claims, they have a very balanced and non-extreme stance, they don’t buy into nutrition fads, and they recognize and celebrate food for what it is, not just as nutrients.

So, when I heard a couple of months ago that Summer Tomato creator Darya Pino got a book deal, I was excited. Her book came out in May and is called Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting (my Amazon Associates link). It’s written through the lens of weight loss, though it’s really about lasting lifestyle changes for your health. But I think it’s smart that it’s marketed as a weight loss guide–that’s going to help Pino get her message out. I would have never went on my own health and nutrition journey if it wasn’t for the fact that I was trying to figure out how to lose a little weight a few years ago.

The book doesn’t just talk about food. It covers a lot of topics that is part of the bigger picture that so many other health and weight loss experts neglect to mention–things like psychology and willpower, the importance of cooking your own food, mindful eating, non exercise activity thermogenesis (what I call “moving”), and the challenges of eating healthy in different social situations. A lot of what she writes about sounds like common sense but it’s all very solid advice. Besides, I think we all need a dose of common sense, considering all the fad diets and weight loss myths that are still floating around.

If you’ve never read Summer Tomato, I highly advise you to pick up a copy of Foodist. It’s probably one of the most trust-worthy and comprehensive guides to weight loss lifetime of healthy eating. It’s chock full of practical advice that works without stupid shortcuts or gimmicks, and it’s a well-written and well-organized book. If you’re already a loyal reader of Summer Tomato, a lot of stuff will sound familiar but I think there’s enough fresh content to justify getting the book. It’s also nice to have her philosophy and research nicely summarized in one place.

Links and Life

Links and Life: June 2013

birthday balloons

June 2013 might have been one of the best months of my life. Not to be dramatic or anything. I gave myself the ultimate birthday gift: I quit my job, went to Toronto and Vancouver for vacation, and moved to Hong Kong. The couple weeks before I left NYC were absolutely amazing. I got to spend so much time with my favorite people and the city I love. It’s been an exciting, inspiring, scary, and crazy fun month. With delicious eats 😉

If you’re currently using Google Reader, don’t forget that it’s shutting down on July 1. Bookmark Eating Clean in the Dirty City or remember to add its RSS feed to your new RSS reader so you don’t miss anything!

pecan pie

June Links