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Chinese food

5 famous dishes from leftovers

Everyone who has spend their time in the kitchen at some point would get creative with any leftovers found in the fridge.

Interestingly, some of these dishes later became iconic recipes on their own.

Here are five famous dishes that you might not know come from leftovers:


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Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

This is one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. It takes its name from the wide, shallow traditional pan used to cook the dish on an open fire ‘paella’. It is the word for frying pan in Valencian language.

Legends has it that this iconic Spanish dish was created by Moorish kings’ servants who mixed leftovers from royal banquets in large pots to take home.

Another version of the origin story is that paella was a dish made during lunchtime meals for farmers and farm labourers in Valencia, Spain. The labourers would gather what was available around them at the rice fields.

Whatever they could mix into the rice such as tomatoes, onions and snails were put into the pan and cooked over an open fire.

The traditional version from the Valencia region is widely believed to be the original recipe of paella.

It consists of rice, green beans, rabbit, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, sometimes duck cooked in olive oil and chicken, fish, seafood or beef broth.


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Photo by J MAD from Pexels.

Although the exact origin of bibimbap is unknown, many agree that it could have started during the olden days when outdoor rites were widely performed.

Traditionally rites such as sansinje (rite for mountain gods) or dongsinje (rite for village gods) required the believers to ‘eat with the god’.

Since these rites were performed outside where there were not many pots or crockery, they would mix all the food offerings together in a bowl before eating it.

Bibimbap became famous among the Koreans especially during the eve of the lunar new year.

Since they believed that they had to get rid of all the leftover side dishes before the brand new year, the solution was to put all the leftover in a bowl of rice and mix them together.

Today, fans of Korean food do not have to attend a traditional rite or wait for the eve of lunar new year to enjoy a bowl of bibimbap.

A typical bibimbap contains rice, soy bean sprouts, mushrooms, radish, egg, gochujang, sesame oil and sesame seeds.

3.Chinese Fried rice

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Photo by Trista Chen from Pexels.

Today whenever we have leftover rice, the most common thing to do is to make fried rice out of it.

Apparently, the Chinese have been doing it since the Sui dynasty (589-618 CE).

The rice is cooked with other leftover foods such as meat and vegetables.

Usually if these leftovers go bad, they would feed it to the animals. If the foods are still good to consume, they whip out something hot from it and that was how fried rice came about.

4.Chazuke or ochazuke

Speaking of leftover rice, there is one simple dish that everyone can make at home even those who are lack of culinary skill.

Chazuke or orchazuke is a simple Japanese dish made by pouring green tea, dashi or hot water over cooked rice.

It is taken as a quick snack which now is commonly topped with nori (seaweed), sesame seeds, furikake and tsukeono (Japanese pickles).

The history of chazuke can be traced back to the Heian period of Japan (794-1185) when water was commonly poured over rice.

Then during the Edo period (1603-1867), people started to use tea instead.

5.Pain Perdu

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Most people are not familiar with the French phrase pain perdu but only its English cousin French toast.

Pain perdu literally translates ‘lost bread’, referring to the use of stale bread that would otherwise be lost.

The original French toast is known to come with a crisp buttery exterior and a soft custody interior.

Although the name is French, some believe that France did not come up with the dish.

The idea of soaking bread in a milk and egg mixture and then fry it in oil or butter can be traced back as early as the Roman Empire from the early 5th century AD.

Regardless of who created it, French toast is definitely our favourite way to make something new out of a leftover bread.

What you need to know about Chinese hotpot

Raise your hand if you love Chinese hotpot!

Putting aside that you will really need a shower after your meal, the idea of cooking everything in a pot and eating together is an experience everyone should try at least once.

Here are five things you should know about Chinese hotpot:

1.The history of Chinese hotpot

According to the book A History of Food Culture in China, the idea of hotpot cooking originates from as far back as the Neolithic era when people sat around a fire pit for communal dining.

Rongguang Zhao, Gangliu Wang, Aimee Yiran Wang stated that sitting around a fire eating dinner from a hanging pot was also a way to get warm.

A pot made of copper created during the Three Kingdoms Period (200-280AD) is now known to be the origin of hotpot.

During the mid-late Qing Dynasty, hotpot became popular among Chinese emperors.

Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) specifically was a hardcore hotpot fan.

According to the documents from the Imperial Household Department, the emperor ate 23 different types of hotpot 66 times in one month from August 16 to September 16 in 1799.

He also ate more than 200 hotpot dishes in 1789. Qianlong’s royal hotpot included ingredients such as “sliced pheasant, wild boar meat, roe deer tenderloin, wild duck breast and squid roll”.

Qianlong was not the only Chinese emperor who enjoyed hotpot.

When his successor Jiaqing Emperor ascended the throne on Feb 9, 1796, his coronation banquet served 1,550 hotpots for the attendees.

2.The common ingredients are basic stock, protein, starch, vegetable and condiments.

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So what is a hotpot?

It is a pot of simmering broth in which diners cook their raw ingredients together.

The basic ingredients for a hotpot can be divided into five categories; the stock, protein, starch, vegetables and condiments.

For meat lovers out there, hotpot is where you can go crazy with the ingredients.

Forget about the usual pork, chicken, beef, one can opt for unconventional ingredients such as beef tongue, offal, pork brain and blood tofu.

Additionally, seafood lovers can even put in their favourite sea creatures like squid, lobster, crawfish, octopus or cuttlefish.

And of course for those who don’t mind having processed food, a hotpot can have ingredients such as beef balls, fish balls and different kinds of tofu.

As for vegetables, a hotpot may include bok choy, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, lettuce, spinach and more.

For some carbs, the common ingredients are any types of Chinese noodles, glass noodle and instant ramen and udon.

A feast of hotpot is incomplete without variety of condiments such as soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and minced garlic or ginger.

3.There are so many variations of Chinese hotpot

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A yin-yang hotpot with both spicy and non-spicy broth.

Generally, Chinese hotpot can be divided into southern style and northern style, following the cultural regions of China.

The northern style of hotpot comes with simpler broth while the southern style leads toward spicier broth and variety of dipping sauces.

Speaking of southern style hotpot, the most famous of its kind is none other than Chongqing hotpot.

Also known as spicy hotpot, it is similar to the famous Chinese malatang.

A spicy Chongqing hotpot soup base is mainly made of red chilli oil flavoured with beef fat and all kinds of spices such as bay leaf, clove and cinnamon.

Unlike the southern style hotpot which is known for its spicy and intense flavour, the northern style hotpot has milder broth.

The most common type of northern style hotpot is the instant-boiled mutton or Mongolian fire pot.

Instead of the soup base, the focus of this hotpot dish is on the main ingredients which mainly using different cut of mutton.

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The southern style hotpot is known for its spiciness.

4.Other variations of Chinese hotpot from outside of China

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Shabu-shabu spread.

The idea having a wide array of raw ingredients and cooking them together in boiling water not only can be found in China.

In Japan for instance, shabu-shabu is a hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water and served with dipping sauce.

It is common to cook the ingredient piece by piece right at the table while eating when it comes to shabu-shabu.

Similarly, Thai suki is a Thai variant of hotpot deriving from Chinese hotpot.

To cater to Thai taste, the dipping sauce is usually made from chilli, lime and coriander leaves.

5.Believe it or not, there is a self-heating hotpot package in the market

Let say you want to give a Chinese hotpot but lacking in companions, fret not.

There is a self-heating hotpot package available in the market which is perfect for one person.

A self-heating hotpot was first introduced in China a few year ago thanks to the rise in popularity in Sichuan-based hotpot restaurants.

It requires no external heat source and all you need is just a bottle of water.

The package include a packet of quicklime. When mixed with water, it will release enough heat to cook the hotpot.

This instant food wonder comes with many different kinds of dry ingredients like black fungus, vermicelli and mushroom as well as variety of flavours such as sweet and sour tomato, chicken pepper and Mala beef.

All images are stock photos from