7 Expat Food Hacks for the Outer Regions


Do you live outside of the Beijing expat bubble? Are you straggling on the outer 5th and 6th loops or beyond? This post is for you, and I feel your pain.

As much as we all love our 饺子(jiao3 zi) and 面条(mian4 tiao2), sometimes foreign food cravings are unbearable. I’ve lived in Yizhuang, aka BDA, for the past two and a half years. If my husband and I were childless, we would have just taken the long hikes into the city for our favorite expat foods, (Tex-Mex! I miss you!!!). But, my daughter gets carsick on rides over twenty minutes, my son isn’t completely potty trained, and subways are totally boring and dirty for children. Pacifying them with a movie on the iPad isn’t ideal, either. This is well before the Roots showed up and satisfied most of our cravings. Unfortunately, still no Tex-Mex, fake Mex or real Mex.

Beijing mayonnaise

  1. Egg Sandwich

The easiest thing to find without a Jenny Lou’s is mayonnaise. Steer clear of the sweet kind if you’re American.

If you can find a stand that sells egg and meat sandwiches, slather some mayonnaise on it, (I personally like it without the spam). You now have one of our family breakfast favorites that we discovered in a 2009 New Year’s Special Edition Men’s Health Magazine. Of course, you could just make an egg sandwich on your own, but this might be handy for those lazy bachelors out there.

Beijing jelly

  1. Pancake Syrup

If you can get your hands on baking powder and some type of flavored jelly, preserve or jam, you’re all set for making pancakes, even without the maple syrup. (I’m assuming both milk and butter/margarine are not hard to access. If they’re hard to get a hold of… bless your heart… here’s a tissue.)

This will teach you how to make a fruit sauce from jelly or how to make a sauce from fresh fruit.

China chocolate

  1. Hot Chocolate

I’m really glad Chinese women love chocolate. That means there will never be an end to the supply, unlike peanut butter’s half a year absence in my neighborhood’s most convenient shopping market – where are those tissues? So if you miss Swiss Miss, this recipe might satisfy you.

China sour cream

  1. Sour Cream

Our most favorite find in the past years of living here has been the plain yogurt at our local Lotte.


This can double as sour cream for baked potatoes and any other American dish calling for sour cream. We even use it for zataar since Lotte plain yogurt is only slightly off taste from Greek yogurt.


  1. Tex-Mex 肉夹馍(Rou4 jia1 mo2)

Speaking of “sour cream,” our local Lotte is right across the street from our local Mailide.


One day, one of my Chinese friends bought me one of their 肉夹馍, since I love 肉夹馍, and I was unabashedly picky with food while pregnant. I couldn’t be appeased with just any Chinese food. Mailide only makes uncomfortably spicy 肉夹馍, so I quickly searched in my fridge for some type of dairy product after I carelessly took a bite before checking the insides of the sandwich. Lotte yogurt to the rescue! Then, when I took a bite with dallops of yogurt inside, it tasted like a Tex-Mex knock off!!! Seriously!


  1. Knockoff 煎饼 (jian1 bing) Taco

This discovery led me to testing out if Lotte yogurt could make 煎饼 taste like a taco. I had noticed that it had some of the elements of Tex-Mex flavor when I tried the 煎饼 many months ago. Dallops of Lotte yogurt do indeed make the 煎饼 taste like a vegan taco. My husband grumbled that it’s missing a meat and cheese flavor, but I don’t know why he’s complaining. Tex-Mex knockoff score!

China youtiao

  1. Funnel Cake 油条 (you2 tiao2)

油条 is a versatile fried bread that can trick you into thinking you’re eating a donut if you add enough sugar or sauce.

We like it with:

  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • peanut butter and honey
  • any of our jams-now-sauced
  • Nutella
  • cinnamon and powdered sugar
  • powdered sugar alone

Before you judge, we don’t eat this all the time; we’re just exceptionally clever in satisfying our inner sugar/fat-addicts. Did I mention we’re Americans?

If you have a blender or food processor (Taobao that, my friend), you can make powdered sugar by blending small amounts at a time until you have what you want. I wouldn’t suggest more than 200g or half a cup of sugar at one time. Keep in mind that doing this a lot will eventually dull your blades and could also scratch up the jar inside. Adding a bit of cornstarch is the best since it keeps the sugar from clumping.


What are your expat food hacks when you’re in survival mode?


Aaand, that brings us to Wonderful Wednesdays ESL/EFL Giveaway.

This is a free worksheet for studying clothing during different seasons.

This is an accompanying worksheet pack for studying clothing. They’re kind of iSpy-like. Again, the first ten packs are free, and then the pack is $1.50 after that. (Send me a message to claim it while it’s free.)

I make curriculum based on what I need or my friends need, so if you have any special requests, let me know!

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