Sunday, 3 May 2009


Do you take toast for granted? I bet you do. I did, until late September. Toast, who thinks about it – it’s something that’s always there, a convenient snack, a boring backup. I enjoyed toast, I liked toast, but when it came to my personal food hierarchy there were always more interesting, exotic foodstuffs ahead of it: lemon stuffed green olives marinated in garlic and olive oil, perhaps, or mangoes, or squidgy ripe brie.

And then I came to China and looked in the supermarket: no toasters. I looked in the WalMart in Beijing: no toasters. I have come to the conclusion that whilst many of the toasters happily browning bread in the West are made in China, none are actually used here.

In desperation, one of my friends attempted to toast a slice of bread above the vicious hot plates that are our cooking equipment, and merely succeeded in setting fire to the bread, a conflagration that nearly spread to her drying clothes. Some of us have been known to order youth hostel breakfasts solely for the toast, and I admit that my wrath, when I found a ‘western’ breakfast in a Shanghai hostel came with disgusting sweet Chinese bread, may have been considered slightly disproportional by some. Digressing slightly, the same hostel had tried to pass instant noodles off as pasta in the abortion that had passed for ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ the night before.

I now find myself thinking about toast in the way I’d previously harboured teenage crushes, with furtive, sensual thoughts intruding at the most peculiar times.

I think about thick, white, lightly toasted slices, slathered in butter and consumed with a cup of tea (with milk, something else I’m deprived of here), whilst reading a book or chatting with my mother in the kitchen.

I think about a crisper slice, topped with a lightly fried egg: the satisfying moment of cutting into the yolk, and the rich, slightly soggy mouthfuls of eggy-breadiness, and finally the last speared scrap of toast mopping up the remaining yolky smears.

I think about the two slices of toast, one coated in raspberry jam, the other in apricot, that form one of my few acceptable breakfasts. Yeah, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yadda, yadda, but bite me: I just don’t like it.

I think about smothering a slice with an over generous helping of good quality pâté. The bread is an important ingredient here, it needs to be a bland base for the pâté, but robust and solid enough to act as a complement to it, unlike the flavourless mush of supermarket pap.

I think, as of a dear friend, of toasted cheese, and the art of making the perfect portion. How much should it be pre-toasted, the cheese-to-bread ratio, the narrow margin between still raw cheese and a cremated remain, the additions that devotees of the cult experiment with: a under layer of Marmite, a sprinkling of Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce on the cheese, a side of sweet chilli sauce or piccalilli. Most of all though, I miss the succulent mixture of melt and crisp, the range of flavours when you use good bread and cheese, the satisfying completeness of it.

I’m home in 14 weeks: make sure the toaster’s working.


  1. I do not take toast for granted. I understand its power, its mystery, its hold on the psyche in the West... I also understand how it can act as kindling in a kitchen fire. ;-)

    It's funny the stuff you miss when living abroad.

  2. You certainly waxed poetic about the toast! Funny how things that didn't seem important become so when we can't have them.

  3. This didn't look so long in World! I really feel the Chinese deserve to be inducted into the mystery that is toast - I'm sure it will both improve their lives and boost Chinese manufactoring!

  4. Hi J, Thanks for dropping by the Lantern Show, appreciate your visit... looks like there is some interesting work going on in your world... will drop by later and take a closer look, am off for a walk now...

  5. @ J - thanks for visiting back my skywatch photo. to answer your question -- i was there from 2002 until 2004 then moved to zhangjiakou city. stayed there until june 2005. :)

    Bring a toaster back to china when u come back. and if incase u really want a toast now -- heat your pan on the stove. once it's too hot, put in the bread and cover. check once in awhile to avoid being toasty black. :)

  6. Can't believe there aren't toasters somewhere in all of China... incredible ! Maybe in Hong Kong you could find one from the British Colonial Period ? If all else fails, you could order one on a US internet site like Amazon, and have it shipped overnight by FedEx to you, so you can satisfy those cravings quickly. And if you need to order good toasting bread, there is Poilane in Paris that ships delicious bread internationally. Good luck !

  7. What an interesting time you're having working out in China. And yes, I can well imagine how you could miss desperately something as routine and dependable as toast even whilst appreciating everything that's new and different. I notice the absence of a kettle when I stay with French friends at their home!

  8. Never underestimate the value of toast. I love the stuff.

    I spend a lot of time in India and always miss decent cheese and oatcakes.

    Hey, how do you think vegetarians would get on in China? I imagine i'd struggle a bit on my no fish or meat diet.

  9. Oh my, J. You are certainly living in a different world than Beijing. There are lots of toasters for sale in the stores here. :) They're around 120-200 RMB. I don't own one so no toast for me....and I do miss it. Funny, I never ate toast often in the States, but now would welcome some good toast! ha