Book Bites: R.F. Kuang and The Poppy War

Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing cousin. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite. 

R.F. Kuang is one of the nicest people to write about opium and implements of destruction I know. Her book, The Poppy War, comes out today!! (May 1) from Harper Voyager, and is the first installment in a Chinese-history inspired epic fantasy trilogy about empire, warfare, shamanism, and opium. War orphan Runin Fang gets out of an arranged marriage by testing into the most prestigious military academy in the country, but finds herself thrown into a war of gods and men when the Federation of Mugen invades the Nikara Empire for the third and final time. 

I’m so glad Rebecca’s joining Book Bites to talk about feeding her students and soldiers! Welcome Rebecca and happy book birthday!


To be totally honest, The Poppy War has very little to do with food. The story starts at a military academy and ends with the climax of a bloody mirror of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which means our protagonists are running around with swords and spears doing pretty much everything except thinking about food. So when I sat down to write this blog post, I was at a loss for which dish to feature, because The Poppy War features almost none.

But students and soldiers still need to eat! So as I started brainstorming Chinese dishes I might possibly write about, I thought hard about what students at a military academy, bone-tired from classes and training, might shovel down at dinner.

Harper Voyager

And that’s when I settled on 番茄蛋。

…I realize that’s not helpful. That roughly translates to “tomato egg.” My family has always called it 番茄蛋 (fān qié dàn), though I’ve also seen it titled 番茄炒蛋 (fān qié chǎo dàn, or “tomato fried egg”). This dish is ridiculously tasty for something so easy to make, and is a staple for college students all across China because it takes maybe ten minutes to serve up, has only two major ingredients that you can find anywhere and buy for less than $3, and keeps you full for a rough night of studying because it has protein AND veggies! My mother cooked this for our family at least once a week when I was growing up. And when I got to college, I made this whenever I was exhausted, hungry, and feeling homesick.

So here is my tomato egg recipe! 

Note: This is enough for a single serving of dinner. Double as needed.

Other note: There are plenty of other recipes online that add sophisticated ingredients like rice wine and sesame oil, and hypothetically if you’re bougie enough you could look those up instead, but here’s the poor-as-a-bucket college student version that I cook from memory.

 

Ingredients:

  • One ripe beefsteak tomato (sometimes I’ve used two roma tomatoes because they’re cheap at Trader Joe’s and it tastes the same so you do you)
  • Two eggs
  • Scallions (about three stalks)
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt

 

  1. Prep: Slice scallions into thin little ovally things. Beat eggs in a separate bowl. Cut tomato into eight wedges and set aside with the scallions.
  2. Turn frying pan on to medium heat and add oil. Pour in eggs and cook until the bottom is solid, but the top is still runny. (About 45 seconds.) Scrape the runny gooey egg mixture into a separate bowl and set aside.

  3. Technically you should clean the pan but no one has time for that.

  4. Sautee tomatoes with scallions on medium heat until tomatoes have turned soft but still intact. All the juices should be running together in a sweet-and-salty, tangy…thing.

  5. Dump those eggs back into the mixture. Use the spatula to break it up into chunks while mixing it into the tomatoes.

  6. Once you’re certain the eggs are just cooked enough that you don’t get salmonella (you don’t want to overcook them!) you’re finished! Scrape that goodness out onto a plate!

  7. Serve with bowl of rice, or eat it by itself. Enjoy!

Rebecca F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history. She has a BA from Georgetown University and is about to go study more Chinese history at Cambridge on a Marshall Scholarship. The Poppy War is her debut novel. Check out her website!

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