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Across China with the vermin


Peter Green
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Okay, I've got Singapore out of the way, and now I can turn to China.

Yoonhi, Scud, Serena, and I've been on the road for a week now, having finished Beijing, and being about halfway through Xi'an.

Fongyee's been a great help on the Beijing side, and I'll be posting some pics on dinner at Fangshan and The Loft once I can get things sketched out and get back on the internet.

peter

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Okay, I've got Singapore out of the way, and now I can turn to China.

Yoonhi, Scud, Serena, and I've been on the road for a week now, having finished Beijing, and being about halfway through Xi'an.

Fongyee's been a great help on the Beijing side, and I'll be posting some pics on dinner at Fangshan and The Loft once I can get things sketched out and get back on the internet.

peter

Looking forward to the pictures!

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Day 1 - Beijing

The Olympics are coming to Beijing. Don’t forget that part.

Driving in, it was grey. Our guide, “Jack” (his real name was Sui Jun – but that’s close enough to Jack that he’d prefer we use that) told us that it was getting to the point that it was foggy more often than clear in Beijing, and that the city was becoming the “London of the East”….except that London’s not smoggy anymore.

Does anyone call London “The Beijing of the West”? Or how about “Venice…. The Bangkok of the Adriatic.”? There’s a whole world of branding out there.

Yoonhi was taken at how clean everything was (ignoring the odd puddle of phlegm on the sidewalk). There are streetcleaners constantly scrubbing at the pavement, and even I admitted that there’re fewer piles of junk about. What demolition there is (and there’s a lot) is pretty much hidden behind hoardings, all of which are nicely decorated in ads for just about everything, especially for the 2008 Olympics.

Our hotel was the Dong Jiao Min Xiang, located “within walking distance of Tien An Men Square”. Our guide wondered why we were staying here, as most of his guests are located out on the ring roads, but I liked the location once I’d read up on it. It had a long history, tracing its origins back to the foreign quarter of 55 Days At Peking fame, when Charlton Heston was representing the NRA here.

So, once we’d unpacked and washed, we headed out. It was already dark, and the family was hungry. We went down our alley as directed, past the main Beijing Police station, and the concomitant Police Museum, and we were there, in the red heart of the People’s Republic.

Our plan was to get to Quanjude. Okay, okay…I know it’s a tourist joint, and there are better ducks in town, but I had a hungry family with me, and this was a place I knew how to get to….kind of….maybe……

After the usual ten or fifteen minutes of being sent in different directions (plus some time spent as Serena ogled the official Olympics mascot dolls in the official Olympics mascots doll store) we were on the right road, and my restaurant senses were kicking in, assuring me that the street shapes and various landmarks were correct.

However, I was distressed by all the hoarding that was up on the street. I knew that my old favourite, Dark & Duck (across from the Kempinski) had been razed to the ground….Would they dare do the same to the venerable Quanjude? Is there no respect for the elderly?

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But it was there. There was still the streetfront place with the confusing sign about how there are no branches of Quanjude in the Qian Men area, and I knew from that that we were just around the corner.

I was correct. The sign with photos of all the visiting dignitaries was still in place. Castro, Kissinger…. Fidel was up there chowing down on some bird… all the usual suspects were up on show.

The hostesses, decked out in fur lined capes, showed us to our table, and we were cheerfully (although not sedately) given menus and expected to order. Right then. Now. This was an aspect of China I’d forgotten. As soon as you sit down and receive your menu, you’re expected to order. The 30 page menu you hold in your hands is expected to download upon skin contact into your cerebral cortex.

I suggested that we have a couple of beers and some other stuff for the kids, and that they give us a couple of minutes to look at the menu.

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Obviously, we had the duck. This was a given, as the family needs their duck as much as they need their pork. And, while I'd been to China several times already, this was the first time the kids had been here, and Yoonhi's last trip was in 1994.

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The skin was a highlight for three less mature members of the party. We're happy to feast on fried chicken skin, so the glistening crispness of duck skin is way too good to pass up. Yoonhi (the mature member) suggested that this might not be particularly healthy.

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But the wrappers met with approval, as they're almost identical to the Korean ones (and there'll be more about the Korean connections in later posts).

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Then I ordered the Fried duck treasures in birds’ nest, which were chopped up bits of duck served in a crispy noodle cage nestled into a piece of lettuce. This was good enough that Scud took the first opportunity he had to snag Serena’s uneaten piece.

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The duck heart in hot sauce was excellent, beautiful chunks of meat in a rich, thick sauce. I wish the photo was better on this one, as it was probably my favourite dish of the meal.

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But the duck tongues, while always interesting, reminded me that I hadn’t been overwhelmed the last time I ordered them. The big piece of cartilege down the middle just makes them too much work for what they are.

Then we got in the odd one. Fried duck liver and scorpions. The scorpions looked way cool, so Scud and I had to have this. Even Serena tried one. They were a lot like the crickets we’d had in Laos; crispy fried things. Maybe you could discribe them as nutty…..The fried duck liver was too dry, and dominated by the seeds coating the outside. Still, it delivered a nice irony tang, but lacked the fat I'd hoped for.

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After some nudging, we managed to get Serena to try a scorpion. For my part, I managed to get a leg from one stuck in my teeth. I need to travel with dental floss.

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We had two orders of snow peas for Serena. Hideously expensive back in the Middle East, these are a perfect add on here. So crisp you can hear them snap at you. She scarfed these down so fast we had to order more for the rest of us.

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We ordered some chestnuts and rape. I love the pastey taste of chestnuts, and the colours and flavours for this dish had us drooling. Yoonhi thought the rape was more like Chinese cabbage than what she would consider true rape (known as Canola by the more politically correct).

This was all washed down with a couple of bottles of Yan Jin beer. I found this to be rather insipid. The bubbles were exhausted, the head non-existent, and it sat empty on the palate. It lacked crispness, not having the cut I would’ve liked to it for this greasy a meal. And it came over on the sweet side, which is never right in a lager. But, it was cold, and it was a lot better than no beer. They do claim to be brewed properly without preservatives, but I found they fell second to Tsingtao, which had a healthier head and better bubblousity.

Scud hit on something interesting. Coconut juice. “The state banquet beverage”. It’s not coconut water (which we have at home quite often) as it’s not clear. It’s milky, but not as much as coconut milk for cooking. We were impressed to see that it was “coconut juice not processing the coconut magma and essence”. Plus, it's orthodox!

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Now I stay up late worrying about big, circumcised coconut volcanoes about to erupt their magma over unsuspecting civilians. This could be Freudian.

Over on the side wall, a large counter announced that we were on their 11,528,502nd duck.

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I wasn't certain if this was what I'd ordered. I'd asked for the crispy walnut pastry, but what I received was a bowl of sweet tasting fluid. It was nice enough, very similar to some of the Korean desserts, however, I don't see how any translation can get from "crispy" to a "bowl of wet stuff" (this was early days for local translations, however).

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Being in China, we finished with Duck Soup, appropriate for the most famous Marxist....Groucho.

The early closing hours catch me out here, although at least I'd been ready for Quanjude this time around. 8:00 p.m. is when we'd normally be hitting our stride anywhere else. When I'd been here last trip there were touts hanging around on the street to scoop up the unwary that'd come to late. We'd ended up in a side alley in Qian Men hutong eating lacklustre duck and watching drunks beating each other up and fall over while we drank Beijinger beer....maybe that wasn't so bad after all?

Anyways, the family was taken care of. We could stroll back, brush off the touts, and take in the bright lights, and admire the signs for the Olympics.

I'd managed to get them fed one meal without it being a complete disaster. Quanjude may be overpriced, and it may be touristy, but I knew where it was, and there were no fights involved.

And have a real bed to sleep in.

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I am really enjoying this trip report, Peter. Having travelled extensively in Shanghai, Xiamen and Shenzhen (lived there for a while), I am hankering for some of that Peking Duck. I remember this tiny hole in the wall in Kowloon, HK where it was served over a bed of Yang Chow fried rice.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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Thanks, Domestic!

Today was fun. We're in Chengdu, and we spent a couple of hours eating in Jinli Street next to Zhuge Liang's "cottage".

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's see if I can get Beijing done up before I forget Xi'an!

Peter

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OMG!!! I LOVE THAT RESTAURANT!!!

Isn't their duck to DIE FOR?????

I dream of eating their roast duck.....*drooooooool* :wub:

Just that roast duck along makes going to Beijing worth while. Sigh....my dad and I are still kicking ourselves for not going back for more. :sad:

EDIT: I just wanted to say thank you for posting such gorgeous screen licking good pics and please keep them coming!! Oh and please wrtie down the names of restaurants too. I am planning on going to China in September and would love recommendations. :biggrin:

Edited by XiaoLing (log)
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Day 2

The next morning was the required tour of the Forbidden City. But before that, we had breakfast.

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To date (I'm writing this in stop #3 - Chengdu) the Dong Jiao Min Xiang Hotel had the best breakfast of the lot. Their coffee was drinkable, and there're few things more pleasant in the morning than freshly steamed pork dumplings with a touch of soy and vinegar. And these were done right there.

But that wasn’t all. Their rice was always fresh and hot, the bacon was likewise hot, and moist with fat (not just grease), and their juices were sweet and fresh. The grapefruit in particular stands out. Not harsh at all.

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As I said, we were doing a tour of the Forbidden City this morning. And now we were prepared for the outing. We wore three layers of clothing, with Goretex and gloves to go over that. It was cold.

I won’t bore you with the details of the history of the Forbidden City. You can look that up in Wikipedia or wherever. Here’s the obligatory shot of one of the kids being sacrificed to the demons of the water pot:

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On the food notes, it appeared that the little Starbucks concession just at the entrance to the residential sector had been driven out. There was still a small shop there, but it didn’t have the familiar green and black and white out there.

The top toilet in town (public) was still there. It had added wheelchair access, too. Actually, while the pre-Olympics press is beating on Beijing about the standards of their toilets (while they’re trying to single Vancouver out as an abode for homicidal pig farmers), we found their facilities were always clean and well maintained. And there was always a “western” toilet. They might have issues to work out with the spitting thing still, and I have no idea how athletes are going to perform in this air, but, aside from the effect of chilis, toilets aren’t going to be a sore spot (ouch!) for the games.

But, enough of that. What did we eat for lunch?

Jack was somewhat confused with our tour. Our schedule for Beijing had free days, and included no lunches or dinners. Patiently, we explained that we weren’t interested in the set tour menus, and that we wanted good restaurants with typical dishes. In all, he came through fairly well on this. This day he took us to Luong Tam Restaurant by the Beijing Entertainment Park, a nice Russian fantasy façade facing us from across the street.

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Inside the place looked great. Lots of wooden beams, and a couple of trees (or reasonable facsimiles, growing in the middle of the room). On the downside, their English menu was extremely limited. This was a common issue I had in Beijing. If you’re going to have an English menu, why not translate everything? This was a place with a Chinese food list of over 100 items, and here was an Anglo choice of 8, all on the relatively boring side. Jack wasn’t a lot of help here, as he suffered the typical tour guide phobia of not wanting to kill his customers off (it’s considered bad for business), but we managed to get some good dishes out of the list.

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Celery with lily blossom was a nice opener. Very crisp celery, with the odd taste of the flowers working well in the thickened starch of the sauce.

Yanjing was the beer again. I had one of these, but also ordered a pot of pu’er, which confused them for a bit, but once they realized what I wanted they said it was a good choice, as it would help me lose weight. I think they might be hinting at something.

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Diced chicken with peanuts in hot sauce was pleasant. Although the thickened cornstarch sauce was laden with chunks of dried chilis, there was really no overbearing burn in the dish (although Serena still wouldn’t touch it).

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And the “organic” fungus was great (and one of the most expensive things on their menu). A variety of perhaps eight different mushrooms, all with variant flavours and textures, so every mouthful would be a bit different. It also included hidden snow peas underneath, so the girl was happy.

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In the open kitchen beside us I’d been watching one of the younger chefs giving a solid massage to a large lump of something. He then hefted this onto his left shoulder, and pulled out a wicked looking paring knife that he then used to flick off bits of the dough into an open pot with a backstop. The kids and I thought this was great.

After a couple of shutter clicks and some video, we followed the third rule of ordering: we walked over to the kitchen, pointed to the noodles in the pot, and then to us. This usually seems to work, and it did here.

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The noodles came nice and soft and starchy, with some braised meat (I think it was pork) and a dash of greenery. Serena declared them hers, but the rest of us generally ignored her attempt at sovereignty and grabbed some as we went (we ended up ordering a second bowl for her).

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We’d ordered a sweet pork dish. This came as a large lump of pork cooked in what seemed to be bean sauce, under a pile of coriander, and accompanied by the sliced whites of spring onions and some cucumber. This is very similar to the traditional duck we’d had the night before, but here the wrappers were quite different, having a thicker, almost plasticy consistency.

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This was a very nice dish. I say so that in each of the constituent parts, taken on their own, weren’t that good. The pork came off far too cloying and salty, and the wrappers had the texture and taste of old Rubbermaid gloves (not something I would put on a formal dinner menu – the gloves that is). But when you combined all of the parts, this was a very enjoyable dish; the vegetables lifting the heaviness of the pork, and the pork contrasting the plastic of the wrap.

From there we drove to the Temple of Heaven, notable for its concern about the gods getting enough meat in their diets.

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Unfortunately, even though I whined, they wouldn’t let me into the closed-off Divine Kitchen…..now that I think of it, that would be a great title for a John Waters’ cooking show.

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The kitchens were in the back. Once we’d worked our way around to the front, we came upon the bbq pits of the gods – a very nice brick affair, with a series of braziers set off on the flanks to burn everything down to ash to avoid the hoi polloi from getting their hands on the divine remnants.

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The Temple of Heaven, along with the cold, and jet lag, pretty much wiped out our merry band for the day. Jack arranged for a masseuse to come by for Yoonhi, the kids retreated to the Chinese language cartoon channel they had available, and I took the opportunity to go walk-about.

I headed up to Wangfujing to see if I could locate a dumpling restaurant that had been recommended behind the Peace Hotel. I found the Peace Hotel, and wandered about the Xi Tang Zi hutong, but in my typical clear thinking manner, it hadn’t occurred to me that these places wouldn’t necessarily be paying for English language signage.

Still, I did get a good little walk in, and came across this particular item:

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I’m just idly curious as to what would possess someone to present a fish in the shape of a squirrel? Is there some old anecdote about fishing for squirrels that I’d missed in my studies? If not, why a squirrel? I could see dragons or a phoenix….maybe even a pig, horse, or something zodiacal. But a squirrel?

I just showed Yoonhi this shot, and she said it looked more like one of those grey bugs that scurry out from under the old wood and rocks when you turn them over. Maybe "squirrel" is more appetizing.

Oh, well. It was time to get the clan fed their dinner.

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Peter - will you be sampling that sweet and sour fish in shape of squirrel? I am totally loving all the foodie pics (plus the non-foodie ones).

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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Then we got in the odd one.  Fried duck liver and scorpions.  The scorpions looked way cool, so Scud and I had to have this.  Even Serena tried one.  They were a lot like the crickets we’d had in Laos; crispy fried things.  Maybe you could discribe them as nutty…..The fried duck liver was too dry, and dominated by the seeds coating the outside.  Still, it delivered a nice irony tang, but lacked the fat I'd hoped for.

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Over on the side wall, a large counter announced that we were on their 11,528,502nd duck.

Do you recall if they have removed the tail sting from the scorpion? Is it okay to eat? That's where the venom is stored, right?

Over eleven million ducks served... that's quite a number! If they serve one thousand ducks a day on average, it takes 31 years to reach that number!

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I’m just idly curious as to what would possess someone to present a fish in the shape of a squirrel?  Is there some old anecdote about fishing for squirrels that I’d missed in my studies?  If not, why a squirrel?  I could see dragons or a phoenix….maybe even a pig, horse, or something zodiacal.  But a squirrel?

Because the fish shapes like the bushy tail of a squirrel.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I’m just idly curious as to what would possess someone to present a fish in the shape of a squirrel?  Is there some old anecdote about fishing for squirrels that I’d missed in my studies?   If not, why a squirrel?  I could see dragons or a phoenix….maybe even a pig, horse, or something zodiacal.  But a squirrel?

Because the fish shapes like the bushy tail of a squirrel.

As expected, there's always a reason for everything if you look deep enough.

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Do you recall if they have removed the tail sting from the scorpion?  Is it okay to eat?  That's where the venom is stored, right?

I made the boy eat one first. I figured if he didn't start thrashing, it'd be okay.

They were small, and crisp fried, so I couldn't tell if the barb was removed or not. Alternatively, the toxins may just have come out in the frying. I didn't pick up any of the tell tale prickling that you usually get when there's remnant poison in something.

They're a common enough snack about town that I don't believe there's really any worry.

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Dinner

I came back to find the masseuse just finishing Yoonhi off, and the kids enjoying a George A Romero moment on the iPod. Everyone was pretty much close to brain dead (an ongoing state for me) and the idea of braving the chill to find a new place to eat wasn’t meeting a warm reception.

It looked like we were going to be eating hotel food.

Why is it that we always turn our noses up at the food in the places we stay? Perhaps it goes back to dormant racial memories of our ancestors on their migrations across the ice sheets being faced by horrible dining room buffets?

But at this point in time, we should appreciate that many hotels have not only well established kitchens with excellent facilities, but also very capable chefs. In Bangkok, I’ll put the restaurants at the Oriental, the Four Seasons, the Peninsula, the Plaza Athene, and others right up there on my favourites list.

And the Dong Jiao Min Xiang, as I’d mentioned earlier, had a history going back into the 1800’s.

So why was I worried about eating here?

Heck, for two days we’d been admiring the signs in the elevator for self-serve sheet burn. This sounded like a particularly painful fraternity hazing thing to me, but it appeared to be a rather liberal translation of teppanyaki.

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And the Chinese restaurant in the Dong Jiao Min Xiang came with good reviews in some of the papers (although I take these with a grain of peppercorn).

Heck, they even advertised donkey meat, one of the new up and coming dishes in town. I’d seen a few restaurants about as we drove through town today that had a big picture of what appeared to be Eddie Murphy in Schrek smiling out at us.

But, rationalizations aside, we were cold, tired, and hungry. We were eating in.

This went really, really well. I was beginning to wonder if it was possible to have a bad meal in China.

The restaurant itself was very chic, running on two levels, with very clean lines, and dominated by browns and bronzes. This could have been an upscale place in Vancouver or Bangkok or anywhere. The kitchen was on open display behind a glass partition, and everything was spotless.

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I decided that these surroundings called for wine rather than beer, so I ordered a bottle of the Grace Merlot. I figured this would be just right for Yoonhi. Then we settled into the (fully) translated menu to see what we could find.

However, rather than a Grace, which had some good reviews, what came back was a bottle of Great Wall Syrah from 2001, as this was all they had. We had been advised to avoid wines older than 4 years, and to flee in terror from anything labled with the Wall, so, after the initial trauma, we advised them that we’d be going with beer instead.

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We started off with the squid. This came out glistening in a rich savoury sauce; thick pieces of meat with excellent flavour.

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The beans came in a Szechuan style, shriveled like an old man, but crunchy, with that mouth deadening numbing coming from a liberal sprinkling of peppercorns. A good, pleasant burn.

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I was not thrilled with the Popo chicken. It was a whole chicken that had been broken up, but it was very difficult to find any solid pieces of meat to get into (this may be related to the plate being closer to Scud than the rest of us). It was nicely spiced, but not outstandingly so, falling into that category of “brown”.

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Mao’s red pork made up for the duck. Glistening fat from the pig belly. Big cloves of garlic nuzzing in alongside the tricoloured meat, and a bit of coriander to clean the smell a bit.

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And, the food done, out came the traditional fruit plate. This gets bypassed a lot, but I’ll use this point to speak in favour of the tomato. The little plum-like things served in China are much more a fruit than a vegetable, and are treated accordingly. They’ve been rolled out on the post-dinner fruit trays, and at breakfast with the yogurts. You can pop them in your mouth like a big berry and just enjoy the rush.

So…..fear of hotels? It really shouldn’t occur, in this day and age. But there’s always that little hook that says there’s something better outside your doors.

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Okay, this is a spoiler.

It busts up the chronology, but I can't help myself.

We just got back from the KTV part of town here in Chengdu. A great meal. Crawfish in hot oil, chilis, and peppercorns; frog in the same; and a very mild chicken soup with cabbage to balance it out. We had potato croquets with tomato Chinese style to start, and Beggar's chicken in a plastic sack.

Then they took the broth from the frogs and used it to do up a kilo or two of potatos, lotus root, and other greens.

Meanwhile I ordered some excellent sausages made up from beef offal that they fried and delivered as an ultra salty snack.

As that was making its way to us, we bugged the Guangzhou people next to us to share their snails, which they were happy to do.

That all went in with four bottles of Harbin beer.

Then we moved across the street and had rabbit heads, snow peas, pig tails, and pig's bladder (which is better than ears).

That went with Kingway beer, which appears to be brewed by the SS.

For the pictures, you're going to have to wait until the timeline gets okay.

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Do you recall if they have removed the tail sting from the scorpion?  Is it okay to eat?  That's where the venom is stored, right?

I made the boy eat one first. I figured if he didn't start thrashing, it'd be okay.

This cracked me up so much that hubby had to come look at what I was laughing about. :biggrin:

You're my kind of parent. :laugh:

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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I made the boy eat one first.  I figured if he didn't start thrashing, it'd be okay.

You're my kind of parent. :laugh:

Great food were discovered by our ancestors' brave attempts - if it didn't kill them first and they lived to tell about it. :laugh::laugh:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Day 3 - just another brick

We climbed the Great Wall. As walls go it’s pretty good.

We took the Wall at Simatai. I ‘d been here back in ’98, and it was uncluttered and (relatively) free from tourists. Jack was trying to figure out why we were coming here, and generally regretting that we’d done so. It’s steep, there’s a lot of climbing (which goes with the steep part), and cell phone coverage is spotty.

On the bright side, the smog of Beijing was left far behind, and we were admiring the clean air, and blue sky. We’d passed numerous streams on the way up that were frozen solid, with that beautiful look that river water gets when it’s brought still by ice.

Going up in the cable car (it’s not that far off the tourist path) I was trying to figure out what was different. And then it hit me. The happy happy music wasn’t being blasted out of loudspeakers as we went up. I relaxed, and savoured the quiet.

As with the Forbidden City, I’m not going into the history of the Wall. We got on top of it, and walked it to the East until they wouldn’t let us any more. This took us from Tower #7 to Tower #12. The path to #12 was fun, as things were getting pretty broken up, and there was a lot of ice and snow to make you pay attention to what you were doing with your feet.

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It was an odd crowd up there. We were shoved aside by a couple of hillbilly backpacker types who appeared to be doing a photoshoot for yuppie tents (aren’t you supposed to fold up those tents before you move them?). The lady with the concession was still up on top with her freezer and generator, and was as loud as ever, but the other locals were as laid back and pleasant as before. They’d just be there to help out when the going got tough, and were never pushy about their sales. So, you end up with a book or two you don’t really need. Big deal.

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When we came down, we were definitely in need of food. There was a joint just off of the cable car, but this had a bad feel to it, so we gave it a pass.

I’d been admiring a spot called the Lite Bar, built overlooking the water. I figured if we had a choice of tourist food, we might as well have a view.

I was wrong.

Not about the view. It was excellent. It was a little cold, but out in the sun it was worth sitting there to see the wall snaking up the ridgeline above us, and to see the clear water from the reservoir flowing out and through.

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Nope, I was wrong about the cooking; the food was excellent. Jack came through on the translation, and what they were recommending was their fish, caught locally. But the preparation was Szechuan, the water-cooked style, where the chilis and peppercorns need to be scooped off of the top, and the bony meat comes away like butter in your mouth (to paraphrase Kipling).

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We also ordered the shredded beef with onion. We’d asked about fresh vegetables, and were told the season wasn’t here yet, so went with onions as something that would keep. The beef was so soft it just melted.

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And the braised pork in noodles smelled of star anise and mushrooms. This was way too good for the likes of us. The pork had been liberally worked with peppercorns, and there was a nice numbness off of this that left me sitting back and enjoying my Yanjing beer.

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While we worked over the Yanjings, the kids were taking advantage of the rules of vacation to indulge in soft drinks. This is when we started paying attention to the coke cans. They were sporting Blood Elves from World of Warcraft. After this we noticed the kids were ordering a lot more coke.

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As Scud says, "WoW is very popular in China, as they can provide services to other countries to power up their characters for them for a nominal fee. God, I wish you'd let me play that game!"

The Lite Bar, it turned out, was part of the local Youth Hostel. The rooms were excellent; private, and each with its own a/c (the "Chaos" model from LG....a little disconcerting, that). All of these rooms looked out on a pleasant courtyard adorned with drying corn. In fact, as we toured China, we generally found that the hostels had the best locations.

We made our way back into Beijing, and prepped ourselves for dinner. We’d made reservations for Fangshang, an imperial banquet. This was to take place before the Legend of Kung Fu show, the current hot ticket in the capitol.

This did not go well. We sat in traffic for about half an hour, and then Jack and I had a discussion. His idea was good. He phoned in and rescheduled Fangshan for the next day. With the price we were paying, we didn’t want to rush through the meal in order to catch the show.

Then we made a mistake.

As Jack didn’t want us to miss the show, he asked if we could take the “set menu” at the restaurant we’d arrived at. This was Xian Heng on Stadium Road. The place itself looked good – I’d been thinking that we should eat there as we first came up to it – but the set menu was, well, tasteless. There were five dishes, and all could be described as “grey”. It was sad, as the place was full of people who were obviously enjoying their food very much. But, our set menu was served quickly, and this is obviously what Jack felt was the key factor at the time.

Heck, even the beer – Beijing Beer – was lackluster.

Pity…….it almost seemed like de-alcoholized beer, where they make things normally, then remove the alcohol after. In this case the food felt like it had been prepared well enough, and then all flavour was drained out of it.

I'm not going to bother with any pictures of this. It's too traumatic.

We actually arrived at the theatre with some forty minutes to spare, so we could’ve enjoyed a good meal. And our guide’s intentions to snag us decent seats were thwarted by the big tour’s having prebooked all of the centre section.

The show itself was as expected. The kids and Yoonhi really enjoyed it, and I admired the stagecraft and choreography. But I’ve been hosted to a number of these things, and you start recognizing certain modules that are strung together (“Yup. There he goes spinning from the drapery”) and you get jaded.

Coming out, I was probably most concerned about finding that the exits had been chained shut in order to force the crowd past the one CD booth in the main entrance.

So, having survived the Great Wall, a Beijing show, and our first abysmal meal, we turned in.

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Thoroughly enjoying your narrative and the food. All your fault about the last meal...you jinxed it by saying upthread...

I was beginning to wonder if it was possible to have a bad meal in China.
:biggrin:

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Okay, chronology be damned. We're going to do a Stephen Chow Monkey dual story-line here. One with a narrative to go with the photos, and one completely on a "thank God I've got internet for now and I'm not going to worry about uploading anything".

Today was a good day. Scud and I spent four hours over at the Ba Gou Bu Yi Cook Technical College; working through four dishes and getting pretty humble about how to use a cleaver and a wok.

Then it was dinner down in the Southwest of town at Wei Zhi Jue (The Wonder of Flavours), famous for their frogs (where we also had eels and duck heads).

This really is a good town for food.

Tomorrow, we move to Guilin.

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Most interesting writing and photos. Thank you, peter!

Could you maybe identify some of the names and faces I've encountered in your travelogue? Serena? Scud? Yoonhi? Who are the vermin? This is like a foodblog. Enquiring minds want to know and see all! :biggrin:

Edited by Dejah (log)

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Most interesting writing and photos. Thank you, peter!

Could you maybe identify some of the names and faces I've encountered in your travelogue? Serena? Scud? Yoonhi?  Who are the vermin? This is like a foodblog. Enquiring minds want to know and see all! :biggrin:

Sorry! I should introduce our supporting cast for this string. I'd been used to writing about them in the Laos string. Here they are:

The Vermin (our children):

Serena - age 9 - everybody's darling on this trip (except those of us who have to wake and feed her).

Scud - age 15 - aka "The Boy"; the physical reincarnation of Lurch, the butler from the Adams Family.

Yoonhi - age "we're not telling on pain of death" - the mom, who is in charge of all the heavy lifting, technical details, and logistics.

Cheers!

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Day 4 – The Old Summer Palace

It was another day of touring to be done, and we were up for another excellent hotel breakfast. It’s not often I say that without sarcasm. I was getting addicted to their dumplings and coffee.

Once that was under our belts, we did the usual go out and see stuff bit, taking in the Summer Palace, which was bedecked in fog and drizzle. Still, I like strolling along the terrace and taking in the scenes of Lu Bu fighting Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and Guan Yu, amongst other stories that decorate this passageway..

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I was surprised, though, at the sorry state that Suzhou Street had fallen into. When I was here last (in 1998) this was my favourite part of the Palace, abustle with replica shops and tea houses. Now they’ve tacked on an entrance fee, which has effectively killed the buzz the street used to have.

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With the tourism thing out of the way, we were looking for lunch. Today, under Jack’s advice, we were looking for Xinkiang food; wheat noodles and yogurt.

As far as I can make out, the place is called St. Angels, on Chowyun Lu. It was approached through a side entrance, and you’d never know it was there. But Jack and our driver were both looking forward to getting in the entrance.

This worked out excellent.

One, this is perhaps one of the most gaudily decorated places we’ve ever been.

Photos hardly do it justice.

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Think pink.

There was a mesh of plastic pink flowers running over the main dining room, which was braced by idyllic photos of men and sheep on both side, flanked by Doric columns supporting the staircase to the upper level and bathrooms, and fronted by a karaoke stage adorned with pink curtains. In front of this, for lunch, was a very nice trolley doing fried wheat foods.

Which leads us to point number two, the food was great.

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We started off with their own yogurt, made fresh on the premises and dotted with dried tomatoes which were almost like sultanas in their juiciness.

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I had a Tsingtao beer. (We were advised that nobody, but nobody, drank Beijingerrr anymore, it was that bad).

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The mixed shredded ox stomach with shredded pepper and spicy was a cold dish, and made excellent beer food, with that nice chewy feel you get from pig’s ear, but a little more give.

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The Xinjian special fried pastry looked like noodles, or rather a bundle of string before cooking. This was one of the items up in the little trolley at the front of the room below the inevitable karaoke stage. These came out as crisp as you could ask for, and went perfectly with the beer.

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We ordered two Xinkiang noodles. The first came like spaghetti, the noodles plain, with a dollop of sauce atop. The other had been fried up in a variety of mixed peppers and chilis, much more complex and more to my liking. I say spaghetti, but the noodles have a nice, glutenous, under the tongue sort of feel to them, like really good udon.

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We’d ordered the Xinkiang spicy chicken, but this disappointed. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, but there wasn’t really much punch to the tastes, not for something advertised as “spicy”.

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Serena had decided she was in a “soup phase”, so we ordered a bowl of the hot and sour for her. Chinese soups are always a difficult thing to order for a small group, as they generally come large enough to float most of the Pacific fleet. This was good, but suffered in that it was the last thing on the table, and we were beginning to silt up.

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On the coke can front, Serena wanted everyone to be aware that the WoW promotion is limited. Back here in Beijing we were seeing modern Chinese pop stars. In this case, Hebe, whoever she (or he, it’s kind of ambivalent) is.

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After lunch we went to the Bell and Drum towers for a “rickshaw” ride. What they’re selling now as a rickshaw is actually a bicycle contraption – the samlor of Thailand, alas. I say alas as I’m much more of a fan of the Vietnamese pousse pousse, where you sit in the front. Mind you, with Beijing traffic it could be more than a little tense being pushed out in front of oncoming trucks……..

The hutongs up here are protected, so there’s none of the 50 story work going on elsewhere in town, and the place has kept some of its charm. There are a lot of good looking little cafés and bars, and, as with Simatai, there’s a very well located youth hostel in there.

That done, we headed back to the Dong Jiao Min Xiang Hotel to get cleaned up for dinner.

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Peter: Did you join a guided tour while you toured (or I guess still are touring) China? From your pictures and depections, they looked like you are not in a guided-tour.

If you arrange your own itinerary: Do you speak any Mandarin or read Chinese? If not, did you find it difficult to get around in the city, buying tickets, getting transportation, finding hotels/restaurants, etc. in China because you speak (I assume) English? Just wondering.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Peter: Did you join a guided tour while you toured (or I guess still are touring) China?  From your pictures and depections, they looked like you are not in a guided-tour.

If you arrange your own itinerary:  Do you speak any Mandarin or read Chinese?  If not, did you find it difficult to get around in the city, buying tickets, getting transportation, finding hotels/restaurants, etc. in China because you speak (I assume) English?  Just wondering.

Yup, we're still on the road. In Shanghai for the wrap up this week.

We're travelling independently, but we're on a mix. We've got a few arranged days to accommodate the cultural sites that are my sop to the wife in order to get her to indulge me in my eating. But otherwise I tried to limit things to having my hotels lined up, my flights booked, and people in place to get us from plane to hotel and back.

But the arranged tour part really only covers us in the daytime. For the evenings, with the very happy exception of Chengdu - we've been on our own. This has worked out okay, in general.

I say, in general, as none of us speaks much Mandarin. I've got the basics of "thank you", "you're welcome", "no problem", and "bring me another bottle of beer". I also get by, when needed, with a pen, paper, and abstract impressions of different animals. I also drag along a number of cooking methods described in characters.

A lot of people have been very helpful in providing restaurant rec's and for also providing directions. That goes a long way to help things.

Yoonhi and the kids probably have a tougher time, as people gravitate directly to them and strike up a conversation in Mandarin (or whichever dialect). Me, they just assume I'm a buffalo.

Cheers,

Peter

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