Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Across China with the vermin


Peter Green
 Share

Recommended Posts

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.

Oh! My other recommendation. Invest in a Chinese SIM card for your cell phone. When you get really stuck you can always call someone to speak to someone (as long as you have a few friends in Asia).

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dinner with the Imperials

This was the dinner at Fang Shan that we’d arranged for the night prior, but had to postpone for today. Fang Shan falls into the “Imperial cuisine” category. It was set up in 1924 by a group of chefs who had worked in the palace earlier, and sits along the edge of the lake in Beihai park.

gallery_22892_4411_19035.jpg

The approach is beautiful, a long passageway along the lakeside, reminding me of the Summer Palace from the morning. You enter the main body of the restaurant through the gates, and we found ourselves in the main courtyard and in the midst of a reception of some sort, all ties and jackets, and big ice buckets with wine cooling off. Yoonhi slapped me down as I tried to grab a glass of chardonnay as we were ushered through the crowd.

gallery_22892_4411_115619.jpg

We were seated in a room off of the second courtyard.

gallery_22892_4411_204950.jpg

The room looked beautiful, all gilt and detailing. Out of place was a Korean cooler full of beer and soft drinks just as you came in the door. Somehow this just didn’t fit the ambience.

gallery_22892_4411_217266.jpg

Part of the story with this form of restaurant is that you are operating from a fixed menu, with the ingredients purchased fresh that day and worked up dish by dish. This fits in with the approach of Bussaracum (at least in the old days) and the Thai royal cuisine formats.

Given our retreat from the Great Wall wine a couple of days before, we decided to try the wines here. I went for a Dragon Seal Reserve Chardonnay from 2002 (just on the cusp of acceptability from the four year limit we were given). This was very clean on the palate, with a good bit of fruit in there.

gallery_22892_4411_86049.jpg

First up was an assortment of cold appetizers. These included bean paste dumplings; another bean paste appetizer (that crumbled wonderfully like an old brick in your mouth); cold rabbit which had no gaminess to it at all;

gallery_22892_4411_21292.jpg

; chicken with snow peas (which Serena summarily hijacked), and sweet red pork with pickles.

gallery_22892_4411_105221.jpg

These pickles took my attention. They were a daikon that had been infused with tangerine essence.

A cultural difference, but one I wish didn’t exist – you’re not given a lot of time to linger over the individual dishes. Before we had worked more than halfway through the appetizers, we were presented with the prawn dishes.

These were done in two styles; the one fried in the shell, and the other battered. Both were good, although neither really stood out in any particular aspect (beyond looking very good).

gallery_22892_4411_45001.jpg

The soup also showed up around now. A very nice mushroom consommé that Serena claimed as hers.

gallery_22892_4411_286118.jpg

The prawns and soup were muscled to the side by the fish, which came inverted, flower cut, and then crisp fried, with a sweet and sour sauce to set it off. It looked like some odd internal organ plucked out of an alien chest.

gallery_22892_4411_56279.jpg

Abalone with brown sauce over broccoli came next. This was good, but not spectacular. Considering the cost of abalone, this was probably responsible for the bulk of our bill.

gallery_22892_4411_417386.jpg

Shredded beef and onions was very good, the beef extremely soft and melting in the mouth.

Pork belly was nicely crisped on the outer skin, the meat and fat doing what is expected of them.

gallery_22892_4411_177778.jpg

And the last dish up was mushrooms and asparagus; a nice set of shiitakes (or something that tasted a lot like them) on fresh asparagus.

gallery_22892_4411_164740.jpg

And deep fried chicken with a sweet and sour sauce.

gallery_22892_4411_266140.jpg

As you can guess, traffic control had things pretty much stacked up over our table.

gallery_22892_4411_142230.jpg

But they were able to make room for the cakes. These were not particularly memorable, being very dry. The little orange suppositories in particular had all of the attraction and satisfaction of a good piece of cardboard.

gallery_22892_4411_113631.jpg

But that was made up for by the finale, warm sesame buns stuffed with ground pork.

gallery_22892_4411_354577.jpg

Unfortunately, my shot of the prep came out too blurry. The waiter returned with the buns after placing the pork on the table (yes, we were getting ready to eat the stuffing, assuming that you always eat a plate of ground pork at the end of the meal) and donned his proctology gloves. Then he pulled open the bun, and used a spoon to carve a divot out of the steaming dough. This was then filled with ground pork and placed ready to eat on our plate.

The buns themselves had been steamed then fried, so they had a nice crispness to the outside. The pork had an interesting marinade that I can’t quite put my finger on, but can still taste. This was a nice way to finish.

My overall reaction? For the money involved (and these dinners are very pricey), I would have liked to have staged things out more, and been given more time to appreciate each of the individual items. However, that goes directly against the local food culture, so I shouldn’t complain too much. I would have regretted not having done this, but, having seen what’s done and given how good the rest of the food has been in China so far, I don’t think I would be in any hurry to repeat this - at least not with my own money. That’s not to say I wouldn’t use someone else’s money……..

Dinner completed, we exited the premises and made for Wangfujing Street. We were going snacking.

Edited by Peter Green (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I forgot to say: thank you for your fabulous travelog! This is incredible! Especially you did it while on the road!

Do most hotels in China provide Internet access now? :smile:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do most hotels in China provide Internet access now?  :smile:

Internet access is a challenge.

Beijing it wasn't too bad, but it was an extra $10 CDN a day for the DSL.

Xi'an was fine (and free with the room).

Chengdu was a problem, but after I sacrificed an hour of my life (in Chengdu!) the hotel techs and I figured out we were getting the wrong IP from the server. Then it was fine.

Guilin, and we were told that Apple Macintosh computers couldn't connect to the internet in Guangxi Province.

Yangshuo's in Guangxi, so write that off, too.

We arrived in Shanghai today, and...well....it was a challenge, but we've got it working.

But, enough of this. Now it's back to dumplings, intestines, and perhaps Jean-Georges.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

we were told that Apple Macintosh computers couldn't connect to the internet in Guangxi Province.

Yangshuo's in Guangxi, so write that off, too.

They were talking nonsense. They just didn't know what they were doing. Of course you can connect Apples to the internet in Guangxi. I've been doing so for nearly a decade!

But well done. Can't wait to read about your Guilin eating.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I want to add my thanks to the horde for the travelogue with such great pictures. I'm loving them.

Does anyone know where to get those yellow longevity dishes in the US (or Vancouver BC)? I really want some and can't find any. I see the red ones actually made out of ceramic and not plastic, but have never seen a nice set of the yellow.

regards,

trillium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

haha no mac access in guangxi province. I have to write that one down.

I was in Yangshuo 3 weeks ago and had a mighty fine wireless signal accessible from right next door. Good thing I didn't tell them I had a mac!

As for the photos, show us chengdu+xi'an! Always a fun time. The imperial stuff looks nice overall, but it is yet more evidence of a certain myth revolving around a so called 'imperial' food. What that is really no one is sure. But everyone's photos seem to exhibit lots of simple beijing/dongbei-style cold appetizers and then lots of greasy entres. Mind you the thing in common with most of these types of restaurants is that they usually have one or two great bread-based dishes. And the reason why these restaurants pile all the dishes on at once has a lot more to do with showing off the 'small portions, many dishes' to the point where all the colours and shapes overwhelm the diners eyes, taking the attention away from the relative mediocrity of the taste. Sorry for the rant, but some of those pictures remind me of times in the past where I too wished I had something simple and delicious in front of me like the Shuizhuyu you posted-- rather than just an empty wallet.

I did have a slightly above-average imperial-style dinner at beijing's Red Capital Club Resto. This is one where all the staff are dressed as Mao guards. Too funny, and the food had hints of american-chinese adaptations too. Interesting experience. Beautiful place though

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great report, Peter! This is a trip that I dream of doing - perhaps some day! I love all the photos and I too, am awed by your ability to report in this detail while on the road!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]The imperial stuff looks nice overall, but it is yet more evidence of a certain myth revolving around a so called 'imperial' food. What that is really no one is sure. But everyone's photos seem to exhibit lots of simple beijing/dongbei-style cold appetizers and then lots of greasy entres. Mind you the thing in common with most of these types of restaurants is that they usually have one or two great bread-based dishes. And the reason why these restaurants pile all the dishes on at once has a lot more to do with showing off the 'small portions, many dishes' to the point where all the colours and shapes overwhelm the diners eyes, taking the attention away from the relative mediocrity of the taste.  Sorry for the rant, but some of those pictures remind me of times in the past where I too wished I had something simple and delicious in front of me like the Shuizhuyu you posted-- rather than just an empty wallet.

I did have a slightly above-average imperial-style dinner at beijing's Red Capital Club Resto. This is one where all the staff are dressed as Mao guards. Too funny, and the food had hints of american-chinese adaptations too. Interesting experience. Beautiful place though

When I had dinner at the Li Family Restaurant, we didn't get lots of greasy entrees at all; as a matter of fact, you can see from my photos that several of the dishes were notably ungreasy. But it's quite possible that that restaurant is the exception that proves the rule, and also, my meal there was in 2004, so it's possible things have changed.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes I've heard of this place, at first mostly from you.. and indeed it looks appealing and upon my first trip to Beijing I tried getting there many times, but kept getting caught up with something. Then maybe a year ago I tried getting some others to go once again and found a few who'd been there recently and advised me not to since it had 'changed'. Stupid, indeed. So I will eventually get myself over there. I'm not one to believe of most people's casual dismissals of a restaurant, but I suppose at that time it was enough motivation-killer to keep things simple and go for dimsum..!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still haven't gone yet!! :sad: but I too have heard that it's changed since they enlarged it by so much.

I myself have a warm fondness in my heart for Fangshan - but my family's been going to it since it opened so maybe I'm biased. I heard some great stories about eating there in the thirties from my grandma.

I think the "putting it all on the table" thing is not just a COmmunist hangover, however. Wasn't there a saying that the Empress Cixi would want to "eat three, look at three, gaze at three" (I think it's 吃三,看三, 观三 but I'm sure I could be wrong)? At any rate - there had to be A LOT of dishes for her to have in front of her. My own Manchu grandma used to eat like that - she would pick at a few dishes but insist that the cook made at least 6 or 7. So maybe it's a 'power' thing.

Or maybe it is just a timing thing.... :smile:

Your description of the wotou as 'orange suppositories' really upset me!!! I was brought up on the story of how they were developed as a refined version of the regular wotou by the Imperial court kitchens. And, if you've ever eaten common wotou, you know what an amazing improvement the Fangshan ones are!!!

I was told that that's kinda the point of Imperial cuisine: that they take quite ordinary dishes and try and tweak them to make them unusual in one way or the other...

Oh well, maybe I'm trying to be positive because I'm going there at the weekend to take my great-auntie out for lunch. :raz:

BTW, trillium, I have an entire banquet set of the yellow dishes. They are all Jingdezhen ware - so you might be able to pick them up in a good china shop in Vancouver that carries Jingdezhen ware. I personally "appropriated" mine from various family members :biggrin:

<a href='http://www.longfengwines.com' target='_blank'>Wine Tasting in the Big Beige of Beijing</a>

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes I've heard of this place, at first mostly from you.. and indeed it looks appealing and upon my first trip to Beijing I tried getting there many times, but kept getting caught up with something. Then maybe a year ago I tried getting some others to go once again and found a few who'd been there recently and advised me not to since it had 'changed'. Stupid, indeed. So I will eventually get myself over there. I'm not one to believe of most people's casual dismissals of a restaurant, but I suppose at that time it was enough motivation-killer to keep things simple and go for dimsum..!!

Well, every restaurant has its detractors. I think I'm the only eGullet member who's a detractor of 11 Madison Park under Chef Humm in Manhattan, because of one annoying meal that ensures I will never pay for another meal there as long as Humm is there, and that my parents and brother will never go back under any circumstances. Am I wrong? Definitely not! I experienced what I experienced.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still haven't gone yet!!  :sad:  but I too have heard that it's changed since they enlarged it by so much.[...]

They enlarged it? How? It's taking up more of their house now?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

interesting take on things fengyi. It's true that I actually don't know too many foodies who are or who's family members are beijingers. A lot of foodie friends are from sichuan/hunan/fujian/guangdong so there is always too much north-south comparisons(animosity). It's quite funny actually.. but I'm sure that helps distort my appreciation for some of the local foods. It's also interesting to see us foreigners coming to China and finding immediate satisfaction in some foods over others. In that respect from the few times I've been to some of the imperial cuisine restos many of the dishes almost felt like they were designed to be appreciated by foreigners. I can't tell you what that does for all those north-south conversations again. hah. One place comes to mind that was kind of new-beijing-with-hints-of-imperial-style that I visited recently, but the name escapes me. It was behind the two LG towers around Jianguomen built inside a siheyuan. Really gorgeous.. and really busy. Unusual amounts of sugar though, but a few dishes were quite interesting. Most of the non-chinese loved it and all the chinese save two absolutely hated it. Anyway, traveling too far off topic here.

I'm looking forward for the chengdu pics.. since I really fancy going there the next time the flights drop in price! That, and the OP's interesting and detailed take on chinese resto-beer travel reinforces why I like being here. (not including the scorpions, thanks)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know, I know, the suppositories line was a little edgey, but c'mon.....look at those things!

I wonder if there may be an element in the Imperial cuisine meant to be attractive to foreigners, given that the Imperials of the time would've been Manchurian?

I think (for my family....I like to be collective) that it would've been so much better a dinner if it had been drawn out for a bit.

Anyways, I find myself now in Shanghai with 7 to 10 more meals ahead of me. That's the bad news (I wish I had more). The worse news is that if I try to upload photos from here, I get a "cannot connect to server" problem.

Now, I could either try really hard to fix that, or eat and drink more. I don't believe there's much of a choice.

So, let's rely on text for awhile. I'll be getting more photos up soon.

Tonight, we've fed the kids on on braised beef, rice, boiled pork roll with garlic mash, and octopus and rib soup.

Yoonhi and I have reservations at M on the Bund.

Cheers,

Peter

P.S. - Serena wants us to bring back some Sevruga for her.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, I'm not sure if you're trying to upload photos from your hotel, but if it helps, there are some "Internet Centres" in Shanghai. I recall there was one near a post office on the street a block north of Nanjing Lu in the old center of town near the Peace Hotel, for example.

I really liked Shanghai. If you haven't already, go to Yuyuan Gardens, which are lovely. And eat well! I'm sure you will, as I found that from the cheapest to the upscale (upscale Shanghainese -- in our cases, Shanghai Moon in the Jinjiang Hotel; we weren't the slightest bit interested in trying Jean-George's restaurant while in Shanghai), food in Shanghai was almost always good.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would be curious to try J-G in Shanghai as it has such a great reputation and to see how it differs from NY if at all. I would not, however, make a habit of eating western food there as I would want to get all the Shanghai cuisine that I could.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FYI Pan, I went to the Li Family Restaurant twice last year, once with my daughter and once with my son and daughter. The meal was superb each time and just as you pictured it. Actually went back the second time at the invitation of Dr Li who got on like a house on fire with my Putonghua speaking daughter who was living in Beijing and when he heard son was a chef insisted we return. Have a delightful photo of the three, Dr Li looking tiny betweeen my two giants :smile:

I can't remember seeing any new looking parts of the house, it all seemed fairly ramshackle but charming nonetheless.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, thanks for a great travelogue. What impressed me was NOT the food, the sights, the places, but the fact that you are raising Scud properly. He is wearing MONTREAL CANADIENS colours!!!!! Given the choice between a crucial Habs game or a Chinese banquet when I am starving, I believe that I would opt for my Habs game :wub: I have been a fan for 57 years and 20 Cups.

GO HABS GO :raz::laugh::cool::biggrin:

Do you think that you could pose Scud in front of a historical place/thing wearing the Habs shirt??? :rolleyes:

Edited by Ben Hong (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The dinner tonight was excellent. One of the key items, for an expat eating abroad, was that they had two guys working the room along with the local staff.

I know, I sound horrilbly colonial, but it was great.

The guy we dealt with, Jack, was from Invermere, and he did what I would expect from someone with a personal interest in the place (which he doesn't have). If something wasn't covered or cleared, he was in there clearing the tables, picking up orders, or delivering dishes. Man, people like this would make gold back home.

I know, it seems like a sin to be covering Euro food in China, but, like the tour book we've got says, "while in Shanghai, if you want culturral sites, head for the airport."

After tonight's dinner of pigeon with boudoin noire; sevruga caviar (more on this later...I've got the source for Chinese caviar at the Portman); salt encased leg of lamb; and suckling pig...forget about the desserts...with a nice pinot noir.....man, I'm lusting for more.

Maybe Ye Shanghai in Xin Tian De'll be okay.....

Sens has a very nice tasting menu though.......

As Yoonhi said four times tonight...."I could live here now as an expat wife".

Nice town.

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I won't worry too much about the photos for a bit, as we'll be home in less than a week. Then I'll have plenty of time to get things up.

Tonight, after M, we hit up the Glamour Bar, which I quite enjoyed (vodka martini), after which it was over to the Peace Hotel, where we realized that they've trained young guys to wheeze as effectively as they old guys used to. We left before they could levy the 50 Y cover on us.

We tried going to the Okura cafe near us, but it was too lonely looking from the street.

Tomorrow, People's Park, and maybe acrobats. I"m thinking New Heights for lunch.

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... Wasn't there a saying that the Empress Cixi would want to "eat three, look at three, gaze at three" (I think it's 吃三,看三, 观三 but I'm sure I could be wrong)?

What's the difference between looking at and gazing at? 看 and 观 seem to mean the same thing. They are slightly different but still... done with the eyes.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Absolutely fascinating account, Peter! Brought back lots of memories.

Back to Fang Shan for a moment. Those 'suppositories' are little corn bread/cakes I believe. Did you have any of CiXi's fav pea bean cakes? I can't imagine why she liked them. Her eating habits were a wonder. All she had to do was look at a dish, and the eunuch would put the dish before her.

Bon Appetit use to have a feature -- asking a celebrity what 3 people from history, they would like the have for dinner, and what would you serve. If I had been asked, I would have said, CiXi, Madam Mao and one gentleman from The Cultural Revolution (forgot his name). I would have a great meal, and it would all have been poisoned. (nasty person that I am)

Also -- in Beijing, did you have any street food -- like Jian Bing?

Squirrel Fish is one of my favorite ways to serve fish. One restaurant here makes "Pine Cone Fish" which is a take-off of Squirrel Fish and looks something like the "~~~~~odd internal organ plucked out of an alien chest.~~~~~" you had at Fang Shan.

Thanks for the trip!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What's the difference between looking at and gazing at?  看 and 观 seem to mean the same thing.  They are slightly different but still... done with the eyes.

Oh Hooray for China Internet's hard working staff!!! I finally got connected today on home wifi! :biggrin:

Having done that, I can say that I was competely incorrect (in underestimating the amount that Ci Xi wanted on the table). and that I can't remember anything very well!!!

The quotation is:

"吃一看二观三",

So, while eating ONE, she looked at TWO and gazed upon THREE. So that's 5 dishes on the table for every 1 that she ate from. WOW :blink: I wonder how many were fresh that day - if she could be counted on not to eat them.....

and, hrzt8w, the difference in the two verbs 看 and 观 is due mainly to their difference in meaning in Classical Chinese. The later involves more of a 望 sort of sense.

[pedant classical mode ON] In fact, kan4 is a fairly modern verb. It doesn't appear in early texts at all instead 视 and 观 are used (cf. the Shijing and other pre-Qin texts). [OFF]

Also, WRT to Li Jia Cai Restaurant, it's been remodelled recently to have a capacity of 100 now.. It must have been quite recently as the revised numbers accomodated don't appear on most websites (even in Chinese).

I still want to go, but will have to save my pennies (not likely when Great Auntie needs to go to Fangshan!)

Edited by Fengyi (log)

<a href='http://www.longfengwines.com' target='_blank'>Wine Tasting in the Big Beige of Beijing</a>

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FYI Pan, I went to the Li Family Restaurant twice last year, once with my daughter and once with my son and daughter. The meal was superb each time and just as you pictured it. Actually went back the second time at the invitation of Dr Li who got on like a house on fire with my Putonghua speaking daughter who was living in Beijing and when he heard son was a chef insisted we return. Have a delightful photo of the three, Dr Li looking tiny betweeen my two giants :smile:

I can't remember seeing any new looking parts of the house, it all seemed fairly ramshackle but charming nonetheless.

It made me smile to read this. I have friends who are planning a trip to China soon (May, I think they said), and were really interested when I told them about my family's meal at the Li Family Restaurant, so I sent them a link to the thread I started about my dinner there. They're not eGullet members but I'm pretty sure they'll report back to me on their experience, eventually.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...