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Across China with the vermin


Peter Green
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it turns out that Han’s – while local – is owned by the Tsingtao empire.

And Tsingtao in turn is 27% owned by the American company, Anheuser-Busch, one the world's largest brewing companies. Their tendrils really are everywhere.

Anyway, I really enjoyed your latest episode, as usual. The first city in China that I really knew was Xi'an and I lived for a year very near to the South Gate.

It was a long time ago, you brought back lots of memories. I still think it is one of the best places to eat in China.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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it turns out that Han’s – while local – is owned by the Tsingtao empire.

And Tsingtao in turn is 27% owned by the American company, Anheuser-Busch, one the world's largest brewing companies. Their tendrils really are everywhere.

Anyway, I really enjoyed your latest episode, as usual. The first city in China that I really knew was Xi'an and I lived for a year very near to the South Gate.

It was a long time ago, you brought back lots of memories. I still think it is one of the best places to eat in China.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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it turns out that Han’s – while local – is owned by the Tsingtao empire.

And Tsingtao in turn is 27% owned by the American company, Anheuser-Busch, one the world's largest brewing companies. Their tendrils really are everywhere.

And that in turn explains the heavy presence of Budweiser in Shanghai.......

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Loving your adventures as usual Peter,... talk of beer reminds me of my first time in Beijing, 1990, late June and hot as hell......was permanently semi rat-arsed on big bottles of icy cold beer stored by the street vendors in huge blocks of ice with holes cut out to store the bottles in, and no need for the loo (thank God) as the heat was so dry my body seemed to use up every drop of liquid with no by-product :smile: only danger -high probability of being mown down by nine million bicycles

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Day 7 – Toy Soldiers

When I woke up, I felt much more like myself than I had when I didn’t. My stomach was settled, and it appeared that whatever issues my body had had were cleared out.

Li Zhi was working out well, and not only as a plush toy for Serena’s use. We’d asked her if we could rearrange the schedule a bit to do the Terracotta Warriors today, rather than on the airport day. As it’s a bit of a drive from in the opposite direction from the hotel, we figured this would be more sensible.

We arrived at the site after an hour or so, the last portion enlivened by a host of shops with signs like “The shop of counterfeit terracotta warriors”. There’s a lot to be said about truth in advertising.

After parking by the Tourism Shopping Center of Qin Yong Parking Lot there was a good fifteen minute march through the empty shop complex. The whole area is being built up (and cleaned up) in advance of the Olympics, and Xi’an is expecting to benefit from spillover tourism as the majority of the visitors are expected to pop by for a look see a the Emperor Qin Shihuang collection of model soldiers.

The site was discovered in the late ‘70s when a group of farmers, digging a new well, unearthed pottery shards. They decided that no attention was the better option, and covered everything up, but not before one of the guys smuggled out a couple of pieces, and biked into town with them to visit the local museum. The result was the discovery of the terracotta warriors, and a few yuan for the one farmer, and a job for life signing books in the lobby of the reception hall.

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It’s an impressive thing to see. Row after row of troops; some complete, and some still headless. In some locations still fallen in place, not yet restored. And all with moustaches. To be considered a soldier worth your salt, you have to have a moustache.

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The guards were more attentive now than before (even if they didn’t have moustaches). A year or more ago a tourist had snuck in when the guards were all off at lunch, and had managed to pose as a warrior for a couple of hours before someone noticed that he didn’t quite fit in. Now the guards have to work in shifts over meal times. They didn’t look too pleased at this.

We were deep in the heart of tourism here. There was group after group of foreigners marching through, jostling, and shopping for trinkets. Where were all of these people yesterday when we wandered around the town?

Given that we were at one of the most important tourist sites in the country, I had to pick up a souvenir. I spotted it in a shop window near the entrance: Ku Gua, the bitter gourd beer. Proudly, I bought a bottle, my plan being to chill it down as far as I could in the room in order to be able to drink it.

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And, yes, it’s a Han’s product too. As a note, I wasn’t ever sure if it was “Hans” with Teutonic overtones, or “Han’s” with a more local note, as I saw it spelt both ways on their products and ads. (If the second is correct, then would the possessive be “Han’s’ ”?….maybe I worry too much?)

By one o’clock we were done in, and looking forward to our return to town. Li Zhi and Mr. Li dropped us off at the hotel, and suggested that the Muslim quarter by the Drum Tower would make good stalking grounds for dinner, while, if we were interested, there was a nearby spot for “local fast food”. We chose this for our immediate needs, and got down to the important business of eating.

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The Shaanxi Typical Fast Food Restaurant was, in effect, a cafeteria. Metal trays, all the luminous drinks the kids could hold down, and a selection of about twenty or thirty things in bins. This posed an opportunity for trying a number of different things in manageable quantities.

Myself, I tried the Northwest Wolf Royal Beer, with a great label, and surprisingly good taste, bubblousity and crispness. How did this happen?

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The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. No, scratch that. It was bad. The problem was primarily in our timing. We’d arrived after the lunch rush, and there was no great hurry to refill things at this point, so the food was generally luke-warm, and the buns and dumplings were getting a bit tough. It’s a pity, as the background flavours were promising it’s just that the food had been sitting around too long. If we’d had more time (like a week) in Xi’an, it would’ve been a good place to come back to early in the day, when they first filled the trays.

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While the town is laid back, the noise level was as expected. This picture sums up the etiquette of cell phone use fairly well:

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After some more poking around the street and a bit of a rest, we headed out into the night to find dinner in the Muslim quarter.

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En route, for a quick pick-me-up, we grabbed some corn. This was selling well, and steamed corn is always cheerful. At least, it kept Serena content as far as the Drum Tower, the gateway to the Muslim quarter.

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Right at the start of the quarter there was another market selling food, so we had to pop in here.

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In addition to the dried fruits and nuts – which got Yoonhi’s attention – there were also some nice Chinese cakes. I harbour fond memories from my teenage years of stopping in at the bakeries in Vancouver and getting a couple of these for a snack. They were just as I remembered, a flakey mess that falls all over you as you chomp in.

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As I made a mess of my clothes, I turned my attention to a collection of boxes across the aisle. These were all snack foods, bars of pressed nuts and fruits. I had to have some.

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When Yoonhi finally dragged me and my purchases out of the market, we headed up the street proper. Their stomachs were talking to them, and it was time we did something about that.

The street was lined with Muslim restaurants, but not like the ones I’m used to from the Middle East. Two stories (in general) with intriguing balconies looking out on the streets, and with big food sections out in front. The crowd was a mix of Han out for the food, and Hui either eating, shopping, working, or yacking away.

I came to a halt in front of a big pot of stuff. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. gallery_22892_4411_8529.jpg

Yoonhi found a tub of the uncooked material just behind, and, with it’s translucent wobbly look, thought it might be a jelly – perhaps like the Korean acorn jelly, mook - or else a form of rice cake.

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But I’d already shifted my attention to the pile of crawfish over on the other side of the door by the flat breads.

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That was it, we were having dinner. I flagged out one of the waitresses, pointed first at the fried gelatinous stuff and then at the crawfish, and we went inside for a seat where we ordered some soft drinks for the kids and a Tsingtao draft for Yoonhi and I. The place was packed, with lots of locals and Han at the tables, and waiters wandering around with burnt bits of meat on metal skewers looking for takers.

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The gelatinous stuff appeared to be rice cake, with a nice brown flavour coating it, touched off with a tiny bit of chili and chopped spring onions. It wobbled nicely as we moved it onto our spoons, and had a filling feeling on the palate.

The crawfish were a lot of work, but were worth it. For this they handed out the proctology gloves, which were good for all of about three crawfish before they were so perforated by the chitin that you were better off taking them off.

I like crawfish at any time. They’re a great social dish, as you don’t get much food off of them, but it gives you a great centerpiece for talking, drinking, and being generally barbaric. These ones had a very nice sauce, flavoured with some star anise we found amongst the bodies. Maybe the meat was a little on the soft side, but I wasn’t complaining.

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The burnt-stuff-on-sticks guys were working the room, looking for takers for the satay fresh off of the trough outside. Scud was having problems getting full from what we had, so he waved at the guy, who happily started parsing out metal skewers of meat onto Scud’s plate.

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I was somewhat taken aback at how many they’d given Scud, but I figured he was a growing boy, so he should be able to handle it. In the interest of being a compassionate father, however, I did have a few myself.

The meat was very good. There was a gentle spice on these, and plenty of fat to smooth things out. Before long Scud (with my help) had pretty much worked through all of them.

We called for the cheque, and then the waiter started counting the skewers. At this point we realized that we didn’t have to eat all of them, just as much as we wanted (we didn’t mind too much).

Back on the street, we stopped in for a quick snack of rice cake (not that we were hungry). The man was working in the stall while behind him the lady was portioning the rice cake with a piece of string.

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And from there we worked our way back to the Towers, and then to home.

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Curiously, whoever had the ice cream bar concession across from the Bell Tower on the East Road was doing great business. There were hundreds of wrappers all over the place, with some poor souls collecting them up and bagging them; whether as a job, or in order to get money for the recycling I don’t know.

Once home, it was time to try the Ku Gua. I’d put it into a bucket of ice before we left for dinner, and so it was down about as cold as I could get it.

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My initial reaction? Good even bubbles. It started off with a good head, but this quickly fell to scum. With some trepidation (I noticed that, buried in the label details, there was a picture of a wolf baying in what appeared to be intestinal agony) I took a swig. I was surprised to find that it was only mildly repulsive, and tried another taste. Yoonhi tried a taste, and agreed that, as bad things went, it wasn’t as vile as some.

For a moment we considered finishing the bottle, and then weighed this option against a nice shot of Armagnac.

I’ll leave our decision to your imaginations.

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I think we eat those cubey thingies too in Wuhan. However, we steam them and then eat them room temp as a salad mixed with sauce, garlic and scallions.

These pics are awesome! Please keep them coming!!

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Okay, both Jokhm and XiaoLing are going with potato flour as the basis for the gelatinous things. I'm good with that!

Does anyone know the characters for this, and/or the process for making the things? When I think potato flour, I think gnocchi, and those definitely aren't gnocchi. It'd be fun to try and do those at home.

Cheers (and thanks!),

Peter

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starfish? I wonder what that tastes like

looks like the silkworm larva are way bigger in china than they are in korea and more "crunchy"- as I'm sure you know, korean silk worm larva is stewed until it is unrecognizable and can be smelled a mile away.

stupid question, but is your wife korean? You seem to know a lot of korean and yoon hi sounds very korean.

oh and does the original version of ja jang myun taste anything like the korean version?

Edited by SheenaGreena (log)
BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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Hi, Sheena,

Yoonhi was born in Korea, but she's probably more Canadian than I am. Still she's got a lot of memories from there, and from her family's cooking that I make free use of. (Plus, she's got a degree in food science, which really helps me out).

The bundaeggi (silk worm larva) were much bigger in China. Yoonhi remembers getting a bunch of them in a little paper cone from the neighborhood vendors.

Her take on the noodles was that they were "same same but different". The Korean version would've been heavier on the sauce and more black bean.

Nowadays it's not much of a thing for the youngsters, but she says - back when she was a little kid - it was a big deal, as it wasn't something you'd make at home, you'd have to go out to a Chinese restaurant for it. One of her family friends, when he was a student, if he got really good marks, his parents would dress up and take him out for a bowl of ja jang myun, and they'd watch him eat. He's in his 70's now, and he still considers it a treat.

I guess it's sort of like when I was a kid in Vancouver. If all of us boys had been behaving ourselves for awhile (which didn't happen often) our parents would dress up in jackets and clip-on ties and we'd go to the Varsity Grill for chow mein.

Ah, those were the days.

As for starfish, I'll have a verdict in a week or two. I bought some and brought them back for the kitchen here.

Cheers,

Peter

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Day 8 – Goosed, Dumpling’d, and Gone

At breakfast, the kids brought up an interesting question.

“Why are there so many mixed up families here?”

I asked them what they meant, thinking at first that they meant my usual state of confusion. They pointed to one of the many Western couples we had seen with Asian girls. There seemed to be a large number of them at breakfast in the hotel, all the kids wearing red shirts and yacking away in English with their parents. My guess was that it was a tour of families who’d adopted Chinese children and were now bringing them back to see where they were born. It’s still a sad thing that there’s so much emphasis on male offspring in this nation of (largely) one child couples.

As I was listening in on some of the tables (okay, I was eavesdropping) I was hearing about the Grey Goose Pagoda – which would be a great name for a martini. I suspected that they meant the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and took this for a good omen, as it was first up for us today.

We checked out of the Hotel Royal Garden and packed our bags into the van. We’d tour for the better part of the day, and make it to the airport in the early evening for the flight to Chengdu. I’d grown to like the hotel. Okay, the internet wouldn’t work in the room, but they had it available in the coffee shop, and they had Duvel and Leffe Belgian beers available there (as well as Bitburger and Birra Moretti). How could I complain under those conditions?

As we drove to the Goose, Li Zhi filled us in on the history. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda – part of the Da Ci’en Temple - was built in the Tang Dynasty in order to house the Tripitaka that were brought to China by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (portrayed in the classic Journey To The West as Tang Sanzang – Sanzang being a title for one who’s mastered the Tripitaka), built in the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century (the earlier, 7th century structure – being built of mud – hadn’t fared too well).

Legend had it that at one monastery, meat was a required part of the diet. A particular festival had come up and no meat was at hand. Seeing a flock of geese passing overhead, one of the monks hoped that the Bodhisttva would provide for them. At that moment the lead bird fell dead at their feet. Rather than eat the bird, they took this as a sign to swear off meat forever.

Who knows, maybe this could’ve been the earliest case of avian flu?

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I’d enjoyed seeing the Tripitaka at Hae In Sa years ago, and so was keen to look in the pagoda, but Li Zhi told me that most of the building was empty, and only a few pieces were on show here.

Still, it was a pretty tower. Given that it was empty, Scud and I left the climbing and viewing to Serena and Yoonhi, as we were warned that it was something of a narrow fit as you got up to the top. I don’t do well with tiny steps, low ceilings, and narrow fits. As for Scud, he’s just lazy.

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Scud and I made do with ambling about the grounds, admiring the flowers, looking at the carving that was going on, debating just how much permanent damage could be done to your hair in this town, and checking out the X-Play video game reviews he’d been downloading to his iPod.

The temple itself is active, with about 20 monks in residence. Occasionally, we’d see one about his business, wending through the crowds of tourists on the grounds.

Yoonhi and Serena were down in a bit. The views were good, but the windows blocked by lattices and, yes, it was difficult navigating the last level. Yoonhi wanted to know what Scud and I had been doing, so I told her we’d been discussing different aspects of comparative religion in multimedia…..okay, okay, we were watching the review of the new PS2 version of God of War II. We never get away with anything.

After the Goose, we had a short kite-flying break, and then took in the museum back in town. All of the big museums we’d seen in China to date had been well presented and worth the visit, and this was the same. I particularly liked one little pot they had on display.

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It’s filled from the bottom through a central well. Once the water reaches a set level, it hits the spillover point to the spout, and you know you’re full. Flip it over and you’re at a level where the water can’t overflow the central column.

Having covered enough culture for the morning, we were into town for lunch. It was dumpling time.

Defachang – Steamers’R’Us

We’d scoped this place out the night before. The restaurant has a history going back to the 1930’s, but the current building – the Defachang Hotel – is fairly modern, and at night it’s hard to miss the wall of neon advertising the dumpling banquet.

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They’ve won a number of competitions for their dumplings, but a certain part of this (a lot) is based upon presentation. As you come through the front door, before you head up the stairs, they’ve got a number of examples on display.

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There’re little green ones shaped like frogs, and perfect little tomatoes in the back. Then others like flowers, fanciful little ducks and chickens, and my personal favourite, the pink pigs.

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We climbed the stairs to the second floor, and took our seats. Obviously, we were back in tourist country here, but we still only saw one other table with two Westerners sitting at it.

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It started with non-dumplings, a set of appetizers consisting of chicken satay sprinkled with sesame, some fried wheat noodles, shrimp in bitter gourd, and alfalfa in a vinaigrette. The bitter gourd was a nice match to the shrimp, and I preferred this to putting it in beer.

I also figured out the jacket thing. They’d had these at Quanjude as well, and we were wondering if someone had forgotten their bags on the backs of the chairs. They have suit bags to go over your coats as you’re sitting. We’d taken off our coats, put them on our chair backs, and then the waitresses quickly slid the covers over them.

They then brought out glasses of the local wine, a cloudy thing, somewhat honey-sweet, with a backtone of lemon.

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The steamer baskets all came with two different types of dumpling. First up were the tomato and mushroom dumplings. The tomatoes carried the flavour well, kind of sweet, and the mushrooms had that strong bite of shiitakes.

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Then we had rice and pork dumplings. Relying on Scud’s memory “they tasted like rice and pork.” Thanks, Scud.

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Next was another type of pork in a translucent wrapper, and the walnut dumplings.

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And these walnut dumplings looked like walnuts. Unfortunately, they also tasted a lot like steamed walnuts. It’s a pity, as I’d been overcome with lust as soon as I saw them, but the texture came through too thick, too chestnutty, and I was disappointed. It’s not that they’re bad, but I’d grown up with an immense walnut tree in my back yard, and we were used to fresh roasted walnuts (before the squirrels got out of hand in Vancouver).

Next up on the right side of the table were chicken and ham jiaozhi

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We were getting slowed down a bit, and the next wave hit us: vegetable and chicken on the left side of the table

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and pork and shrimp to starboard

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After the steamers, we had a couple of fried dumplings. The first was sweet, much more of a pastry:

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and the second vegetable filled and chewy:

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Another steamer now showed up with vegetable and pork.

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And then the big soup pot came out

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Which had small chicken ball dumplings in a chicken stock.

And we received some boiled pork dumplings as well

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So, what was the body count? All in 19 different types of dumplings. Steamed, fried, and boiled. As you would expect, a peak in the kitchen is fun.

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There’re a lot of steamers racked up in there (with way more around the corner, but this was a stroll-by-shooting, so I didn’t want to be too obvious).

What we’d had was sort of the lower end tourist version of the banquet. No shark’s fin (which is okay by me), and not too much elaboration on the detail of the dumplings. I gather that things can get pretty elaborate, especially when the VIPs are in town, although often they’re taken to the Xi’an restaurant instead, depending on where they’re from.

From the Defachang it was a short stroll to the Bell Tower. As we’d seen the Drum show in Beijing, it seemed worthwhile to do the Bell show here. A little dancing, a little music, basically a pretty short, cursory stop. As Yoonhi said, it might’ve made more of an impact if the dancer’s blue jeans weren’t showing under her skirts from time to time.

And from there back into the Muslim Quarter and the Grand Mosque. When we’d first set this trip up - I with my obsession for food and Yoonhi with her AMS (Asian Mom Syndrome) for getting the kids exposed to the most culture - we’d debated dropping this from the itinerary. After all, we’d been in the Middle East for decades. Did we really need to see another mosque?

That would have been a bad decision. Luckily, we stayed with the plan.

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The Great Mosque is beautiful. In the grosser sense, it’s a very pretty piece of Asian architecture, with a stunning garden laid out inside the grounds. Then, when you look in detail, you find the requirements for a mosque; the ablution area, the prayer hall itself, the minaret, which is effectively a pagoda.

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The garden was fun for Serena. It’s full of birds making their usual racket. Clap your hands and everything will go silent for a moment, and then suddenly come back up to volume. Needless to say, Serena did a lot of clapping.

For the very reason that we’d thought of dropping it, this was worth doing. We tend to fixate too much on the stereotypical view of things, and this gave the family (and me) a different aspect to mull over.

Outside of the mosque we did a bit poking about in the tourist stuff, but then we realized we had a problem. We still had an extra couple of hours before we needed to check into the flight to Chengdu. We were still too bloated from the lunch to consider spending the time eating (I was better, but still not back in true form), and no one was keen on sitting at the airport.

I asked about other sites, and Li Zhi came through. It was a little uncomfortable for her at first, as the plans they set up are all worked out to the kilometer traveled on the vehicles and a lot of other factors, so impromptu changes can be tough, but once she realized that money wasn’t the main concern here (given how much we’d spent to get to Xi’an).

What she recommended was that we take in the Han Yang Mortuary. This is a fairly modern dig that’s only been opened up in early 2006 to the public, so it hasn’t made it onto the itineraries. It’s located relatively close to the airport, so we could do this and not run too much of a risk with regards to getting our flight.

Plus, we had some great highway signs as we went by. My two personal favourites were:

Do Not Drive Carefully

and

No Lions Pressing

(which I think meant no passing on the solid line….but you never know)

The Mortuary is a Western Han tomb for their fourth emperor, Jingdi (around 150 BC). There’s the usual huge artificial mound for him, and another mound nearby for the empress, with another 260 or so auxiliary tombs in the area. This was neat, as they’ve burrowed the museum into the ground, and rather than observing the pits from the side, they’ve constructed a clear floor overhanging the pits that you traipse over, viewing the relics directly beneath you.

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They’ve got one section of the tomb that consists of all of the animals that the Emperor Jingdi would have needed for the kitchen in the afterlife. Herds of cows, chickens, pigs, and so forth. Everyone in our family was represented except for me….the rat. But we suspect there may be one or two in their somewhere. Unfortuntately for this writeup, we didn’t get a shot of that, but it’ll make it into the video (whenever I get that finished).

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The figures here aren’t life sized like the Terracottas. Generally they’re the about 1/3 scale, and they were meant to be clothed, so you get more of the feel of an abandoned mannequin factory at times. But the museum display section does a good job of giving you the feel of what the restored elements would’ve looked like.

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With the mausoleum, we were just about in perfect time for the airplane…..if we’d been flying China Airlines. As it was China Eastern doesn’t open their check-in until later, but we figured we could thank Li Zhi and get on with things ourselves (once we’d pried Serena off of her).

We checked in, and things went easily for the domestic check-in this time. I’d forgotten to mention on the Beijing exit that Chinese airports have a strict restriction on no bottles in your hand carry. Water they’ll open and check, but if you happen to be carting around some good Armagnac and single-malt whiskey (I’d gone for a bottle of Clynelish 14 year old) it’s either give it up for the good of the people or (like us) scurry back to the check-in counter and put one of your hand carries into the hold (and hope for the best….although we’ve got pretty sturdy hand-carry bags).

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As a note on the airport, Denise Café – after security - isn’t bad. The pork ribs we had there were exceptionally tender, just falling apart, and the broth was excellent. Also, Denise Café had a great selection of beers, covering Birra Moretti, Corona, Heiniken, and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Comments on Xi’an

I liked Xi’an. When I’d planned this trip, I’d actually tried to drop the town, but gave in on cultural reasons. After having spent two nights, I wish I’d done more. Li Zhi was of the same mind. She was Manchurian, originally from up by the Korean border. She’d done her university studies here in Xi’an, but found the city too attractive to leave (although proximity to the North Korean border may also be a good reason not to go back, too).

While it’s huge (over 7 million now), the city walls collect things into a manageable space for the visitor, and give you a well defined and enjoyable space to explore. Pollution wasn’t a problem, the traffic was way less psychotic, and the food was very good. We’d stayed with the local cuisines – the Muslim Hui offerings, the back alley Han selections, and the dumplings that they’re so proud of, but we saw plenty of Sichuan and Cantonese restaurants about, as well as Japanese, Korean, Italian, and one French place near the South Gate. If I’d been feeling healthier there were also a few good strips of night life out there that would’ve been fun to hit up (and which would’ve had more food).

But, it’s the same old lament. So many meals, so little time.

Next is Chengdu.

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We also came across a popcorn maker. Yoonhi perked right up at this. If a simple pressure cooker makes Anthony Bourdain nervous, this would have him trembling. Corn or rice is brought to the vendor, he puts it into the sealed canister, and then puts it over a charcoal brassiere and waits. When it’s ready you get this huge banging noise. Hence, the Korean name “bang” (appropriate enough). Yoonhi doesn’t think they have these things in Korea anymore…..at least in the South.

Peter, you can tell Yoon Hi that those popcorn makers that go with a bang (more like a cannonball boom) is very much alive here in my part of Korea. There is a drawn whistle that blows before the popcorn cannon explodes. Kids would cover their ears and then the boom of exploded kernels will fill the air. LOL

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 think the Choya you mentioned in your first Xi'an post is a Japanese plum liqueur, or umeshu. I personally wouldn't drink it with a meal, but it's nice over ice. It is very warming, and it's supposed to be good for women.

I think one set of grandparents came from Xi'an, probably my maternal ones--at least Ah Gong anyway.

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Those pictures looks so droolfully delicious. I'm getting more and more excited about my potential trip to China in the fall now.

Peter, quick question. I'm currently in the process of planning my trip with my parents and we're trying to pick out cities. We're thinking Yunan and Guilin so far. Out of all the places you and your family has been, which would you consider the most interesting and a must see?

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so since you guys are in china and your wife is korean, are you going to go to korea?

Also, since xi'an is near the north korean border, did you see any north korean restaurants?

ps: reading this post on an empty stomach (or on a full stomach which is what i have now) is making me incredibly hungry. I don't think I have ever had real chinese food in my life and it's about time I do a little exploring in boston. I've only been exposed to ja jang myun and a few americanized chinese dishes.

nowadays ja jang myun isn't that fancy, because you can get it delivered to your house for like $5 or less. It's also easy to make at home now because all you need is a packet of noodles and a packet of sauce and then you add some veggies or pork.

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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China's region bordering Korea is Manchuria.

The only cities I would guess you may have heard of near there

are Shenyang, Harbin, Dalian.

The only country that I think comes close to Xian would be Mongolia, and you'd still have to go through the Xinjiang region to get there.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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The only country that I think comes close to Xian would be Mongolia, and you'd still have to go through the Xinjiang region to get there.

Some strange ideas about Chinese geography appearing here. :smile:

Mongolia is directly north of Xi'an. Xinjiang is in the far west. Totally wrong direction!

Map

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Peter, here's a pic to show your wife. Popcorn cannon truck in action...

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You see the black wire mesh basket at the end of the truck? That's where the exploded kernels fall after the cannon explodes.

The aftermath after an explosion... You can see a tendril of smoke curling at the back of the truck.

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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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Domestic,

Thanks for those pics! I've gotta get me one. I could rig it up in the back of the Rover.

For Chengdu, I'm going to have to break the postings up into partial days. There's just so much food to describe (and I am back at my day job now).

I'm relying on all of you out there to jump in on anything I've captured in here and fill in the details (what is the Sichuanese word for a rice scoop?).

Cheers

peter

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Day 9 – Ground Zero – Chengdu – part 1 (this is a long day)

I was very excited.

Beijing, Xi’an….I’d enjoyed both of these, but they weren’t places I’d targeted for eating. Chengdu was. This one was mine. And I was keen. Keen as a keeny thingy…..

Okay, you get the idea.

Up to now, we’d been relying on guides for getting us around to the cultural spots, and hacking it on our own for eating. But Chengdu was different. There were things I wanted to accomplish, and for that I’d need translations and guidance.

Originally, we’d contacted a friend of a friend, married to an Aussie, who was based in Chengdu. Karen had spent a couple of weeks in Sichuan at Wolong – at the panda centre – and had developed good relations, and felt this was someone who we’d get along with. Unfortunately, when we got ahold of her before the trip, she was leaving for Oz. But, she had a friend who she thought would work out well if what we were after was food. Hence, we got in contact with Java.

I’d been working with her on the internet and on the phone, coordinating what we wanted to get done, and what we wanted to eat. This led to a fairly packed schedule for me, but a couple of free days around the place for everyone else. We’d looked at our timing, and ditched any out-of-town touring, as it would take us too far away from the restaurants we wanted.

Did I mention I was very excited?

As a comment, I recommend springing for a local chip when you’re in China. I bought the cheapest plan, $64 at the airport on arrival in Beijing. It might seem expensive, but when you have to meet someone, or if you need a restaurant or club to pass directions on to your taxi driver, it’s worth every penny.

We’d arrived on Day 8, and our oversight company, the one that was getting us from place to place, did a good job (Mssrs Yang and Li) of getting us to the hotel – the Yinhe Dynasty – located in the heart of town. Mr. Yang was fine, but he wasn’t an eater.

Arriving at the hotel, things were getting better and better. It’s big, modern, and clean. The rooms were even better than in Xi’an, and best of all, they had a statue of Zhuge Liang by the elevator.

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Second to eating, I’m a big fan of Zhuge Liang from the Three Kingdoms, and visiting his memorial in Chengdu was one of the other things that we needed to get done. It used to be that everyone read the Three K’s, but I think a Beijing comment sort of summed things up “No, I haven’t read the books. But I have played Dynasty Warriors!”

So, we’d left the North, which was under the sway of Wei, and now we were firmly in Shu, the capital of the beleaguered remnant of the Han Dynasty.

I had to see if I could buy myself a peacock feather fan.

But, I digress.

We woke in the morning with a long day ahead of us. First off, it was pandas.

Panda Go Panda

The breakfast room had great views over the busy streets three floors below. Horrible food, but great views. Mr. Yang had gone on about what a great breakfast they had, but the “great” part was limited to its being a large spread, rather than of acceptable quality. As with everything, there’s an upside, and for me it meant that I would carry a greater appetite through the rest of my day.

And I was feeling good. I was feeling great. I was feeling hungry.

Java met us on schedule in the lobby, and she’d arranged a driver, Mr. Li, to cart us about today. We were heading out to the suburbs to see pandas (and Serena was very excited).

The Panda Centre is well worth the trip. I suppose, if you’re doing an extended volunteer stint, the Wolong Centre is where you want to be (and I have no reason to believe that the food isn’t good – this is Sichuan, after all). But I wasn’t looking for long, long car trips. We wanted to see pandas, and this would do.

On the drive out (about 45 minutes) Java filled us in on bits and pieces. Sichuan is the most populous of the provinces, and also one of the poorest. Like the NorthEast of Thailand (Isaan) the province provides the muscle and backbone that’s doing the heavy lifting for the development of the country. When they show those New Year’s shots of the rail stations being mobbed with people trying to get home, most of those people are going to Sichuan.

This came up as the poor part of town was on the East side, and that’s where the Panda Centre was. But even the poor side of town was seeing a fair bit of development. The SouthWest side, which we’d traversed coming in from the airport, was littered with million dollar houses (and complexes with names like “Vancouver Village” and “California Villas”), and there was obviously a lot of money about.

Chengdu, as a name, means “Perfect Metropolis”. Perhaps it was a jinx to use that, as it’s been devastated time and again. The Mongols whacked it, as the Sichuanese had put up stiff resistance (it’s never a good idea to lose); Zhang Xiangzhong had run through his reign of terror there in the 17th century; and then the Japanese and the Communists in turn beat up on it when it was the Nationalists.

Anyways, we arrived at the Pandas, and it was well worth it.

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I didn’t know that pandas made noises like horses. Nor had I ever seen them run. Heck, when I’d shelled out my bucks to see them in Chiang Mai a few years back, the little guys were comatose the entire time (young pandas are nocturnal it would seem, and the exhibit closed at dark). I’ve got some great photos of panda butts from that visit if anyone’s interested.

The first one we saw was a female, and she was moving. She was the one making horse noises. She was tearing about her compound, running here and there, wagging that fat Pope’s Nose of a tail as she ripped about the cage.

Close by was a group of males. They were more sedate, just sitting around, eating, and scratching themselves. Sort of like any group of males in front of a sports on TV. There were a couple of them – one eating, one being brain dead – that could’ve passed for Scud and I.

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But let’s get back to food. Pandas are carnivores who’ve given up meat. The teeth are still there, as are the digestive organs. But for some reason (one of the points of research here, along with breeding) they stopped eating meat, and switched to bamboo. And those same digestive organs are extremely inefficient at processing bamboo. For this reason they spend most of their waking hours in a continual eating process. Maybe I should eat more meat?

This allowed me to use my panda joke on the kids.

“A panda walks into a crowded bar. He sits at the counter and orders a scotch egg and some bamboo. He eats, the egg, scarfs down the bamboo, then pulls out a 9mm and fires it into the ceiling. The panda then leaves the bar.”

“The terrified customers look up and see the bartender calmly drying glasses. “What was all that about?” they ask.

“Well”, says the bartender, “that was a panda.”

“So?” they say.

“Well. As you know, a panda eats shoots and leaves.”

The great thing about having kids is that there’s a whole world of tired jokes you can roll out on them, and they’re too small to beat you up (although Scud’ll probably nail me one of these days for a bad pun).

We toured the center, carefully trying to avoid the two tour groups that were there. Again, having Java for translations was fun. Everywhere we went there were signs imploring us to be as quiet as possible. So what do we get? Crowds of curly haired older ladies screaming at the sleeping baby pandas “We came all the way here to see you! Wake up!”

Vegging Out

After we’d finished here, we headed for the Manjusri Monastery. We did a little sightseeing here, but our primary purpose was to eat at the vegetarian hall.

The draw for the veggie hall is that they’ll use non-meat items to mimic Sichuanese dishes, or, as they say “serves Sichuan style meat-dish resembling vegetarian banquets and meals.” This is all part of the “new concept Buddhist catering culture, that is, compassion, and appreciate the enjoyment and benefits of vegetarian diets.”

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Pass me a bamboo shoot, will you?

We ordered the crispy fish in sweet and sour sauce. It’s been made out of potato. It’s not quite holding the crisp, but is well worth eating, the sauce having a good solid tang to it, but not overpowering. The potato gave a good heaviness to it all that I enjoyed.

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In contrast, the fried intestines are made from tofu, and this is just plain evil. I loved it, buried under chilis and loaded with peppercorns to numb the mouth, well distributed as opposed to some of the Thai dishes that’ll just attack the front of your palate.

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Rice was the best defense on this, and I loved the old wooden bucket and the chugok (rice scoop) they landed on the table.

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The sautéed bamboo shoots were every bit as brutal as the fried intestines, maybe more so, as this was bit oilier, and so carried the burn.

Now, I feel it’s good to expose children to new flavours. Luckily for Serena, Yoonhi doesn’t agree, and she ordered udon noodles in a casserole.

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This was very mild (by my standards) and came loaded with herbs and mushrooms. Serena approved, and even I liked it.

After lunch we toured a bit, taking in Jinma lane and the environs, and then headed over to the People’s Park, one of countless abodes of the elderly.

The elderly seem to be pretty busy in Chengdu. The park was abustle with dancing, singing, chess, and more poker games than you’d find on-line. As we strolled through this, we came across one vendor selling extremely pretty candy, spun out like glass into crickets and butterflies.

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And from the park, we were off to market.

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Honest, as soon as I saw the female tearing up the turf in her enclosure, and saw that chubby wobble at the back, my immediate thought was "that looks just like some chicken butts (Pope's Nose) I had as yakitori a few years back."

For the next bit, the market, I expect everybody to dive in and correct and identify what I put up. For most of this I'll just be speculating (a polysyllabic version of guess).

Cheers,

Peter

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Day 9 – Part 2 – To Market, To Market

I love a good market. Beijing, and our guide had pointed us in the direction of a supermarket. That has its attractions, but it’s not quite the same.

I remember in 1983, when I was working in Houston, a busload of Japanese tourists disembarked at the Kroger’s I was shopping in and proceeded to take pictures in the produce and meat sections. At the time I was bemused, now I can perfectly relate.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Markets. Beijing was a write-off for me. And Xi’an’s “market” was interesting, but it was limited to packaged goods, dried fruits and nuts, and a few cakes and such like.

I needed to get wet.

We set off down Broad and Narrow Street, of which Broad is narrow, and Narrow is broad. It was an area that the local government had slated for demolition and development (like much of Chengdu), but where the locals had revolted and refused to move out. So, they turned it into a tourist destination…..sort of.

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Well, at least it’s got a Youth Hostel (darn, they’ve got all the good locations).

At the end of this street was the local market. This was what I was looking for. Two floors of produce, spices and critters one step away from the pot.

The main area downstairs was – at first glance – about fresh greens.

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Cauliflower, beens, lettuce, bok choy, daikon, celery, chillis….all well and good, but a little monochromatic.

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The tomatoes added some colour, as did the eggplants. And the only eggplant I saw was this form. There were none of the little pea sized aubergine, or the other varieties I’d been accustomed to in Laos.

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But there was a lot of fungus. Some that I was used to, while others had a diseased yellowish hue, and some a sickly grey. Once I saw these I started wishing for a kitchen.

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And piles and piles of green stuff. I wonder what this was in the front middle?

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There were piles of dried stuff. More fungus, ginger. I think those might be shallots in the front left, and I’m not certain about the stuff above the shallots, or the shredded orange stuff.

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And then there’s the really fun stuff.

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Mounds of spices and flavours. The ground pepper caught my eye, and then right beside it I saw what I was looking for. Fresh Sichuan peppercorn. Java picked up one corn for me to inspect, and asked me if I was used to this. I said, “But of course!” took the corn, and just as she was saying “No! It’s a bomb…..” I popped it in my mouth and tasted it.

I spent the next ten minutes or so with the right side of my face doing Jim Carey impersonations. This was not the same Sichuan peppercorn I’d been used to from the shops in Canada and the MiddleEast. This was downright evil.

I had to have some.

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I love these scales in the market (and they were selling them there, too). I picked up a kilo of the Sichuan, and then stocked up on gingko nuts and some of the dried chili powders.

Java had some comments about my choice of “souvenirs”.

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We spotted some more manifestations of flubber, that gelatinous stuff we’d seen in Xi’an (or at least I think it might’ve been the same). The brown stuff on the left sure looked a lot like the acorn jello of the Koreans.

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And, of course, there was tofu. Gotta have tofu in a market. Fresh, dried or fried. Sheets or pleats, they’ve got it all.

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And there was a whole section given over to bamboo shoots. I thought they used a lot of bamboo in Yunnan, but Sichuan may take pride of place in this.

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And the pickles were well worth a taste test. I wonder what that green stuff is back there?

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And pastes. In Thailand I’d be seeing curries, but here there was black bean varieties, and the red Sichuan good-for-everything sauce (I picked up some in packages. It’s nice to see them using a plastic sheet to protect the bucket. It’d probably eat through.

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There also appeared to be a fair variety of lentils, not something I normally associated with Chinese cuisines.

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And sugars in any choice you’d want. Rough crystals, refined; or bricks of palm sugar in the back (and I think that might be the ubiquitous bean starch the Sichuanese use instead of corn flour in a lot of things – way back there).

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The noodle ladies were quite cheerfully vending their wares.

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While the eggs looked good, especially the packed and sealed ones (those odd misshapen things), I wasn’t cracked up to shell out for them (sorry).

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Scud spotted these and pronounced them as quail eggs. Tray after tray of them. We passed these on our way to the staircase to take us back to the ground floor, our sacks of purchases in hand.

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We came out in what I consider to be the more interesting part of the ground floor.

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Yup, it was Texas Chainsaw territory. Hacked, sliced, and minced.

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And the parts of the pig that didn’t fall into those categories had their own place to rest.

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Here’s some more of that typical Sichuan paste. This stuff was too dangerous to keep on the second floor, obviously, for fear of drippings eating through the reinforced concrete floor.

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And what would a Peter Green tour of markets be without the nasty bits? Offal by the bucket, all kept fresh and tender in buckets of water.

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There was a mix of what looked like gizzards from chicken and other parts from who knows what.

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There was a particularly pretty bowl of something that hadn’t been completely bled out.

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And right beside the offal the seafood started up. These squid looked really good, and would’ve been wonderful stuffed with some of the minced pork and herbs we’d seen already seen, then cooked up with the Sichuan sauce…..I’m drooling again.

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It was obviously crawfish season. I came across a basket of them just after some people moved on, their bags wriggling and little claws poking from the inside out.

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And then we found the eel whacking lady. Traditional eel preparation. They’re taking live and wriggling from the bucket, given a solid whack on the head, and pinned to a board with a nail in it (one of mankinds most sophisticated weapons, Scud pointed out). Then she guts it in an instant, and tosses the meat into the little pink basket.

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Serena spotted some household pet material. I didn’t try to explain the purpose of frogs and turtles in the kitchen to her.

While Serena was admiring the turtles, she was suddenly splashed.

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One of the fish had managed to escape, leaping clear of its prison. She tenderly picked it up and put it back in the tank. I’m sure the fish was very grateful (“I was free. Free! How could you put me back?”).

And that wrapped up the market visit. Some of what I consider to be culture, plus loot for the kitchen. We strolled back to the car, the plan being to get changed and head out for dinner and a teahouse.

On the way back, a nice old lady wanted to conduct a tourist survey of me. Now, I know these people get paid by the completed survey, so I was willing to do my part. But this went on for a dozen pages. And we kept on having to go to “other” and explain that my main reason for coming here was not to go to Tibet, and was not to go to Wolong. I actually wanted to be in Chengdu…..for eating. Big smiles from her, of course. Then another required entry was “how much do you earn”. This I figured wasn’t going to be a good thing, and so I fobbed her off on that. But, as Java told me, it was a typical question in China, as by knowing (in the old communist system) how much a person made, you could quickly place them at the proper point in the hierarchy, as progression in the old system was pretty much set in stone. It was the access to perks that got people ahead.

And that still has some draw. Even though the police are only making a few thousand RMB a month, it’s still a better job (more secure – pardon the pun) than being in the private sector and pulling down five to ten times as much.

So, we parted, all smiles, and I and the Horde made our way back to the hotel to hose down and get ready for dinner.

Next: Hot Pots and Dancing Tea

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Oh. My. Goodness. I want that market. Thank you for a) taking the trip b) taking prolific and mouth-watering photos c) writing with wit and insight, and d) posting all of this, especially while on the road. So, is the scud named after the missile or the chile?

I wasn’t cracked up to shell out for them (sorry).
Heh - you don't sound very sorry. :raz:
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