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eG Foodblog: fengyi - Win(e)ing and Dining in Beijing


Fengyi
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Hi Abra! I don't really stress over the fake food thing - after all, there's a lot more things that can kill you quicker in Beijing... like the taxi driving! Honestly, life is complicated enough so I try and just avoid situations where I might come across fake food.

SOme ex-pats here are JUST ridiculously paranoid and I think that's a very horrible way to live. Mind you, I wasn't posted here, no one forced me - I came here because I like it here (I sort of speak the language, I am familiar with the culture) so maybe I'm more laid back to begin with :raz:

Also, the trouble with talking about Chinese food matching with most people not from China is that most of them very do know very little about 'Chinese food' full stop. They can't name the four great cuisines, let alone the 8 schools, and the minority cooking. I always hold that saying "Chinese food" is hard to pair with wine is like saying "European food" is easy to pair with wine.

Just as it would be hard to pair lutefisch (sp!?!?), pickled herring and steamed artichokes/asparagus with wine, and easy to do boeuf bourguignonne (sp?), roasted chicken and braised lamb shank, there are easier and harder dishes from various areas of China. For instance, Hunan is easier to pair than Sichuan and Dongbei is very wine-friendly!

The food-serving fashion here also makes it harder to pair wines well, but honestly, I think that most people come out with that maxim (chinese food is hard to pair) simply through lack of knowledge!

But that's just my two cents worth!

I do plan to write a book about food matching with the various schools of Chinese food. Mr Lau in HK has already done one, but since it was sponsored by LVMH I don't really approve of the limited wine range cited, despite the excellent fundamentals!

Edited by Fengyi (log)

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

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Anyway, I should bring this to a close and stop hogging the bandwidth, so I will post the last two meals!!!

Firstly, off to Yilao's (Great Auntie's) we went, armed with various gifts. She lives in a 60m2 apartment with five other people - it's a two bedroom affair..and I'm not sure where they all fit! It's her and her sort-of cousin and husband (both Shenyang countryside), their daughter and son in law and grandchild. ..

When we're invited over, I know that there will be enough food to feed the 5000, so...

this was the first set of food put on the table:

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From the top boxes of MeltyKiss chocolate and wine (our presents), we have a cold tossed salad, huanghefish braised in dark sauce, pork with garlic sprouts, gongbao chicken, shrimps with green onion and ginger, braised spareribs and in the centre, eggplant/aubergine 'hezi' (lit. boxes) - which were stuffed with pork and deep fried.

All this for essentially 6 to start (to put it into perspective, Great-Aunite let slip that they only have 3/4 dishes in total when it's them eating). To my horror, the granddaughter was allowed to eat instant noodles instead as she refused point blank to eat this food. Apparently, she demands only instant noodles, McDonalds or KFC. It's so depressing that they indulge her (she's a real Little Empress) and allow her to behave like that :shock:

All this food was being produced in a tiny kitchen:

This is one side:

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This is the other, with cousin/auntie cooking:

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And here are some close-ups of dishes I thought you may find interesting...

This is a cold dish made of duck meat in the middle and a gelantinous dish made from boiling pig skin around it. After my great-auntie complained that it was flavourless, so chile oil and soya sauce were added.

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The shrimp were a real delicacy:

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and were there for our benefit.

The cold tossed salad was lovely, with egg, doufu, cucumber, carrot radish all in a piquant dressing:

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and then more dishes kept coming out of that tiny kitchen, and finally the end dish: about 3 platters of xianrbing (sutffed flatbread) were produced!

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These are dough-covered pork and celery disks which are delicious but not very light!

Of course, we got forcefed with them until we couldn't move...

This is a picture of the table once we'd been steadily eating for about 1 hour. In the background is the TV programme we were also supposed to watch and comment on at the same time.... it was the CCTV (central China TV) 13th Annual Song and Quiz Festival. My poor husband had to sit there and endure 2 hours of Chinese traditional singing and all our comments in Chinese!! Poor guy!

gallery_28661_5821_69393.jpg

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

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Wow!!! I'm so impressed with how much came out of that tiny kitchen. It all looks delicious! I want to lick my screen. I agree with Agra that the lamb looked the best. Is it possible to get any recipes for the dishes at your aunt's? I'd love to try to make them here. Thanks for such a great blog! :)

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On Tuesday, I was asked to give a wine talk to a whole group of people connected with the Olympex Expo (stamps and coins) that is happening the same time as the Olympics.

I introduced five countries's wines and the relationship between them and the Olympics. Then I taught them how to taste, and we had a fun blind-tasting game.

The high point was that I was invited to stay onto lunch.

As this meeting was at the Whampoa Club, this was an invitation indeed!!!

The Whampoa Club Beijing is an scion of Whampoa Shanghai but it specializes in modern takes on traditional Beijing (and Lu) cuisine dishes. I've had the good fortune to eat there twice before and was really impressed. I haven't been to the one in Shanghai - but hope to!

They had ordered the lunch tasting menu:

Here's the first part:

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and here's a picture of the overall dishes for the first course:

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Around you can see the pork knuckle in front, then salad and the chicken.

Here's a close up of the doufu:

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This was very nice with the Chilean Tarapaca Reserve Chardonny that we were drinking - the oaky nose really complimented the smoky doufu.

The Youmaicai salad was very pretty:

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but the sauce was a bit too refined for me - I prefer a thicker, woofier sesame :biggrin:

Then came the mains:

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The frog was rather nice:

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and the sweetness of the Cab Sauv-Merlot blend we were drinking was good to off-set the spice. But the wine went even nicer with the lamb:

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They had cooked this so that it had no "shanwei" 膻味 which is the gamieness flavour of lamb. Instead it was sweet and crispy. The wine really worked well with the inherent sweetness and the crispy texture.

The shangjianbaozi dumplings were VERY cute (and wonderfully cooked)

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but my favourite was the 'pasta' dish:

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which was not only tasty, but texturally very exciting with the crisp prawns against the soft "pasta" - which were like very soft nian-gao.

I never got the pigeon soup because I kept bobbing up and down and meeting and greeting and trying to be terrible polite to the various officials!

But I was there for the dessert which was a bit strange really:

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Very cute looking, but strange to eat. The hotness of the mustard was not too dominating, but overall, it didn't mesh well with my admittedly Western-influenced ideas of what dessert should be. It was decidedly unsweet - so for once, the dessert wine (a Chilean late harvest Gewurtz) wasn't overpowered by sugar and the sweetness of the wine off-set the hotness of the mustard. But it was still a bit odd to have something like that for dessert.

And yes, those are wasabi peas! :shock:

Well, the food there is never boring - and I find it very exciting. The main down point is that it's massively expensive :sad: but it's good to see Beijing food being served and cooked in such an exciting way!

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

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Wow!!! I'm so impressed with how much came out of that tiny kitchen. It all looks delicious! I want to lick my screen. I agree with Agra that the lamb looked the best. Is it possible to get any recipes for the dishes at your aunt's? I'd love to try to make them here. Thanks for such a great blog! :)

Hi! Thanks for the kind words!

The relatives want me to have a proper xianrbing making class so I am hoping to arrange that when I have a free moment. I promise to take lots of pictures and post them in the Chinese foods forum so that you too can make these stodgy delights!

Actually, the dishes weren't all that great (my cousin/auntie has a heavy hand with the MSG and her cooking's very rustic counstryside...) - but we have got a really good cook in the family (by marriage).

He's a proper chef for the People's Liberation Army and his stuff is really good. I shall have to beg some recipes from him! :biggrin:

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

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I'm not on the correct etiquette to sign off on the blogging, but I would just like to say a Big Thank You to anyone who managed to plough through this blog!

I hope it gave a small taster of how exciting the food scene is here in Beijing and what a variety of both Asian and Western cuisines that there are. I love living here for that!

I'm sorry that I didn't make it to the Sichuan government restaurant and also that I didn't post a wider range of Chinese cooking (so many regions, so little time). I wanted to fit in some Guizhou and Anhui and Hunan too, but just ran out of time to eat in so many restaurants!

Thankfully, we just took delivery of an exercise bike, so I can burn off some of those calories (and then eat more)!!!!

If anyone is heading this way, please feel free to PM. I hope I can offer some small help!

[OMG, I completely forgot to show Peking Duck! Oh dear, I am HOPELESS, aren't I? :shock: sorry!]

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

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Thanks for a wonderful blog. Although I have to admit that now that I've seen your Whampoa lunch I'm a bit depressed. Inspired by your pictures yesterday, we went out to dinner last night to the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant in town. A small bowl of dumpling soup, two spring rolls, a little dish of green curry shrimp, a little dish of lemongrass chicken, and a small bowl of stir-fried vegetables cost the equivalent of $65!

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thanks for taking such trouble Fengyi, I'm sure that blogging can be very disruptive....really loved seeing it all, especially your relatives at home...that is truly the essence of living in another country...you are very lucky to have the family connection...

ps. good luck with your business venture...not that you need it!

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I keep a jar of quite-woofy Sesame Dressing in the refrigerator at all times.

The cold tossed salad was lovely, with egg, doufu, cucumber, carrot radish all in a piquant dressing:

gallery_28661_5821_12235.jpg

This is one of the most exquisitely-prepared and presented dishes ever to appear on any thread, EVER. The intricately-sliced and so beautifully arranged salad---I cannot think of the work it must have been, in that small, crowded workspace. Her love for her art is so evident, and all the beautiful colors and textures and tastes---I cannot imagine anything more wonderful at the Emperor's Court.

I want your Auntie to come live with me---I'll give her a kitchen all her own, though small and not worthy of her talents, with a well-loved wok and sharp, sharp knives and cleavers. She is an artist, and her love of the delicious and beautiful just jumps off the screen.

Your speaking in an above post about ex-pats and their paranoia and distrust of the food---John said several times that most of the people in his travel group were really wary of trying anything---"because we don't know what's in it"---that's the bane of ANY cook, anywhere, and cause of dismay and irritation. Whole threads have been run on the subject.

He said he just dived right in to everything---chicken feet and gelatinous this and that and exotic greens with the texture of okra---you see that his heritage as a Deep South child stands him in good stead---he knows where food comes from, how hard-won it is, and how one man's meat may be another's dislike, but he just ate and admired and enjoyed. As it should be.

These last two meals are beautiful and SO wonderful-looking, but your Auntie's tiny, cramped kitchen has the true Master in residence. It's a matter of "Here's what we HAVE" vs. a modest, gracious, "Here's what I did for you." Could you tell her that another family's Auntie far away admires her very much and would love to watch her gifted hands at work.

I won't forget her for a long, long time.

Edited by racheld (log)
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[...]A very typical simple Beijing lunch. It's what millions across the city eat everyday. It's like the M&S sandwich in the UK  :smile:

What does M&S stand for?

When I was last in Beijing, in 2004, my brother and I walked through most every hutong we could find, using a map that had been published only months earlier to try to find them. Many of the hutong shown on our map were already vacant lots, demolished in preparation for the construction of huge highrise housing developments. We really enjoyed the hutong - they smelled, because of the communal toilets, but they felt like villages, with clear air (not polluted with exhaust like the rest of Beijing), very little except bicycle traffic, and lots of people hanging out on the streets until late at night playing chess, getting haircuts and massages and of course food and drink. Several of the hutong were just full of little restaurants and outdoor vendors. I remember one of them had a row of restaurants specializing in seafood, such as chili crawfish. Outdoor vendors were selling good flatbread they made on griddles, kebabs, and all sorts of other things. How many of these places have escaped the wrecking ball, now that the Olympics are almost upon us?

Another question: How concerned are you and other people you encounter with raw foods in particular? I wouldn't eat a raw tomato in China, for example, for fear of e-coli contamination from nightsoil used as fertilizer. Is that overly alarmist? Do people get checked for parasites as part of their regular checkups? Sorry for the unappetizing topic.

Also, I'm curious how many Beijing ren are planning on clearing out of the city during the Olympics. When New York Mayor Bloomberg was angling for New York to be considered for the Olympics, New Yorkers were already talking about how we'd make sure to get the hell out during the Olympics. Given Beijing's usual level of traffic, I just can't imagine what gridlock awaits. What, by the way, are Beijingers' favorite vacation destinations? Have their experiences of dining in other parts of China and abroad had a lot of effect on the popularity of different cuisines in Beijing? Sorry for all the questions. :biggrin:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us!

I visited Beijing last year. The um, beige air and endless traffic sort of put me off as compared with Shanghai where I had more time for pedestrian exploration so I appreciate getting your view of Beijing and your life there.

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Thanks very much for this, Fengyi! In particular, with the work you have and where you are (and the internet being what it is in Beijing at times) this is particularly appreciated.

I'm looking forward to getting back there next year!

Cheers,

Peter

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Fengyi, I just realized I asked you a bunch of questions after you had already signed off (I hadn't read all of page 4 before rushing off to work this afternoon). Please feel free not to answer them, and thanks for a most enjoyable blog!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Don't worry, Pan - I'm still around and this isn't locked yet...!

What does M&S stand for?

It's Marks and Spenser - the unofficial source of the British lunchtime sandwich.

When I was last in Beijing, in 2004, my brother and I walked through most every hutong we could find, using a map that had been published only months earlier to try to find them. Many of the hutong shown on our map were already vacant lots, demolished in preparation for the construction of huge highrise housing developments. We really enjoyed the hutong - they smelled, because of the communal toilets, but they felt like villages, with clear air (not polluted with exhaust like the rest of Beijing), very little except bicycle traffic, and lots of people hanging out on the streets until late at night playing chess, getting haircuts and massages and of course food and drink. Several of the hutong were just full of little restaurants and outdoor vendors. I remember one of them had a row of restaurants specializing in seafood, such as chili crawfish. Outdoor vendors were selling good flatbread they made on griddles, kebabs, and all sorts of other things. How many of these places have escaped the wrecking ball, now that the Olympics are almost upon us?

There's quite a few districts - they've slowed the hutong wrecking as of late. The main areas of Dianmen, Houhai, etc.. still survive. There's been a local movement to stop development within the 2nd ring road. The trouble is that there are no heritage laws (well, there are in theory, but not in practice) and also, renovating these traditional hutongs to make them habitable requires more money than the local residents have so their biggest chance of being saved is to be acquired by a rich person (be it foreign or Chinese).

The condition of a lot of them is appalling and restoration will need money pouring in to make them properly habitable. I have, however, seen signs of that in certain areas!

Another question: How concerned are you and other people you encounter with raw foods in particular? I wouldn't eat a raw tomato in China, for example, for fear of e-coli contamination from nightsoil used as fertilizer. Is that overly alarmist? Do people get checked for parasites as part of their regular checkups? Sorry for the unappetizing topic.

Ha! I just had a tomato salad for lunch (with some Beijing Mozzarella-style cheese). Most of Beijing's tomatoes are grown in hothouses (Chinese style ones - with straw rolled over the top at night) so I'm not that worried as I think the use of nightsoil as fertillizer is declining around here.

Of course, I wash all veg in veg-washing soap too!

As for parasites, there are always bad outbreaks - but I'm not that worried about them.

Also, I'm curious how many Beijing ren are planning on clearing out of the city during the Olympics. When New York Mayor Bloomberg was angling for New York to be considered for the Olympics, New Yorkers were already talking about how we'd make sure to get the hell out during the Olympics. Given Beijing's usual level of traffic, I just can't imagine what gridlock awaits. What, by the way, are Beijingers' favorite vacation destinations? Have their experiences of dining in other parts of China and abroad had a lot of effect on the popularity of different cuisines in Beijing? Sorry for all the questions. :biggrin:

Beijing people are REALLY looking forward to the Olympics. There is a tremendous sense of pride here for most people (remember that post-modern style irony is non existent for 99% of the population). When you hear people talking about the 'New Beijing, New Civilization, New Olympics, New Spirit', they really, really do believe it for the most part.

Patriotism is shockingly manifest (at least from my point of view) here. It's inherent in the language and culture. Most people love China to a degree that I, of no fixed nationality or race, find absolutely incomprehensible. I mean, there are even pop songs about the glory of being Chinese for goodness sake!

As for the cars - it'll be a fringe benefit of living under a totalitarian government, during the Olympics, most cars will simply be banned from the roads. Easy-peasy stuff when you don't have to placate any voting population :biggrin:

As for vacations - most popular is still to go to China's favourite places, then I think that France is very popular. Very romantic, very old world. But Chinese are travelling more and more. Dubai for shopping is becoming chic.

The biggest influence on Beijing dishes has definitely been the popularity of Sichuan food. Beijing food should not be spicy-hot! But it is increasingly so and many people put this down to the influence of Sichuan's popularity.

The most popular foreign food is pizza, by far, if you exclude McDs and KFC.

I hope I answered your questions - and I hope you can make it back to Beijing some time in the future! :biggrin:

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

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Thanks for a wonderful blog.  Although I have to admit that now that I've seen your Whampoa lunch I'm a bit depressed.  Inspired by your pictures yesterday, we went out to dinner last night to the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant in town.  A small bowl of dumpling soup, two spring rolls, a little dish of green curry shrimp, a little dish of lemongrass chicken, and a small bowl of stir-fried vegetables cost the equivalent of $65!

Gack! That's quite a lot even considering the strength of the Euro. I think of the number of spring rolls I could make here with $65. Zillions!!! :raz:

But if it makes you feel better, the tasting menu at the Whampoa is nearly 300RMB (about 45USD) which is outrageous for here.

I do hope you enjoyed the dinner for all that!

Mind you, you don't tip at all here! Nor is there a service charge for most non-hotel places.

[bTW please remember that if you are visiting China - please don't tip!!!!It's one good legacy from the communist era!]

Edited by Fengyi (log)

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

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