'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Beijing 1

Even though I have been to quite a lot of provinces in China, this is my very first visit to Beijing. First thing I saw as I stepped out of the plane was a coffee shop:

Correct me if I'm wrong - but I can't imagine coffee shops to be so ubiquitous in China ten years ago. With its increasing status quo and wealth, China has lost no time devouring Western consumer goods - including coffee.

Being the capital of the Qing dynasty, Beijing (and northern Chinese cuisines in general) food has been influenced non-Han traditions, especially Muslim. While pork is the most common meat throughout China, lamb is very common here. The most celebrated way of eating it is to blanch paper-thin slices of lamb or mutton in a hotpot. A friend of mine took me out to one of the most traditional places for Beijing-style hotpot (涮羊肉):


All sorts of snacks are sold here as well
The greenish-grey liquid on the left is worth of mention here. It's called 'bean juice' 豆汁. Remember those thin vermicelli (粉絲) made from mung beans? If you ferment the water leftover from making the vermicelli, you're left with this sour, kind of foul-tasting beverage that traditional Beijing people drink at breakfast time. You're meant to dip the crispy wafer and spicy pickle at the bottom of the photo into the drink so that you experience sweet, sour, bitter and salty flavours all at once. The challenging taste of bean juice is legendary, and I had wanted to try it for donkey's years. Verdict? It's best left for discerning locals...

The traditional kind of hotpot used in Beijing-style hotpot - a fluted copper pan. The soup base is simply water with leeks, red dates and goji berries.

There were only two of us, so a feast was out of the question. We ordered lamb and beef intestines in their natural colour - black. The white variety you see in Cantonese dim sum is actually bleached.
Sesame paste is the common dipping sauce here. As I would experience in the next few days, saltiness predominates in northern Chinese cuisine, and they hardly use much sugar in their cooking. I like my savoury food to have some sweetness to it, and if I were to make my own dipping sauce I would have added sugar to the sesame paste as well... As it is it's too salty for me.

糖耳朵 'Sugared ear' - named thus because of its resemblance to the human ear. It's basically a fried dough drenched in syrup. The other pastry here is a sesame pastry.
Oh, we ordered skewered lamb as well. It was very succulent, but it confirmed that I don't like lamb after all...

After dinner we visited the National Centre for the Performing Arts, fondly known as the 'Giant Egg'. It's 'an ellipsoid dome of titanium and glass surrounded by an artificial lake, seats 5,452 people in three halls and is almost 12,000 m² in size.' It cost 3.2 billion Chinese dollars to build, and boy, it does look stunning.

Believe it or not, we wanted more food at midnight. We started searching for a place that was still serving soya milk - and found one.

Very, very nice soya milk with fried doughs.
Next day, I did some sightseeing. It was literally just 'seeing' since I just took photos of these sites from a distance without entering any of them...

The Central Conservatory fo Music. They apparently just renovated it a few years ago, hence this modern, well-equipped building.

The Pangu 7-star hotel, famous for its superb view of the Olympic park theatre. I think it looks absolutely dreadful.
'The Cage' from a distance.
Lunch was at a noodle shop specialising in the knife-shaving noodles 刀削面 of Shandong province. The noodles had an amazing chew, but the soup was loaded with MSG... like most of the food in China, sadly.

Veggies: VERY oily. I had to secretly dip them in the hot soup hoping that some of the oil would float to the soup. It didn't really work...
'Ma' Tofu 麻豆腐: again a by-product of the vermicelli-making process
Part 2 coming!

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