Everything is edible in Beijing

22 11 2010

I am not proud of the fact that we found ourselves in a Starbucks on day two of our epic Chinese adventure last month, or that we walked 7km to find a burger on day 3, but let me elaborate before you banish me to gastronomic purgatory forever…As with everything in China, kitsch is unashamedly cool and even the food world seems to be riddled with ‘creativity’. Everything is considered edible, so it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to what you are going to get each time you sit down to a meal. And as we happened to be staying in the old part of the city, for no reason other than that the deal we found on hotels.com put us there, whenever we ventured out to local restaurants we were not dining in the ‘tourist spots’, shall we say. Even breakfast time in our hotel was an epicurean escapade of note.

Here are a few of their favourite things
Make the tea eggs – these are eggs stewed in a black tea/soy sauce/spice blend combination and are a common Chinese snack food.
Braised curdled blood in a clay pot
Stir fried yak meat
Fried jawbone and bean sprout chillies
Fish lips with pickled peppers
Mouthwatering baby bullfrog
Yak hoof, water chestnut and fungus (aka mushrooms, but why oh why do they have to call them fungus?)
Shark fin soup
Eel soup (live eel is delivered to the table and boiled in a ‘hot pot’ while you wait)

Almost nothing got us going quite as much as our trip down the Wangfujing Snack Street – a pedestrianised street that’s a jumble of atmosphere and flavour. Stalls burst with food and regional delicacies from all over China…

Scorpions – still alive and, quite literally, kicking

Rob munching on sugared grapes

The sugared fruit man

Scorpions and cockroaches

Working with molten sugar

The fruits of the molten sugar labour

Pigeons I think?

Munching on a freshly roasted scorpion with a cold one in hand – as you do.

Now I know most of our reactions to this are going to be, but I am not trying to do that to Chinese food. I am trying to give you just a tiny window into the culinary experiences that await us all over the world, and into how one of the most sophisticated people groups in the world do not consider eating fried jawbone an issue. And nor should we. Maybe you don’t have to eat it, but we certainly don’t have to turn our noses up at it. 1.3 billion people surely can’t be wrong?

They most certainly weren’t wrong when it came to R15 noodles in beef soup with chilli and coriander at the canteen of the 11 floor high electronics building in West Beijing (yes, 11 floors!!! well worth the trip, though sadly our Amazon Kindles from there don’t work???) – anyway, the noodles instantly put our R25 Starbucks to shame and curbed a bad habit fast.

They also aren’t wrong about their beloved Peking Duck – Beijing’s signature dish that’s as much a part of visiting Beijing as a trip to Tianamen Square or The Great Wall. Duck was once an imperial delicacy, but went mainstream after the fall of the Quing dynasty and scores of chefs found themselves out of work. It’s not an easy dish to master, and of courses cooking methods vary, but no wonder it was mostly left to the chefs of the imperial palaces in ancient times. What usually happens is that first, the duck is inflated by blowing air between it’s skin and body. The skin is then pricked and the duck covered in boiling water and then hung up to dry before being roasted. When cooked, the duck’s skin is crispy on the outside and perfectly tender and juicy on the inside. Usually the whole duck is then delivered to your table and cut up and enjoyed with mini pancakes, plum sauce, green onions and cucumber.

What else did we love besides the ubiquitous Roast Duck?

Kung Pao Chicken, named the official meal of the Olympic Games in 2008, it sold like hot popcorn in the stadium. Peanuts, gorgeous Sichuan peppercorns and whole red blistered chillis are the stars of this dish.

Other favourites I’ll be trying out here on the blog over the next while…

Cashew Nut Chicken

Spicy Beef with Cumin and Ginger

Black Pepper Beef Stirfry

Shandong-style Asparagus – lightly stir fried with soy sauce, sesame seeds, and sesame and chilli oil

You can read more about our trip to China in another post here as well.

*Some images are mine, some are my friend Jenna’s and some thanks to a very cool Chinese food blog, Appetite for China.



8 responses

23 11 2010

Fascinating post. I think the skewered scorpions are my favourite.

29 11 2010
Tom Robbins

Very informative article on food that I don’t ever come across in South Africa. Thanks.
Tom Robbins

29 11 2010
Tom Robbins

and did you try the scorpions (presumably they have taken out the sting of their tails)?

29 11 2010

Thanks Tom, great to have you on my blog! Ashamed to say I didn’t try a roasted scorpion, but agree the stings must have been removed – we tried asking the guy in the picture about that but there was too much broken telephone going on to figure it out! All the best, Sarah.

27 01 2012
Spanish-style Chickpea and Chorizo Stew « afoodieliveshere

[…] might remember my post from Beijing in 2010 – if not, I’ll jog your memory shall I? Crunchy roasted scorpions on sticks, […]

15 03 2012
Erika Ravenscroft

I have just discovered your blog after an article on Beeld’s website – will definitely become a regular follower!! I am an ex South African living in Ireland, and I must say your recipes make me drooooolll!!

15 03 2012

Hi Erika, thanks so much for your kind feedback. So glad I can send a little slice of SA your way via the blog. Happy browsing 🙂

16 03 2012
Ellen de Beer

Haai Erika.
Nou net haar boek “Bitten” bestel.
Laat weet as iemand in julle rigting kom, dan kry ek vir jou ook een.

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