It must naturally follow that a country as diverse in ethnicity, geography and climate as China, would have an equally diverse cuisine. I'm no expert, but it seems that there are about as many types of cuisine as there are subcultures. Among the most popular are Cantonese - which is the most widely known and loved for it's dimsum and stir-frys; Sichuan and Hunan - loved by those who like it hot, the abundance of chili and peppercorns make for fiery dishes; Shanghai - dominated by fresh seafood and usually employs the method of slow-cooking it's meats in stock and wine; and of course, Beijing cuisine whose claim to fame are the hotpot, dumplings and roast duck.
I don't have a favorite from the four types mentioned above, I like them all. And I think we can all agree that Chinese cuisine is one of the finest and most popular in the world. Come to think of it, I haven't been to a country that does not have it's own little Chinatown or at the very least it's pick of Chinese restaurants. While in Beijing, we managed to sample all sorts of regional cooking. All but one lunch was part of our tour package and we were taken to a different restaurant everyday. The menu was always pre-set (see collage above) so we had no control over what we were served which kind of worried me a little. But turned out pretty good and we always had a nice variety of dishes: soup, rice, beef, fish, pork and vegetables.
We had come to expect this every noon time, so we were quite surprised when we walked into an all-you-can-eat Chinese churrascaria. Skewers of every meat known to man, and then some!, were brought to our table and carved onto our plates. The long buffet table was filled with both western and oriental fare to accompany all that protein being heaped into our tummies. I was eyeing the fruit section from the onset, making sure I had enough space for all those lovely fruits! I love fruits. They make me happy. I love fruit for dessert, (I can hear some of you gasping!), in fact I have fruit for dessert more often than cake or ice cream. I crammed my tiny plate with plums, dragonfruit, longgan, melon, peaches, hawthorn (oops how'd that piece of white chocolate get in there?) Sweeeeeeeeeet! And this was just the first plate. :)
But for dinner we were on our own and I looked forward to this everyday. It was always so much fun, hieing off to a new place every night where we indulged in good food and some wine and recapped the day's events. We dined in the following:
The Green T House: Luxe warned us this place was hoity-toity, so I knew I had to restrain myself from taking pictures of the food. Fine with me. But to not be allowed to take pictures of each other? Hmm, that's a bit much. But sshh... I managed to snap a couple of shots of the interiors here and here. heehee. I took these before I was told I wasn't allowed. The food was good, I'll give them that and the dessert was stunningly presented - in a bowl with dry ice and twigs, but we were uncomfortable the entire time. And the worst part? It was probably the most expensive meal I've paid in, umm, ever? At least we enjoyed making fun of the condescending staff when they weren't standing within earshot.
Red Capital Club - No. 66 Dongsi Jiutiao, Dongcheng District, Tel.: 86-10 8401 6152 , 86-10 8401 8886
Now this place I highly recommend. I loved the concept, service, food, and ambience. We stepped back in time when we entered the circular doorway, it was 1950's communist China. The menu read like a stately dinner with names like: Dream of Red Chamber - an eggplant and peanut ensemble cooked according to a description from a classic novel of the same name; South of the Clouds - fish in braided bamboo steamed over an open flame; and the Monk's Meditation - fusion of vegetables and mushrooms. Everything was elaborately presented with intricate vegetable carvings.
The mood oozed nostalgia in the cigar room where it was underscored by old over-stuffed leather armchairs - all original, dusty communist manifestos that lined the shelves, portraits of Chairman Mao that hung from the walls, memorabilia crammed into every nook and cranny and staff dressed in Red Guard uniforms. I lifted one of the vintage phones and was surprised to hear the Chairman himself on the other end. Nice touch!
Dongjie Xiyuan -76 Dongsi Bei Dajie (tel 6405 5568).
B suggested this place for our last day, she had read about it online and we all agreed it sounded intriguing. It took us a while to find it because we missed the sign which was in Chinese characters. But it was worth the trouble. This hole-in-the-wall turned out to be a breath of fresh air after all those large and crowded establishments, themed restaurants and pretentious waitresses. The specialty of the house is the dalian huoshao or Beijing-style pot-stickers filled with either pork, lamb, or beef mixed with a combination of chives, peppers, scallions or gourds. These were excellent! And we ordered more even before we finished our first plate.
Zhou Lining, the proprietor herself, had taken our orders and we were relieved she spoke some English. In addition to the potstickers, we had the mapo tofu - one of my favorite Chinese dishes and this one was up to par; the zha guanchang or fried “sausage” (photo on bottom right of collage) - both its looks and taste were forgettable, and the suanni qiezi - mashed eggplant with garlic which was loved by all. All in all, an extremely reasonable yet delicious and satisfying meal. Good call, B! :)
And this concludes my Beijing series at last! Phew! I can finally work on the backlog of posts on my dashboard. Thank you for putting up with me! :)