Everything is edible in Beijing.

Posted on 1 December 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 7 km to find a burger on day three, 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:
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”¦

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.

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