December 31, 2008

Guijie - Not just for hotpot

Guijie on a chilly night is one of the quintessential Beijing experiences. To the untrained eye the neon lights will appear garish, but to those in the know they give a warm, at-home feeling. And there's something satisfying about walking along the street trying to choose a restaurant, deciding only after a judicious weighing of options, perhaps amongst a group of friends, or sometimes impulsively going into the first joint that piques your whimsy ("Hey, we've never been here before!"). Unlike at Houhai, even the touts aren't enough to spoil a stroll along Guijie, and if anything, they add to the atmosphere.

We normally choose one of the many hotpot options on Guijie, but the week before had tried, and been disappointed by, the Dongzhimen location of Huajia Yiyuan (花家怡园), a restaurant serving "contemporary Chinese cuisine", popular among locals and expats alike. Huajia Yiyuan's
wannabe chic design, shabby furniture, and exceedingly mediocre food left me feeling like the emperor has no clothes. Perhaps the original courtyard location on Guijie proper is better, but personally I'd rather spend my money at any of the Da Dong restaurants.

Trying to put the previous week's disappointment behind us, and wanting to break the hotpot routine, we set out on the south side of the street. The first place of interest we came to was a gift-shop type store selling local delicacies from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. For readers who have been to either of the Mongolias and picked up a taste for milk tea with butter, horse-milk alcohol, or beef jerky (牛肉干), then this is the place to stock up. We got a small bag of the latter and a Yanjing to wash it down with.

Next we went to Zaizai Heiya (仔仔黑鸭), a store specializing in duck and duck offal. These types of stores are usually no more than small windows selling to passerby, but this store had some flair, and even a celebrity following.

Zaizai Heiya sells whole ducks and duck wings, along with duck necks, gizzards, feet, livers, stomach, heads and tongues. We opted for the spicy duck tongues (鸭舌). Duck tongues may gross out some readers, but I didn't choose them for their shock value (I'll leave that to the pros over at Weird Meat). Duck tongues, which are brined, are simply delicious. Hangzhou cuisine has a very lightly flavored version, but these Wuhan style spicy duck tongues were even better. Duck tongues are surprisingly meaty, and unlike duck or chicken feet are relatively easy to eat, with only a small core of soft cartilage putting up token resistance.

Having whet our appetite, we headed across the street to Shougan Mianguan (手擀面馆) for hearty hand-pulled noodles, and the best ganbian siji dou (干煸四季豆) I've ever tasted.

November 27, 2008

Pssss....Beijing Thanksgiving Secret

Want to know how to get the best Thanksgiving meal in Beijing? The secret isn't where, but when. Wait until the day after Thanksgiving and then head over to Steak & Eggs for leftover turkey sandwiches. You get your turkey fix without all the fuss. And a true gourmand knows a cold leftover turkey sandwich, preferably with a slice of cheddar and a slather of mayo, is better than the bird with all the trimmings.

Steak & Eggs home page

November 25, 2008

Turay's Place - Heart of Deliciousness

Beijing is blessed with human and culinary diversity. Residents have the good fortune to not only sample all of China's regional dishes, but can also eat their way around the world without ever leaving the city. One hidden gem exemplifying this is Turay's Place, which serves pan-African home style cooking. Turay's, the eponymous brainchild of a long-term Beijing resident hailing from Sierra Leone, has a down-to-earth atmosphere which is a cross between a local diner and your own living room.

The make yourself at home comfort of Turay's isn't surprising given how the restaurant got its start. Turay and other friends craving the flavors of home regularly host dinner parties which can attract more than 20 people. It was the encouragement of these friends, and their need for a larger venue, which led Turay to open his own restaurant. Turay began by finding a quiet, out of the way, location so that the intimacy of the home dinners wouldn't be lost. Then, his wife trained their cooks until they could flawlessly reproduce African dishes from her own family recipes. His wife has done such a great job that many of their friends mistakenly think she's in the kitchen preparing the dishes herself.

Turay shows me the difference between a yam and a sweet potato about 5 kilograms.

One of Turay's biggest challenges is that he must satisfy cravings for home-style food for people from all over Africa. Someone from the meat loving south of Africa might not appreciate the vegetable focused dishes of the east, those from coastal regions will prefer a fish dish, and someone from West Africa will want a spicy kick to their meal. To provide his patrons with food like their mom used to make, Turay is constantly asking for customer feedback and getting recipes and tips from friends. Judging from the rave reviews of other patrons, he has succeeded; when an African diplomat at a neighboring table took a bite of a yam dish he said, "Turay, where'd you get these yams!? I feel like I'm back home". Surprisingly, yams are one of the few items Turay imports from Africa; an Asian variety is available, but it doesn't meet his customer's high standards for authenticity. Chili pepper and palm oil are some other ingredients which must be imported.

Left to right: cassava fufu, maize fufu, and peanut butter & oxtail soup

Since we were novices, Turay divided Africa for us along culinary lines. From North Africa was couscous; from West Africa was spicy rice, chicken wings, peanut butter and oxtail soup, and also ndole, which was my favorite dish. The national dish of Cameroon, ndole is made primarily from bitterleaf, peanuts, onions, garlic and palm oil. From Central Africa was fufu, a white starchy ball made from the cassava plant, along with a type of fufu made from maize. A ball of fufu, which can be quite hot to the touch, is pinched off and used to scoop up the soup.

We were fortunate enough to be joined by Emmy, Turay's very friendly and precocious daughter. Emmy recommends the chicken wings, originally a Senegalese recipe which is now a West African favorite. Be sure to try them if you visit!

Turay says that for people from Sierra Leone, "a meal without rice isn't a meal at all". Turay's uses only long-grain rice, because of its fragrance.

Rating (out of five): 串串串

The dining experience at Turay's is unique to Beijing; the friendly service will make you feel at home whether you've come for oxtail soup like mom used to make, or if you don't know your fufu from your ewedu.

Turay's Place

November 8, 2008

Selling Steak to China & China's Cow Town

From andystoll's flickr photostream

I just came across two Time pieces on the nascent, but booming, beef cattle industry in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, a city which was already benefiting from China's growing thirst for milk. Both pieces are more than a year old, but well worth a look.

In my opinion, there is a dearth of quality journalism covering food before it reaches our kitchens and our plates. Selling Steak to China is an exception; and the accompanying slide show, China's Cow Town, brings the story to life, showing the beef industry from newborn calves, to bloody slaughterhouse, to the new buildings made possible in part by the burgeoning beef industry.

As a bonus, here are my favorite cow/China pictures from flickr.

October 31, 2008

Seven possible surprises from China in 2009

This post has little do to with food or beverage, but should be of interest to Beijing Gourmand readers all the same. Gordon Orr, a Director in McKinsey's Shanghai office, has written a thought provoking piece in the latest McKinsey Quarterly: Seven ways China might surprise us in 2009 (free registration required to read the entire article; if you're interested in doing business in China then registration is strongly recommended). The spirit of the piece is akin to The Economist's The World in 2009.

You'll have to register to see Gordon's picks, but here is my list of seven possible surprises from China:

- China captures Osama Bin Laden in Xinjiang
- China rolls out large scale, commercially viable, desalination
- Breakthroughs in applying nanotech to solve everyday problems
- NGOs begin to play a major role in China's social and political spheres
- China announces it will build the world's largest... (solar plant, theme park, airplane)
- Chinese basketball team signs Denis Rodman
- A Chinese designed car wins worldwide critical acclaim

As an aside, my picks focus mostly on positive, innovative surprises that could come from China in 2009. I'm not an apologist or panda-hugger, China has plenty of faults, but I think that not enough is said about the positive ways in which China is seeking to address its many challenges. I'd also disagree with those who think that China/Chinese can't innovate. Follow the links above, then skim through a summary of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China, and rethink your position. For a large part of recorded history the Chinese were THE innovators; and now, after a roughly 600 year hiatus we are seeing the early hints that leadership in innovation might someday shift back to not only China, but Asia in general. Granted, China copies plenty of Western technology, but on the other hand,
invention and innovation are not the same thing. The largest gap in understanding of China's ability to innovate comes from an overly rigid understanding of the term itself. I don't have a rock-solid definition of innovation with Chinese characteristics, but I do know that it doesn't look like Silicon Valley.

More to chew on:

  • Indian invention: cultivation of cotton; British innovation: the modern textile industry
  • British invention pirated by the US: power loom; American innovation: Francis Cabot Lowell, the man who stole the design for the power loom, not only made significant improvements to the design, but also pioneered the first sale of company shares to the public in the US to finance his textile business, and was a pioneer in the employment of women.
  • The system of modern finance pioneered by Lowell made possible the Monsanto Corporation, which leads us to an American invention: commercial GM crops; Chinese innovation: planting cotton that has been genetically altered to express insecticide; this reduces insect populations not only for the cotton but for neighboring fields as well; it also improves the health of farmers who no longer have to use large amounts of insecticide.


Wired takes a more skeptical view of the development of nanotechnology in China

A reasoned, middle ground take on: Is China Creative?

October 26, 2008

Emperor Burger

From Flibblesan's Flickr photostream

This week The Economist profiled Burger King's (汉堡) expansion into China in Fast food in China: Here comes a whopper. Both McDonald's and Yum!'s KFC have a major head start on the world's second largest burger chain, but there's plenty of market share left if the company plays its cards right.

Burger King has translated the name for its signature burger, the Whopper, as huangbao, or Emperor Burger, which isn't as catchy as a Royale with cheese, but aptly named given that so called "little emperors" likely make up a large part of its target market.


KFC China's Mexican Sneak Attack

Meal Ticket: McDonald's, seeking growth in China, cuts prices

Supermarket Gourmet - Wine Flavor Pejoy

This post is the first in a series where I'll review interesting food and beverages from supermarkets and convenience stores.

This box of wine/chocolate flavored Pejoy snacks caught my eye because it seems like an attempt by Glico, maker of Pocky, to cash in on "China's newfound obsession with wine".

The front of the box sets high expectations: "When chocolate falls in love with red wine, the sweet flavor melts my heart, and makes me forget the passing of time."

The back of the box was just as interesting because listed as ingredients are cocoa liquor, whisky, coffee powder and, you guessed it, actual red wine, which was number 19 in the list of 21 ingredients.

Verdict: Tastes like communion wine with barely a hint of chocolate. Pass.

October 25, 2008

Cool Beans

City Weekend has called Hot Bean Cooperative (合作社) "far and away the hippest chuan'er joint on the planet". I don't know about that, there are plenty of kaochi (, chicken wings) eateries that have stayed closer to their hipster roots the Transformers theme song wasn't played once while we were there. But, Hot Bean Cooperative is a fun place to grab some chicken wings, chuanr and beer in a laid back atmosphere, and a good place to start the night before heading to Gulou area bars.

In between each piece of meat on this gurou xianglian (骨肉相连) is a piece of chicken cartilage; it sounds unappetizing if you've never tried it before, but it gives a crunchiness that contrasts nicely with the chicken meat.

These Thai style chicken chuanr (沙拉泰式口味) were actually ordered from the salad section of the menu (I love China). While the garnish hardly qualifies it as a salad, this dish was the favorite of the night, with a slightly sweet and spicy sauce.

Hard not to smile when you have a bucket of meat in front of you

The chicken wings in the back are the 'perversely spicy' flavor (变态). These wings slapped me around and called me names like 'Nancy' and 'Susan', but in a good way.

Mantoupian (馒头) are usually the highlight of a meal at a kaochi eatery, but these were disappointingly soggy.

Rating (out of five): 串串串

Full marks for atmosphere and price, but HBC lost two chuanrs for serving its beer warm and mashed potatoes cold.

China Daily (original article from TBJ): Find of the month - February, 2007
HBC's Dianping page

Jiaodaokou Nandajie

reservations recommended


October 12, 2008

Like a (kaoya) Virgin

Over four years in Beijing I must have had Beijing roast duck dozens of times. But we just finished a meal at the Nanxincang location of the Da Dong chain, and the dining experience left me feeling like someone who had eaten roast duck for the very first time.

It wasn't only the duck which was great, the supporting cast rounded out the meal nicely:

In the fore, shredded winter melons; in the back, wild mushrooms. This Da Dong location really sets itself apart by the elegant presentation of its dishes.

'Chef Dong's Braised Eggplant', based on a recipe that Da Dong Sr. was famous for serving. The cloves of garlic were the best part.

Pan fried goose liver. Wow.

Persimmon sorbet in almond milk, sprinkled with toasted almonds.

There were many intriguing dishes on the menu that we weren't able to try. Next time maybe I'll end the meal with the erguotou chocolate mousse.

Go behind the scences with a video of how Da Dong makes the perfect roast duck.

Rating (out of five): 串中

Da Dong should probably get five full chuanrs, but I only gave it 4 1/2 chuanrs because I'm reluctant to give out a perfect score.

Da Dong (Nanxincang location)

Nanxincang, Dongsi Shitiao

Tel. 5169-0328


More safety scares

Neither of these scares are going to be as serious, or gain as much attention, as the melamine scandal, but they're a couple more straws added to the camel's back:

Ginseng jabs kill three in Yunnan

Three people in Yunnan have died after receiving injections of ginseng, a common ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Tainted China water sickens 450

In neighboring Guangxi province, 450 people are sick after flooding caused waste from a local metallurgy company to pollute the water supply of several villages; four of the sick have arsenic poisoning.

Many readers will remember the chemical spill in the Songhua River in late 2005 which grabbed headlines around the world, especially when the polluted water made its way into Russian territory. The government reacted by implementing stricter legislation, but as is often the case, good intentions from the center don't always translate into results in the provinces.

And of course, there was the infamous cardboard steamed bun fiasco, which, unless you're rather cynical or susceptible to conspiracy theories, was actually a hoax but rang so true that it had everyone fooled.


China Daily: Factory boss held over contaminated poultry feed

BBC: China tainted pork makes 70 sick

WSJ: Water-Injected Meat: The Next Chinese Food Scandal?

Apocalypse Chow III - Cooking Lessons

We had a lot of fun during a cooking lesson at The Vietnam Cookery Center.

Caramelized clay pot fish before marinating and cooking.

Ingredients: 100g sea bass, 1 teaspoon shallots, 1 teaspoon chopped spring onions, a baby chili, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon chicken powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppercorns, 1 cup fresh water, 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil, 2 teaspoons caramel syrup; garnished with coriander and more spring onions

After marinating briefly, the fish was cooked until the sauce was boiling; then, water was added and the fish again cooked until the water was boiling.

Notice the beautiful mesh pattern of the net rice paper. This kind of rice paper is perfect for fried spring rolls because it gives them a lighter texture.

Grace's spring rolls were all neatly wrapped and uniform in size, mine not so much. I had already been taken to task in front of the class for accidentally adding salt to my filling instead of sugar (the horror! the horror!). As usual, Grace was the teacher's pet and I was the kid who everyone prefers to sit at the back of the class where he'll cause the least disruption.

Filling ingredients: 40g minced pork (ours were actually "vegetarian", with silver wood-ear added instead of the pork), 30g crab meat, 40g minced prawns, 15g wood-ear, 35g taro, 1/2 teaspoon chicken powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppercorns, 1 teaspoon chopped shallots, 1 teaspoon chopped spring onions, 2 teaspoons egg yolk for binding.

Dipping sauce ingredients: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1/2 teaspoons chopped chili (or to taste). The sauce can be prepare in a large quantity in advance and stored for several weeks. However, leave out the garlic and chili until the last minute; the garlic in particular will make the dipping sauce sour if left in for too long.

One trick we learned is that the garlic and chilies should always be added to the dipping sauce last; for some reason (physics? magic?) they only float if added in last.

On the right is sour fish soup with pineapple and vegetables; tamarind sauce was responsible for the sour flavor. Not pictured is a dessert of sweet green bean and seaweed porridge.

Apocalypse Chow - Vietnam Food Pics
Apocalypse Chow II - Cafe Sua Da