August 27, 2008

Free Rice

Help end world hunger

Shun Yi Fu jiaozi

These beauties are from the Shun Yi Fu dumpling restaurant in the APM shopping mall at the intersection of Wangfujing and Jinyu Hutong. The jiaozi in the upper-left and bottom-right corners are "four treasures jiaozi" (四宝饺子); the four treasures are egg, carrot
, raddish, and 'wood ear', with spinach in the bottom. You can have your choice of fillings for the other jiaozi; the orange jiaozi had carrot mixed in to the flour, the red ones were made from some kind of red rice flour. Other creatively wrapped jiaozi looked like small bunnies, goldfish, and a yin-yang design. Shun Yi Fu has a wide selection of fillings available, from the standard fare to wild mushrooms, seafood and even donkey meat. The restaurant is a good choice for vegetarians, or halal or kosher diners.

Rating (out of five):

Vocabulary terms

carrot 胡萝卜
wood ear (fungus)
donkey meat

Shun Yi Fu
APM Shopping Center, 5th floor
138 Wangfujing Dajie


Tel. 65139558


August 16, 2008

Lau Kin-Wai: Decline of Chinese Cuisine Since the 1950s

In a departure from coverage of Asian Internet and media, Thomas Crampton interviews Hong Kong restaurateur Lau Kin-Wai, who laments the decline of Chinese cuisine since the 1950s. Beijing Gourmand looks forward to visiting one of Lau's "private kitchens" the next time he's in Hong Kong, and wishes more restaurants used traditional cooking methods. Despite his nostalgia for traditional cooking, Lau's tone seems to reveal that even he realizes these cooking methods are not practical for use in most modern restaurants where customers demand speed and perceived value for money. Beijing Gourmand may not have the palate of a gourmet, but in a recent trip to South Silk Road (茶马古道餐厅) he noticed that the chef's in the open kitchen were using such ingredients as granulated chicken bouillion (鸡精调味料) and Skippy peanut butter (花生酱) and the resulting dishes were some of the best southwestern Chinese cuisine BG has ever tasted.

Does anyone know of any "private kitchens" in Beijing (other than the Private Kitchen 44)

China's Newfound Obsession with Wine

Slate recently put out an article examining the rise in popularity of wine in China, Wineglasses Rising - China's newfound obsession with wine. Of particular note are wines from Grace Vineyard. Beijing Gourmand recently had a bottle of 2006 Grace Vineyard Chardonnay (怡园酒庄 - 霞多丽), which is light and crisp and paired well with the o-toro from Len Len, the Japanese restaurant we were eating at. Beijing Gourmand suspects the wine might be overpowered by spicy or oily Chinese foods, so it would be best to pair it with lighter dishes.

Btw, Len Len (联联) flies in its o-toro from Tokyo's famous tsukiji fish market several times a week. In BG's personal opinion, the dining experience at Len Len is far more enjoyable than that at Yotsuba, which is supposedly the best place for sushi in Beijing.

If you would like to learn more about Chinese wines and drinking wine in China then Grape Wall of China, by Beijing Boyce, is an excellent place to start.

Perfect Peking Duck

Beijing Gourmand finds the use of the word Peking as the name for China's capital mildly annoying. However, this TV episode from Michelin starred chef Heston Blumenthal was so interesting I'm posting it anyway. In search of the secret to cooking the perfect Beijing roast duck (北京烤鸭) Heston goes to Da Dong (大董烤鸭店), deservedly one of Beijing's most famous duck restaurants.

Hidden in a hutong south of Tiananmen, Li Qun is another duck restaurant that Beijing Gourmand highly recommends.

Update: Read 'Like a (kaoya) Virgin', my review of Da Dong.

Roadside Pho in Lao

Last October Beijing Gourmand took a trip to Lao with a friend. Lao is a tiny landlocked nation with a relatively undeveloped economy. Lao people are extremely warm and friendly and the food is amazing. Lao cooking uses fresh ingredients and most dishes are flavored with padek, a sauce made from fermented fish. Young boys spend their free time in local rivers catching minnows with home-made rubberband spear guns; when they have a full bag they'll sell them to local women who will then ferment the fish themselves.

After a short ride outside of Vangviang we stopped for some pho. The noodles and soup were very delicious; dried-shrimp, lime, green beans, mint and basil were provided for flavoring to taste.

Simon tucks in

On the way back into town we stopped for a cold Beer Lao

setting the trap and waiting...

Lao is a former French colony so crepes were readily available
, making for a great dessert after a pizza adventure

白色桂林 - White Guilin

A friend recently gave me a bottle of mijiu (rice wine, 米酒) purchased on his trip to Guilin, one of China's most famously beautiful cities. Mijiu has a similar taste to sake and is very good drunk on its own either warm or cold. However, when we saw these clear plastic cans of flavored mineral water we knew it was going to be a cocktail night.

The Glinter mineral water comes from Malaysia and is new to China; it comes in several different flavors and is billed as a healthier alternative to traditional soft drinks. I'm not so sure about it being healthy but the clear can is a neat design and the line of drinks has great potential for use in many different kinds of cocktails.

Any mijiu would work, but we used Three Flowers brand (三花酒) which is made using traditional methods and has over a thousand years history. Three Flowers is made using high quality rice and water from the Li river. The spirit is aged in large ceramic pots which are stored in a grotto, keeping the temperature constant as the spirit ages for one to two years.

We mixed equal parts mijiu and lychee flavored Glinter with a small pour of Cointreau. This cocktail will taste best super-cold; we used ice cubes but mixing in a cocktail shaker would be ideal. We're calling the drink, which uses only clear liquids, a White Guilin.

Beijing Gourmand's Official Olympic Snack

Kungpao Chicken (宫爆鸡丁) may be the official Olympic dish, but Grace and I have made prawn crackers our official Olympic snack. Making prawn crackers is easy, and sprinkling cracked black-pepper on top gives it an extra kick.

Prawn crackers are available for purchase at local supermarkets for about 5 RMB per bag. The middle bag is regular prawn crackers (虾片), the same as many Chinese restaurants serve in the West. The bag on the left is called paosi (泡司), and had a stronger flavor, though I'm not sure if the ingredients are different. The pieces from the bag on the right are tubes made from seaweed (海藻); I'm guessing the seaweed was made into powder and mixed with flour much the same way that prawn crackers are made.

It can be difficult to keep the oil at the optimal temperature, but the burnt crackers actually taste pretty good. Prawn crackers taste best hot and as many made it into our mouths as onto the plate.

Hohhot Street Food

Sweet Hui snacks in Hohhot

This was kind of like a rice pudding with fruits and nuts and molasses, very sweet

The following pics are from the mosque that this sweets stand is next to. The Great Mosque (清真大寺) is in the center of town, near Dazhao Temple (大召), and it should be high on the list of things to see in Hohhot. The mosque is an interesting combination of Arabic and Chinese architectural styles.

These children stopped running around just long enough for their photo to be taken

August 1, 2008

Where to go for kitchenware in Beijing

Sometimes in Beijing it can be hard to find kitchenware items that you would take for granted back home. Items used primarily for baking or roasting can be especially difficult to find because many Chinese families simply don't do this kind of cooking. Beijing Gourmand remembers the excitement he felt when, after several years living in Beijing, he finally got a small oven. The only problem then was where to find things like measuring cups, baking sheets and a meat thermometer. Several scouts of local markets and Carrefour were unsuccessful. The situation is getting better, but for now it seems like the best options are either ordering online, going to an upscale kitchenware store, or making an Ikea run.

The online option:

If you just need some basic tools to get the job done, and can wait a day, then this eBay with Chinese characteristics might be the best option. Some basic Chinese skills will be of use but you don't have to be Da Shan to successfully order from Taobao. If you use Firefox then just install the Chinese Perapera-kun add-on, which will provide mouse-over translations.

Beijing Gourmand and colleagues have had good experiences with a Taobao store specializing in items for baking. Ask for a small discount if you buy several items, but don't expect much because the prices are already rock-bottom. Best of all, the owner is willing to deliver items for a minimal fee and accepts cash payment upon delivery, much better than trying to figure out how to use Taobao's online payment system. Once you know what you want, click on the 和我联系 button in the box in the upper left corner (be sure to check out the store's rating at this point). You'll have to be registered, a fairly quick and easy process, but once you are then you'll be able to chat directly with the seller using Taobao's proprietary instant messenger, which is shared with the Alibaba platform. If you have even a very basic Chinese level then the best way to proceed is to send the links for the items you want and then ask for the seller's phone number to call him directly to close the deal.

Upscale: Pantry Magic

If you need something more obscure, want to buy top quality kitchenware, or are looking for the perfect gift for your foodie friend, then Pantry Magic could be your best option. There are plenty of upscale kitchenware stores in Beijing, but none as well designed as Pantry Magic or with staff who are even half as enthusiastic and friendly. Pantry Magic's owners clearly love what they do and actually know how to use the items they sell, something you won't find in many other stores.

Mid-range: Ikea

Certainly not magical, but a good option if you want something in between online and upscale. A wide range of durable items at reasonable, if not cheap, prices. Be sure to grab a hot dog or Swedish meatballs while you're there.