Wednesday, February 22, 2012

dining on red china

I had heard from a recent visitor to China that the Chinese food I would encounter in China would bear no resemblance to the Chinese food I enjoyed in Salem.

I have no idea where he came to that conclusion.  My experience eating in restaurants in Beijing and Shaghai is that the food is almost indistinguishable from the dinners I have eaten at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Salem -- Kwan’s.

Chinese cuisine is based on the wok.  Pieces of meat and vegetables are diced into chopstick-sized pieces and are then stir fried in oil.  All of that is then served with various types of small bite foods.  The world of dim sum.

I cannot even say that the ingredients are fresher in China.  Chinese food always demands fresh ingredients.  It happens there.  It happens at Kwan’s.

What is missing is the type of dishes that pass as Chinese food at the Safeway delicatessen counter or the Cantonese restaurants of my youth -- where heavily-breaded pieces of shrimp swim in a blob of diabetic-inducing syrup.

You will not find that type of stuff in Beijing.  Or chop suey -- an American invention that ranks right up there with the Margarita as foodstuffs that have no connection with any ethnicity.

Our hotels offered a very good buffet breakfast where the tourist can choose between a Chinese porridge for breakfast or western eggs and bacon.  I tried both.  But usually, I tried the various Chinese offerings.

Most of our lunches were in large banquet halls served family style.  Plenty of rice and a large variety of stir-fried dishes -- pork, chicken, fish, beef, cuttlefish, shrimp, vegetables.  All of them quite good. 

Even if they were a bit bland.  With only two exceptions, nothing was spicier than what you would find in Des Moines.  And nothing that will put Maxim’s reputation in danger.  But good.

Roy and I decided to go in search of our own culinary delights one night in Beijing.  We found the restaurant we wanted (Hua Jiayiyuan).  The first night, we were seated and we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  For about a half hour waiters scurried all around us, but no one would meet our gaze.  So, we left.

But we are not easily deterred when it comes to food.  We returned on the next night and had a great meal.  For Roy a beer with garlic and chili chicken.
For me, a glass of jasmine tea, a bowl of sea cucumber hot and sour soup, and braised donkey with garlic.  This is the donkey.  Served in a bread bowl.

Both meals were spiced just right with chilies.  Mine was very spicy.  But I suspect that goes along with the donkey dish.  I am not certain I would order it again.  But it was an interesting culinary experience. 

And certainly better than grasshopper.


John Calypso said...

Your food photos are well done. What camera are you using these days?

Felipe Zapata said...

For about a half hour waiters scurried all around us, but no one would meet our gaze.

Westerners are commonly called White Devils by the Chinese. I think that restaurant was plainly telling you that White Devils need not show up.

Most of the world does not worship diversity.

Don Cuevas said...

Could it be that the food served on the tour was, a-hem, blanded down to suit tourists' taste?

Saludos,Don Cuevas 

Steve Cotton said...

The Panasonic FZ35 that I bought almost three years ago.  And I am starting to look around for a replacement.  DSLRs are very tempting.  If it were not for the effect of humidity on lenses.

Steve Cotton said...

 There were a couple of other white faces in the restaurant,but they were all with Chinese guests.  They were all waited upon.  I suspect the problem was a practical one.  On the first night, none of the waiters spoke English.  On the second night, the greeter came in to take our order.

Steve Cotton said...

 There is no doubt that the food was spiced-down for tourists.  Most of the people in our group would not even try any dish that had a hint of red pepper -- or if they could not immediately identify the dish.

Andean said...

The donkey in the bread bowl being the exception, the dishes look not much different then here. I've come to conclude that maybe its the restaurants and not the countries, of course with exceptions, on who makes the tastiest tastes. But I could smell the jasmine tea...

Jester said...

I tried donkey once, but I thought it tasted like ass.

Steve Cotton said...

The tea was outstanding.

Steve Cotton said...

What is there to say after that?