14 October 2008

Headed to Beijing?

Jiaozo (Dumplings)
Meat, seafood and vegetables are wrapped inside thin layers of ravioli to create jiaozi, which are always eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year. Pork jiaozi are stacked on bamboo steamers at just about any noodle shack, where 10 will cost less than 50 cents. The more upmarket varieties, including fresh crab, are available at Tian Jin Bai Jiao Yuan in Xuanwumen, which proudly displays a photograph of Barbara Bush, a visitor to the restaurant in 2005, on the wall.

Nian Gao (New Year Cake)
Beijingers eat nian gao--sticky rice cake--over the New Year holiday. (The name of the dish literally translates to "This year will be better than the last.") Lu Da Gun (on the left of the plate) is of Islamic origin and consists of yellow rice filled with red bean curd. After the cake is divided up into blocks, it is rolled in soybean flour, apparently resembling a donkey rolling on the ground and kicking up dust. It is sold at Jiumen Xiaochi near Houhai Lake.

Peking Duck
The flag-bearer of Beijing cuisine, Peking duck has remained top of the capital's menu since the 19th century while other Beijing delicacies have fallen by the wayside. The best place in Beijing to stuff pancakes is the old courtyard restaurant of Liqun. The first Westerner to discover the place was a German tourist who got lost on his bike in the 1990s. Several years of word of mouth later, the likes of Al Gore are pictured on the wall.

Giant Scorpions
A traditional Chinese medicine doctor will tell you that scorpions have a potent medicinal value, but in Beijing they are skewered on sticks at Donghuamen night market, deep-fried in oil and sprinkled with spice. They are mainly munched by giggling overseas tourists who, unlike long-term residents, don't shy away from the $7 asking price

Tang Erduo (Sweet Ear)
This is a Muslim-inspired, rather unhealthy snack made by deep-frying flour coated in an obscene amount of brown sugar. Its name comes from its resemblance to a (somewhat mangled) human ear. It is sold in Baikuilaohao Muslim restaurant in Longfu Square, which is also famous for its braised mutton and roast pigeon.

Bing Tang Hu Lu
These ruby red, candied hawthorn fruits are stacked on top of each other on a wooden stick and sold at stalls all over Beijing. They are in season January and February--although you can get them year round at Donghuamen night market--and are synonymous with the Temple Fairs held in Beijing's parks during the Spring Festival holiday.
Buddha Jumps Over The Wall Soup
One of the most popular dishes in Chinese imperial cuisine, it consists of 20 different types of food, including the pricey delicacies of shark's fin, abalone and sea cucumber, and takes three days to prepare. It's not cheap at $43 a bowl, but you are also paying for the sumptuous surroundings of imperial restaurants such as Royal Restaurant, which has one of its three branches in Jinyu Hutong near Wangfujing Dajie.
Chao Gan (Fried Liver)
This dish is a concoction of pigs' intestines, liver, soy sauce, mashed garlic, starch and aniseed. The ingredients are actually all boiled together instead of fried; the misleading name harks back to a different cooking method during the Qing Dynasty. To eat it like a pro, discard your chopsticks, place your hands on either side of the bowl and slurp. The dish can be bought at Jiumen Xiaochi.
Old Beijing Fusion
Chef Yap Poh Weng, at the Whampoa Club in Beijing, uses traditional Beijing recipes as the foundations of his contemporary dishes and adds international flare with some Western ingredients. His taster menu (pictured here) features bean curd and vegetable roll with foie gras terrine, a duo of cabbage and spinach rolls with shrimp and scallop flavored with yellow mustard and wasabi jelly, and an assortment of four varieties of pickled crunchy vegetable salad.
There are two types of hotpot: Mongolian, which is traditionally eaten by Beijingers, and a spicy number from Sichuan. Diners load wafer-thin meat, vegetables and squares of congealed duck blood into the stock. A few minutes later, the food is ready to be fished out and dunked in a dipping sauce of peanut and sesame
Make sure not to miss any when you're in Beijing! :) Happy Eats!


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