Like all major metropolises, Beijing has people migrating from all over, and cuisines from all over the world. So, naturally, I didn’t restrict myself to just Beijing or even traditional Chinese foods. And while yes, inevitably I ate some Western food (often at places frequented by lots of Chinese tourists as well) I also tried a couple other cuisines I was unfamiliar with.
Cafe Sambal and Malaysian food. Ok, so this may seem like a bit of a stretch, but Malaysia has a huge ethnically-Chinese population so I figured it largely counted. Also, while I have been to Malaysia, it was several years ago, and I didn’t really explore the cuisine. All I remember is Roti Canai, which is really more Indian-influenced than anything else. The restaurant I chose was a little more on the up-scale side, and had very few vegetarian options – shimp or seafood in nearly every dish. But, they had a few things I could eat, so I went with glass noodles with vegetables. And rice.
It was far more delicately spiced that I had anticipated. And it wasn’t spicy per se. The flavoring was more along the lines of ginger and lemongrass – which are both excellent things. The vegetables were mostly cabbage and some kind of mushroom or black fungus, not sure which. I’m not a huge mushroom fan as a general rule, but I tend to eat a lot of mushrooms when I travel to Asia. It was a nice change of pace food-wise.
Uighur Food. Context: Uighurs are a Central Asian ethnic group largely in the Xinjiang province in western China. They were conquered during the Qing dynasty (the last Chinese dynasty), are primarily Muslim, and sporadically revolt against Chinese rule. Given the fact there was a recommended Uighur restaurant fairly close to the hotel I was staying at, I figured I’d check out the cuisine. I got a green bean dish, a tofu dish, naan, and the local beer,
All the food was truly excellent. It was one of those meals were I just kept eating til I was stuffed because it was so good. The green beans were spicy. I mean sinus-clearing, lip-tingling spicy. I was very glad I’d bought beer – beer cuts through spicy foods better than water or wine. They were also pan-fried – there was no sauce on them. The naan was ok. It was sprinkled with sesame seeds, but wasn’t as good as Indian naan.
The tofu dish was very savory. It actually tasted a lot like this tofu dish I get at my favorite Chinese restaurant in California, only slightly less spicy and with much more sauce. The tofu slices were crispy on the outside, and extremely soft on the inside. All in all it was one of the best meals I had in Beijing!
Travel is a huge part of my life. Because I’m young and broke, I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I’d like. I just got back from my first major trip (aka not visiting my family) in over two years: Beijing! I was there for a little over a week, and while I didn’t take any cooking classes, I certainly ate some yummy things. Traveling as a vegetarian is not the easiest thing in the world, but totally doable. I can’t just point and eat totally random stuff from street vendors. Luckily, lots of places had English menus, even when the proprietors spoke zero English, and my trusty and awesome guide book was able to point them out for me. For the record, I am a huge fan of the Lonely Planet guidebooks – they are wonderful and make my life better. Here are the highlights of the more traditional Beijing food:
Beijing-style dumplings: Dumplings are found everywhere, but Beijing has its own version – they are referred to as “finger-shaped,” but they are really just rectangular – which are fried rather than boiled.
I went to a place that specialized in these dumplings – Zuo Lin You She. It took a while to find (lack of an English sign), and the service wasn’t that friendly, but the food was awesome – I went there twice! It was also packed with locals, so you know its authentic and good. I got two different types of dumplings: egg and chive; and tofu and mustard greens. Food came with a complementary bowl of millet porridge, the equivalent of a bread basket I guess, It was pretty bland, but also grew on me. The dumplings were delicious. A bit oily on the outside (I’m used to patting down all fried things in paper towels) but so so good. I tried to say “it was delicious” in Mandarin to the woman taking orders, but she only half smiled. I probably said it wrong – tonal languages are a bitch to learn. I also ordered a pickled vegetable salad one of the times out of curiosity – big mistake. It was gross. Never again.
Noodles: Now I had several different dishes of noodles in China, but these were my favorite. The place I went to was called Noodle In, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in a hutong with a solid British rock-and-roll vibe (according to Lonely Planet its part owned by a local punk band), and had great music.
I just had the noodles with vegetables – which were cucumbers, baby bok choy, and mushrooms. The sauce/topping seemed to be peanuts, chilis, and I have no idea what else. It was very good, but a huge portion – as large if not larger than American portions. Noodles are far more common than rice in Beijing since its so far north. Also it was very different from the American-Chinese (aka actually created in San Francisco) style noodles I’m used to. They were far lighter, and the topping added flavor without masking the flavors of the veggies or the noodles. I’d like to attempt to re-create this, although without any cucumbers.
As much as I love traveling, it does require a certain amount of preparation. In particular – cleaning out the fridge of anything that will get gross by the time you get back. This time around, I am trying to use up two things in particular before I leave on Saturday: milk and eggs. Naturally this means pancakes, but also baking! Continuing to cast around my fridge, I found a lone granny smith apple (the absolute best for baking). Obviously, the only logical conclusion is to bake apple cake. Which is doubly perfect because fall means apples, and cooking with apples, and apple-related happiness.
So I pulled out my trusty Flour cookbook, and lo and behold, there was an apple cake recipe. Which, ironically, didn’t include milk, but I decided to make it anyway (one can always drink milk with cake). As per usual, I didn’t follow the directions exactly. I slightly decreased the amount of sugar, but added a tiny bit of molasses (like a tablespoon). I also doubled the spices, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg (it called for cloves and I didn’t have any so I replaced it with nutmeg). And I only had one apple, not two, which I didn’t bother peeling cause my vegetable peeler is mediocre at best. (One of the kitchen tools in my parent’s house that I miss the most is this apple-corer-peeler which cores, peels, and turns your apple into a slinky so you don’t need to slice it. It’s magical and I miss it).
The result was more of a spice cake with chunks of apples, than an apple cake. Which is not to suggest that it wasn’t absolutely delicious. It tastes very rich but in a wholesome, old-school kind of way. Like how I would imagine cakes made in English-colonial America. I cut it into pieces, so I would be forced to freeze some of them, and not eat all the cake between now and Friday. This cake does not need any frosting whatsoever. The recipe suggests sprinkling with powdered sugar if desired, but I think that’s unnecessary. If I make it again though, I think I will add more molasses and apples, and cut down on the sugar. Incidentally, this cake also makes an excellent breakfast. And its not just me and my love of dessert breakfasts – the recipe was in the “breakfast” section of the Flour cookbook, right along with coffee cake. So – tea and apple-spice cake is a 100% respectable way to start your morning.
Fall is usually my favorite time of year. Things usually go better for me in the fall, its far less stressful than the spring, and its when things tend to start – new jobs, school, new friendships, etc. I never really embraced fall foods though, well, with the exception of halloween candy. That is until last year, when I first started this whole “trying a new recipe every week” thing, and fell in love with butternut squash. So I have been looking forward to squash season for a while, and now that its October its finally here!
I decided to make this Butternut Squash and Duxelles Casserole. I generally dislike mushrooms, but they are good in some circumstances, and I was willing to give this recipe a try. I mostly followed the recipe, with one major difference. I didn’t make cheese sauce. Instead, I added a couple cloves of garlic to the mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms in this case, and shallot. Then when compiling the casserole, I added blue cheese where the cheese sauce should be. You have to really like blue cheese in order to do this, but I’ve found it works surprisingly well with butternut squash. Then I added a handful of pine nuts, cause why not? Bake at 350 until its tender (not mushy, just tender, as in, can be cut with the side of a fork).
The recipe turned out delicious. One of those meals where I had a serving. Then I had a bit more, and then another bit more. I think a cheese sauce would make it a bit too heavy, but if you dislike blue cheese, goat cheese or feta would probably work nicely. I paired it with a red wine, a blend from a South African vineyard (the first South African wine I’ve liked actually), partially because fall also means the switch back to red wine and partially because I prefer red with casseroles. The only thing preventing me from making this dish again and again is that I’ll probably forget to buy mushrooms.