Food adventures 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.