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Goodbye Beijing

September 2, 2008

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:SimSun; panose-1:2 1 6 0 3 1 1 1 1 1; mso-font-alt:宋体; mso-font-charset:134; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 135135232 16 0 262145 0;} @font-face {font-family:”\@SimSun”; panose-1:2 1 6 0 3 1 1 1 1 1; mso-font-charset:134; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 135135232 16 0 262145 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-papeTo sum it up, here is what we mainly ate:

For breakfast I ate oatmeal and very occasionally Chinese-style (i.e. a sesame shaobing).

For lunch, we usually ordered fast, home-style dishes from downstairs, such as eggplant, stir fried eggs and tomatoes, Ma Po tofu without the meat, etc. etc.

If we were feeling slightly less lazy, we would eat at the restaurant in our building: again, simple, but more Cantonese-style food: fish head tofu soup, stir fried greens, and clay pots with mushrooms and five spice powder.

Other wonderful restaurants nearby:

A Xin Jiang noodle place. Xin Jiang food is basically Chinese-Middle Eastern fusion, so they eat flatbread (Nang, obviously the same root as the Indian naan) and hand-pulled noodles like extremely chewy, thick, spaghetti, which you can eat with tomato and egg, or eggplant, peppers, and garlic shoots for the vegetarian options. As a carnivore, they have a ton of meat options: lamb, sliced beef, you name it. Everything comes in huge portions and is just great to carb-load after a swimming workout. My dad once ordered something called shou zhua fan (rice to eat with your hands), that was basically a biryani/pilaf/fried rice hybrid. The rice was short grained, but stir fried with lamb, cumin, and dried apricots. It looked great. Recently, we also had the lightest dish of cabbage in broth with nothing but a little bit of dried shrimp and goji berries—the perfect restorative tonic. We also ordered a huge pot of soup (made vegetarian) with a base of spices and hot pepper, swimming with cubes of tofu, noodle scraps (that’s the only way I can think of to describe their shape), and vegetables. Last but not least, I sampled two sweet pumpkin dishes: one served with glutinous black rice in a sticky orange syrup, the second much less sweet, but filled with raisins, figs, and Chinese dates (jujubes)—that one was much better. I saved it the next day to eat for breakfast.

This restaurant I mentioned earlier—the one hidden away in the village part of our neighborhood that has yet to be modernized. Every time we went there, we would order ge da tang, soup thickened with lumps of dough, egg, wild vegetables and tomatoes. In addition to this, we would get the fabulous sesame pancakes, filled with a sandy, sticky and sweet sesame paste within a crispy flatbread. Even the simplest stir fried vegetables they did amazingly well, especially the mung bean sprouts, which were cooked with nothing besides Sichuan peppers, peppercorns, and a little vinegar. Two more great dishes that we tried: a variety of vegetables topped with an omelette (“vegetables covered with a quilt”) and smoked tofu with garlic shoots: usually smoked tofu is too hard, but this was soft and tasted more like bacon than anything I’ve had in years.

The dumpling place—I only came here once this year, but it’s great if you’re looking for something easy and quick. Pick a filling, any filling, and the weight you want (usually 2-3 ounces), in addition to some simple cold salads and you’re good to go. Some of the fillings they might have would be any combination of beef, lamb, chicken, or pork with any kind of vegetable, vegetable fillings with egg, and of course seafood dumplings. When I went, we got pork and cabbage, green bean, lotus root and egg, and lamb with scallion. Sometimes the simplest things are best, especially drenched with lots of vinegar.

Another dish I love is zhou: there’s a specific place we went to for it: known for health benefits, rice porridge is a way to get a lot of volume for very few carbs. You can get it either salty or sweet. Some zhou I’ve ordered in the past is mushroom and broccoli zhou and boneless fish zhou. Of course, Korea and Japan have their own versions, where the rice is already cooked and added to a broth, whereas in China the rice is cooked slowly like oatmeal into a thick porridge.

Of course, we had the occasional Korean

or Japanese meal.

And I always found time to grab one of the yogurts on the street—Chinese yogurt, although you can get it in the store, is always better served in the ceramic jugs that you drink on the spot with a straw. More of a drink than Western yogurt, it’s only slightly sweetened and is a wonderful thirst-quencher.

So that’s it! I’ll miss you, Beijing… I’m also in for a shock when I find out how expensive everything is when I get back.

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