Sunday, December 25, 2016

Do you even Chinese Phood, brah? Pt 3

This is Part 3 of my Beijing food non-odyssey. Make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first!

So, aside from the more formal dining experiences, I wanted to end this with some real-deal food experiences. I mean, real northern Chinese goodness. Which is why, the morning that I was flying back to SFO, I specifically requested a visit to a Northeastern style restaurant.

Now, it's important to point out that in the Northeast, we friggin love our stews. And offal makes awesome stew. Here, I present to you our sauerkraut stew with pork innards (WARNING: not kosher).

You know your broth is thick when the turbidity reaches Beijing smog levels
By the way, this restaurant was a real hoot. It uses authentic Cultural Revolution-era paraphernalia, like this water mug and various serving plates. If you're a fan of Sino-Soviet drab, then this is the place to go. These things were god awful to handle - they had zero insulation - notice the napkin on the handle, shielding your finger from the scorching hot water inside. Must have been fun times.

Chairman Mao say: Even the smallest spark can create a wildfire.
Those of you who know me IRL know that I love tofu. But not necessarily the same tofu as what you're thinking. It comes in hundreds of different forms, and blends well with most flavors that it's paired with. This is one of the quintessential Manchurian dishes - dried tofu skin w/ pepper. Yet another dish that I'd be happy to go vegetarian for.
Not your average tofu.
Then, we have a famous cold dish, which consists of bean threads. Well, not so much threads as a big fat noodle. They're made of mung bean, and available at your local Asian grocer. It's an appetizer/salad, and we use Chinese cucumber and sometimes a few extras, mixed with a sesame/vinegar blend. This thing smacks of home. 

A Manchurian cold dish 
Aside from that restaurant, I got my hands on some authentic Chinese yogurt. Don't get me wrong. Most yogurt in China is packaged like yogurt here - disposable plastic cups. This was how it used to be when I was growing up. And like your dad swears by beer from a glass bottle, I'll swear by this yogurt in a reusable ceramic mug. You'll usually see this stuff stacked up in a few crates high at a streetside snack vendor. Aside from the obviously unhygienic appearance, I can assure you that I definitely had some qualms about drinking this. Especially since it wasn't so much refrigerated as it was just... left outside. And yes, that is a rubber band holding a paper cover over the mug as a seal.

Not exactly Chobani
And who can forget the skewers?! These lamb skewers are to die for. Sure, it's over an electric grill, but it still tasted great. The skewers are repeated brushed with chili oil, cumin, sesame, and some other spices to achieve that nice "western" flavor. You're likely to see this in most major cities in China, as well as the streets of Flushing, NY.
Get one.
One day, I went out to try some Central Chinese food. Not the biggest fan, but it was likely to be more authentic than most places back in the states. And you can't have Shaanxi cuisine without the legendary Roujiamo meat sandwich. You don't really see a lot of Shaanxi cuisine representation in the US, probably because it's not the go-to match for American taste buds, but there are some inroads being made. Most famously, by Xi'an Famous Foods

The Chinese Hamburger
Finally, I went on a roadtrip to the middle of nowhere in Hebei Province outside Beijing. It was an artist's collective (as in, it was a cheap place to stay that apparently attracted tons of artists). Little did I know I was in for a special treat. We ordered a lamb base firepot, and we just went a little nuts. A couple catties of lamb ribs and an hour of in-person stewing later, we had this superthick broth that had about 1cm of grease rendering at the very top. The firepot was also our sole source of heat, so that once we took the sterno away, the grease quickly congealed to seal in that saturated fatty goodness. On an entirely unrelated note, I had zero need for lip balm that day.

Anyways, if you read Part 1, Part 2, and now this article, thanks for joining me on this Chinese Food Phood adventure. God knows the next time I visit China, what I'll find next. Hopefully a little bit of the past and a little of the future.

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