Today has been an interesting day and for the most part is dedicated to food! It was gloomy today and i shuttered the plans to go to the Summer Palace because the weather was so gloomy. Instead i focused on some planning for the later part of the trip and FOOD!
Breakfast was a simple quest. I went to find some Chinese Dumplings and soup. I took a bus to a spot that a Chinese friend from college had recommended. He warned me it was a hole in the wall, but assured me delicious.
To say i was intimidated is an understatement. This place was intense, as i ducked to enter the doorway the staff and patrons stopped and stared. I brought my iPhone out with the message from my bud in Chinese that was supposed to say “Hi, i don’t speak Chinese, but i am nice and I would like to have some beef stew, pork, and shrimp dumplings please” i am sure it said something else as well because when i showed it to the young waitress, she immediately smiled as large as the moon, and took my phone to show the cooks. I got lots of thumbs up and a very eager waitress talking quickly and excitedly in Chinese. I just smiled and sat down and the beer came first! Then a GREAT beef stew. The dumplings came last and were tasty, i much preferred the pork dumplings. I made a mistake though, there was a little pot on the table. Figuring it was soy sauce, i poured some of it onto a separate plate. Yes, it looks like soy sauce. So why not a quick dumpling dip. Wow, this is NOT soy sauce, and it smells horrible, horrible. Thinking i had committed a mortal error, i watched the other 2 tables and sure enough they were using the stuff like mad, so maybe a matter of local flavor?
Beer, Beef & Dumplings
Post that treat, I took a stroll to explore via foot vs. taking the bus back, as i was partially traumatized by the bus ride. Again, i hate not being able to read the signs. The walk back was about 3 miles and relaxing. But along the way i did come to really notice the “beauty wall” as i call it. As you travel around Beijing’s center you see glorious high rises, beautiful monuments, and “beauty walls”. “Beauty walls” are the omnipresent walls that surround everything and give the perception of walled gardens and luxurious places like the Forbidden City. As i have been taking Beijing in, i noted the lack of poverty in the city center. All looked on a grand scale to be very nice. But there is a disconnect, as you walk the street you see small shops with shop owners who clearly aren’t riding in the black Mercedes that are omnipresent in the streets. Where do those people live?
Well on my walk, I felt like an idiot as i finally looked through the doorways of the “beauty walls”. They live right there behind the wall! In the Hutong.
Behind the wall
These walls are a brilliant construct to keep the sight lines nice and manicured, but also outsiders from seeing too much. They ARE hold overs from the previous Hutong era, but what’s striking is that the walls are kept in excellent external condition. Painted and clean. But when you look inside and beyond it’s a different story.
As i was walking back, I stopped to looked for Gummi Lifesavers, but to no avail. But Coke was everywhere and no Pepsi to be found.
Back at the hotel, it was time for a nap and some time to write. Post nap and writing, it was back out for a late lunch. I wanted to go to this amazing fixed menu place that is supposed to be awesome, but they couldn’t take just one, they needed 2 or more 😦 sucks. So instead i headed to this restaurant recommended by the guard at the hotel. Hand drawn map in palm i headed out.
This place was cool. Wooden chairs, and tables. Packed to the gills with folks, and again somehow I am the only westerner. This was tough though. There was no english menu but it did have some pictures. I ordered some duck wings, hot and sour soup (been testing it everywhere I go), and a spiced shrimp stew. I had no idea what the portions were or if i would receive what I thought i ordered. Oh, and a beer of course as well. When everything arrived, i realized it was all sized for sharing…
First up the duck wings. I see why we like chicken wings in the US. The duck wings were OK, but very very little meat on them. Overall, i would pass on them. Next up is the hot and sour soup. Hot and sour soup is one of my favorites. In Chicago, I love the soup from Ping Pong, and in Rochester Minnesota, Great China. So here in China i have been sampling it whenever possible. The soup was THICK, like really thick. I kinda liked the consistency, but was let down with the lack of depth in flavor. I am used to both sweet and hot flavors in the soup with a dash of sour. This soup had it all but just toned way down. But where it did pay off was in the freshness of the ingredients. The mushrooms in particular were delicious, and the meat was tender. Overall i would order it again, but coming to feel that i may be used to Americanized chinese flavors. It may be time to search for a new soup that I like in authentic Chinese flavor. Now onto the main dish; the shrimp stew, let me be brief, delicious!! Hot, sweet, salty, sour, amazing. But a ton of work to eat, heads, legs, and shells had to come off. Lots of sucking shrimp to get the flavor. I initially dug in with chopsticks and hands, but the nice waitress saw me using about 100 napkins to try and keep my fingers from sticking together and produced a set of gloves which I promptly split. A second set came and she blew them up like a balloon to prevent me from tearing them; it worked.
When i walked out the restaurant, I realized I knew where I was. I took a side street to cut over to the home of the night market!! It also gave me a chance to inspect those stalls up close. Congruent with my initial assessment, these stalls are niiice. It made me excited to get back later in the night.
The Night Market @ Day
The rest of the walk back was chill. Saw a couple of sights that made the lens.
Tonight I was supposed to head back out to the night market, but it just didn’t happen. Work called :(, and needed to get a little done… Ugh… But I did get one piece of good news. An email form Steve!!