Monday 15 September 2014

China, Beijing - Summer 2014

Yi, Er, San, Si...
Monday, 8 September

I have been driving my new colleagues mad with the practising of counting to 10 in Chinese.  I am adamant that I will be fluent before I head back home in a few years.  I have settled in beautifully with a fantastic apartment, brilliant job and great friends.  How on earth do I write this experience up?!  I live here now! It's like me writing up my day to day life in England... Except more exciting.  Far more exciting!  But yet I still don't fancy writing up my entire time here.  Weekdays is solid work with little time for much else.  The weekends are where I actually realise I am in China.  So my entry for Beijing will be write ups of some of the weekends where I crossed the line from resident to tourist and back again.

This weekend was a long weekend due to the Mid-Autumn Festival or "Mooncake Festival".  Mooncakes come in all sizes and flavours but it's a particularly fierce bean paste filling that seems to be the popular choice.  The ones I have eaten haven't been that great tasting and have a consistency that welds itself to the roof of your mouth and tire your jaw muscles out as you try and chow through them.  I say all this but my landlord left me four in my apartment and some how or other they have all managed to find their way down the Berny colon express!  We spent our Saturday roaming the side alleys (called hutongs) around the Lama Temple.  These hutongs are where to find real Chinese culture and many are protected in order to preserve their rich history.  It goes without saying then that here is where you can find some of the best food.  We had lunch at a Hunan restaurant that sold skewers of all kinds of things grilled to order.  I remember back when I thought eating chicken feet was quite abnormal.  Don't get me wrong, it's still a little strange but comparatively to what else you can find on a local restaurant menu it's quite beige.  Chicken knee caps on a skewer and sautéed duck tongues are just two of the most peculiar I have come across so far.  And you thought there was not enough meat on the feet!? So from chicken kneecaps (as well as wings and normal parts) to the best grilled aubergines; you can plough through quite a number of sticks for very little money.  This was suppose to be just a light lunch before we go exploring but we ended up with a small trees worth of bamboo skewers laid out on our table like a giant game of pickup sticks.

Once you have been to Laos/Cambodia, temples just become a little common.  Lama temple is pretty but it's the exploring around the temple that was more fascinating.  It being a public holiday, everywhere was busy.  We took an over crowded subway to an even more crowded Ho Hai lake; a popular destination for Chinese tourists.  In the Summer you can hire boats and in Winter you can higher ice skates and sledges.  Tourist prices are extortionate here but you can queue for the most amazing lamb (?) skewers just on the edge of the lake.  A little stall that sells nothing but this one type of skewer, it's very popular and expect to queue for at least 10 minutes.

After paying £4.50 for a small bottle of Tsing Tao we soon left and headed to Sanlitun for a local favourite - hotpot.  A brilliant arrangement with a row of refrigerators holding an immense variety of raw skewered items and tables with enormous pots of boiling stock in the middle.  The pots are split in two with one side a simple vegetable stock and the other a bubbling deep red, oily, spicy Szechuan broth.  You each are given your own tray to pile with whatever treasures you find when raiding the numerous refrigerators.  Like a kid in a swe... computer game store I struggled to contain myself and returned to the table with a tray holding a small food mountain.  On the side of your hotpot you each get an individual bowl of a sauce of your choosing - I went sweet sesame paste.  The meal is a social event!  You put your items in the pot, you drink and chat whilst they cook and then you argue over whose was whose.  At the end the waiter comes and simply counts the number of skewers (168!) and gives you your bill.  The entire meal, including drinks, cost less than £6 each.  Amazing!  How else could you finish a day of being a tourist in China than a KTV; Karaoke, Chinese style! We booked a room and digested our food whilst murdering old classics such as "hey Jude" and "Don't stop believing". Day 1 of being a tourist. Done.

Yesterday we intended to make the most of having today off.  A free flow Champagne Sunday brunch buffet at the "Westen Hotel" followed by a night out.  For me, nights out never happen when preceded by a buffet.  And this wasn't any buffet.  This was all you can drink actual real Champagne, from Champagne with all you can eat lobster!  For £50!?  And of course not just lobster, there was a wide range of high end Western food.  Yes there was a Chinese section and a Japanese Tapanyaki and Sushi bar but very much how you would find a top version of such in the UK.  In Beijing you can order a Western Chinese takeaway or you can order a local Chinese takeaway.  It's the difference between sweet and sour pork balls or pickled chicken feet in onion oil.  I've never seen anything like it and couldn't begin to imagine how much the equivalent would cost in England.  Giant ice sculptures holding oysters, snow crabs and weird fish shots along side live music and a hundred waiters topping up your champagne glasses.  Low and behold I did not go out afterwards.  I went home and sweated out a serious food coma.

The Greatest of Walls
Monday, 15 September

It's going to be a long time before I stop double taking in China.  The mind can't process things it hasn't seen before and has to look at least once more.  It is rude to stare after all.  Whether it is a toddler being dangled over a shopping mall bin to pinch one off (did that actually happen?! yes i've seen it 3 times now!) or every show room bed in Ikea being occupied by sleeping locals.  I'm talking hole families tucked up whilst others potter around them.  Why is nobody else staring and taking photos?!

This weekend was focussed on climbing one of the wonders of the world.  Well that and eating the national dish of Chiiiiinaa!!  Another showy off national dish which has real style and makes other countries jealous.  The Beijing (Peking) Duck with pancakes in an entire event of a dish.  I have had it a few times already but I decided that the proper time was eating it at Bianyifang; one of the oldest restaurants to serve the world renowned dish.  There's no shredding of the duck here.  Somebody comes and slices the duck up for you at your table and you construct your pancake rolls with cucumber, spring onion and the awesome Hoisin sauce.  Amazing.  Years of practice means the fat is rendered perfectly and the meat is juicy.  Easily up there amongst my favourite national dishes.  The great wall takes your breath away.  Not because of the pollution; because of its magnificence and it's purpose.  We went to the Mutianyu side and trekked the direction with the least uphill struggle.  A cable car took us up and about an hour and a half of walk took us to the start of a toboggan back down.  I can't really think of a better way to do the wall?  It required minimum step climbing and finished with a fantastic downhill scramble!

Two weekends barely scrapes the surface of Beijing but for the purpose of my blog it will have to do.  There are several blogs solely dedicated to writing about the food in Beijing and this could so easily become one more.  I live here and a love it so far.  This write up is one small part of Beijing which is one very small part of China.  Maybe I should change the name to BernyEatsChina?  :o)


  1. BernyEatsChina is a good idea - you have to visit all of the other provinces still. Korean Live Squid next!

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