The Food Nomad – Travels to Beijing, where it all begun
Beijing, the city I was born and raised in, well, up to the age of 7. Every time my plane lands at the massive Beijing airport, and the dusty earthy smell of the city perforates the flight cabin, I feel that I’m home. Mind you, I also enjoy the cedar pine scented air of my other home city, Vancouver, but there is something raw and utterly alluring about Beijing. Maybe it’s because, despite the acres of new concrete and skyscrapers that are ever expanding in the capital, Beijing still clings tight to it’s historical and cultural roots, and to an extend, it’s own brand of humanity. I miss the old Beijing of my childhood, where old ladies push wooden carts full of red and green bean home-made popsicle insulated by thick cotton blankets from the hot, dry summers while cicadas scream overhead in the willow tree canopy. I miss when a little bit of sesame sauce with cold noodles and cool cucumber slices on a hot summer day tasted like heaven and children devoured morsels of fresh tomatoes seeped in sugar like candy. Those were simpler times, before the great commercialization of China. However, despite the dizzying changes occurring every day, I try to find pieces of the old Beijing I remember every time I find myself back in the city. Below are some evidence of my food escapade this time back in the old country.
First food item that greets me when I step off the plane – roasted chestnuts! My favourite winter snack, I remember when they used to be roasted over open coal pits in giant woks with sand and sugar, and men used shovels as spatulas to stir them around. They used to be wrapped in old newspapers, and now they are machine-roasted and packed in paper bags.
My favourite breakfast in the whole world!!! A piping hot, eggy “jianbing” (crepe) wrapped around a crispy dough wafer!! (Best be eaten on-the-go somewhere on a chaotic car-clogged street during one of Beijing’s famous traffic jams ) These street-side carts are harder and harder to find with the new city planning regulations. I try to hunt for new locations every time I’m back.
My cousin’s favourite – lotus root stewed in sugar covered with a sugary sauce made with chrysanthemum petals.
You can’t visit Beijing without trying out the duck! By traditional standards, each slice of duck needs to have both meat and skin, and a duck can only yield a particular number of slices (the exact number I forgot).
The nouveau way of eating only the skin of the duck
Flash-fried duck liver with chili and cumin, brimy, irony, delicious. The cumin offsets the sometimes gameness of the liver.
The old becoming new again – newly made thermos and cups fashioned in the styles of the Communist 70s.
Hawthrones coated in hard sugar – this used to be a special winter time treat for the kids, now all sorts of fruits are used in the skewers, but I can never bring myself to eat any of these displayed on the streets, just think about the dust from the road getting stuck to the sugar – eeck!
My beautiful Beijing.
These jar yogurts are harder and harder to come by now, covered with a wax paper tied by an elastic band, you have to stand in front of the shop and drink the yogurt, because you need to return the ceramic jars after you’re done! Despite more sophisticated options, these yogurts are still a nostalgic must for me.
Baozi – steamed leavened dough wrapped around juicy pork fillings
Found this while walking through the Hutongs – curing salted pork in the cold Beijing sun.
Old Beijing snack, essentially a crispy donut minus the sugar.
Looks like meat but it’s actually slices of a flour cake fried, and covered in a salty garlic sauce. Rule of thumb: if one person in your group eats this, EVERYONE must eat this as well or you’ll be smelling of garlic all day!
Chaogar – something I made the mistake of eating once and never again. A classic old Beijinger favourite, a starchy soup made of liver, intestines and I don’t want to know what else. I cannot stomach this but my mom loves it.
Ok, this is more like Sichuan cuisine, but I couldn’t resist all these chili stir-fry shops popping up all over town.
The huge bowl relative to my size – my cousin and I, both not obese girls, manage to finish the whole thing together.
Mini fried pork meat balls, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. Impossible to resist.
Fermented wine sauteed fish slices with mushrooms.
Beijing chaobing – the original hamburger