For the past three years almost, I have been living and working in Beijing. I couldn’t access my blog, even with several vpns, and I thought I’d lost the whole thing altogether. And today miraculously, I’m writing, not from scratch, but continuing my written journey on food, love of food and more on said food.
It’s safe to say I ate a lot of food. Enough to summarise some of the absolute highlights of Beijing here on the little dumpling.
From the more well-known Peking duck (Dadong for the haute cuisine, Liqun for the traditional version served in hideaway hutong surroundings) and delightful bubble tea (I am forever in love with the CoCo and their passionfruit tea with coconut jelly), I also ventured forth into the unknown, the slowly disappearing, late-night world of barbecued chuanr and street food.
When I think of chuanr I think of drinking a light Yanjing beer with friends after work, sitting on a stool the height of an encyclopedia and shelling edamame and boiled peanuts under a smoky night sky, waiting for each kind of chuanr to cook: first the fish tofu, then varieties of gristle, lamb on a stick, bread, aubergine, peppers and lastly, the chicken wings. Recent regulatory crackdowns have shut down most of these outdoor spots, forcing small businesses and families to relocate and making real outdoor chuanr hard to find. If you look hard enough in some hutongs or ask a local, you might be able to find one. Otherwise, look out for the neon chuanr sign.
Along Dongzhimen outer street, to a backdrop of buskers and burps of hastily slurped drinks, numbingly spicy vats of frogs legs and langoustines await the bravehearted. Steaming hotpots of yin and yang flavours, sichuan style (like at the reknowned chain HaidiLao)
Or the more traditional Beijing-style, coal-chimney-esque pots at the table with clear rich soups and addictively nutty sesame sauce, handfuls of coriander and a dash of fermented tofu (for the best taste of traditional Beijing hotpot head down to Jubaoyuan and don’t forget to order sesame rolls like a local).
And of course we made and conquered countless dumplings of different fillings, including my favourite although unexpected: courgette and egg (the cheapest and most cheerful of all, available in most mall canteens or head down to the pricier but still affordable English-speaking joint Mr Shi’s).
Like any other city, there were also many other cuisines to sample. Even after a trip to Japan my favourite yakitori bar is still in Beijing, Sanlitun: Beyond yakitori serves perfectly seasoned and barbecued morsels on a stick, washed down with a pineapple cocktail or two in a copper cup. We luxuriated in Korean barbecue- long lunches of chargrilled meats dipped in salty, earthy seasonings and hastily wrapped and wolfed down in lettuce leaves with tea or fresh watermelon juice.
I had my first foray into seriously good American barbecue, smoked in house, smothered in healthy pools of sauces and served with cornbread, beans or potato salad at Homeplate BBQ. Right next to it you’ll find Taco bar, the best fish tacos in town and pitchers of Gato, a cucumber variation on gin and tonic.
I was spoilt for choice. In addition, apps like meituanwaimai and Sherpa’s meant many of the above could be delivered home for little or no charge, within half an hour. My particular weaknesses on home movie nights was Annie’s Italian food (meituanwaimai) and Korean fried chicken covered in sticky sweet chilli sauces from The Flying Chicken (Ordered via wechat account fly168668 by request in Chinese). With Wechat pay everything was dangerously available and cheap, just a click away.
Fastforward to the present and I’m sitting at my desk, back in the UK. I like having tea with fresh milk, I like the familiar brands of yoghurt and cereal, the water from the tap, bread that isn’t sweet, cheese on crackers and crumpets. I went cherry-picking with my mother in the rain and drank last year’s elderflower cordial and sloe gin. I’ve been to the pub once or twice, got food poisoning and spent over £100 on said bad meal for 3. I’m cooking more at home again. And I’m getting used to the fact KFC doesn’t deliver.