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Monday, March 14, 2011

N. China - Day 8, Part 4 - Beijing: Exotic Food

"Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned." - Milton Friedman

***

N. China
Day 8 - 6th November - Beijing: Exotic Food
(Part 4)

I stumbled across an alley which didn't seem out of the ordinary:

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This stretch had a lot of stalls selling the Hong Kong foods-on-sticks-dipped-in-hot-water snack

Then I spotted a sign reading "驴肉" ("Donkey Meat") and decided to try it.

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It was 35¥/kg. This was a 10¥ portion. They said the lime green stuff wasn't chili, but it tasted spicy to me. It was probably a kind of chili pepper.

Next I walked to 王府井大街 (wangfujing dajie)

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Wangfujing dajie

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It was a busy shopping street

Along this street, another PRC attempted to swindle me. He had a pushcart, and on top was a huge block of some apricot-sesame-peanut thing. He said he'd give me a bit for free, so I tried it (it was like the peanut-sesame confection I was familiar with). He then asked me to try cutting some (presumably to see how soft it was). I smelled a rat and just jerked the cutting instrument cursorily. Sure enough, he tried to sell me the amount that the instrument would've cut off if I'd pushed harder. I told him I didn't want any, and he kept putting pressure on the cutting instrument to try and sell me 1% less of the confection each time. I kept saying no and walked off.

There was also a Wangfujing Food Alley.

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Entrance to Food Alley


Scorpions, Seahorses and Starfish. Notice some are still moving.

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Scorpions, Seahorses and Starfish

Though the exotic foods were the draw (even if not traditional Beijing Cuisine), the meat sticks below were what brought in the dough.

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Meat sticks

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Prices.

One side alley had opera performances.


This was enough Opera for a year, being about all of the wretched racket I could put up with

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Side alley with all the stalls with sitdown food

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Main street. No, not all the stalls sold exotic food, or even food at that.

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Japan Boat Takoyaki - at 1/3 the price of in Singapore.

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I had a warm pear drink from here. It tasted like Chng Tng, and even had many of the same ingredients - fungus, dates and pear.

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More exotic food with "Sea Dog" (whatever that is). Notice the prices - the shops at the start and the end of the alley were more expensive. The middle was the cheapest, which makes sense (even if the end was where they dumped the garbage).

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"中华老子号: 臭. 香飘万里,一臭万年"
("Chinese Traditional Mark: Smelly [tofu]. Fragrant scent for 10,000 li, a 10,000 year stench")

Addendum: I am informed that this is a mistake, and that it should be "遗臭万年", which means pretty much what I translated it as (except that "[It is] Usually used to describe extremely notorious people. 流芳百世 is its opposite, used to describe people who gain approbation for praise-worthy deeds"). I am of the opposite view - that this is a Chinese play on words like 河蟹/和谐 (River Crab/Harmony).

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Snacks that weren't moving

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More creepies

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Finally, a stall with some English.

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Fried Birds Nest. I didn't know you could fry it. It tasted like potato, but a bit sweeter.

I ran into a guy from Chile whose wife didn't really want to try the exotic foods, so he had something more normal.


Chinese snack whacked into submission

I'd figured that I could stomach 1 exotic meat a day, and Donkey and Birds Nest counted as 1.5. Insects weren't a big deal as I could get them in Southeast Asia. However, I came across two Dutch girls who were also ambivalent so I suggested that we share insects (besides being less risky in case the food sucks [someone can help you finish it], it also helps having someone else if you can't quite muster up enough courage, and to exchange opinions with).

Addendum: They were eating a crab roe bun and thought it was custard until I disabused them of this notion.

So we tried:

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Scorpion. It was crispy, salty and a bit mushy. It was the best of the lot (possibly as it was alive before being deep fried).

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Silkworm. It crumbled easily and was a bit nutty.

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Centipede. It was even more nutty and was a bit bitter. The vendor said it was used in Chinese medicine to 排毒 (detox), so that was why it tasted like that. It was so bad that we dumped it (we finished the first to).

The vendor was very cheeky and tried to kiss the brunette. He said she was beautiful, and the blonde was not bad.

In the alley, I bumped into a Singaporean family (the accent was recognisable). They were on tour, and assumed I was studying in Beijing. It seems many Singaporeans cannot comprehend the concept of independent travel (they'd probably faint if they found out that I was, for all intents and purposes, alone).

As I walked back to my hostel, I got solicited again. At first the woman asked me "去吗?" ("Shall we go?"). I was bemused, because she was inadequately (rather, too adequately) attired for such business, and wasn't pretty enough either. Then she asked me to 去酒吧 (go to a bar), so I figured I'd heard wrongly.

I said no to both questions, so she gave me the usual spiel, including something on 按摩 (massage, for 68¥). Then she said I could go and choose any girl I wanted, and she could be my guide in the day (!). Then she asked me what I did at night. I muttered something about going out with my friend. She asked me if we went to places with women, then I said my friend was female and she shut up and gave up.

Shortly after this, another woman asked me if I wanted "massages". I said no and she gave up. I should've asked the price, but then she'd think I was really interested.

Now, one might wonder why I didn't just walk off and let myself be solicited. Alternatively, I could've told her that I was gay, or was under a vow of celibacy. Yet, it's a lot of fun to be solicited and see how they attempt to persuade you. Being either too easy or too difficult does not elicit the most entertaining responses.


Simulator. Good luck if it rains.

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Eastern Orthodox Church. It's a cultural site.

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Church front

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Statue

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"Adult Shop". This was the first place labelled such (in English). Notice that it also sells topups for smartcards and mobile phones. How holistic.

I then saw a "Western" restaurant I trusted only slightly more than the pseudo-Western food you find in Singaporean hawker centres.

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"Pan-Fried Frech Foie Gras
New Zealand Sirloin Stear"

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"Ban Po Western Food. Westren Food. Steak. Pizza. Barbecue. Hongkong_ StyleFastFood"

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煌厨
The first (and only) Cantonese restaurant I saw in Northern China!!!

By this time, my foot was quite painful. I could take the bus, but in a way I was missing this kind of shit (not least the weird things I saw along the way). So I continued walking.

I went to a grocery store and reached for a drink in the fridge (behind glass doors) - which was warm. They didn't turn on the fridge in winter. I had to go to an open fridge (the sort whose coldness is conserved with an air curtain) to get a cold drink. Which was ice and tea flavoured Sprite. Which is very weird.

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Forbidden City Tower

When I got back to the hostel, I had an ingenious scheme of using the superhot bath water to heat up my cold donkey meat (remember it was perhaps in the single digits outside at night). It was quite an elaborate scheme involving a plastic bag and clear plastic bottles, but my room mate needed to use the sink and she suggested I use the microwave. So that is what I did.

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Donkey meat was okay. Red meat-y, and a little bland.


I was told that there was a lot of Sichuanese food in the North, because the flavours of Cantonese cuisine were too subtle for Northerners.

I got asked a few times if I was on business. Each time by ang mohs. This was strange, given my accommodations and dressing.

I was told there're fewer cheats and swindlers in Shanghai than Beijing. From what I remembered, this was indeed the case.

Though China is full of conmen, the taxi drivers don't con you. This is because the meters show the distance gone and the journey time, so it's hard to con you, unless they take a deliberately long road.

The hostel was nice but far from the subway. Cab fees pile up.
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