Man, it's taken me so long to finish all of our China posts....but I really did want to get it done, so here it is.....
It was pouring like crazy when we left the Wushan fish restaurant, so we decided to take a cab. During the drive back, the Missus talked the cab driver into stopping at a location where She could take a photo of this:
So while the cab driver took a smoke break, the Missus climbed up a median and took Her photos.
Upon first leaving Beijing, the Missus had Her mom talk to Mr Li. We wanted to thank and pay our respects to all the great folks who took great care of us during our time in Beijing. So we decided on having everyone together for a banquet. Mr and Mrs Li picked us up and drove us through the streets of Beijing, where "he with the most nerve has the right of way." And after going through a series of stops and gates ended up on the second floor of an empty restaurant. But this wasn't just a restaurant.....it looked like we were on a military base, and this looked like the VIP/Officers club. It was nice to gather and have a meal with all the wonderful folks whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Beijing.
Once the dishes started arriving, Mr Li asked the Missus why I hadn't brought out my camera....sheepishly I had the Missus explain that "tonight is for friends....no pictures". Which didn't last very long. I did restrain myself and only took photos of two dishes that Mr Li and Mr Doo explained were very special. The first was a very tasty deer tendon dish.
The second this delicious fish and beancurd dish.
It was another wonderful night. I really am indebted to these folks for welcoming me and really making me feel welcome.
The Missus and I didn't sleep much that night. We spent much of the night reminiscing......we'd done so much in our time in China.
The Missus' soul may reside in Beijing; but Her heart remains in Her hometown of QingDao.
It was a great time revisiting all of those places that the Missus held in Her memory.
I was amazed and touched at how the Missus' family just welcomed me into the fold, as if I'd always been part of this wonderful clan. And of course, there were all those banquets...even two in one day! But what I remember most fondly is the soulful cooking of Fifth Aunt.
We had a chance to visit Jinan and meet relatives whom the Missus doesn't even remember.
I got a chance to meet some serious foodies, as the Aunts and Uncles here are really serious about their food.
In Hangzhou, I had a chance to visit West Lake(Xī Hú) which looked post card perfect.
And had a couple of chances to taste what is arguably Hangzhou's most famous dish Dongpo Rou a couple of times.
Suzhou remains one of the places I'd like to revisit. There's an amazing air of delicate artistry to the city. The Missus tells me, even the accent is rather delicate. The canals and gardens are studies in aesthetic design and beauty.
Nanjing, the "Capital of Six Dynasties" was our next stop. A proud city, with it's own unique beauty.
And it's own special dishes.....
There's a saying in Chinese that "two places ten miles apart don't share the same habits". We found that true of food as well.
There are times when grand descriptions of places really don't live up to expectations. I'll say this much, the Army of Terracotta Warriors exceeded my expectations.
As did the food!
I appreciated the the stick to your ribs flavors of Qin Cuisine.
In Chengdu/Jiangyang we met my Father In Laws family. Though we didn't have much time in the area, we managed to have a memorable dinner, with a dish that tasted like no other I'd ever had before.
We didn't know what we ate until we came home and the Missus saw the restaurant's sign.....
There was so much we had done....so much we had seen.....we dozed off and before you knew it, the sun had risen over Beijing, morning had broken. The ever gracious Mrs Li took us out breakfast before we left for the airport....the new Beijing, pumpkin porridge.
With the more traditional youtiao.....
In my mind, this is the China I visited.....so much is changing, so new, so quick, and yet, the backbone of tradition exists. I hope that history, the pride in declaring where you came from, the sense of identity, never goes away.....
We couldn't leave Beijing without visiting the Missus' favorite site, the Temple of Heaven (Tiāntán 天壇). We caught a bus to the southeastern side of Beijing and entered the beautiful compound of halls, temples, and gardens.
In spite of the crowds, there's still a sense of tranquility here. There aremany older women doing various forms of dance and other exercise. There are three main compounds on the temple grounds. The main one being the Hall for Prayer of Good Harvests, where the Emperor would come during the winter solstice to pray for a bountiful harvest.
The three tiered round structure is quite stunning.
One could literally spend a week exploring the gardens and structures, but we had a couple of hours.
So here are a few places that I thought were interesting. They may not be the most well known sites around the Temple of Heaven, but I enjoyed the stories and history. It's these little things that keeps me entertained.
So why not start with this.......yes, it's a wall.
The wall surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven is known as the "Echo Wall". It is said that one can hear the other when on opposite sides of the North wall. We tried it.....but I think the courtyard was too noisy and it didn't work out.
And then there's the door to the right. It's just a door, right? Yes, but there's an interesting story about this door. In the year 1779, Emperor Qianlong was 70 years old and not quite the robust healthy man he used to be. The walk to the Hall of Prayer was getting difficult. His ministers convinced Qianlong to build this door. He would be carried here on a chair, then walk the short distance to the hall. According to the story, Qianlong was worried that his descendants would become lazy and abuse this convenient door he declared that only his offspring that reach the age of 70 can use this door. So it's not called the 70 Year Old Door. Interesting tidbit, none of the emperor's after Qianlong lived to be 70, so he was the only one ever to use this door!
Then there's this.
In a design of three levels of marble stones stands what is know as the circular mound altar. There's a lot of symbolism, much of which refers to the number 9. The inner wall represents heaven. The most entertaining part of this was watching people queue up to have their photo taken standing on the Heaven's Heart Stone in the middle of the top level.
I heard it's supposed to be good luck......
Since this is the Missus' favorite place in Beijing, I'm sure we'll be visiting again. On this day, we were getting hungry and decided to find a restaurant MrD had told us about the night before. So we caught the bus. There's an interesting side note to what we saw with regards to the boom in China. It seemed that many of the traditional manners we being forgotten by the younger generations. The bus we caught was full of middle school kids, chatting on cell phones and smoking cigarettes!! Being cool I guess. When an elderly woman got on a couple of stops later, not one of them stood up to give her their seat. Not the way I was raised so of course I gave up my seat......but stuff like this bothers me. In this China, both parents have to work, so children seem to be raised by grandparents. Children are also treasured so they seem to be treated like they're the most important thing in the world. Nice, but not without consequences. I saw a grandmother try to scold her granddaughter for poor behavior on the bus. Instead of being sorry, the little girl made a fist, reared back, and slugged her grandmother! On the bus, in public.....
Anyway, we got off the bus in the general vicinity of where we thought the Wushan Fish Restaurant was. But of course we couldn't find it. So the Missus eventually called MrD on the phone...first question, "What restaurants are around you?" Like I said MrD, being the foodie that he is, uses restaurants as his main landmarks. He doesn't know the names of the streets! The instructions were something like, "from hot pot restaurant you need to go two blocks, there you'll see the lamb restaurant, keep walking until you see the baozi place, then make a right....."
We got to the restaurant just in time......there was a torrential downpour just as we got there. Funny thing, the place was right across a huge bus station. If we knew that, it would have been easy to ask for directions. But as MrD said, "I don't catch the bus, so I don't know about bus stations...." You gotta love it!
The interior of the restaurant was very modern and the patterns on the wall were made of post-it notes which had been filled out or signed.
Typical of restaurants of a higher tier in China, the menu was a large and book like, full of photos and descriptions.
After going through the menu, we made up our minds and the Missus placed our order as our tea arrived.
We started with what was called stir-fried purple cabbage, but was more of a purple cabbage slaw, like the Missus' relatives in Jinan made and what I make at home.
This wasn't particularly flavorful, more bitter than anything.
The radish sprout salad was much better, balancing the pungency with some acid.
Then of course, was the Wushan Fish. This Sichuan style of cooking fish is really popular in Beijing. The fish looks grilled, but it is really marinated, fried, then roasted. We chose the "No 1 Hot and Spicy" flavor and sole as our fish.
While it looked spicy, it really wasn't that hot. I wished everything was a bit more crisp instead of kind of water-logged, making it seem greasy, and perhaps a bit more of the multitude of flavors they call guaiwei (怪味 - strange flavor). The fish iteself was not bad and as you can tell it isn't bland, but nowhere as good as the "ugly fish at Mocuomen.
Still, it was a nice meal and we were full, even though we didn't order any carbs. It was time to head back for a nap.
A couple of months back, my good friends and I had one of our all too rare get togethers, this time at Little Sheep. During the conversation, "Xian Jiao" and I mentioned that even though hot pot is very enjoyable here in the states; it pales in comparison to what you'd get in China. Xian Jiao should know, she spent over half a year in Beijing.......
Which leads me to Mocuomen.......well actually it was Mr.D who led us to Mocuomen. I'd mentioned Mr.D in a previous post. That was the first meal of the night.......only Mr.D would make hot pot a dessert!
The front of Mocuomen really doesn't look like much....at least to me, just another shop on a street.
Like many other places, the restaurant was located upstairs and looked very modern, sleek, and very clean.
I told the Missus to have Mr.D go easy on us, because, heck, we'd just finished off a pretty hefty Xinjiang style dinner...full of lamb, bread, rice, etc......
So while Mr.D did order hot pot.......
So while the sauces seemed to be routine....instead of the usual "yuan yang guo", split hot pot that most folks here are used to, this was a milky, lightly herbal, "bone-soup" style broth that was quite luxurious, coating your mouth and tongue......
It did quite nice as the "broth" managed to coat whatever you dipped into it as it did you palate. It also allowed all the flavor of whatever you let take a short bath in the huo guo come through.
We had shiitake, tripe, intestine, bean curd sheets, and a bunch of other items........
This was really quite good, but the clincher was when this arrived.
I agree, doesn't look like much, minced shrimp, bound with some starch...... But then, Mr.D called one of the servers over. With two spoons she proceeded to created little shrimp dumplings for us......the shrimp flavor was distinct and quite good, but the texture is what made this stand out.
These basically just exploded in your mouth......then melted away....into a shrimp flavor ether. The Missus and I are still talking about this.....
The last item to arrive topped everything else. It really didn't look like much.......in fact, they call this "ugly fish" and it is indeed fairly...well, fugly.
It's more well known as Wushan Kao Yu.....the fish is first marinated, then I believe deep fried...finally it is probably roasted. There was an amazing amount of flavor going around, Sichuan Peppercorns (indeed Wushan is a county famous for its three gorges in Chongqing), chilies, a bit of sweet, and bit of guaiwei("strange flavor"), that savory-spicy-sweet-sour-mildly nutty, amazingly delici-yoso flavor. The fish was veyr moist with a nice bit of oil to carry all the flavor along. The version here had won some kind of award.....and I could see why.
This was an epic ending to a fun night of eating.....Mr.D kept the Missus in stitches all night long. And even though I don't understand Mandarin, laughter is contagious. And unlike the cousin of a friend of mine who used to crack jokes in Illocano to his family, then punk out on the folks who laughed along who didn't understand the language to feel superior ("tell me what are you laughing for...tell me what I said, ha?")....Mr.D understood.
I wish I could tell you where Mocuomen was, but I wouldn't know. You can however ask Xian Jiao. You see, I recommended this place to her before she left for Beijing. I guess she really enjoyed it, since we're still talking about it to this day.
During the last leg of our trip to China, we ended up back in Beijing. The son of a former coworker of my MIL, whom we really hit it off with during a previous dinner, offered to take us to dinner. We knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary dinner. You see, even though MrD was born and raised in Beijing, he and his wife are truly food lovers......they don't know the names of any streets or even addresses. Navigation around Beijing is done via their own internal GPS, it's based off restaurant locations! This was to be illustrated in a pretty funny way a bit later on during our stay in Beijing.
MrD and his Wife ended up taking us to two dinners....in a single night! The first stop was through a gate on some side street....I really had no idea where we were and neither did the Missus.
Once the car was parked we walked through a set of doors.....
And then through another set of doors.......
We could quickly tell what type of restaurant this was by the decor.
And by the photos in the menu....since I couldn't read it! This was obviously a Xinjiang cuisine restaurant, which got me kind of excited, I've had lots of Islamic Chinese food, but at that point in time, I really hadn't had very much honest to goodness Uyghur style dishes. There is a difference. From what I understand, most Islamic Chinese that we have here is based off of Beijing and Shandong style Halal cuisine, whereas true Xinjiang cuisine is based on what is eaten in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region.
This photo really got me hungry......it's called Kao Quan Yang (烤全羊) in case you feel like ordering it!
The name of the flat breads might sound familiar, it's called Kao Nang (烤馕), as in "naan".
One of the most popular dishes of Xinjiang Cuisine is Rice to be Eaten with the Hands (Xinjiang Shou Zhua Fan 新疆手抓饭). The problem for me was to remember to eat with my right hand as I'm left handed, and you know why that's a problem in Islam, right?
The rice was much richer than I thought it would be. It was very "mutton-ny".
Next up was the Xinjiang style Stewed Mutton (Xinjiang Shou Zhua Yang Rou 新疆手抓羊肉)
Which was very simple and basic in flavor.
Up next, was a variety of Chuanr......
Your basic "meat on a stick". I'm not a big fan of kidney, but I gotta say that it was my favorite along with the meat that was grilled on the reused and highly "seasoned" wooden skewers..... nothing like layers of flavors from kebabs of the past I guess.
Man, this was a load of food! But of course, this was just our first stop!
During the homestretch of our trip to China, we returned to Beijing. Of course we had to have Bei Jing Kao Ya (北京烤鸭), aka Peking Duck. In doing my research, I'd come up with a short list which included the old favorite Quan Ju De and the very popular Da Dong. So what we did was poll the Missus' and my Mother In-Laws friends and acquaintances. It seemed an interesting divide, the older generation, more steeped in tradition told us to go to Quan Ju De established during the Qing Dynasty(1864) and long the gold standard for Peking Duck. The younger generation preferred Da Dong, lighter, less fatty, using more modern techniques. To make matters more difficult, there was the possibility of Bian Yi Fang, home of the other Beijing Kao Ya, also established(1855 or 1885) during the Qing Dynasty. The differences in the duck are vast, Quan Ju De makes what they call "hung-roast duck" where the duck is roasted in a wood burning oven fueled by, if I'm to be believed what I was told date wood. Bian Yi Fang makes "closed oven" or "braised" duck. In the end, after being told that, "If you intend to return to Beijing, I'd suggest Quan Ju De, it is considered the original and most famous. Next time, try whatever is most popular, be it Da Dong or whomever might take its place." Which made sense, plus the Missus had Her first Beijing Kao Ya at Quan Ju De and I thought this would be a nice touch to a day where we'd explore what was left of "Her" Beijing.
We took the bus over to the Tiananmen area and walked over to Quan Ju De. We arrived and were escorted up the elevator to the dining area, which was quite busy.
Our Server went over the whole, long-winded spiel about the age and heritage of the ducks served here....maybe even the family tree for all I know. At the end, the Missus ordered.
When our duck arrived we were handed a card with our duck's serial number and some information. I made sure to tell the Missus, "it's ok, only a number....if our duck had a name, we wouldn't be able to eat it."
Our duck arrived and was carved for serving......
I recall being amazed at the waves of rendered fat rolling off the duck as it was being carved. This was going to be one rich meal.....
We both loved the Tian Mian Jiang, also known as sweet bean paste, sweet noodle sauce, or plain sweet duck sauce. It's not hoisin, Tian Mian Jiang is more savory and much more salty than hoisin.
The pancakes for the duck were very thin, you could almost see through them and had a fine mild stretch.
You are of course, waiting for the duck photos, so here goes:
As is customary with this type of duck service, the meat was carved and placed on a plate. Slices of meat covered by skin. I gotta say, this wasn't the neatest presentation I've ever seen.
The really crisp skin was placed on another plate....this was really great stuff.
Crisp, yet light, after the first "crunch" it almost melts in your mouth. The rest of the duck was rather oily and a bit on the rich side, but the meat had a nice flavor to it.
We also each got a small bowl of bone soup, something the Missus usually really enjoys, but this one was too funky for Her, having a strong almost offal flavor.
I kinda liked it.....very thick, with a real "wild" flavor.
We also needed something with a nice crunch and a bit of bitterness to offset the rich duck so we went with some simple gai lan.
No big deal..... Overall, this was a mixed bag...not quite as good as expected, except for the crisp skin. The Dan Bing and Tian Mian Jiang were excellent.
As we finished our meal, the Server told us to go upstairs where we could see the ducks being prepped to roast. For me, this was actually the highlite of the meal.
The ducks were hung getting ready for the ovens which still burn fruit wood. A couple of years back there was a big uproar when Quan Ju De made the decision to go with electric burning ovens. The backlash was so bad that the decision was reversed and the chain still uses the wood burning ovens for roasting the ducks.
After lunch we got on another bus as the Missus tried to find our way to Her "roots" in Beijing. I've done earlier posts on the Missus and QingDao, where She spent Her childhood. The Missus ended going to high school in Beijing, so we set-off in search of the school, heading down streets turning into various hutongs. We first managed to find where my Father In-Law first taught in Beijing. Originally Furen University, formed by the Order of Saint Benedict, Furen eventually merged with Beijing Normal University. The Missus made sure to stop and take a couple of photos for Her father, telling me that this is one of the few places that looks almost the same as She recalled.
The Missus was able to gain Her bearings from the front of the university, leading me down the narrow alleyways of the hutong, along a path She walked everyday about 20 years ago. Her "compass memory" took over as we walked pass doorways and little shops, winding our way through the hutong, the Missus telling me that this was among the last bit of the Beijing of Her memory that still exists.
After one of the turns, She stopped in front of these gates.......
These were the dormitories, where the Missus lasted a whole week before moving back in with Her parents. Having room-mates just isn't Her thing. I sometimes marvel at still being in one piece after all these years......
After a couple of more streets, alleys, and turns we stopped in front of these gates.
This was Beijing High School number 13, Her high school. As the Missus looked past the gates, I read the sign that said this was the former residence of Prince Tao....
"You went to high school in a Prince's palace?"
"Yeah, I totally forgot....."
"Man, that's pretty neat, kind of cool....."
"Not really, I mean it wasn't important enough for me to remember...."
Just then we were jarred out of our reverie by the ringing of bicycle bells. A hoard of pedicabs came to a stop. Turns out that Prince Tao's Mansion, aka Beijing numer 13 High School is a stop on the "Hutong Tour".
For some reason, this tripped a wire and set off my somewhat weird sense of humor. I just found it funny in a odd way. Like your high school being a stop on a Hollywood Map tour kind of way...... I still chuckle when I think of it.....my wife went to high school in a former Prince's Palace that is a stop on the Hutong Tour....I know, you had to be there........
After our visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Base, the Missus' cousin drove us down to Wenshu Temple to spend the rest of the day.
The monastary and temple has a history of over a thousand years and is probably best know for the "Peace Pagoda of One Thousand Buddhas", the tallest iron pagoda in China.
The crowd was interesting, the tourists being a mix of typical wanna see folks and actual true believers. A cloud of incense smoke rose above the buildings and courtyards of the monastery.
For some reason it was the wooden depiction of the Hindu Avatar, Matsya that grabbed my attention.
According to the Hindu scriptures, a devotee of Vishnu named Satyavrata was at a river washing his hands when a tiny fish jumped into them. This tiny fish pleaded for his life so Satyavrata took him home and placed him in a jar which the fish eventually outgrew. Over time the fish kept growing, moving from the jar to a pond and ultimately became the "biggest of all fish". The fish instructed Satyavrata to take it down to the ocean where it revealed itself to be an incarnation of Vishnu and warned Satyavrata of an impending flood instructing him to build a ship.....yes, a Hindu version of the Great Flood. Satyavrata became known as Manu (The First Man).
After walking the grounds for a while we gathered and headed off to one of the two tea houses on the grounds of the monastery.
In contrast to the low hum of the temple area, you could hear the rather raucous laughing and yelling as we approached.
Folks bought a cup of tea and maybe some snacks, they keep refilling your cup with hot water as many times as you want. Folks were reading, napping (in spite of the racket, some people were indeed crashed out), playing cards, games......folks just seem to be plain enjoying themselves. Shells from sunflower seeds flying about....even the birds here are pretty aggressive, flying right onto your table to take "their cut" of the profits.
Of course, after about four cups of tea, the inevitable happened....I needed a restroom, which is how I came across the worst restroom of our trip to China. No mean feat, as anyone who has been to China knows, there are contenders everywhere. But this one took the crown by a wide margin. As I walked to the toilet, I could already make out the ammonia like smell. I had thoughts of finding a bush somewhere, but banished them immediately. This was a monastery, what would my punishment be in Naraka be if I peed on a bush! I took shallow breaths as I walked into the lavatory and was amazed at the sight of the trough....it was a trough, with a trough.....a almost even pool about a half inch deep and three feet wide of liquid(take a guess) surrounded the trough. Dozens of beetles and insects performed synchronized swimming demonstrations in the pool. What the heck was I to do? In the end, I did as probably most everyone else did, I stood well clear of the pool, hoped my ab muscles worked ok and fired away...... As I stumbled out of the lavatory, a young man entered, (all these folks drinking tea, what else was going to happen?) he came to a stop a couple feet in front of me, halted by the wall of ammonia. I could feel his pain. I really felt icky and when I sat down next to the Missus I whispered to Her:
"Do I smell like pee?" "Why, did you pee on yourself?" "No, but I feel like I've just walked through a cloud of it. Whatever you do, don't go to the bathroom!"
About twenty minutes later the teahouse started closing and emptied out pretty quickly. I loved the way they stacked the chairs.
Our destination for dinner was to be the at the vegetarian restaurant on the monastery grounds.....vegetarian? Monastery? Food like what the monks eat? Really????
The place was fairly clean, looking like many of the other restaurants we ate at during our trip.....
Suddenly a friendly looking, middle aged gentleman walked up to our table. The Missus proclaimed, "oh, he made it!" So who was he? Another uncle or relative joining us for dinner? So I asked the Missus:
"Who is he?" "He's here for you?" "For me?" "Yeah, while you went to the restroom, I asked the ear cleaner in the tea house to come over and clean your ears, but they closed before he could get to you. So he came over here to finish the job." "Finish the job?" "Aaaah, don't worry, that's the good thing about ears, you have two. One gets messed up you still have another!"
I wasn't too keen on having anyone without "MD" after their name putting anything smaller than their elbow in my ear, but what the heck, the Missus was right after all, eh? eh? eeehh?
It was kind of strange at first.....having someone probing around in your (insert orafice of choice) ear.
Notice the young lady in the photo. She is the oldest daughter of the Missus cousin. Mesmerized by what was taking place and the possibility of gore and bloodshed as well I assume. After all, it's not everyday that you see a relative you've never met before get his brain punctured through his ear canal..... Actually, the amount of awe and attention made me nervous. I really don't think this is something that is a normal part of everyday life here......
But this guy really was a pro......
And when it seemed that the potential for bloodshed was diminished the young lady sat back down with her sisters. The ear cleaner told the Missus that my ears were really clean, but that my right ear canal was red and irritated, which is true. I told the Missus, "tell him I know that, it's the ear you yell into all the time....."
The only thing that felt really weird was when he put the vibrating tuning fork to the ear probe...it sent a huge buzz that I felt to my bones through me. It actually gave me "chicken skin".
In the end, this was an interesting experience.....don't know if I'd do it again, but the guy was very professional.
After that, the meal seemed somewhat anti-climatic. The standard of vegetarian dishes was fairly high, but as with most of these type of restaurants was really varied.
The plain vegetable dishes are the easiest to take as well as being the most "safe", but aren't much better than what you'd get else where.
But I really enjoyed the dish of peppers and green beans. The peppers were mildly spicy, but with a nice sweetness to them.
Of course there are the obvious bean curd dishes. This wasn't too bad.
I loved the Cherry Peppers in this dish, nice sweet-spicy. Interesting dish overall, those faux squid things are basically an after-thought.
The filling for the baozi tasted pretty much like standard issue vegetarian-mushroom filling. The dough was kind of mushy and the bottoms were too soggy for my taste.
The sizzling rice was actually quite good.
The rest of the items weren't to my taste. The faux sweet-sour fish was too mushy, too sweet, and I didn't care for the texture.
Needless to say, we didn't leave hungry!
Since our flight was early in the morning, we stayed in Chengdu. After being dropped off at our hotel we decided to take a walk around the area......I'm pretty sure there was a college or university around because on one of the side streets.....
The base itself is a bit over 200 acres...making it quite large. There are different trails to take, a large lake, a museum, panda food processing center, etc, etc.......
But of course, we were here to see pandas..... so we headed off, past the ponds....
We thought we saw something as we turned a corner......
But no, these were Red Pandas...cute in their own sense, but nothing like the giant pandas we wanted a glimpse of.
In my reading I found that red pandas belong to the family musteloidea, more closely related to weasels and skunks than the giant panda.
As we meandered along the trails, past the empty nursery (it was not quite the season for little ones), I was prepared for not really seeing a giant panda....which wouldn't have been such a bad thing as I could always go to the San Diego Zoo to see them. Then as we walked down one of the trails we saw this.....(feel free to click on the photos to enlarge)
Laying down, lazily munching on some bamboo......
Suddenly the Panda decided to sit up.......possibly recalling that mom always said never to eat lying down..."you might choke on something!"
All the while having a firm grip on bamboo....never missing a beat, all done in a leisurely fashion.
Only to decide that supine was only way to eat.........I'm sure this one approved of breakfast in bed.
As we walked pass the pandas, the Missus was totally gaga over them, it made me wonder.....
What made pandas so cute....was it the head to body proportion? Or perhaps the white and black color and the black around the eyes that made them look larger? Or perhaps the somewhat ambling movement that made the panda seem to be eternally dawdling?
For some reason, I really enjoyed watching them grasp their food, in an almost human way......I guess I could really relate to that. I recall seeing something on one of those channels once, about how the pleasure center of the brain got going after just a brief glimpse of something "cute".....
Heck maybe fellow blogger Lynnea can tell me why...........
Because in the end......
I decided that knowing the why's would take all the fun out of it.......it was better just to forget about it and enjoy......
Which is what we did at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
It was a bit past normal lunchtime when we left the Panda Center and the Missus' cousin here was really not food-centric...so we could really understand the effort he had put in during the past two days...heck, we'd be bushed too. So we didn't blame him at all for choosing one of the tourist type restaurants right across the street from the Panda Breeding Center for lunch.
And the food, unlike many tourist centric restaurants in other countries (including our own) wasn't too bad.
Here's another item that folks living in the Western world sometimes find strange...remember, cucumber is a gourd and it is treated as such....
This is pretty much a COMC (Clearing Out the Memory Card) post. During our time in China we stayed in Jianyang for one evening, here are some photos we took during that time.
The hotel provided a buffet style breakfast, that looked quite typical, but had quite a few breakfast items that were interesting.
Sure there was rice porridge and the like.....but there were a number of spicy Sichuan dishes as well. I had really never given thought to what the typical Sichuan breakfast would be.....the thought of having some "ma-la" (numbing hot) dishes first thing in the morning seemed very different to me.
Just as tomatoes are often treated like fruits in China, potatoes are treated like true vegetables. It's not uncommon to see them stir-fried.
I wasn't sure how my body would react to having this stuff early in the morning....but it turns out that I enjoyed it to some extent.
Even though the population of Jianyang is pegged at 1.2 million and I'm assuming growing as the local textile industry does, the streets in the area where we stayed were wide and pretty much empty. Perhaps everyone had already gone to work......
This seems really great, but as anyone who has tried to cross the street in China knows......other than driving on the correct side of the street (something which is rather flexible in its own right), the "rules" here are different. Because there was no traffic, cars and trucks were driving as fast as they could on these streets....shades of Phnom Penh!
Many of the smaller businesses were located on the side streets.....
I heard a familiar buzz as we passed the Baozi stand.....I immediately knew what it was, as we turned the corner I found that my hunch was correct.
It was the local morning market......
For me, the most entertaining set-up were all the meat hanging for display, it was a literal "meat curtain".
The meat did look quite fresh......
The market itself wasn't too crowded, so after a cursory walk-through we headed back down the street to a bit more exploring. Daily life in Jianyang seemed a bit more laidback, though the speed of things in Chengdu seemed quite relaxed as well.
You never know what you'll see wandering down the street in a city that you don't reside in.
You see things that are unfamiliar, greeting them with almost a child like wonder.....
I loved the makeshift "ramp" built from rebar. You relaly couldn't make out the rebar from a distance. You'd suddenly see a jug zipping across the sidewalk!
We saw this hanging in front of a Jianyang Mutton Soup shop(luckily no carcasses of wild dog in sight), we saw a typical display of how the Chinese stretch the law a bit....
There was an older man with a large cutting board squatting on the sidewalk chopping and hacking at the mutton. Imagine if you will, someone doing this on a major four lane road in your city! He was dressed in the typical stained white teeshirt, white paper hat (after all there are hygenic standards, right?), cigarette dangling from his mouth, hacking away. Suddenly, a police vehicle drives to the curb and one of the guys starts yelling .....I'm assuming telling him not to portion his mutton the the sidewalk. The "chef" ignores the officer. So what does the guy in the car do? He grabs a megaphone and starts using the darn thing, loud enough to shake the leaves off the trees (which are falling on the chopped mutton meat). He screams for about five minutes, but is just ignored. So what does the officer do next? Does he and his partner get out of his vehicle to enforce the law? Heck no, they just swear at the guy (so the Missus says - through the megaphone) and drive off. Jianyang's finest on the job!
Later that morning, the Missus' cousin took us on the short tour of one of the lakes in the area. There are islands in these lakes that house hotels and resorts. You can get to them by boat.
We ended up having lunch at one of the hotel restaurants. Nothing particularly memorable.
Like I said earlier; potatoes are treated as a vegetable.....
Actually, the "saliva chicken" (so good you can't stop drooling) was decent. Not very spicy (La), but it numbed half your face (Ma).
As a whole, like we were told, the food in this part of Sichuan isn't as spicy-hot.
For dinner we were taken to a Hot Pot place.
Which was more of a "hip" hot pot shop, where the young folks seem to going for hot pot and socializing.
Actually, the broth was pretty good, though again, more numbing than spicy.
It was a nice side trip for the Missus as She got to meet relatives.......
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Missus' cousin lived in Jianyang, about 80 kilometers outside of Chengdu. And while he and his family really weren't "foodies" he went out of his way asking friends and acquaintances for recommendations. We really appreciated his efforts. On our first evening, he took us to have what is Jianyang's signature dish, Jianyang Mutton Soup. Located down a dusty side street, this little shop was doing some major business....though the customers seemed overwhelmingly male.
This restaurant was supposed to be the "original" Jianyang mutton soup shop............
There were a few side dishes ordered and it seemed like there were two standard condiments for the dish that came out. The first was simply salt and ground chilies. The second was lamb consomme with chilies.
The broth of the mutton soup seems to made from rapidly boiled bones, creating a milky white appearance, a process that leaches all of the nutrients from the bones. When the Missus used to get sick as a child, Her parents used to make bone soup to nurse Her back to health, so it is something appreciates.
The actual broth was very mild, thus the condiments. The meat was slightly gamey, some of it rather chewy, but not as "wild" tasting some mutton/lamb I've had, and some of it had a slight sweetness to it as well. It was milder than much of the mutton/lamb/venison that I've had.
Do you notice something about the soup? If you've read our little blog long enough, you'd know that one of the items that I'm not a big fan of is jellied blood and this soup is teeming with cubes of blood. Being the guest, the Missus cousin made me the first bowl and I was honored, but it was full of cubes of blood. I looked at the Missus and shrugged, what could I do? I had to eat it.......
And it was delicious....sweet, without that livery-iodine flavor that I don't enjoy. In fact, it was the best thing about the soup. After returning to San Diego, I immediately went to a couple of my favorite Vetinamese restaurants and decided to have the cubed blood again...gaaack, sorry to say, it ain't the same.
The side dishes were very tasty. The minced meat with celery was well executed. The meat in this was rather rich so the celery and tomato helped to cut the flavor.
The second dish, consisting of some pretty fatty and greasy looking meat was amazingly mild as well.
It was a very hearty meal which made both the Missus and I quite sleepy.
The Missus cousin had put us up in a very nice looking hotel.......
Which overlooked the main city park.
There's not much happening here during the day....it's very quiet and tranquil.
But much like the rest of China, after the work days ends, the park is full of people getting their exercise, watching a movie on the big screen over the park, dancing, or just plain socializing.
As for the "sort of"......the Missus hadn't read or even noticed the sign of the restaurant when we ate there. After we returned I asked the Missus to translate the sign and all She could say was "oh my"......
Our next stop after Xi'an was Chengdu....and boy, when I first planned this stage out, I was excited! Apparently, one of the Missus' cousins lived in Chengdu so we'd be visiting....then I found out that we wouldn't exactly be staying in Chengdu, but Jianyang a smaller city (of course "smaller" is a relative term as the population of Jianyang is about 1.5 million!) about 80 kilometers from Chengdu. Oh well, I'd have to wait until next time to try all the places listed in Food and Drink Chengdu. We got off our flight and crossed the street to wait for the Missus's cousin to pick us up. While waiting the Missus and I noticed this woman just stop and squat, derriere hanging over the road to take a text message.....I mean really, was that message so important that you had to stop right where you were to take it?
Eventually, our ride arrived and introductions were made. I quickly surmised that this cousin was deeply involved in the "new" China......business and commerce was king. And even though he wasn't familiar with the restaurants in both Chengdu and Jianyang, nor very interested in eating out, he'd made quite an effort for us during our stay. Maybe too much of an effort as the Missus and I would have managed fine ourselves, but we really appreciated the effort.
He had asked around and found a place for us to have lunch. The car was parked near Tianfu Square which is considered the center of the city.
This was once the location of the Imperial Palace which was destroyed after the Cultural Revolution. A huge status of Chairman Mao now overlooks the square.
A couple of things we noticed right away. The pace here was pretty leisurely, at least in comparison with Beijing, Qingdao, Xi'an, and Hangzhou. The sky seemed quite overcast and the temperature mild. We were told that this is pretty common weather for Chengdu, and the mild weather, overcast skies in combination with the hot and spicy food was why the complexions of the women from the area were so beautiful!
We walked through the shopping district and to the Chengdu institution called Long Chau Shou (龙抄手):
The restaurant is huge and cafeteria like.
The restaurant specializes in "snack" type dishes, of which there is quite a variety....and of course Long Chao Shou, which we know as wonton soup. I could clearly see the trays of wontons stacked up in the kitchen area.
I'm still not wuite sure of the system, but it seemed like you walk up to one of the counters and order, pay, then hunt down a table. You aren't given a number, placard, or anything. I truly had doubts that our food would find its way to our table in this mass of humanity. But I would be proved wrong as the blue clad workers had no problems finding us.
There were only two items that I really concentrated on during the meal. The first was the Long Chao Shou. I had chosen the spicy version.
This was quite good. Long Chau Shou's wontons are famous for their "kou gan" - mouth sensation, a combination of textures and a slippery, noodley-ness (is there such a word), and these were really nice. For me, it was all about the thin wrappers. The "soup" was interesting, I had been told and have also found that there was definite difference between Chengdu and ChongQing style food. And the meals we had in Chengdu and Jianyang pretty much confirmed it for me. The food in Chengdu is lighter and less spicy. In fact, I really didn't think this was very hot at all. What did surprise me was the intensity of the "ma", the Sichuan peppercorns were very floral and numbed me from the tip of my nose down my neck. This made getting Sichuan Peppercorns from Chengdu a must have for our return. (Which of course, I did)
I also had to try the Sichuan Liang Mian - the spicy cold noodles.......
This was ok, we've had versions here in the states that are every bit as good, if not better. But again, that wonderful numbing feeling was great.....I'm sure that shipping and irradiation does something to what we get here in the US.
Chengdu was the capital of the Shu Kingdom (221-263).
The street is full of cafes, shops, and little stands plying all types of crafts, knick-knacks, snacks, do-hickeys, and thingamijiggies.
It was a nice area to stretch our legs, browse, and wander around for a bit.
We were headed for a specific spot. This was where I first learned what one of the favorite pastimes in Chengdu was...... socializing in a tea house.
A coworker told me that her dad tried to discourage her from going to college in Chengdu, telling her "you are going to spend all your time in tea houses and not learn anything."
Folks ante up an purchase a cup of tea, hot water is refilled upon request, snacks are purchased...the young folks play cards, older folks read books, socialize, or like this guy, have a major nap.
This guy was sleeping when we arrived and was still napping when we left over two hours later!
The funniest site was watching the monks bum off cigarettes from folks in the tea house...they would sit down, have good smoke and chat with folks......I've seen a monk smoking a cigarette in a tea house in Chengdu...now I've seen it all!