Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beijing street food

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a Chinese food junkie. And I love the snacks you can buy on the streets. I love youtiao, which is a fried break stick (I remember eating this on my first trip to China in 1984.) and jianbing, which resembles a huge egg burrito, only crunchy. (One jianbing and you won't want anything moe to eat for hours!) I'm also addicted to deep-fried lamb and pork kebobs sprinkled with cumin and ground chili peppers. Yum!

When I lived in Beijing, I ussd to eat frequently at the Wangfujing night food market, and usually make it there at least once when I go back to Beijing. It is a snacker's heaven! There is every snack available, including regional specialties from throughout China, all in individual servings. I've never been brave enough to try the bug kebobs (grasshoppers, beetles, etc), but a friend who tried the scorpions says they tasted like popcorn. I'll take her word for it.

Even if you don't go there to eat, it's fun just to walk by the stands and see what's available.

I have been fortunate enough to have never gotten sick on street food. However, I've gotten sick after eating in restaurants. I asked someone about this once, and he explained street vendors only buy enough food to sell that day. Restaurants, on the other hand, buy large quanities of food which may not be properly refrigerated and sit out, gathering bacteria. Makes sense to me.

I do follow certain rules when deciding what street vendor I'll buy snacks from. First and foremost is how clean is his cart. If I see any dirt or the vendor not following good sanitary practices, I'll pass on by. Secondly, as much as I love kebobs, I'll never buy any on metal skewers -- you just don't know how well they've been cleaned between customers. It's got to be disposable skewers or I'm out of there.

And for extra insurance I have been vaccinated for hepatitis A.
Eating street food is a personal call. If you don't try street food, you're missing out on an important part of a country's culture. But if you do try it and it makes you sick, you're missing out on part of your vacation while you're recuperating in your hotel room.

Please see my website for more information about traveling in China.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

China potpourri

Just a few bits and pieces today:

Top Suite 101 stories
My article about the Shanghai motorcycle market was my top read story on Suite101 for the last 90 days. I write mainly travel-oriented stories about China and the Pacific Northwest, but put this one in their motorcycles section. It was written about a month after I started writing for Suite 101 and 10 days after the article in second place.

If you're a biker visiting Shanghai, be sure to check out this market. It's a little bit hard to find, but if you do, you can save big bucks on motorcycle parts and gear.

In second place is an article I wrote 10 days earlier about Washington's Stonehenge, a replica of the British monolith. Washington's Stonehenge is a memorial to Klickitat County war dead, and is part of the Maryhill Museum of Art complex.

Easy chicken recipe
Last week's blog was about an easy way to turn common chicken drumsticks into elegant dinner fare. Since I'd gotten the recipe from my friend Diana in Beijing, I let her know about it. She promptly posted it on her blog.

Friends who read the blog suggested the marinade would be good over pork tenderloin -- I'll have to try that. Another suggested barbecuing the drumsticks rather than baking them. Hmm. . .

Chinese in St. Louis
St. Louis Chinese Corner is a blog I learned about after signing up for the Friends of China group on LinkedIn. It's written by St. Louis resident Donna Gamache, who has been to China a couple of times in the course of her job with a company that does business with China.

For more information about travel in China, please visit my website.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Easy Chinese chicken!

The night before we left Beijing to return home on our last trip, we went to my friend Diana's condo for dinner. Diana is a very successful young Chinese career woman who I've know since 1995. Diana had just returned from Singapore the day before, and said she was too tired to fix a Chinese meal for us. So she cooked Italian, a cuisine she likes a lot. She cooked a wonderful baked pasta dish (I still need to get the recipe for it!), garlic bread, vegetable salad and one Chinese dish, baked chicken drumsticks.

The drumsticks are superb. They're quick and easy to make, and look elegant. I've served this dish frequently, a couple of times to guests who think I've slaved away in a kitchen all day. Not so!

Here's what you need to do it:

chicken drumsticks -- I use two drumsticks per person
cooking oil
soy sauce
chopped fresh garlic

1. Wash and dry the drumsticks -- defrost first if you're starting with frozen, which I always do.
2. Put the drumsticks in one layer in a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting lid, and pour soy sauce over them. I use enough soy sauce to cover the bottom of the container.
3. Chop fresh garlic. Diana didn't say how much garlic to use, but I use 2-3 big cloves because we like garlic.
4. Mix together two tablespoons each of the oil and honey, add the chopped garlic and stir again. If you're doing more than four drumsticks, you will need to increase the amounts of oil, honey and garlic.
5. Pour this mixture over the chicken and soy sauce, put the lid on the container and refrigerate anywhere from one hour to overnight. I usually start the marinating process in the morning. Shake the container every couple of hours if you want to mix everything up.
6. Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the chicken is done. Serve and enjoy the compliments!

I haven't tried this yet, but I think it would work just as well with chicken wings and thighs, or turkey drumsticks.

Please see my website for information about traveling in China.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

15,000 photographs!

I estimate I've taken 15,000 photographs of China since I made my first trip way back in 1984. That's a lot of photos!

I took 2,400 photos on our last trip to China alone. Of course, I was shooting mainly to illustrate the podcasts I was working on for I eventually did seven podcasts on Beijing for them, and they should be available for sale soon. VTT likes 65-75 photos per podcast, but I tried to shoot at least 300 pictures for each podcast topic, so I could pick and choose the best ones. As it turned out, my favorite photo of the trip was not one I used in a podcast. It's the one here, of a couple of butterflys getting up close and personal with a flower at the ancient village of Cuandixia.

Keeping track of that many photos is no mean feat. When I lived in China, and shooting two to four rolls of film a week (more if I went out of town -- I once shot four rolls in two hours at a minority village in South China), it was time-consuming to do this. When I got a roll of film back from the developers, I immediately wrote the subject matter on the back of each picture. Negatives came in flimsy paper sleeves, so I wrote the roll number on that. Then I matched the photo to the negative, and wrote the roll and negative numbers on the back of the photo. When I returned to the United States, I made photo albums out of large three-ring binders and plastic photo sleeves.

That was in the days when I was using a film camera. Now I shoot digital. No more albums, which I miss as I enjoy looking through my China photos from years past. Of course, I coiuld make prints from my digital photos, but I'm too lazy I guess. My photos are now organized by trip or by the day I took them, then copied to a CD for safekeeping in case my computer crashes. I use my China photos for writing projects, so I keep them on the computer. Also, I've set up my screen saver as a photo slide show, so I can see my pictures in random order that way.

I'll never go back to film cameras. The quality of digital photography is improving so rapidly. Plus, I like the size of the digital camera. I have two, and both fit in my jean pocket to whisk out when a photo op pops up. I used to keep a film camera, along with a couple of lenses, in my backpack, which got to be extremely heavy after awhile. Sometimes I wouldn't take it with me, and, of course, that's when I missed out on the best photos. I probably would have taken five times as many photos if I'd had a digital camera when I lived in Beijing.
Please see my web site for more information about travel in China.