Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Contrasting the old and the new

Local Chinese youngsters perform a traditional lion dance.
A couple of things brought home the difference between the old and the new this week.

First, on Saturday afternoon, we went to an Asian Awareness program sponsored, among others, by the local library and the local Chinese association. The program consisted mostly of youngsters performing traditional Chinese cultural activities, such as a lion dance, a demonstration on using a Chinese yo-yo, and singing traditional Chinese songs as well as playing them on musical instruments.

I found it quite ironic that Chinese in the United States are teaching their children about their cultural heritage while in Beijing kids that age aren't interested in such cultural activities. They are too busy trying to become Westernized.

When I lived in Beijing, I used to listen for the beating of drums in the evenings and on weekends. It meant Chinese women were doing yanko dancing somewhere, and I'd go look for them. Mostly older Chinese women would dance around in a circle waving colorful fans and scarves while older men beat the rhythm on drums. It looked like a simple dance, until one time some women talked me into joining them. Whew! Two rounds and I was exhausted, yet these women did it for extended periods of time. One time I watched for 45 minutes, and there was no break, no one dropped out. I remember debates taking place because the young adults wanted the yanko dancing stopped because the drums were too noisy.

Then the other day China Daily ran an opinion piece by columnist Chen Weihua who had just returned from a visit to Mexico City. He detailed all the things Mexicans were doing to preserve their heritage and history, then contrasted it to Beijing and Shanghai where historical buildings are being bulldozed, all in the name of progress.

So which culture is going to survive?

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Peking Duck: Yum!

Carving Peking duck
Peking duck is my very favorite Chinese food; I like it even better than gongbaojiding (chicken in spicy peanut sauce, sometimes called kung pao chicken in the United States.)

I took a cooking class in Beijing where I learned to make gongbaojiding, but Peking duck isn't on the instructor's menus. Of course, if I learned to make it, I would make it all the time and grow tired of it.

At my insistence, we usually eat Peking duck at least two or three times when we return to China for visits. If you have cholesterol problems, you probably shouldn't eat Peking duck as it is very greasy, both the meat and the crunchy skin. But it is just too uberdelicious to worry about that.

Most restaurants will carve the duck at your table. This is fun to watch. These days the carvers wear those thin plastic throw-away gloves when they carve. I know this is a more sanitary way to carve the duck, but somehow it just doesn't have the same atmosphere. Oh well, it doesn't affect the taste of the duck . . .

Peking duck is known as kao ya or roast duck in Beijing. If you're in Beijing and want to sample Peking duck, just look for restaurants which have a huge plastic duck outside the entrance. Quanjude is premier Beijing's Peking duck chain, but the duck is just as good at other restaurants.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please visit my website for helpful information. Feel free to email me with any questions you might have.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chinese "accessories"

I am always intrigued with the foods that decorate dishes in Chinese restaurants. Once I was served a plate decorated by a huge carrot that had been carved into a dragon.

On our trip to Beijing last fall, we ate at a small restaurant across the street from Prince Gong's Palace. One of the dishes came with "roses" that were actually Chinese turnips sliced thin and then fashioned into roses.  (I apologize for the quality of the photo, but this at least gives you some idea of what you'll find eating out in the Middle Kingdom.)

I have always thought the Chinese turnip was a particularly beautiful vegetable. The inside is this beautiful fuchsia-colored flesh, while the outer peeling is a lime green. The color combinations work very well together.

What intrigues me is restaurants which serve food like this aren't always the five-stars. This was served to us in a simple neighborhood eatery. Attractive decorations like this add a lot to the enjoyment of meals, don't you agree?

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website and feel free to email me if you have any questions. Need a guidebook to help you get more out of the Chinese capital? Check out DIY Beijing: a guide for the independent traveler and Parents Guide to Beijing: a kid-friendly city. Both are available in print from GuideGecko and Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wangfujing night food market

Deep-fried grasshopper kebobs
Whenever I return to Beijing, one of the first places I go back to is the Wangfujing night food market. It has an amazing array of foods you can snack on. I used to eat there about once a week when I lived in Beijing, and could put together several snack dishes for a dinner that cost the equivalent of $1.

Back then, conditions weren't as sanitary as they are now, but it didn't bother me. Now, every stand has electricity, covered stands and everyone wears the same uniform. It's a lot cleaner, but still a lot of fun even though I don't usually eat there any more. I just like to go see what's the latest, greatest snack.

If you're traveling in Beijing with your kids, they're sure to like this market, located just off Wangfujing, Beijing's famous shopping street. Just about everything imaginable shows up as a kebob: scorpions, seahorses, tiny birds, snakes, crayfish, beetles, silk worms, and even the traditional pork and chicken chunks. A few years ago, a friend tried the deep fried scorpions, and said they tasted like popcorn. I'll take her word for it, I'm not that adventurous of an eater. My motto is look, but don't touch/eat, and take plenty of photos.

You can also get the more traditional jiaozi (dumplings/potstickers), ciao mian (chow mein), bean congee and assorted fruits, to name a few of the food items on display. I visited the night food market when we were in Beijing last fall, and saw a new beverage I hadn't seen before:  large plastic glasses filled with a colored beverage of some sort that were steaming at the top, almost as if someone had dropped a chunk of dry ice in them. They looked beautiful, but I am way of drinking anything that's not bottled when I'm in China.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, please visit my website and feel free to email me if you have any questions.