One of the dishes that Beijing is known for is Zhajiang Mian, a noodle dish with fried ground pork and fermented soybean paste that is topped with pickled cucumber, radish, and possibly other vegetables. Legend has it that while in exile, the Emperor’s eunich servant found this dish by following the scent to a small noodle restaurant. I imagine him flying through the air, following the scent like a character in the old cartoons from back in the day… but that might not be 100% historically accurate.
This was one of the dishes i definitely wanted to try while here, and i had read that there was one restaurant in particular that was popular for it (apparently Joe Biden ate here when he was in China). I set off trying to find it, but again, this is China, so nothing is easy. There was no exact address for it, just a street name and a vague vicinity where it should be. I found a spot that looked right and wander in. It’s a small hole in the wall locals only kind of place. As typical, i am ignored by everyone and just stand there looking confused for a while. I’m feeling super awkward, and a big part of me just wants to bolt and go elsewhere. Eventually, i look up the Chinese characters for the restaurant online and show them to a gruff angry looking woman, while looking questioningly and pointing. She nods. Ok, good. I am in the right spot at least.
I sit down at a table. Some time goes by and i realize nobody is waiting tables. It looks like you need to go to some counter, put in your order, and then pick up your food at a different counter across the way. There is no English menu and no pictures to point at. How am i going to navigate this? Again, i resist the urge to just awkwardly slink out. I do some googling and am able to find the Chinese characters for the dish i want on Wikipedia. I show the disinterested looking guy at the first counter and he nods. Success!
I take my receipt to this other counter. While standing there waiting, i see lots of people picking up these tasty looking dumplings. I want to try some, but have no clue what they are called, nor how i could describe/explain them to the guy at the counter across the room. I was about to resign myself to not getting dumplings, when i have an idea. I get my phone ready, and when i see the next customer pick up some dumplings, i quickly snap a photo of the dumplings, much to her confusion. I then walk back to the first counter and show the guy my photo, and so am able to order some dumplings.
In the end, I was super happy. Not just because the noodles and dumplings were fucking delicious (and only cost 3$ total), but also because i was able to push through my discomfort and didnt give up. I’m somehow guessing that Joe Biden didnt have quite as difficult of a time while getting his noodles 🙂.