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 Emperorâ€™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. Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m somehow guessing that Joe Biden didnt have quite as difficult of a time while getting his noodles ðŸ™‚.