Beijing #4 – Food from Yunnan

There is a province in China in the Southwest (bordering Myanmar) called Yunnan. It is home to the most ethnic minority groups in all of China and its cuisine is fairly distinctive. The food is known for using lots of different kinds of mushrooms and for being quite spicy. There are a bunch of Yunnanese restaurants in Beijing so i tried one out.

I got one mushroom dish (that was hilariously described as “bag of wild bacteria”) and a minced pork dish that i was warned 5 or 6 times about it being super hot. The food ended up being amazing. It’s not often that i find that the dish w/ no meat in it was my favorite, but in this case, that mushroom dish was just so damn good! The pork dish was super good too. Filled with tons of chopped chilis and pretty damn spicy actually, but i was able to handle it 🙂.

Beijing #3 – The Subway

The subway here in Beijing is pretty amazing and puts a lot of other subways to shame. First off, it’s *massive*. There are so many different stops and lines that you can get pretty much anywhere (and Beijing is a pretty big town) quickly. Secondly, it’s super easy to use. When you are figuring out which direction you need to take your line to, each side will have a little map with a helpful arrow so you know exactly what direction that line is going and what the next stop is. Inside the cars themselves, each doorway has a little map with lights for each stop. The stop that you are at (or the next one if you are between stops) flashes, so you *always* know exactly where you are. Not like back home where you have to frantically look out the window when you reach a bart stop to try to find signage telling you where the hell you are. Also, at each station there are dozens of volunteers that will help you buy tickets, figure out how to pay, etc. So helpful!

Beijing #2 – Dumplings

China is a huge country made up of many different regions, with each region having its own unique flavors and foods that they are famous for. Though dumplings are pretty popular all over China, Beijing specifically is pretty well know for them. So, I decided to have dumplings for my first meal here. I went to aplce called Xian Lao Man whose motto is apparently “Our dumplings are the fullest”.

Like it or hate it, English is the de facto common language around the world, and it really puts us Americans (and British etc) at a huge advantage while traveling. Any country you go to, you will find lots of English speakers. Especially when you are “on the tourist trail”, pretty much every hotel, restaurant, bar, etc will have at least someone with some English knowledge that can help you decipher what’s going on. In China though, fewer than 1% of the people speak English. That number is definitely different in the big cities, but even in Beijing i found very few people who understood English. To maker matters more difficult, the tourist infrastructure here is actually more geared towards Chinese tourists and so they dont need to know how to converse with foreigners.

So yeah, getting back to dumplings. Because of the language barrier, doing even the simplest of things here can be tricky. Like ordering in a restaurant. When i went in, they handed me a menu that had both English/Chinese on it, and it was one of those dim sum style menus where you just mark things off with a pencil yourself. Ok, everything should be easy, right? Just read the English, add some checkmarks and call it a day. Umm, not so much.

I check off 3 types of dumplings and one noodle dish (yeah , yeah, i know that’s a shit ton but i like variety, what can i say). I hand the menu to the waiter and he starts talking a bunch.. no clue what he is saying. Finally, after some gestures and pointing, i get that they are out of the noodle dish. Stupidly, i try to pantomime asking him for a recommendation. This leads to extreme confusion and lots of back and forth, before he grabs the pencil and starts scrawling on the menu, crossing random things off, changing checkmarks to squiggles etc. I just stare blankly, having no clue what the fuck just happened. He finally finishes scribbling and talking, and looks at me expectantly. Not knowing what to do, i just nod in agreement. He walks off with my paper and I have no clue what i just ordered.

He eventually comes out with two types of dumplings, but a lot of them. I guess for some reason, my order got changed to two double orders, and i’m still not sure which dumplings they were. But.. they were hella good! One was filled with some kind of ground meat and chopped peppers that tasted halfway between a bell pepper and a chili. The others were deep fried and had shrimp meat and i think egg inside. Yum!!

Beijing #1

Beijing was my first stop in China, and it was a great introduction to the country. It was a really interesting mix of both really modern city and older Chinese culture. Beijing is famous for its Hutongs which are tiny alleyways. When you get off the main streets, it’s like a huge maze of narrow alleys filled with tiny shops, little cafes, etc. There are lots of interesting buildings with the traditional sloped Chinese roofs, ornate doors, and lanterns hanging outside. You could easily spend hours just kind of wandering around and taking it in.

On the other hand, there are parts of town that are so insanely different and modern. Huge gleaming skyscrapers, gigantic malls, Tiffany’s diamond stores, etc. Its hard to believe that these areas are even in the same city as the hutongs.

Connecting everything are roads that are filled with insane traffic. Beijing is a city big on bikes, and there are lots of bike share stations. So, on any street you have like hundreds of bikes, a ton of mopeds, and then hella cars and these tiny baby sized three wheel delivery trucks, all going in all different directions. Traffic “laws” here are more like a suggestion, and everyone just drives in every which way, making u-turns out of the blue, crossing lanes, stopping in the middle of traffic, etc. In the short time that i was in town, i saw *so* many near accidents.

Beijing is also a city under construction.. there is construction *everywhere*. Every street has new buildings coming up and there are construction crews *literally* on every block (and often times several per block). even in the hutongs you hear hammering and see welding all over the place. It’s crazy to imagine the frantic pace of change here.

Beijing can be relatively cheap compared to back home, but compared to other parts of China, it’s pretty expensive. My hotel room cost almost 50$ a night, which feels like a lot here, especially given that it is a super tiny room with a “bed” sitting on a platform. Of course, part of it is paying for location as i was in the awesome hutong part of town.

All in all, it’s a really awesome city. You have all the modern frills you need, like fancy pour over coffee, cocktail bars, nice restaurants, and entertainment while still getting to see that more traditional feel in other parts of town.

Off to China…

Holy shit. I am off to China. Having very little time to plan this trip, I scrambled to frantically read some bits of the guidebook and scan the thorntree forums. I still am not 100% sure where I will go, but I am thinking probably: 1) Beijing – you may have heard of it. 2) Sichuan – known for its spicy food, pandas, and some other things that I have not read about in the guidebook yet. 3) Hexi Cooridor – a slightly off the beaten track destination in North west China that is part of the old Silk Road.. An interesting convergence of China, Tibet, and Muslim cultures.