130 posts? Already? Just like Rick Ross, everyday I’m hustlin’. So today’s post on Mastication Monologues brings us to the end of my Beijing/China adventures, but that doesn’t mean that there are going to be any lame foods on display. From breakfast to dinner, all three meals will be bringing the heat. So let’s start at the beginning with the most important meal of the day. I knew already of the importance of the traditional rice porridge congee has in Chinese cuisine for breakfast, but the real challenge lie in where to find a good place that serves it? After a bit of wandering down the main street from the Zhanglizhonglu station by my hostel, I ended up at the same 24 hour restaurant I dined at the previous night as show in my previous blog post. That meant that I was walking in when all of the night staff was swiping out while looking at me incredulously like, “This laowai’s back? He must be quite daring.” I found the myriad of congee options to be overwhelming where they had options that ranged from the basic plain oatmeal-esque all the way to the most savory with full shrimp and green onions floating in a goopy sea of white. I’ve had chicken and congee, so I went for another choice that I never saw outside of China: brown sugar and egg congee. I have a bit of a sweet tooth when it comes to things in the morning, so this congee fit the bill. To drink, I went for something called “almond juice” on the menu, but it simply ended up being regular almond milk that tastes like cow milk with a sweet bite to it.
However, once I had a spoonful, I was greatly satisfied as the warmth permeated my frozen body, and the brown sugar perked up my taste buds that were feeling a little sluggish that early in the morning. By the time I finished the whole bowl, I had a cheap, tasty meal with some stick-to-your ribs staying power that would last me until lunch after walking all over the enormous Summer Palace complex. After seeing just a fraction of the sprawling grounds where the Chinese emperors used to spend their free time and take guests to eat at their special royal restaurant, I started getting hungry. When I got out of the Xiyuan station, I saw a modern looking strip mall across the street that had some familiar faces like the Colonel and Pizza Hut, so I decided I would see how they would be different in China after walking around the palace. I found myself wandering to find the Pizza Hut entrance in back when I noticed more people milling out further down the strip when I finally saw one of the catchiest fast food logos I’ve ever seen: Bruce Lee in his yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death.
This is one of his most famous movies where he ascends a tower while fighting a different martial artist on each level including one Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was a student of his in real life. Being a fan of his movies, I felt obligated to go in and try the food. It ended up being like McDonalds, but in an Asian parallel universe.
I say a separate universe because western burger chains in Asian countries still have their signature sandwiches or sandwiches in general, but this place had none even though everything from the menu to the setup of the restaurant was like being at McDonalds. While I felt somewhat comfortable with the setting, I wasn’t so much with the language and neither was the girl taking my order. Clearly they didn’t get many foreigners coming into this restaurant compared to McDonalds where they have a separate English placard they whip out at you when you step up to order. However, after some pointing and laughing at both our communication shortcomings, I got these beef noodles and a side of hot milk boba tea.
Sweet Chairman Mao! If this is what China’s version of fast food is like, Lotteria/McDonald’s/Burger King etc. take notes. The soup tasted almost (still not as good) like something out of my adopted po-po’s (grandmother’s) kitchen when I was in Taiwan. That isn’t disparaging it at all though. The greens were not stale and were steamed to perfection while the noodles were plentiful and chewy. As for the beef and the broth, the chunks were numerous and lean, and the broth was warm and absorbed all the great flavors from the ingredients that were having a pool party in it. The only thing I’d say that took it down a couple notches was that it was a bit salty at times.
As for the tea, it was expertly made with just the right blend of smooth milk and savory tea, and the girl gave me lots of tapioca balls after I pantomimed that I liked tapioca. So if you’re good at acting, you’ll be in like Flint at this place. After looking at the chopstick wrapper, I also found out the place is called “Real Kungfu”.
So if you’re hungry in Beijing and looking for amazing Chinese fast food, look for Bruce Lee ready to strike. Finally, there was my last dinner in Beijing. I found the Xianlaoman dumpling house down the street from our hostel. It was a modest looking place inside, but their dumplings were delectable. I got the house special which ended up being generously stuffed with minced pork, a bit of broth, and some nicely cooked shrimp inside.
I was greatly satisfied with the dumplings even though they weren’t too filling. Then I ended up at a Thai place on the same street that was a bit more upscale compared to the other surrounding cafes and eateries. Since it was my last meal, I went with a mangosteen juice and banana leaf and a cooked pigeon. The mangosteen is known as the queen of fruits while the notoriously stinky durian is the king of fruits. This must have been an arranged marriage because the durian’s rotten cheese scent did not jive with the sweet and refreshing flavor I experienced when I cracked open the can.
After having to eat meat that always has bones in it for more than ten months, I devoured these scrumptious morsels. I even tried a bit of pigeon which was a bit more of a shock platter with the head still attached while the actual meat could be likened to a poor man’s chicken: little meat on the bone and lesser flavor.