Things have taken a turn for the amazing for my blog as I’m quickly approaching the 130 post mark, and more and more of people are liking Mastication Monologues as I get the good word about different types of food out to the world. Thanks to everyone for your support, and keep on viewing, commenting, and liking! Today will be no different as I continue my recap of my vacation mastication adventures. This series will be talking about all the wonderful things I tried while staying in Beijing, China.
Now, I’ve had my fair share of Chinese food which ranges from hot pot to some delicious dim sum to even tongue-numbing Sichuan cooking, but mainland China definitely knew how to push my buttons and boundaries as the daring gourmand that I am. My first food experiences started, oddly, with a trip to McDonalds. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Mark, why would you want to go to a worldwide chain that has been slowly eroding local eating customs since 1955?’ Well, dear readers, while I do like my McDonalds back in the USA, I also like to try it in different countries to see what sort of unique options they offer that cater to the tastes of the local population. At this Beijing branch they had most of the standard burgers, but I was drawn to the beef or chicken rice wrap. I got one of those along with a taro pie for dessert. The beef wrap was delicious since the meat was flavorful along with some good, not great, fried rice. I was more partial to the taro pie. Think your classic McDonalds apple pie, but beneath the cinnamon-sugar encrusted dough there are sweet, steaming pieces of purple taro inside. It’s going on the list of foods they need to bring to the US along with the chicken tikka sandwich from Subway shops in England. Once we figured out where to go, we decided to visit the Donghuamen (东华门) night market . It was a bit hard to find, but it’s by Wangfujing metro station. We stopped for a traditional Beijing beverage/food called nai lao. It’s basically Chinese yogurt you can drink through a straw out of these small porcelain jugs. They’re everywhere, and you pay about 80 cents to stand there and drink it. We were in a tiny convenience store that could have doubled as a closet, but the old couple that ran it were very friendly while we were standing there and slurping the sweet yogurt. After some wanderings, we eventually found the market.
You can’t miss it with it’s red lanterns and seemingly endless array of bizarre foods such as scorpions, snakes, lizards, testicles, starfish, goat penis, and spiders to name a few. There are also more normal options like dumplings (amazing designs as shown below), corn dogs, and even fried ice cream! I, however, went for the gusto immediately with a starfish. It was absolutely terrible. Imagine taking food, burning it to a crisp, shaping it into a star, and serving it on a stick. I ate about 3/4ths of it before I gave up. It was gross through and through. I moved on to a much more appetizing prospect in the form of a spider. This was a million times better than the starfish. I don’t know if it was the savory seasoning he put on it, or the fact there was a bit of meat to the spider after crunching through the exoskeleton. Either way, I followed it up with a giant centipede which immediately fell into the same category as the starfish. It was just as bad, but I think the guy over-salted it after frying it. So it tasted like I was chugging a salt shaker while eating a lot of crunchy legs and gooey body segments. If you haven’t vomited all over your computer at this point, I don’t eat anything else weird in this post. I instead got something a bit sweeter that is another Beijing staple: 糖葫芦 or tanghulu. At first, I was looking at the fruit a bit sideways because it looked like they were all frozen in ice. I naturally assumed that since my hands were quickly becoming ice blocks compliments of the lovely northern Chinese winter. I was sorely mistaken though as it turns out the ice is actually a hardened sugar coating that the vendors dip the skewers of apples, kiwi slices, pineapple bits, and grapes in before serving. I went with a Chinese grape skewer, and it was the opposite of my extreme foods. It was insanely sweet to the point of it almost hurting my teeth. I think if I got the apples or the intriguing sesame seed stuffed apples, it would have been better. I’d recommend trying at least one skewer though since they’re literally everywhere much like the yogurt bottles. I have to add a slight caveat to Donghuamen Market though. It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap. I found there were other more local markets serving the same fare for slightly lower prices. Just my two cents. After all of that strenuous eating and walking for miles, we went to a Belgian beer bar called Beer Mania. It was a cozy little party place that had a vast array of Belgian beers that almost made me think I was back in Brussels kicking it in the Delirium Tremens bar. The only downside was the live music was ear-splittingly loud. Thankfully they gave up playing after ten minutes of being ignored, so we could enjoy our beer in peace. I went with a Guillotine which ended up being a pretty bold pale ale from Belgium. It had a slightly apple aroma which then transitioned into a sweet introductory taste that packed a bitter aftertaste punch right in the tastebuds. After that one brew, we were both pretty tired after walking around all day, so we called it a night. I was quite satisfied with the night since I could knock off so many food challenges by just moving from left to right about 15 feet. What a country!