For those who get the Santana reference in the title, you’re welcome. To the rest of y’all, get ready for some more funky food that Beijing has to offer along with a couple normal plates for those who are a bit averse to the adventurous eating route I normally take. First, there are the somewhat odd platters I sampled for a late lunch after returning from North Korea. I was feeling full of life after a near brush with the North Korean authorities, so I felt like going for the gusto with my food and beverage choices. First, I noticed that other people were drinking large carafes of a steaming white liquid, so I got one of those on the side to then accompany my black chicken and stuffed lotus root with sweet rice. The random drink came out first along with a plate of sugar. I first sampled the libation without the sugar, and it turned out to be very fresh soy milk with no sweetener. Good think they gave me the sugar because there was no way I was going to drink all of it without a little some-something to boost the old flavor profile. After a couple lumps, the milk tasted like a soy milk that is commercially sold in the USA with a bit more of a grassy taste to it. Eventually, my black chicken and lotus root came out. The biggest surprise for me that came with both of these dishes was the fact that they were both served cold. Now, I don’t know if that’s how they’re traditionally served or if it was going in line with the Chinese medicinal concept that can be likened to the Western 4 humors concept in early medicine. It is the same in Korea where many people believe that in order to keep your personal energy in line with the weather, you have to eat hot food when it hot outside and cold food for colder climes. Doesn’t make sense to Western logic where one would imagine to eat warm food while it’s cold and cold food to cool off in the heat, but I’m not here to discuss medicine. Food time. So, first there was the black chicken. When I say black chicken, I don’t mean it’s just blackened from a seasoning or charring. The entire chicken, from its skin to its bones, is completely black compliments of selective breeding back in Ancient China. They’re called Silkies, and Marco Polo even mentions the very same “furry chickens” in his travelogues. Therefore, it was going back in a culinary time machine where I consumed a piece of the past, and it tasted like a heap of coriander with a hint of Sichuan pepper that numbed my tongue ever so slightly. The downside of the preparation, as with many places in Asia, it was filled with tiny bones which took away from me actually enjoying what little meat there was on the beast. However, I did enjoy it a lot more than my lotus root dish which also was served at room temperature. Now, I love my fried lotus root, but this raw version did not sit well with me because of the limp texture and the odd, sweet ketchup-esque sauce. It wasn’t a highlight on my visit to Beijing. However, the following day was great in so many ways. First, there was my visit to the breathtaking Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section that was occasionally blighted by hawkers trying to sell you food, drinks, and terrible souvenirs. This wasn’t even at the most touristy part of the wall! After hiking for about three hours up and down some knee-crackingly high stairs, I zoomed down the mountain on a self-regulated toboggan which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life. The lunch we had at the foot of the mountain really wasn’t anything of note, but the dinner I had after going to the national circus was noteworthy with how cheap and flavorful it was. While I was trying to find a place open in my neighborhood by my hostel on a Sunday night, which was proving a bit harder to do than I thought, I stumbled on this 24 hour eatery (or at least that’s what I figured from the 24 on the sign). I walked in much to the surprise of the staff, but I was quickly seated and supplied with a huge menu. I’ve noticed all the menus in China have 10 billion things on them which is refreshing compared to Korea, yet so intimidating at the same time. All I have to say is thank God for picture menus. I ended up getting the pork stuffed green scallion pancakes along with the cumin seared beef. For the equivalent of 10 bucks, I got a huge skillet of quality cuts of beef rubbed with a great chili and cumin rub all topped off with a huge mountain of cilantro. The side of fried pancake was wonderful as well. It was a bit greasy but not too much, and the minced pork mixed with the tangy green onions and pliable, golden brown dough was a combo made in heaven. So those are some more notable eats I have sampled during my trip to Beijing, and I will be wrapping it up in the next post with my final day in the Chinese capital. Until then, readers and eaters!
Tag Archives: root
Hey, everybody! Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues which is my early Christmas present to the world. Today I’ll be talking about a restaurant that Santa himself would love to dine at in place of downing his traditional fare of milk and cookies. The place in question is called Gongdeok Town (공덕전타운) which is located at Gongdeok station going straight out exit 5. Walk for about 8-9 minutes, and you’ll see it on your left amongst many narrow and claustrophobic alleyways including one that specializes in jokbal or pigs’ feet. What should you be looking for? Fried food as far as the eye can see. You can smell it coming from a mile away that’s how intense this dining experience is. So let’s begin at the start of the adventure.
First off, I would have never found this place had it not been for the luck of my friend, Steph, who found this fried food heaven on the internet. Naturally, she shares my same sense of culinary curiosity, so we made plans to go there after a very long work week. After going out exit five and going left, we were quite lost. I looked to my right in the distance, and I could see an alley that seemed to be more bustling than the others, and we were greeted by incredulous looks by the restaurant owners at the fact that two waygookins (foreigners) were in this labyrinth of produce and meat. After walking past a few eateries, I could see plates piled high with pork knuckle and no fried food. They sent us further down the main road, and we finally saw the promised land. They had a mind-boggling variety of tasty morsels to try that ranged in price from 500-5,000 W per piece.
How it works is they hand you a wicker basket along with a set of tongs, and you just work your way down like a Supermarket Sweep of sorts. Some of the labels were a bit hard to follow due to the imperfect translations and others were just very vague.
Nevertheless, we soldiered ahead and took a little bit everything. Once we had our baskets filled to the brim, we brought them to the end of the line where a lady weighed our food and gave us a number. We were then ushered inside where we found out that the smoking section is downstairs and the upper level is non-smoking and much larger and warmer. Eventually they brought us our plate of food along with the bill. For this mountain of food, it was 8,000 W between the two of us. Within our fried cornucopia that lied on our table just beckoning us with its golden-hued breading, we had more conventional foods like gooey Western style cheese sticks and crunchy chicken tenders that came with a complimentary drizzling of honey mustard. Then there were pieces that were more Korean like the squid tentacles, kimchi pajeon, and various forms of sweet potato which I was semi-averse to since I prefer regular potatoes. It still was a nice contrast to the savory, semi-greasy breading. An interesting selection in the mix was the fried beef liver. Texture-wise, it was quite firm, and it had a rich beefy flavor with plenty of body. I greatly enjoyed the fried cucumbers, chilies, and pork stuffed perilla leaves as well. Plus, they had plenty of different forms of taro root like the purple sesame seed coated balls you see on the first plate. So for all you vegans out there, there is plenty of selection for you too aside from that last one. There was also a mystery nugget that I chose because it looked like it had a strip of bacon in it, and I loves me some bacon.
When I finally tried it, it was quite bizarre since it didn’t taste bacon or anything else for that matter. It had a generic flavor of meatvegetablesbreading?? that left me generally confused along with the imposter “bacon” strip that just tasted like burned matter. It was quite the letdown. Once we finished our first plate, I had to go back for a second helping since I still was hungry.
The scallop was quite delectable as it was rich and buttery like breading that enveloped it, and the oyster was quite good aside from a rubbery texture that might put off some diners. The potato bread was a bit of a mystery to me at first since I was anticipating it to be stuffed most likely with pork, but it just ended up being a ball of fried dough. Last and definitely the least favorite of all the food I tried there were the millet cakes. They looked almost like mini-red velvet cakes minus the cream cheese frosting, but they were the opposite of the tantalizing dessert. Not only did it taste quite musty, but it was filled with red bean paste! Arrghhh, my Korean culinary arch-nemesis. Foiled once again from having a completely fantastic dinner. That minor bump aside, we ended up eating a ton of food for about 12,000 W each which is a bargain any way you slice it.
So if you’re looking for a warmer way to eat street food in the winter or perhaps need to layer up on some blubber for winter hibernation, go to Gongdeok town for some greasy good times.
Hello again to part two of my journey through a hot pot dinner. Last post, I spoke about my very brief initiation to the hot pot experience with some fish roe and homemade soy milk, but it was merely a prelude to the symphony of flavors that I hope to fully convey through this amazing new post.
Before I even sat down at the table, I was advised to change out of my fancy new years eve clothes since hot pot could be messy. I didn’t think that I would have to dress down in order to eat a simple meal. When I sat down around the table, first I had to choose between a mild pot and a spicy pot which were on opposite ends of the table.
If you don’t know me/haven’t read my previous posts like with the XXX spicy wing challenge, I will have you know that I am quite the chili head. When most people expect me to not be able to eat their spicy ethnic foods, I just smile and go about my business sampling their cuisine. This has led to me making plenty of friends down the road during my dining experiences. Therefore, I took my seat at the spicy end of the table where I quickly saw people throwing in strips of red marbled beef, healthy pink pork, large grey and pink shrimp, and striped bass into the ludicrously red broth. Later, they added watercress, taro root, and mushrooms since they apparently soak up the spice like a sponge with water. I found out that David’s family had brought back a packet of chili pepper native to the Szechuan region which is notorious for blazing hot dishes. While these meats were bubbling in the pot, we passed around small cups of cilantro, green onions, sesame oil, and soy sauce to put in our bowls. However, David informed me that it is tradition in Taiwanese hot pot to use a dipping sauce made of raw egg, green onions, and prawn paste. I wanted to do the real deal, so he made me my own bowl of dipping sauce for my first round of hot pot. It also helped cool down the smoldering hot meats and vegetables.
In order to get the contents of the pot into your bowl, you are supplied with mini metal wire scoops that look like small butterfly nets. Thankfully everyone was really helpful with supplying me with my food while I was attempting to get a hang of my chopsticks. Since I’m moving to Korea soon, I made it my mission to eat the entire meal with chopsticks, and I finally managed to do it! My first bowl consisted of fish balls, beef, green onions, cilantro, and prawn paste. The fish balls were made with a semi-firm dough which was dotted with peas and encapsulated the savory fish inside. The raw egg sauce provided a nice onion/soy flavor to the strong fish flavor. The beef piece was tiny but succulent, and the prawn paste gave the bowl a nice surf and turf vibe.
The second helping I ate contained some striped bass, beef, pork, fish roll, watercress, and mushrooms. The bass was stewed quite quickly, but it literally melted in my mouth like some sort of heavenly piece of fish butter. As for the beef and pork, I was a bit flummoxed as to what to do with these large pieces of meat that were cooling off in my raw egg sauce since we didn’t have forks or knives. Thankfully my friend David said it was cool for me to just go at it, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed each juicy and spicy slice. The more elongated fish roll was not as satisfying as the ball dumplings, but it seemed to be stuffed with a stronger tasting type of fish. Plus, I had thought that the mushrooms were initially noodles since they were so long and thin, but in reality they were winter mushrooms. The cabbage was also delicious. Even though it was put in last, it contained so much chili flavor that it was like a warm, non-fermented version of the popular Korean dish kimchee.
My third bowl (in hot pot, you eat a lot slower and savor the smaller portions) consisted of prawns, mushrooms, watercress, taro root, and pickled radishes. The prawns were still in their shells and with legs, but I took a mighty bite into their pink bodies to be welcomed by a explosion of flavor. The mushrooms were a non-factor, but the watercress and the pickled radishes had a similar chili infusion like the cabbage. This bowl was a bit trickier because the radishes were quite slippery after swimming around in the hot pot, and the taro root kept on disintegrating when I would grab at it with my chopsticks. I finally managed to get both into my mouth, and the taro was more interesting because texture-wise it was like a semi-mashed potato but possessed a more earthy flavor. Once I finished that bowl, I was faced with something that reminded me of a type of pizza they serve at Sbarros.
It was basically green onions baked inside bread that was coated in sesame seeds and had a crust. Perhaps this is what Marco Polo brought back to Italy from China. Pizza origin theories aside, this was probably my favorite part of hot pot. The bread was golden brown and crisp on the outside while soft and pliable on the inside. I’m a huge onion and sesame seed fan, so I was in heaven biting into the verdant interior of this onion bread and experiencing the mellow sesame seeds combining with the strong green onion flavor. It also went really well with the raw egg sauce as a sort of replacement for garlic butter or marinara sauce.
After eating a couple of slices, I limped to my fourth and final bowl which had some of the aforementioned ingredients along with a pink fish dumpling. It was like the other fish dumplings but had a slightly sweeter, more tuna-esque taste.
However, the fourth bowl was unlike the others because I had asked David why we had spoons on the table. He then proceeded to ladle in the devilishly red pepper broth from our spicy hot pot into my bowl . This lava in my bowl was pretty spicy but tolerable for me. Once I finished eating this molten ambrosia, my mouth felt kind of funny, but it turns out that the Szechuan pepper causes slight numbness along with burning in the mouth.
Even though I couldn’t feel my mouth, it was a sign that I had just experienced an authentic piece of Chinese culture, and I am thankful that David and his family welcomed me into their home to take part in this very entertaining tradition. Hope you and everyone else has a happy and healthy new year!