So Ducking Good (Thanks Autocorrect!)

Greetings from the future!

Hello dear readers! It’s just past 11:30 p.m., and I am sleepily writing this dispatch with a belly full of Peking duck. I’ve had Peking duck before in the U.S., but experiencing this famous dish in its namesake city (Beijing used to be called Peking in English before the modern pinyin transliteration) was an unforgettable food-life moment.

From preparation to table side presentation and demonstration, the Peking duck makes for a collaborative and hands-on affair — more than just a meal, it’s an occasion. Here are five steps to ordering and eating Peking duck based on our experience tonight.

1.  Order a whole duck. I don’t care if you’re dining alone. The presentation is lost on a half order, so bring a friend to dinner or make room in your stomach because it’s worth it.

IMG_0329.JPG

2.  Not too long after putting in  the order, the chef and his carving station rolled up to our table to deliver the whole, crispy and beautifully browned duck, and without a word he began carving away.

IMG_0354

3.  Once a plate full of meat was ready (there will be several total), the waitress began her demonstration of how to assemble the meal. Peking duck is served with paper thin pancakes to wrap the duck and its fixings. From what I could discern, the fixings included cucumber, pickled radish, scallion, finely minced garlic and the critical fermented bean sauce (like hoisin sauce). Additionally, there were two condiments that I couldn’t identify, but one tasted sweet like a firm piece of strawberry jam and the other was possibly a mushroom type of relish. The waitress wore a clear mouth shield to presumably prevent her from spitting or breathing on our food during the presentation, which was interestingly considerate.

IMG_0341

4.  Chris and I struggled to mimic the waitresses’ graceful finesse but ultimately had to resort to using our hands to get a pancake rolled up and from plate to mouth.

IMG_0350

5.  And don’t forget to try a piece of duck skin dipped in sugar! It’s a flavor combination that pushes the savory/sweet envelope.

IMG_0355

That’s Peking duck in five steps. Oh, and lastly step six: find a bed and give into your duck fat induced coma.

Good night!

The Weirdest Part of Waking Up

Greetings from the future, dear friends!

Here, in the north capital of the middle kingdom, we await your tomorrow.  Coffee’s in the pot, a bottle of wine at the ready, and  Dwight Yokum, Dolly Parton and Notorious B.I.G. are playing on speakers that project throughout the restaurant and echo across the street.

That doesn’t work?  Do you have an iPod?  Nevermind, we’ll take requests.

Get comfortable, tell your friends, and have some spaghetti, why don’t you?

Smoke?  Absolutely!

Or … don’t.  We’ll tell everyone to stop immediately!

Nimen hui lai. (Ya’ll come back.)

The rise of the Chinese economy has created an environment which initially courted foreign investment, later manpower and now, tourism.  A 2013 HSBC survey of 7000 expatriates ranked China as the number one foreign location to live and work.  This ranks ahead of Singapore (a former British Colony) and Germany.

Recognizing the gulf of language and culture between China and the west, one might ask how the hospitality industry in China is courting the interests of western clientel.  On the high-end, this translates to luxury cars, polo, scuba diving on Hainan island, upscale nightlife and golf.  The answer to the traveler who is a bit lower-to-the ground: the western coffee shop.

The Chinese have paid that 12-hour head-start on the Eastern Daylight Timezone toward building an interesting welcome mat.  “Western coffee shops” are ubiquitous in areas with youth hostels and are visible throughout the country.  Wiggly Jiggly’s, next door to our current abode, boasts upholstered furniture, does not allow smoking before 4pm and was bizarely playing Christian music this morning.

Dolly Parton serves as an interesting backdrop for one attempting to pantomime “Tabasco sauce” to accompany their “American Breakfast.”

Western coffee shops have on offer WIFI, coffee, beer, wine, ice cream and … spaghetti.   A sort of faux French bistro coupled with an expat bar that generally offeres a better WIFI connection than the hostel across the street.  While a 25 yuan cup of coffee might be more costly than the price of a hearty breakfast of baozi, we will undoubtedly pay that tax from time to time in order to reach our dear readers.

This full Beijing breakfast for two of baozi and bean curd soup costs only 19 yuan.

This full Beijing breakfast for two of baozi and bean curd soup cost only 19 yuan.

Here at Wiggly Jiggly's a small cup of coffee costs 25 yuan.

Here at Wiggly Jiggly’s a small cup of coffee costs 25 yuan.

That said, I’m heading to bed.

Good Morning!

 

 

A Mouthful of Scorpions

Greetings from the Future!

It is 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Instead of shamrocks and leprechauns, I present to you skewered scorpions, starfish, sea horses, silk worm cocoon kebabs and more! These are just a few of the many tasty treats sold in the bustling food market section of Wangfujing Street.

Gluten free and protein rich, could fried scorpions be the next new trendy specialty diet snack? I won’t hold my breath for that to happen. If fact both foreigners and Chinese passers-by seem more apt to snap a photo of the arthropod appetizer than to hand over their yuan and sample it. But there were a brave few who seemed to be enjoying the odd delicacy.

IMG_1007

Here the scorpions are fried and ready to eat. Though squirmming and poisonous before meeting their grilled end, cooking is said to render their sting ineffective. One would hope so!

My guide book, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: China, provides some insight into the history of food in China:

One of China’s perennial problems has been how can such a large population feed itself (currently a fifth of the world’s people) when less than 10% of its land is arable? The answer lies in centuries of innovation and efficiency in the fields and in the kitchen. The Chinese have developed a “famine cuisine.”

Necessity is the mother of all invention, as the saying goes.

You’ll pass on the scorpions, you say? Well how about a skewered starfish? Or maybe a silkworm cocoon kebab is more your thing? A bit squeamish, not to worry. There are plenty of less intimidating offerings like baozi and grilled squid at the market for the faint of heart (myself included). But be warned, it’s tourist prices you’ll pay. Still, the spike in prices are worth it to be able to sit and enjoy the sights surrounding you.

Since landing on this side of the planet, our days have been full of new sights, sounds, tastes and experiences. Chris, having lived in China before, has been a trustworthy navigator, easing the daily challenges and confidently co-piloting our adventure. We have much more to report from the last few days, so stay tuned. For now, I leave you with some photos from the sensory playground that is the Wangfujing market.

Sitting Pretty in the Forbidden City

Greetings from the Future!

It is just past 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 15. Much has transpired since our last dispatch. We traversed the North Pole, Siberia and through time and space and finally arrived at our first destination, Beijing. After breezing through customs and baggage claim, we successfully navigated the airport express train and the Beijing subway system — a feat that I am quite proud of — and arrived at our hostel, the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Accommodation at around 6:30 p.m, Friday night.

We sipped on Tsingtao beers at the bar next door to the hostel and were soon joined by China resident and good friend from back home, David Petito. It was at this point that our plans of having a low key evening — with the goal of simply staying awake until an appropriate bedtime hour in order to get on local time — were dashed.

What ensued was a rollicking night out in Beijing’s Hutong neighborhood featuring beer, burgers and surprisingly good live music at Club Dada. Despite having gone nearly 48 hours without a good night’s sleep, we managed to stay out until nearly 2 a.m. This triumphant effort was effective in conquering our jet lag. We woke up Saturday morning at the appropriate hour of 9 a.m. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness of jet lag was replaced with a biting hangover. But we didn’t let this keep us down.

Unfazed, we attacked the day and the city with a youthful zest that defied my throbbing head and unsettled stomach. The stomach may be due to the fact that I made the bold decision to fast track my GI system’s assimilation by brushing my teeth with tap water — a decision whose consequences will be revealed with time.

Our first day in The People’s Republic of China’s capital city included sight seeing in Tiananmen Square and the  Forbidden City, and was filled with culinary marvels like baozi (steamed buns), meat on sticks, noodles and hot pot.

Photo by Leivianthon Murphy

Here we are eating baozi and enjoying a Chinese Coca Cola. We tried the meat (pork) and veggie varieties, both of which also had cellophane noodles inside as part of the filling. (Photo by Leivianthon Murphy)

I am now back at the hostel about to go to sleep. We have another big day ahead of us, but first, here are some  photos from our adventure so far:

Photos by guest photographer Leviathon Murphy.

Half a Day Away

It’s the night before our adventure in Asia begins. I’m typing this blog post as my last load of laundry dries, before being crammed into my 70 liter capacity back pack — a capacity that hopefully does not exceeds that of my body’s ability to carry it.

Tomorrow (Thursday, March 12) we board a plane in Atlanta at 11:15 a.m. and set down in Beijing at 3:30 p.m. (local time), on Friday. And no, it doesn’t bother me that it’s Friday the 13th …

Once we arrive in The People’s Republic of China, we’ll be half a day ahead of our friends and family back home (U.S. EDT). And from that point on, we’ll make it the objective of this blog to share all the wisdom that comes with these 12 hours.

Wondering what tomorrow will bring? We’ll let you know — at least how it went for us.

Rise and Shine

Long time, no see.  Hopefully you slept well.

Have you eaten?

No?

The future is almost here and we are waiting for you; burning money in effigy to honor our family, driving cars for the first time, and occasionally putting beans in our ice cream.  We talk about going to the moon, we take long lunches, and all of our grandparents have been awake, alert, and working out since 4 a.m.  A lot of us smoke cigarettes, but nobody can be perfect.

(Xinhua photo)

Some rice wine?  A little early you say?

Please, get comfortable.

It is here, in the future, that we will use our vantage on the edge of tomorrow to transmit these dispatches to you, our dear readers.  New advances in transportation, vocational pursuits, entertainment, short-term accommodations and expression (both artistic and otherwise) will be recorded for purposes of posterity and because none of you have time machines (or plane tickets to China.)

Sit tight, we’ll let you know what’s about to happen … just as soon as it happens.