Trips and Tales: Part 136
If you think you are getting lost; you are probably close #7
SD‘s description of some of the delicacies that she savours in Beijing sounds like an hallucination. Sweet Bubble tea “that looks like frog-spawn”, with syrupped tapioca pearls completing the effect. Can this be real? Apparently so.On the streets of China’s capital, SD is on a mission to eat her way through Beijing’s culinary tastes and textures. She enjoys the vivid differences in which authentic Chinese cuisine contrasts with our own standard fare. And where better to do this than at the beating heart of the country and culture itself?
The limited duration of her stay ultimately pushes her down colourful streets (including the Hutongs), clamouring at her senses in a competition of temptations, and with distractions at every turn. Ultimately, it comes down to scanning the multitude of vendours and establishments for things that instantly appeal through their uniqueness: “That looks interesting!” -and subsequently devouring it. The clock of her stay is ticking.
Such is the plethora on offer that detailed consideration falls by the wayside as time runs out. Not that I am trying to present SD as a 21st century female Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Hey I love Chinese food too, but I’ve never had to force-sample the whole culture’s delights in the space of a few short days. Usually such things are a mini side-career spread over a period of years, at least. Right?
She finds a “dessert place” with an indecipherable name, that deals with just that: desserts, unsurprisingly. Though to us, they resemble alien food – not that we have seen such things. Puddings – or something – as a third course that can be a sweet whilst at the same time being oddly savoury too. That hallucinatory Smörgåsbord again. She describes a “mid-dark-grey paste, slightly transparent and with light-to-dark flecks suspended in it”. This she can only conclude was derived from some kind of bean. And that’s a best guess. Alien food.
Something else “looks like mango” but isn’t. It has been excavated from its skin, mashed into paste and then re-inserted to complete its preparation. Well, we do have dressed crab, which is similar in principle, I suppose.
Another unusual hybrid is – and bear with me – a “spicy jelly, mango sauce and coconut-milk pancake with fried dough, egg, herbs and spices”. Oh yes, its been folded up into itself – like some inter-dimensional, mathematical phenomena.
I doubt if the words above comprise the actual title of the dish – and I accept that they do read like a random selection of ‘food words’, bookended with quotation marks, but there it is. Just accept its reality.
This recipe, object, assemblage – is perhaps one of those sweet-savoury hybrids that blur (or just ignore) our relatively distinct food boundaries. Reassuringly perhaps, some do naturally fit within our familiar pigeon-holes, even though the combinations can be wonderfully abstract by comparison. Take “dumplings, sweetcorn, chicken and cheese”, as one thing for instance. Or dishes that are only comprised of one thing, even though – irrationally – most of us recoil if confronted with it as food. A bug on a stick for instance. Why not? If you can eat a fatty, hormone-pumped and processed cow, then why not a lean and protein-rich insect? Seriously, why? Especially as we already eat such things as shrimps: sea-bugs, themselves.
And this is where SD stalls: “Ooh, I don’t like shrimps,” she says. “Too many legs.” But a mere six; that’s OK. Maybe it’s a leg thing?
If you would like to check out more culinary experiences in the region at the end of of your Trans-Siberian experience, you may want to see this blog post about eating out in Hong Kong.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 137) Arrival Beijing #26