Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The engineer and his mistress

When eating with chopsticks, it is imperative that everything is brought out in bite sized pieces. When using flat, Korean chopsticks, it is even more important. Well, for me anyway –I taught myself how to hold them and, as a result, can only use round or square ones.

My family and I are staying in Beijing as guests of my dad’s old friend –lets call him the engineer, and his MISTRESS (The engineer’s, not my dad’s..).  Apparently it’s common to keep one.. I am typing this in their study on the 21st floor of a 33 floor apartment building, the view is absolutely breath taking! Since hosting the Olympic games, Beijing has been busy improving itself in every way –bigger buildings, better roads and it’s much cleaner than I remember (although it doesn’t compare to home!)

View from the 21st floor
Their home is beautiful and very well kept and they are every bit the perfect host and hostess. We are told that Beijing is super duper cold, but only outside –all buildings have central heating indoors and kept to about 20°C so our winter coats are only needed for brief moments outdoors (will need them for sight-seeing tomorrow).

Korean BBQ above an electronics store

We are treated to a Korean BBQ just a few minutes walk down the road which, we are told, is one of the mistress’ favourites. I’ve had my fair share of Korean BBQ back home and, I have to say, even though the experience seems more authentic here (the Chinese do know how to put on a show) Chinese beef just doesn’t compare to what we get back home.

The restaurant is wonderfully furnished and even though the temperature outside is -7°C, it is wonderfully toasty in our private booth and I don’t take any notice of the chill.

Roasted corn tea “Oksusu cha”-reminds me of good ol’ corn on the cob
We start off with a roasted corn tea (known as oksusu cha in Korea) which is apparently well known for warming and protecting one’s liver. It reminds me of corn on the cob or rice bubbles that have just been popped –it smells better than it tastes though..

Small cold dishes
Various dipping sauces

Before the main course, many tiny cold dishes are brought out to whet our appetite. A plate of soy beans marinated in BBQ fish sauce and various pickled vegetables (no, I wasn’t game enough to try the pickled onion. Sue me). We were also given a variety of dipping sauces for later on.

Sitting back and letting the pro do it.
Back in NZ, we’ve always BBQ’d our meat at our own tables but here, the mistress insisted on getting a waitress to cook it and cut it up for us –“they know how to do it properly and it’ll give us more time to talk” she tells me. A BBQ plate and charcoal is brought in along with a pipe to suck away the smoke.

Shin meat on the BBQ plate

The engineer orders an all beef platter which seems to use most parts of a cow –shoulder, shin, rump steak, belly and even tongue! The belly is my favourite (I like a little fat on my meat) although, in my opinion, not as good as pork.The engineer is told off for telling me about the ox tongue but I’m not scared (it’s not like it’s raw onion or anything) –it’s actually really tender and I really recommend that everybody try some.

On another note: I have noticed that the mistress has a collection of identical dress in different animal prints. It’s pretty cool..


Ham sushi and cold soba noodles
The engineer and mistress went overboard with accompanying dishes and ordered 3 carb based meals –too much soju perhaps? We had some steamed rice which was mixed with corn, cold soba noodles and ham sushi. Soba is a type of thin noodle made of buckwheat flour and is black in appearance –it scared the engineer and he refused to try it. It was served in a sweet and slightly sour broth and had bits of cucumber floating in it. I felt it was the perfect accompaniment to the fiery sauces and the fatty beef. The sushi had ham, pickled radish, egg, cucumber and carrot –I decided I could get this anywhere and only had once piece. It was average.

Spicy seafood broth (top) and steamed rice (below)
Other accompanying dishes included a steamed egg dish and spicy seafood broth. The steamed egg had small bits of tomato and chives which, I felt, wasn’t as good as my mother makes but that broth was delicious! The broth was flavoured with clams, onion, wintermelon and tomato. It was full of flavor yet clear and brought a strong, spicy kick with it.

Savoury steamed egg

At this point I am told there is more food for supper at home should I get hungry. Don’t think I’ll be needing it..

Snakeskin fruit –see how it resembles snake skin?

Snakeskin fruit peeled. Looks suspiciously like garlic but don’t let that put you off –it’s ah-mah-zing!
One more note: I discovered this awesome new fruit at Changle International Airport today –SNAKESKIN FRUIT! I was told that photos aren’t allowed so I had to buy a few –I wanted to try them anyway. They are crazy expensive at $48RMB/pound and the two cost us $13RMB. Man, was it worth it! This is one of the best fruits I’ve ever had. It is from Indonesia and tastes sweet and crunchy. It’s as if an apple, a pear and a fig were all involved in some horrific accident which left them looking like garlic and tasting of heaven (forgive this analogy, I’m very tired).

I am able to post less and less as it’s hard to post to blogspot in China but I have been taking notes daily and will definitely upload them as soon as I can (which may be when I get home to Auckland).

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