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Beijing report

SoupNoodles | Nov 10, 2008 04:08 PM

Some say that the food in Beijing isn't so great. After three meals and one snack here, you couldn't prove it by me. I've had some great stuff.

Yunnan food at In & Out (

Yunnan food is new to me. Ok, I know I love the ham, and I do own, and make chicken in, a Yunnan clay pot, but that's about the extent of my knowledge of Yunnan food. So this was going to be a revelation even if I didn't like it much. But it was great. Two different skewers of seasoned special mushrooms, so different from each other, so full of flavor and character that was different from any mushrooms I've ever had. I wonder if one can simply live on Yunnan mushrooms -- after this meal, I'm tempted to try. Also a beautiful comfort food dish of eggs and, I think, Jasmin buds. A dish of little tied parcels of fried tofu, with ham inside. At first they struck me as bland, but grew on me over time, and when the dish was gone, when I could no longer pick up one small parcel, dip it in the purplish mix of dried spices, and pop it in my mouth and feel it melt away, I felt that something important had gone out of my life. A fried and seasoned Tilapia was full of character and perfectly cooked to tender softness.

Beijing Duck at Made in China, Grand Hyatt

My first Beijing duck in Beijing, and it lived up to my highest possible expectations. Lunch was just that one dish, plus an astonishing appetizer: Chinese foie gras, a generous quarter-inch thick slice of melt-in-your-mouth fattened fowl liver with a crisp, flavorful, and chewy little sesame bun that showed beautiful scorch marks that made me wonder if it has been finished in the same wood oven, visible behind the glass that shields the open kitchen, in which the ducks hang and absorb wood smoke.

The duck itself, carved tableside, was amazing. Crisp skin that seemed to have completely separated from the meat, which had a more pronounced duck flavor than any duck skin I've had. The meat was juicy and equally full of flavor. We wound up with a plate of pure skin, a plate of pure meat plus the split head (which was yummy), and a place of skin-attached-to-meat. Plus a little oval steamer of perfect thin little pancakes, and of course the wonderful dark sauce and the white shreds of scallion and the cucumber (which I mostly skipped). And a little dish of sugar for dipping the occasional piece of pure skin. Typically they discard the less-refined pieces of the duck, presumably using them for stock or something, but we asked to keep them, and the resulting "trash plate" was not pretty, but was actually a highlight of the meal. Those ugly parts have some of the best textures, if you are not limiting yourself to the high refinement of the famous dish.

Sichuan food at Chonquing Hotel

We had a bunch of people for this one, and were therefore able to order a bunch of dishes. The prices were amazing – RMB840 for 6 people, and more than a quarter of that was the whole fish. They have many appetizers in the 8-12 yuan range. Some highlights:

- A cold dish of thin-sliced pork with a thin, lively dark sauce and a large pile of crushed garlic on top. This one was especially amazing.
- A dish of terrific pickle cubes.
- A cold appetizer of spicy chewy rabbit on the bone with lots of Sichuan peppercorns
- Some sort of raw lettuce in a sesame sauce. Sort of like A choy but I don't think it was
- Boiled beef, soft and tender, and appropriately intensely spicy, in a pot of hot and spicy liquid that also had some nice pieces of lettuce in there that softened and soaked up sauce wonderfully.
- Dry-fried chicken, firm bits of chewy chicken hiding in a massive heap of dried chilis and Sichuan peppercorns.
- the best Ma Po To Fu I've ever had, soft and melty and wonderfully flavorful and spicy
- Fried fat green beans, perfectly tender and well-seasoned. I did not notice the pork I usually see in this dish

Oh, and the snack I mentioned? A tasty skewer of chicken hearts skillfully fried on a griddle, and brushed with spices including chili. I got it from an extensive outdoor food market on a north-south street, the next block east of the huge Oriental Plaza complex.

There were also skewers of scorpions and what looked like bee pupae available, but I didn’t. taste those. Maybe that's what you have to do to have bad food in Beijing, because I haven't found any yet. Just one topnotch meal after another.

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