Monday, March 10, 2008

A different kind of Beijing hunger

As most soccer fans prepare for the Olympic qualifying tournament this week, the ultimate goal for the respective national teams to reach Beijing for the Summer Olympics. Now, I am not sure if there was any tie in but a show I watched tonight focused on Beijing cuisine and would serve as a nice guide to local foods in Beijing.

I doubt Travel Channel producers aligned its Bizarre Foods show to coincide with the Olympic qualifying tournament. My guess is they don't know or care that it's going on. But whether it was pre-planned or coincidence, the show will be airing this week and will help those who may be headed to China prepare for the local grub.

Now, when most of us think of Chinese food, I'm guessing things like Orange Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken and Fried Wontons come to mind. If those foods are a part of the Beijing diet I am not sure. Remember, this show focuses on Bizarre Foods, and Orange Chicken isn't exactly bizarre.

The host of the show, Andrew Zimmern, will put almost any sort of food in his mouth. All you have to do is watch the first few minutes of the show to see that. Zimmern starts off with a stroll through a local market and comes across such things as fried secada, fried grasshopper and fried sea horses. These animals are placed on a wooden skillet and fried as you wait, apparently. Zimmern tastes all of them. He doesn't care for the cicada (a type of beetle), says the grasshopper tastes like paper and gives the sea horse a bad review (too salty, fishy and boney).

There are other things there that actually look edible like fried fruits but what's the fun in trying that when you can eat an actual beetle?

From there, he goes to a night market where he says you can find almost any food that China has to offer. He chows down some raw sea urchins (which he paid one dollar for) and says they taste good. He then eats this pork-and-fungus wrap that is apparently pretty garlicky.

After his experience at these markets, he tries for a restaurant ambience. I didn't know this but donkey meat is considered a treat in China. Zimmern goes to a restaurant that specializes in donkey meat. One of the chefs there says that donkey meat is lean, low-fat and high in protein before Zimmern chows down. He eats cold, poached, sliced donkey meat which he says tastes fantastic, some donkey skin that is mixed in with a salad-type thing and donkey tail which looks like it was served up as a bowl of menudo, and loves all of it.

A highlight of the show is his trip to Fangshan Restaurant in Beijing. It's an imperial-style place that serves up some royal cuisine. Among the dishes he tastes is shark fin (gelatinous but good), sea cucumber (soft and mild) and braised camel paw (jelly texture, funky smell, as strange as food gets, he says).

But easily the most bizarre of the bizarre eateries he visits is a penis restaurant. Yup, you read correctly. Apparently, you can choose from 30 varieties including deer, ox and seal. That sort of food, though, is bizarre by Beijing standards, Zimmern tells us, and his Chinese dinner companion grimaced throughout the meal.

Now, if the U.S. qualifies, I'll have to tell Sacha Kljestan about this show. I might leave out that last place, however. I'm sure the U.S. team would have a chef with them so the players might not have to rely on fried beetles and camel paw for sustenance. The last thing you want is to have a player get food poisoning before the match. But that is part of the experience - the local cuisine, not the food poisoning. So a few pointers may help him and his 'mates experience some of Beijing's tasty and not-so-tasty offerings.


Anonymous said...

Uh yeah, Panda Express is about as poor a representation of Chinese food you can find.

I've traveled in China on business but never to Beijing. I have seen anything from snake meat and snake skin, lotus root, an entire chicken carcass in a soup crock, fried pig intestine, white rice stuck on a piece of pig jaw complete with teeth (that was actually quite tasty).

A guy I know says the Chinese will eat anything with four legs except tables and chairs.

I'd love to see the US players when they go to a traditional restaurant where you pick your fish, turles, or whatever out of a tank and they take it back and cook it.

Anonymous said...

Cicada, not secada

Love your blog! Keep it up!

artnsue said...

If you like Andrew Zimmerman's show you must like the true original in this genre on the Travel Channel: Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations", true classic and quite humorous and also always tests the fine "beverages" from where he visits.

Dan Haug said...

This is a fun post :) but...

My parents lived in China for the last ten years, and my kids spent almost five months with them. Even my 14-year-old son who won't eat ANYTHING found lots of food that liked in China.

When I spent three weeks there in 2001, the food that we had was the best I've ever had anywhere!!

Incidentally, one of my Mom's students let me play in a game with their rec league soccer team in Beijing while we were there. It was a BLAST.

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