Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dongcheng District, Beijing

All of the photos below were taken in various areas of the Dongcheng district of Beijing. To get all the links out of the way, let me list off the places that we drove or walked by:

Houhai, which means "back sea," as it's in the 'back' part of Beijing. This is a park with a lake.

Beihai, also a park with a lake, means "northern sea" and is very close to Houhai.

We walked by Gulou and Zhonglou, I think, which are the drum and bell towers of Beijing.

We drove by Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong's mausoleum (I still want to spell his name Mao Tse Tung, because that's what my textbooks said when I was a child), and some other places, but it was so foggy the night that we did the drive that taking pictures was pretty much useless. Of course, since I didn't take pictures, I don't remember exactly where we went. Sigh.

What I did take pictures of would be food. I don't know why, but this trip to Beijing was basically just an excuse for me to take ridiculous numbers of photos of food. We really ate quite a lot this time around.

So here was our adventure on our last night, after our meetings and review with the director. We actually left Wangjing and went out and about, taking in a nighttime market, eating, drinking, looking for cute knock-offs (some of the stuffed animals were hilarious), and just generally enjoying Beijing.

We started off at some tiny little restaurant, in a tiny little alley. I will never be able to find this place again, but one of the guys that we went with used to be a regular when he was a student at a nearby university. The owner greeted him cheerily and made us feel right at home.

The dish above was the first one out. I don't like mushrooms, but these mushrooms were delicious. Mostly because they didn't taste anything like mushrooms (or any mushroom I've ever had, anyway). I usually can taste the mushroominess even when they're deep-fried, but these were not mushroomy at all. Really very good.
Next came a tower of fried potatoes. Basically crispy-fried French fries with Chinese seasonings, piled high into a haphazard tangle. There were bits of cilantro in this, and one of my co-workers absolutely hates cilantro (as do a lot of Koreans).

I don't mind cilantro, though I used to really dislike it. I think pho pretty much wore me down and made me accept cilantro. Pho and Mexican salsa got me accustomed to the taste, and I didn't mind it in this dish. It was actually nice to have the sharp cilantro to cut through the deep-fried-ness of the potatoes. I never knew Chinese food involved so much frying until I went to Beijing.
Chicken with mushrooms and bamboo shoots and ... carrots? Something like that. These types of mushrooms, I hate. I avoided these like the plague. The bamboo shoots were actually nice; I didn't think I'd like them, but I did. This chicken was rather sweet and reminded me of Andong jjimdak (안동 찜닭), a popular Korean dish.

I personally like spicy food, and my problem with Andong jjimdak (jjim = steam or braise, dak = chicken) is that it's too sweet. I feel like it's just sweet, without any other flavors. This dish was not as sweet as Andong jjimdak, but still a little boring. I ended up picking out most of the bamboo shoots and leaving the mushrooms and chicken to everyone else.
This is supposedly a great dish that is done really well at this restaurant. I am still skeptical. It was essentially a giant bowl o' fish stew. Those little floaty things? That look like red peppercorns? They are Sichuan peppercorns, which kind of numb the mouth if you accidentally eat them.

I accidentally ate about five little peppercorns and had a couple minutes of pleasant tingling, then realized that the soup contained the greasiest broth that I'd ever tasted. I've had lobster bisque that wasn't as rich as this soup. How they managed to make a clear broth that is richer than bisque is completely beyond me.

There were bean sprouts, large slivers of fish, and some other vegetables in the dish. I took a couple bites, one sip, and I was pretty much done with this. I don't feel the need to ever try this again. Meh.
This looks kind of gross, I know. Like some large blob suspended in mysterious goo. It didn't look appetizing at all, but it was strangely addictive. Basically, it's an omelette wrapped around julienned cucumbers, sitting in a pool of a sauce that was similar to sweet chili sauce.

Okay, the description doesn't make it sound that appetizing, either, but it was actually good. I would've liked it even more if the sauce had been slightly spicy rather than just sweet, but that's just me and my personal taste.
Mysterious meat! I think it's pork, but I forgot to ask. I ate all the bell peppers in this, because I was acutely feeling the lack of vegetables in our dinner. This was really good, but very ... common. Does that make sense? It wasn't unique or anything, it was just sauteed stuff in a typically Chinese sauce. I'm not knocking it or anything, because I really liked it, but I don't know how else to describe it.
A very palate-cleansing, refreshing soup of cabbage and all kinds of mushrooms. This was divine. I don't eat these mushrooms, but I love cabbage (why do people think it's weird that I love cabbage?) and this soup was so blessedly clean, without the grease of the fish stew thing that we had earlier.
Dessert (I don't know if it's really meant to be dessert, but it was sweet, so I'm calling it dessert) was homemade bread. The paler buns are steamed and cooled, so they're slightly chilled. The darker buns are fried, I think, and were ridiculously hot. They came with a little dish of sweetened condensed milk, which I found hilarious. I preferred the fried buns, without the extra sweetening (I ate two!).
We actually starting drinking before we started eating, but that's neither here nor there. China means baiju, since I don't drink beer, and we all ended up drinking it, since nobody really felt like beer. This brand sold these glass cups of baiju, sealed with a thin metal cap and seal that were actually really difficult to remove (heaven help the person who's already had a couple, he'll end up cutting up his hands quite badly), which is probably why we switched to a different brand that came in bottles, with handy screw-top lids.

The nice thing about the little cups was that they were a little less strong than the bottled variety. I think the cups were something like 46% alcohol, whereas the bottle was 58%, which is basically like drinking rubbing alcohol. Blargh.
One of the many, many little alleyways that we traversed to get from the car to the restaurant, then get from the restaurant to the night market, then get from the night market to the bar. These alleys are scary, because people, scooters, cars, and even trucks all use them.
Characteristic Boiled Fish. Yum...? I appreciate that there are so many signs in English (all the larger street signs, especially on the highways, are in both Chinese and English) but some of the English names that shops and restaurants choose are just silly.
I think Special Dishes, Delicious & Cheap was where we had dinner, but I can't be sure. There were so many signs, I don't remember where I saw each one. Pretty sure this was where we had dinner, though. I can't speak for the "Cheap" part, because I didn't pay and had no bloody clue how much anything else, but it was "Delicious."
I can't believe I only took this one measly photo at the big market that we walked through. In my defense, I was busy eating these. I don't know what kind of fruit they are, though I was told definitively that they're fruits, but they were yummy. Candied to a crisp with a slightly sourish flesh. I ate three, I think, everyone else had one, and we ended up throwing two of them away (we'd already had four by the time I remembered to take this picture).
Another sign. I love owls, so I had to take a picture. We peered into the window of this place, though, and there were no owl decorations anywhere. I was disappointed- I had expected the place to be plastered with owls, kind of like how the Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul looks like Sanrio threw up in there.
This dog was sitting on a stump outside the owl place. The stump actually had owls carved into it, which didn't turn out very clearly in this picture. There were a lot of little dogs in China with these types of haircuts, giving them disproportionately large heads on wee bodies. I have to say, though, all the dogs that we saw were very well behaved. Not a single one of them barked, even in the chaos of a night market.
Our last stop of the night was at Bed Tapas & Bar, where they have lounges and tables set low to the ground, with pillows all over the place. We, of course, elected to sit outside at a table with chairs, because we were not there to experience the "bed" portion of the place, nor even the "tapas" portion- we were strictly there for the "bar."
Everyone had a mojito. Everyone liked their mojito except for me, because I think the mojitos that I've had in LA were better than this weak little beverage. I need to find a place that will make real mojitos in Korea so I can take my co-workers.
At Bed, we were total nerds and played games on an iPad. This game was sort of weird. Type in your (Korean) name and it tells you what your brain thinks of. The majority of my brain, apparently, thinks of vacationing (not true).

We played air hockey on the iPad (well, I didn't, because I was busy downing my mojito) and then we all got addicted to this quiz game. I did quite well at English (of course) and world geography (surprisingly, the Koreans and Korean-Chinese do not know their world geography very well), but then failed miserably at Korean public transportation (which of these colors is not one of the bus lines in Seoul? Who knows that kind of thing?), but we had so much fun with all the different types of quizzes. I have to find that app.
Doesn't this look like jail? It was the view from my hotel room. The previous day, there were students in gym clothes swarming the field. I tell you, Wangjing is not a very pretty part of Beijing.
Unlike our Samuel from last month, October Sammy was alive and swimmy and cute! Hooray for energetic fish that cheer me up. Also, side note: isn't the iPhone 4 camera really amazingly good? It's inside a phone, for crying out loud, but takes very good pictures. I mean, look at Sammy.

It's almost midnight and after a day of assembling this post in bits and pieces while working like a crazy person, I am finally going home. Whew. Sorry for the long, picture-heavy, scatter-brained posts, but it's all I can manage for now!