Once upon a time, I was biking through the rice paddies of Yangshuo, China, when my local friend stopped at a small tree to pick the strange, small berry-like fruits off of it. She handed a few to me to try and told me they were called kumquats. Growing up in Michigan, I had heard of kumquats before, but had never seen one with my own eyes and had no idea what one should look or taste like. This was a strange fruit, indeed.
For my whole life, I have had a lack of respect for pandas. Yes, pandas. They may be cute, but despite being genetically predisposed to eat meat, they had chosen a life of eating bamboo. This choice has led to their endangerment, because it takes a whole lot more bamboo to feed a panda than meat. But things seem to be changing. Pandas now have a taste for blood.
In a world full of apples, pears, bananas and peaches, it’s comforting to know that out in the crazy world of ours, there are still strange fruits waiting to be eaten. I’m sure it seems weird to be reading an article on an unvegan website about fruit, but I must confess I am a huge fan of fruit. After all, this is a site against vegetables, not fruit. Who could really hate nature’s candy? While in China I came across two fruits that break the mold of those average, everyday fruits: the Durian and Mangosteen. They are also known as the King and Queen of fruits, respectively.
On our last night in China (tears), we had a tough time finding a restaurant open by the time we finished climbing the Great Wall and shopping at the Silk Market. Although McDonald’s was open 24 hours, we really didn’t want our final meal to be a burger. Finally we found a place just across the street from Quanjude off of Wangfujing Street to get some baozi (steamed bread dumplings). It was called Tianjin Go Believe Steamed Stuffed Bun. Now that was a mouthful, and we hoped their dumplings would be as well.
No trip to Beijing is complete without eating some Peking Duck. Now you may be wondering why Peking Duck is so important in Beijing, after all, shouldn’t Peking be the place to get that famous duck? Well, guess what? Beijing is Peking. Yes, I know I’m blowing your mind, but sometimes a mind just needs to be blown and this is one of those times. Anyway, it’s hard to walk a block without seeing a sign for roast duck, which is what they call Peking Duck in Beijing. By recommendation, we were sent to Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant on Wangfujing Street. This is just one of many Quanjude restaurants (all part of the same company) in Beijing, with the original dating all the way back to 1864. The one we went to on Wangfujing wasn’t hard to find, as Wangfujing is a prominent pedestrian street right in the middle of Beijing.
Compared to the Chengdu-style hot pot, Mongolian hot pot looks like it came from another planet. Or at least a much older planet. Differing from most other hot pots, this one still uses hot coals rather than an electric stove. It also looks nothing like a pot and looks more some obscure ancient brass ware you might find at an antique store. The broth, which is essentially water flavored by ginger and scallions, fills a moat that surrounds the central silo. This silo contains the coals that boil the hot pot.
To many people, it’s surprising to find out that China isn’t a country full of just one ethnicity. In fact, China is home to 55 different ethnic minorities and actually has a significant Muslim population. A big part of that population is the Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur) people, who mainly reside in Xinjiang, a western province that borders Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Kygyzstan and Afghanistan. But Chinese Muslims can be found all over the country and in major cities like Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. While the Terracotta Warriors are surely the biggest draw to Xi’an, the city also has China’s biggest mosque, which looks like any other temple in China except for the Arabic writing. Xi’an also boasts some delicious Muslim food.
It seems like going to China without eating dim sum is on par with going to Italy and not eating pasta. But in truth, dim sum is really a specialty of Hong Kong and Guangdong (formerly known as Canton). Fortunately, in this day and age, you can find Cantonese restaurants all over China. In Xi’an, we found a place called Star Ferry near the Bell Tower. The interior of the restaurant was decorated like a boat, and I later found out that it was named for a ferry company operating in Hong Kong.
After Shanghai, we headed to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. We landed at night and although it was pretty late, I was a hungry unvegan. I remembered Xi’an having some great late-night street food, but after four years so much had changed in China and I hoped this was not one of them. I took a quick stroll just south of the Bell Tower and found just what I was looking for. While Shanghai had some good street skewer food (none of which I actually had on this trip), it was nothing compared to what could be found in Xi’an.
After living in China for a while, I learned there were quite a few dishes that the Chinese liked to call “Chinese Hamburger.” Fortunately, none of these involved a trip to McDonald’s, but unfortunately if you don’t speak Chinese, you really don’t know what you’re going to get if you do ask for a Chinese hamburger. This is because essentially anytime they stick some meat and any other foods inside some sort of bread or bun, they call it a Chinese Hamburger. One night in Shanghai, we were invited out by a buddy of mine to eat at a Shanxi-style restaurant (not to be confused with Shaanxi, its neighboring province) called Sanjinxiaochu (三晋小厨) near People’s Square in Shanghai and encountered an interesting variation of the Chinese Hamburger.