On Thursday for lunch, one of my uncles took me to one of those famous places that only locals know, a curry noodles place in Central called 九記牛腩 (literally “nine & co. beef brisket”). Everything is written in Chinese, including its sign! (At our table, sat Asian-looking English-speakers) The menu is one of those minimalistic ones: three kinds of noodles (yii mein, ho faan, mai faan), two kinds of soup base (curry or broth).
When we traveled to the village of Zili, near the small town of Kaiping (famous for its diaolou, and a UNESCO World Heritage site), one of the “tourist attractions” was home-style countryside food, such as free-range chicken. The meat is either considered strong or rubberish. I like to think that our Canadian chicken tastes like paste.
This chicken was steam-cooked, with Chinese mushrooms, some orange peel and soy sauce.
That they still have bird shit all over them. This picture was taken last week, when I bought groceries from the nearby mom and pop shop and cooked for myself, but I also just came back this afternoon from one of Beijing’s cleaner fresh food markets, the Sanyuanli, in Chaoyang, in eastern/central Beijing. It will be covered more in depth once I get to process my pictures.
In the whole tourist experience, what interests me the most is to be able to answer the question: “what do they do over there in everyday situations?”.
On the second evening that I was in town, my friends Fiona and Scott, American and British expatriates living in Beijing, took me to Tesco, a large British-based international grocery and general merchandising retail chain, with branches in China.
Going to Tesco may not be your “average citizen” experience yet (it seems like small mom&pop grocery stores are still very popular), but it is another interesting view of how it is similar back home, yet with Chinese (or populous country) peculiarities.
In fact it is. Based on what my expat friends said, and the Korean music that was being played inside, cafe/bakery chain “Tous Les Jours” is in fact a Korean-owned business. The bakery section resembles the self-service places that you find in Hong Kong, and to a certain extent, Chinatowns around the world. The branch that I went to was outside the Wudaokou subway stop on the 13 (the stop you use to get to Tsinghua and Peking U), where there is also a relatively large population of Korean students.
It is basically a cafe like would find in Asia. They serve you sandwich which bread is sub-par for the tastes of a Montrealer (it’s like sliced bread, but slightly sweet), but which fillings are familiar (ham and cheese) yet exotic (something else that tasted kind of sweet). It’s a little pricey for the average Beijinger, but totally affordable for the visiting Canadian (32 RMB for a lunch).
The interesting anecdote with Tous Les Jours, was that protesters against France’s stance on China and the Olympics, who protested in front of the many French businesses in China like supermarket Carrefour, were also seen in front of the Wudaokou branch of TLJ, as testified by one Beijing expat blogger, and another satirical blogger (who had a picture – which indeed shows the plaza facing Wudaokou station, where Tous Les Jours is, with full of people on the street + security guards).
Vieilles tactiques de vente, nouveaux moyens technologiques. Il y a deux semaines, un dimanche en fin d’après-midi, je me promenais dans le Quartier Chinois de Montréal pour faire mes courses comme à l’habitude. Alors sur De la Gauchetière, rendu à Clark, une voix forte et animée (et amplifiée), venant d’environ une trentaine de mètres en bas cette dernière, me réveilla de ma paisible marche. Franchement! D’où est-ce que ça pouvait bien venir?
Ça venait du haut-parleur de l’épicerie Wing Cheong Hong, et les annonces étaient celles des bas prix du jour que lançait tel un encanteur le président de l’entreprise, M. Bobby Chen, alors au contrôle du micro à cette heure-là. À ce que je sache, aucune autre épicerie chinoise au Quartier Chinois ne compte sur ce stratagème.
J’entre dans le commerce, et après avoir ramassé mon paquet de bok choy pour la semaine, je pique une jasette avec M. Chen. Il me dit que le fait de hurler les spéciaux du jour à la porte du commerce est une pratique courante au Japon. « Ils n’ont pas le droit d’utiliser de micros là-bas, alors pour vendre le stock qu’il viennent de recevoir en spécial, ils embauchent des gars avec des porte-voix, puis des belles filles en bikini! », me dit-il.
Il va sans dire que les marchés d’alimentation, depuis l’aube de l’Humanité, ont usé de ce procédé pour vendre leurs salades. Je n’ai pas demandé à M. Chen s’il avait effectivement le droit d’en faire de même avec les moyens de nos jours. En tout cas, si la musique forte est acceptable, alors pourquoi pas une circulaire parlante?
One of the recurrent social activity involving food in my circle of friends, has been dumplings-making. In certain families, preparing dumplings (or also wonton) is something that you do every year during the Chinese New Year period. There is no such tradition in my family, although the chain-production of wontons by my father is something that seems to return every year or so.
Sometime last week, I had my friends over, and we prepared three different bowls of mix for Chinese-style dumplings, or 餃子 (jiaozi) in Chinese. One first friend, an international student from Sichuan, made a “traditional” mix, which did not contain anything but ground pork, seasoning, sesame oil and corn starch. My other friend, a Chinese Canadian originally from Hong Kong, who has a kick for cilantro, made a mix with ground pork, mashed nappa cabbage, green onions, seasoning, sesame oil, and a lot of coriander. My recipe, as seen on the picture (actually taken during a practice run, a few days earlier), consisted of the same thing as the previous friend’s, but without the cilantro, and instead with Chinese mushrooms (commonly known as shitake in the West), dried scallops.
I am not a fan of wontons, perhaps because we always had them, rather than dumplings. The difference is that dumplings have a thicker skin, and you can thus fry them in a pan. After wrapping our dumplings in varying shapes (which is the real fun part), we cooked them in two different ways:
- The first method was to throw them into a pot of scalding hot water, boil them for a while, and then interrupt the cooking by adding cold water. This is considered the “standard” method.
- The second method, maybe more tasty, but not as good for your health and a little high-maintenance. It requires you to directly put your dumplings over a pan with oil, fry them for ~5 minutes until the dumplings become crispy and brown, and then go through the non-intuitive step of adding water or broth to cover about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dumplings height. This is to cook the dumplings entirely. After boiling off the liquid, you would fry the dumplings some more for an extra crisp.
Ironically, we used wonton wrappers (Shanghai kinds) instead of dumpling ones. Because wonton wrappers are thinner, they are also more fragile and prone to breaking, after absorbing extra moisture from the meat filling.