Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Morning from China: Food, Glorious Food!

More delight to the bite: Want your noodles less slinky and sticky? Here's how, says Chef Boyi, recalling this dish from Taishan: After regular boiling, drain to dry, then pour cold water over and shake a little. Place in a bowl, and pour soup over. In Boyi's own words, noodles become closer to "rubber bands," giving off "a better biting feeling."

Rice on the table, noodles on the run: A feast in Guangzhou, of the sort Boyi prefers, but thereafter, noodles noodles noodles. Round the clock. Convenient in a pinch. Some mornings, we heated up a round carton in our hotel room. And on the trains. Reliably safe and filling. What I missed the most? Fresh produce.

Here we are in a typical small eatery, in the charming HouHai district of old Beijing.

A gentleman proud of his country: We exchanged many smiles, in the spirit of each of us wanting to communicate with the other (learning a foreign language is not in my genes). Through Boyi, I asked him if he felt proud about China's progress. "I feel very proud" he answered, "and things are getting better every day."

How far I had traveled from dread to delight. Here's the back story:

From my boyhood in Santa Rosa's Twin Dragons Restaurant, where my mother took me, my sister Kathy and brother Dick on very special occasions, to the land where it all began. I grew up loving mandarin dishes. So why my dread and fear of the food over there? Can you spell D-I-A-R-R-H-E-A? You are warned in advance: Nothing raw. Nothing off the street. Nothing that isn't served piping hot. Nothing on the train. NO tap water, only bottled, even when brushing your teeth. Boyi daringly brushed his in tap water, not I. In fact, a couple of Boyi's friends, visiting the year before, had spent a few days in a Chinese hospital stricken with the Big D.

Upon entering that other world, I obsessed over the tiniest quiver in my paranoid stomach -- was that it? Nothing ever happened, and so I never asked Boyi, "Why don't we try some American places?"

Small town hospitality in the world's largest city: Only a few blocks from the Bund Hotel in Shanghai where we were staying, one morning we wandered into a small restaurant, thinking it was open, and took a table. A few moments later, in entered a lady (seen in the photo, above, first row far right) who sat down with us.

She and Boyi conversed fluently over various food options; she gave us such attention! Turned out, she was the mother of the owner, who himself was away on business in London town. And the place had not yet opened. A great "breakfast" we had, very Chinese -- fried rice, two different soups and bacon rolled around mushrooms.

Trendy soups down there: Looking below on a typical outdoor sit-down, in Taishan. Only once did I depart the Asian grills, just to try a restaurant I have never been to in my own country -- McDonalds. (OK, just a joke; I haven't been there for maybe ten years). Staff looked properly Americanized. I ordered a chicken burger and fries, very good facsimile.

Dining on dollars in high fashion: At the magnificent Taishan Gaoye Hotel, $46.00 a night landed us a lavishly spacious room looking down upon a suspiciously murky brown river. This classy restaurant in the hotel is an event to remember. Among perfect palate pleasures -- Bone Soup, so subtle. Fried rice of white, black and brown, so delicately textured. Steamed green beans. And we took our breakfast, mornings for free, in the Western Buffet, below. I've never enjoyed so richly endowed a smorgasbord encircling the entire room. Many items cooked for you on the spot. I'd like to move in the hotel for a week or two and spoil myself.

The differences between here and there: Chinese food in China seemed fresher and tastier (I suppose, plainer), at the same time less elaborately enhanced with the sauces and seasonings that can make it more like cotton candy, in the states, and less like bone soup. And SO generously inexpensive. A meal for two under ten to twelve dollars? Not a problem.

Desert, anybody? A most interesting concoction was this ice mountain covered with red beans. I sampled a sweet nibble or two; the main courses are so richly satisfying, who really needs a sugar payoff?

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