And of course, we ate lots.
It turns out that the Chinese food is pretty good in China. Who knew?
To the right, is a photo I took at the Great Wall of China, about a 90-minute ride out of Beijing. I include it here, well, just because. It is truly a magnificent sight to behold. Now that we have that out of the way, the rest of this diary isn't about sight-seeing (oh, I could go on), it's about food.
Follow below for some adventures, lots of food, and pictures along the way.
WARNING: This diary is photo-heavy.
What's For Dinner is a community diary scheduled every Saturday night around 7:30 EST or 4:30 PST. We talk about food, share recipes and anecdotes. So, leave your politics at the door, pour yourself a drink and relax.
Please forgive me for being around only sporadically. This diary has been prepared ahead, for publication at the regular WFD time. As this diary goes "live", we will be entertaining dinner guests at home. I will try to drop in occasionally, but for the most part I won't be able to participate until later in the evening.
Planning for the trip started many months ago (we plan way ahead). We scheduled 3 weeks, with our initial destination being Hong Kong. My partner was born there, and I had already been over there with him, twice before. Together with his 3 sisters and 2 of their husbands who live there, we planned tours into mainland China, and Macau. Just my partner and myself scheduled an additional trip to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon). That came about as we had found an article online declaring that city to be a favorite foodie destination. So we decided to give it a try, and see something we'd never seen before.
Several of our breakfasts were at a sister's apartment in Hong Kong. We ate a variety of things: eggs, bagels, fruit, along with coffee.
On the side trips, we stayed in hotels and had buffet-style breakfasts. All of these included a combination of western-style, as well as Asian-style, dishes. We ate a bit of this, a bit of that. The dim sum offerings at the buffet were about what you'd expect from a buffet. Edible, but otherwise unremarkable.
Hot Pot - Beijing
We had a tour guide, driver, and van for our 4 days in Beijing. We left many of our restaurant choices to the guide, and for lunch one day we were taken to a restaurant that features Hot Pot. A large round container at the center of the table holds hot water or broth, and a heat source keeps it piping hot. We had plates of very thinly sliced beef, and lamb, tofu, bean thread noodles, mushrooms, lettuce, and much more. Beverages included a local beer, and Coke Zero.
You can shop for vegetables, or pretty much anything for that matter, all over the place. Here's one example of a small gathering of trucks along the roadside, selling leeks, nappa cabbage, mushrooms, fruit, and so on.
Peking is an older English spelling of the city of Beijing, but the common English spelling now is actually Beijing. Anyway, if you go all the way to Peking/Beijing, you might as well have Peking Duck, right?
We went to an upscale restaurant that specializes in Peking Duck (don't worry, we ate lots of other things at that meal too). The gimmick at this particular place is that you get to go and pick out your own duck from the wood-burning oven where they are finished for presentation. You know, they kind of all looked the same, so we picked the first one they pulled out.
Scenes From a Market - Beijing
We spent an hour or so at one of many busy markets in Beijing. Here at a vendor stall, a sort of crepe snack is being prepared for us. There is a large turntable, heated, as the cooking surface. The man ladles a batter onto the turntable, and using what looks like a windshield scraper, spreads the batter to the entire circumference as it spins. Then a fresh egg is cracked on top, and also spread out as another layer. When he uses a spatula to lift it off, it is already starting to harden into a crispy crepe.
Here we are at one of our dinners in Beijing. I include this as an illustration of the way this group travels: every moment is well documented digitally. Between the full-blown SLR cameras, and various cellphones, not a moment goes uncaptured.
Only a couple of blocks from our hotel, this market is empty during the day but comes alive after dark. Snack foods of all kinds are available, cooked to order.
At our final lunch before leaving Beijing, our guide took us to this restaurant which has a funky kind of decor: lots of bright colors, cushiony banquettes with throw pillows, draperies, and so on. Our beer was served in these glasses, which are shaped sort of like an inverted beer bottle within a glass. Very cool.
One of our dinners in Hong Kong was at the home of one of my partner's sisters, and her husband. Much of this meal was home-cooked, though they also had pre-ordered and picked up a couple of specialty items. In the foreground below is a whole roast piglet, cut and presented. Crispy delicious skin that is out of this world.
We spent a few hours at Hong Kong Disneyland. It's a small place relative to other Disney theme parks, but they cram quite a bit of stuff into a small area of reclaimed land. We didn't have a meal there, but here's a typical menu board outside one of the food venues. Prices are in Hong Kong Dollars. Divide by approximately 8 to get the USD equivalent.
Many open air markets selling fresh seafood can be found all over and around Hong Kong. Tank after tank after tank of live shellfish, and fish of all kinds.
The gang of 7 did not go to Vietnam; it was just the two of us, my partner and myself. We spent 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Many of the locals still refer to the city by its previous name, and in fact you see Saigon on the names of many buildings and so on. In conversation I tend to flip back and forth between the names; Saigon actually seems more familiar to those of us of a certain age.
Again, we had a guide, driver, and van to take us around to various sites, and we also let this guide take us to restaurants and order for us. Good thing, as we would have had no clue what or how to order, and would have missed out on many delights.
Our first lunch was at a restaurant for Pho, a well-known dish associated with Vietnam. As with several of the restaurants we went to, this one was open-air; covered, but open to the outside air. And therefore hot and sticky. It was, in fact, quite hot and sticky, around 90F most of the daytime. Not the heat of the summer, but hot enough to sweat buckets continually.
Our guide took us on an excursion out of Saigon, to see the tunnels of Cu Chi, infamously dating back to the Vietnam war era. Along the way, we encountered this setup along the side of the road, and stopped for a look. The woman has cages full of live rats for sale.
One of the highlights of Vietnam/Saigon was a trip to the Mekong Delta. After our guide and driver took us to the area, we then boarded a rickety boat across to one of the islands. Over there, we had another boat ride, a small gondola-like craft. The boat "driver" oared us along a natural tropical stream, much like a gondola. Heading back the opposite direction, we could see other similar boats being driven back by motor. Oar the tourists out, motor back. Tourism at its finest. At one point on this gondola, our trusty tour guide started singing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. If you see a crocodile, don't forget to scream." Cute.
He took us to a platform with a thatched roof that you have to cross several walkways over swamp land to get to. There, we had a lunch he ordered for us, which included something called an Elephant Ear fish. It's a flat fish, which they deep-fry, then serve standing upright in wooden holders. The serving staff flakes the flesh off the fish with a fork, and puts it into a wrap that you then eat along with condiments, kind of like having Peking Duck.
Our first night in Saigon began with a bit of an adventure.
Our guide dropped us at our hotel late afternoon so we could freshen up and relax a bit before dinner. When he picked us up later, it was already dark, and our driver took us to a place that started to look more and more forbidding. We stopped at the end of a dusty road, still in Saigon, but at the river's edge. It was dark. And hot. And steamy. And our guide started to walk out onto this rickety dock leading out into the water. The only lights around us were a string of those little tiny lights you might put up at Christmas, strung up along the length of the dock. I have rickety knees, to match the dock, and I don't swim. I wondered what I was getting into. As we approached the end of the dock out into what seemed like a mile away from shore (but of course wasn't, really), another rickety boat approached, bearing similar little lights. We clambored abord, me having to be held and guided by my partner and our guide.
We sat down, and the boat headed off into the darkness of the river.
I seriously began to question whether we might end up beaten, robbed, fed to the crocodiles, and never heard from again.
But it was all good. We docked at an island, climbed over another rickety but much shorter dock, and ended up in what turned out to be a pretty good restaurant. It was the kind of place that locals know about, and tourists would never find on their own. We ate shrimp, beef, dumplings, other things I don't remember, and fruit with chilis. And I think about 3 beers each, with those big chunks of ice being replenished, and melting, rapidly.
The meal ended with the sweetest, best, pomelo I've ever tasted. Now, we have had pomelo at home...in western Canada. A local Asian supermarket has them brought in from who knows where, and for how long it takes to get here. But the real thing, fresh picked, juicy and delicious, puts the imported ones to shame. Seriously good eats!
That's a small portion of my story. Over the span of 3 weeks we saw so much, walked so much, and ate so much, I could bore you all to tears if I haven't already.
Tonight, my partner is out of town on a business trip. I'm home alone, and I think dinner is going to be a sandwich and a beer.
Now it's your turn. What's for dinner at your place?