November 4, 2011

China: Through the mouth of the beholder

Perhaps noodles and chopsticks are the hallmarks of the China's cuisine, nevertheless this cuisine is abundant with plenty of  food items. Outstandingly, the cuisine had evolved throughout history due to ethnic, geographical changes and the different dynasties ruling the empire. It had been also shaped by eight distinct gastronomical schools. Therefore what the capitol of China , Beijing,  is bidding nowadays in its food markets, is different than what "china town" or the Lebanese (wanna be) Chinese restaurants are offering.
Let us visit Beijing through the taste buds of  Reina Yammine, who traveled there for her summer internship in a technology company.

Reina, Indulging in her Starfish 

She started remembering the mouthwatering fried noodles, shrimp dumplings (Xia Jiao), the meat pie dipped with vinegar and the spicy fish eaten with chopsticks.  She was not afraid of trying eerie food, such as the chicken claws, fried scorpions, fried silkworms, and starfish that is crunchy from outside and gelatinous from inside.
The Korean squid is also something not be missed; It comes in a stone bowl that keeps it hot for a long time.Other gourmet dishes were the rice puddings with seaweed, and the deep fried seaweed sheets stuffed with mashed Tofu and marinated with chef's sauce. Aged eggs, known also as "century eggs" are one of the Chinese delicacies, dipped in ammonia to turn black in color after few days, and can be served with Tofu cream. Reina adds that if one wants to indulge into the Chinese food, one has to savor the Beijing duck, grilled with sweet sauce, and covered with rice and cucumber. But if one wants to silence his midnight cravings there, he can grab a Sushi sandwich.
Silkworms,Snakes.. Take them as you go
Chinese don’t eat raw vegetables, they don’t have their traditional tabbouleh or fattoush. Indeed, most of their vegetables and meats are fried, which makes one amazed about their healthy bodies.
"Chinese desserts are definitely not about fortune cookies, it is a china town creation", Reina claims then goes on rolling delicious desserts such as the rice pancakes, and the exquisite Moon cake, a thin salty dough with an egg yolk inside and filled with a paste made from the lotus seed. As for the Chinese icecream, served on bread and the scoop is covered with foam to be fried. The flavors can range from your normal icecream flavors to ginger to red bean or even green peas icecream.
 According to Reina the weirdest food was the potato chips flavored watermelon or cucumber. And the creepiest food experience was not eating those silkworms but rather Macdonald's restaurants. Why is that? Because they play their songs on every corner of Beijing streets, so even if you don’t see the Macdo sign you can at least hear it. The song creeps in your head irresistibly and makes you loath entering the premises of  this fast food chain.
Starbucks Tea, not Coffee
As for the traditional drinks, Chinese as the rumor says drink green tea all the time, cold and bottled. And they love ginger tea especially when they are sick. But the most common hot drink they have is hot water, as Reina reinforced. One exquisite drink she enjoyed was the Tibetan Tea , made from yak butter and salt, having a tangy taste. Interesting enough, Chinese are lactose intolerant and most dairy products are expensive, especially cheese. So, milk is not a drink there, although they do have flavored yogurts or suan nai. As for Starbucks, they serve a "tea, not coffee drink!" for accommodating to the Chinese demand.

At the end, Reina argued that it is hard to mimic this genuine food in Lebanon. And getting the ingredients might not be a good business idea because not all of these foods are mainstream food (except the dumplings).
Pearl's Powder: Beyond doubt, Chinese food is an art and the dishes need sophisticated preparation techniques but the food remains humble. This Chinese saying might be a proof "Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible."

Bon Appetite!

Scorpions are the Fast Food in Beijing
*This article also appeared in Outlook Newspaper, Issue 4.
*Photos all credited to Reina Yammine :)


  1. oh my!!! From the looks of it,the food seems interesting.i think id be crepped out to try it but there s no point of going to china if ur gonna miss out on their unique cuisine! Alf sohha :p

  2. hahaha dont worry Reina's experience proved that the food is delicious no matter what you are eating ! ;) Besides this is the real chinese food!