Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gourmand's Guide to Wangfujing Street

I have adopted a very successful eating policy here in China: Don't Ask - Just Chew. So far it has proved a perfect philosophy for navigating the local restaurants in Beijing - the food has been fantastic and I have not had one bad meal -every single dining experience has been immensely enjoyed right down to the last hundred-year-old egg and crunchy lotus blossom. The only disappointment, so far, has been the weight gain from the never-ending, mouth-watering dining. Who knew!

Last night I was in a bit of a quandary. I left the office a little too late to find hunger-staving refuge in any of my favorite restaurants - and I was starving. The concierge suggested I take advantage of the Dong Hua Men Night Market just a short stroll from the hotel. The night market allegedly specialized in a sort of Chinese shish-kabob - steak on a stick, so she said. Sounded good to me -- off I went - rumbling, raging hunger in tow.

In no time at all I arrived and found well-groomed, friendly waiters ready to assist. I saw what looked like mouth-watering noodles and savory soups piping hot and ready to be served. What would I choose? And where was that steak-on-a-stick? All the locals seemed so busy trying to make up their minds.

The steamed crabs looked good - until I noticed everyone was eating them by hand - shell and all. Now that's some fiber. It was a little too messy for me - so I continued on.

In no time the vats of noodles simmering on stoves disappeared and I wasn't quite sure what was being served on down the line. Finally, I found a menu with an English translation - much needed for helping me understand what it was I was about to eat.

Hum, let's see - according to the menu I can choose.....fried scorpions, spicy hot crawfish or fried cicadas.
Or silk worm larvae - why not?

Sea Horses? But in what kind of marinade?

For a dollar, one can eat a scorpion -- but is the proper etiquette to spit out the stinger or swallow? That one sounds too complicated.

Perhaps these smaller scorpions are more savory. But once again we have the stinger dilemma - to eat or not to eat?

I was about to settle on the locust. I figured they had aged 17 years like a very fine glass of scotch - mellow and begging for a cohiba on the side.

These guys were so helpful and in perfect Chinese they said to me, "All we ask is that you let us have it your way"! Let me have what?, though, was the question from the floor.

Aha, the market specialty: Snake on a Stick! Oh, I must have misunderstood that for "Steak on a Stick". I think I'll pass on this one. Still hungry though.

Qing Li says that it all goes down better with a little fresh squeezed watermelon juice. I'll keep that in mind.

The last of the menus. What to select? Fried centipedes? Bee Cocoons? Actually, I was torn between the sheep penis and the sea snake.

The daily special was fried star fish - not regularly on the menu. The fried sheep penis and centipedes behind looked like they might have been sitting out too long. I think there are some food health and safety issues to take into consideration here before ordering.

All that good skewered food and no one wants tea. Suk Yi seems troubled by the lack of sales.

In the end, there were just too many decisions to make - it was definitely time for a Big Mac.

Snake, It's what's for dinner!!


kjpweb said...

Oh my - these choices! Can't imagine why you went off hungry... Muahahah...But - and there is a point that you should hold in favor of Chinese cuisine - it usually is quite tasty. So why not jump over your own shadow, close your eyes and try some of the more unusual offerings? I did so in Jordan and I live to tell about it.;)
Wonderful story and images!
Cheers, Klaus

P. Ollig said...

I'm sort of disappointed that you didn't try the sleeve-fish head. And what in the hell is a tunny?!?

These are the experiences that I treasure when I travel overseas. Not eating sheep penis, of course, but encountering the people in the little nooks and crannies that the tour buses can't (or won't) visit.

Thank you for letting us experience this vicariously through you, TR! What an incredible adventure. You need to promise to take me with you on your next trip! I'll be sure to bring extra bee cocoons.

Anonymous said...

Amazing! I am really curious about eating some of those items. Did you ever figure out how to eat a scorpion? Do you swallow the tringer? I have heard of heartburn but thats gotta hurt!

Thanks for the great post.

Doug Taron said...

Yum, I guess. It sounds like it was all a memorable and enriching experience. Great photography- have you considered a second career as a food stylist?

Anonymous said...

I am broken-hearted about the seahorses. I know there are millions of mouths to feed in China, but seahorses? I couldn't cope if I saw that. Wow. What an experience you are having!

Lana Gramlich said...

OMG...Fried cicada??? I think I'll pass. Thanks for the lovely photos, so I don't have to imagine what a lot of these horrific dishes look like! *LOL* You have totally inspired me--it'll be BK Whoppers for dinner here in S. Louisiana today!

Greg said...

Our 17 year brood on the Cape was hatching this spring, and the newspapers have been FULL of recipes about how to prepare cicadas and such.

Fortunately, none of that brood lived in our town--while I would've been pleased to see one to photograph for the blog, I really had no interest in sampling cicada cuisine or protecting the garden from their rampant hunger.

So, McDonalds was your final answer?

Kathie Brown said...

t.r. this is the most hilarious and disgusting post I have ever read! I am still laughing while I choke back my stomach contents. I thought scorpions on a stick was bad until I read about the sheep penis! You have one strong stomach to even look at that stuff!

By the way, your comment made my day, especially since it made my husband jealous! LOL! Thanks! (Don't worry, I calmed him down now. Besides, you are all the way in China!)

Pat - Arkansas said...

Hmmmm! I'm all for trying local cuisine when I travel, but this is a bit much! Wonderful photos and descriptions of some, how shall we say, "unusual" foods. Hope you found a hamburger somewhere.

7-31-08 Your comment on my Sky Watch has made not only my day, but my whole week. Thank you!

Luca said...

to be honest
the food there a bit scared
used2be very dirty there

Mary said...

Tim, without the photos, I would be perfectly certain you are teasing us. That it is all a big joke. Scorpions, cicadas, snake on a stick? Science fiction, I tell you! And that steamed crab looked like there was something alive inside of it.

Don't Ask - Just Chew (yeah, right).

You better find a Mickie D's.

Birdie said...

Georgeous photos of a horrific subject. *Shudder*

I read of a group of Asian orphans who were brought to the States for adoption. They were taken to McDonald's for their first American meal. They loved the fries but were horrified that we eat ground-up cows. Not one would touch a hamburger. Different strokes!

Louise said...

This is why I'm terrified of traveling to China. My uncle lives there most of the time; I could go any time I wished. But YOWZA, that kind of food is scary.

I think watermelon juice would have had to make a nice meal at that point.

Really wonderful pictures, however, of things I wouldn't be brave enough to ingest.

Anonymous said...

Another great post! I'm still smiling. The pics are great and your dilema over the choices was just too funny! :-D


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