Okay, so in my real life, I don't eat red meat, I stay away from a lot of starch, and I try to eat three square meals a day. In China, however, I've vowed to throw my rule book away to really experience Chinese cuisine in every possible way. So, I'm devoting this blog post to a description of the most delicious food I've eaten during my second week in China.
I'll start with Monday night. A bunch of new interns arrived this week, so we all decided to go out to dinner to get to know one another. We ended up at a very interesting restaurant (the name translated to the Museum of Snacks...?? I don't get it either), with the upstairs devoted to what I'd describe as "fancy foods" (although my Chinese friends described it as an average restaurant), while the downstairs sold, well, snacks. The upstairs had a variety of interesting Chinese artifacts on display (I'm guessing that's where the "museum" part comes from). The Chinese-born interns ordered for us (a gigantic amount of food, I will say. The total ended up over 830 yuan. If you go back a few blog posts, you'll remember that I have eaten delicious dinners for about 8-16 yuan), and there was an...hmmm....interesting array of food. I was a little concerned when the first appetizer placed on the table was duck feet. But, as a good sport, I tasted everything (duck feet, but also many types of digestive tract-organs from many different animals). The aforementioned food stuffs were strange, chewy, and with little flavor. But, there were numerous delicious dishes. For example, I ate lotus root and Peking duck! Yum yum yum! With the duck, the carver removes the skin in pieces, and you dip a piece in sugar before you eat it. Basically, it melts in your mouth and is soooo delicious. Of course, we ate the rest of the duck, and they also fried some pieces as well. I was really jazzed about getting to try Peking duck, as Beijing is famous for it.
On to the next awesome food experience. On Wednesday evening, I visited a friend/fellow intern's apartment. She lives in a little hutong, and her street is much more urbanized than Fengtai (although, not like Beijing proper. The streets are lined by little shops, so it has that old-Beijing feel, with a little modern twist). We had a girl's night, complete with bubble tea and manicures (mine only cost 6 USD). Rebecca had heard about this little restaurant called the Crescent Moon. This is a Uyghur-run (pronounced Weeger) restaurant that specializes in kabobs (Uyghers are a group of Muslim ethnic minorities here in China. The group has a tumultuous relationship with the Chinese majority; that story is too long for this blog post, but I suggest you research it because it's an interesting historical dilemma). We ordered lamb kabobs, sesame coated bread, a meat pie, a vinegar-y onion/cucumber/tomato salad, and yogurt. HOLY COW. Soooo good. Now, "meat pie" probably sounds pretty strange (and perhaps a little gross to my vegetarian crowd), and as I usually don't eat red meat, I was hesistant when Rebecca suggested it. But I'm totally glad I tried it because wowza, delish.
Finally, in celebration of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival, the head honchos at Zhicheng organized a zongzi-making party! The Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday (in fact, we all have to work this Saturday and Sunday because we have Monday - Wednesday off next week) that has a very long history in China (held annually for over 2000 years). The festival is celebrated by having boat races (the boats are in the shape of dragons), which are a traditional custom that is done in a celebration of the life of the patriotic poet, Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river after writing some seriously epic poems and before he would have to see his country occupied (dude, this guy's history is long...check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qu_Yuan Yeah yeah yeah, it's wikipedia, but hey, I don't have all day here!). After hearing about his death, locals went out on the river to find his body, tossing zongzi-like foods into the river to distract fish and animals from destroying Qu Yuan's body. To this day, the people celebrate on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, as this is the day Qu Yuan died. So, they make zongzi, which is sticky rice with dried fruit or meat or other goodies wrapped in banana leaves (ours only had dried fruit). They boil them, and they come out steaming and delicious. No, you don't eat the banana leaves.
As you can see I've included some photos in this post. Below, you'll see my new friend, Charlie. Basically, he's the cutest kid in the world and we're now great buddies! Notice, he's holding a zongzi he wrapped himself (with a tiny bit of help).
On Monday, we're planning a visit to the Great Wall, and I've had some exciting developments on the research-front. So that's all for now. Hey, I've got to end these things with cliff hangers so you'll tune in next week!