Archive for May, 2010

China Day 3 – Beijing (Olympic Village, Great Wall of China, Peking Duck Banquet)

Sunday, May 30th, 2010 by virginia

Our second day in Beijing was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. We didn’t have to get quite as early a start so we were able to sleep in an extra hour before having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Though the buffet options remained the same, there was so much variety that we got to try other items we didn’t get on the first day.

Purple rice congee, assorted pickles, potato wedges, grilled beef

Sunnyside down eggs, fried rice, pound cake, fried noodles, ham, grilled beef

Fried spring rolls and fried dumplings

After breakfast we took a short drive to see the Olympic village, where the 2008 Beijing Olympics were held. I really enjoyed this particular Olympics and it was great to see the iconic Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, both of which were pretty huge.

The Bird's Nest

The Water Cube

Hotel next to the village that is supposed to look like a dragon, with a huge LCD screen on the taller building in front

Olympic torch

After we walked around the Olympic village for a bit, we had some time to kill before lunch so they took us to a “Jade Museum”. Translation: shop selling really expensive jade wares that gives the tour company a cut on the sales. There was one guy behind a glass working on a piece of jade (carving, polishing), and that was the extent of the “museum” aspect. There were some pretty spectacular pieces on display though, with the giant cabbage being our favorite.

The "museum display"

The really cool jade cabbage

Jade tiger

Jade boat

After window shopping.. err.. browsing? viewing? the pieces (all of which are for sale), we got on the road and headed for the highlight of our trip, the Great Wall of China. On the way we stopped at the Friendship Shop to have lunch. It was basically a huge souvenir shop and a tourist restaurant combined as one.

Thin slices of BBQ beef

Pickled cucumbers

Grape tomatoes

Slices of sausage

Super bland pork soup with rice noodles and mushrooms

Spring rolls filled with red bean paste

Bok choy with mushrooms

Beef with peppers and onions

Deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce

Chicken and cucumber

Sauteed pork, scrambled egg, cucumber, and black wood ear fungus

French fries

Fried cumin lamb on a stick - yum!

Orange and apple slices

The food wasn’t spectacular but we definitely needed to fuel up in anticipation of our next stop, the Great Wall of China. This was by far the highlight of our trip, and is really something pretty spectacular. We drove for an hour into the mountains, and our first glimpse of the wall just made my heart race. There are several different “sections” that you can visit, and we went to one of the more popular ones, at Badaling.

We spent several hours walking on the wall, and some sections are pretty steep. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy and hazy on the day we were there, so we didn’t have much visibility in the distance. Luckily the weather held up until after we got off the wall, as it started pouring rain as we were waiting to get back on the bus. Out of all the sightseeing destinations in China, the Great Wall is my favorite.

We were pretty exhausted from climbing up and down all the stairs on the wall, so most of us slept on the drive back into the city. Our next destination, however, perked us up right away. We arrived a restaurant for our peking duck banquet, something that we had been looking forward to. I don’t know the name of the restaurant though, because I’m illiterate. We took a picture of the sign in front, if someone can read Chinese and let me know what it says, I’d really appreciate it!

The duck turned out to be decent, but not wonderful. The skin was crispy on the outside but there was still a big fatty layer underneath that I found off-putting, and it was greasier than I prefer. They slice the duck right in front of you, which was impressive, but I didn’t like the thin slivers they gave us, as I like a meaty bite when I eat peking duck. Still, I thought this was one of the better meals we had on the trip.

Lotus root

Strips of spicy dried beef

Spicy pickled cucumbers

Cubes of pumpkin

Sauteed pork with egg, cucumber, and black wood ear fungus

Beef with peppers and onions

Ground meat wrapped in a fried skin

Meat with assorted mushrooms

Fried bird's nest with ground bits of meat wrapped in a lettuce leaf

Whole steamed fish

Bok choy with mushrooms and bamboo shoots

Braised lettuce with oyster sauce

Egg drop soup - super sweet

And now for the highlight of the meal: the peking duck!

The chef preparing to carve the duck on a cart tableside

The first cut

Meticulously cutting thin slivers off the bones

He really cut the duck neatly and cleanly

The slivers of duck arranged on a platter

Thin crepes to wrap the duck in

Hoisin sauce, cucumber, and scallion to go with the duck

A dab of hoisin sauce, some cucumbers and scallion, and a thin slice of duck with skin, ready to be rolled up in the crepe and eaten

As I said, the duck wasn’t the best that we’ve had but it was pretty good. They did give us a lot of duck, though we ran out of crepes in the end so we just ended up eating it plain. We were pretty exhausted after climbing the Great Wall so we got back to the hotel after dinner and promptly fell asleep. It was a pretty good day overall, jade “museum” aside.

China Day 2 – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace)

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by virginia

We spent our first full day in China touring some of the major attractions in Beijing. Our day started off bright and early with a pretty good breakfast buffet at our hotel, the New Otani Chang Fu Gong. The dining room was bright and airy, and there were people doing Tai Chi right outside the window in the hotel garden. We had many western and Asian options to choose from, so we both decided to mix it up a bit.

My breakfast plate:

Steamed pork buns, grilled marinated beef, sunny side down eggs, bacon, and a croissant

Josh’s breakfast plate:

Pain au chocolat, omelet, bacon, fried rice, grill marinated beef, steamed pork buns, peach tart

Our first stop on the tour was a shopping street near Tiananmen Square. There were lots of western name brand stores, but the buildings were all old Chinese style. It was kind of funny to see such a weird mismatch. Our guide didn’t give us any time to go shopping, but we did get to admire some of the buildings along the street.

Pretty blossoms near Tiananmen Square

The entrance to the shopping street

Starbucks, of course

Cool lanterns lining the street

Intricate detail on some of the buildings

Afterward, we walked the short distance over to Tiananmen Square. It’s the largest city square in the world, and it’s quite hard to imagine just how big it is until you actually see it. The square was pretty crowded, and we were shocked to see how many people had already lined up to view the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. We walked across the length of the square, which was quite a hike. The highlight was the iconic Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City.

The line of people on the left stretches for longer than the eye can see

Monument to the People's Heroes

Tiananmen Gate

Next we walked through the Forbidden City, which is also massive beyond imagination. There is building after building, courtyard after courtyard, and it seemingly never ends. The buildings, while intricate, all start to look the same after a while but are still incredibly impressive. We walked inside for hours, but I’m sure we barely covered a fraction of the city.

After all the walking we did, we were starving so luckily the tour had arranged for us to have lunch before we toured the Summer Palace in the afternoon. The restaurant they took us to was called “Jing Jiou Long”, roughly translated to “Gold Nine Dragons”. Not really sure if that’s what it’s meant to be called, but this is about as good as my Chinese is.

The name of the restaurant in Chinese

Because all of the meals we had on this trip were arranged by the tour company, we didn’t get a choice of what to eat or where we could eat. All the meals were served family style, and we were seated in groups of 8-10 people. Basically we just ate what they gave us, some of it good, some of it bad. To be perfectly honest, we couldn’t identify a lot of the dishes on this trip (all the meats looked and tasted the same) so we tried asking the servers, or we just guessed. I took notes on most of the dishes but from here on out, I’ll just describe each dish rather than critique them.

Our meals came with a glass of beer or soda, and unlimited quantities of hot tea. The local beers were pretty light and tasteless but refreshing (as long as they were cold).

Assorted sauteed vegetables - onions, carrots, cucumbers, black wood ear fungus

Eggplant in garlic sauce

Chicken in orange sauce - super sweet dish

Pork with a thin, stalk-like green vegetable

Sauteed cucumber with pork and black wood ear fungus

Red and green peppers with pork ribs

Whole steamed fish

Assorted sauteed mushrooms with pork

A light soup with mushrooms and leafy green vegetables

After lunch we drove over to the Summer Palace, which is NW of the center of Beijing. It’s a huge complex located on a lake, comprised of many buildings and gardens. There is a covered walkway, called the long corridor, that stretches for 728 meters and is covered in over 14,000 paintings. The Summer Palace is one of the prettiest places we visited on this trip.

After taking a ride in a dragon boat across the lake, we headed to a Chinese acrobats show, where we watched some talented youngsters dance, tumble, and contort. The highlight of the show though was when five motorcyclists rode inside a not-so-large metal ball cageĀ  – terrifying but spectacular!

The motorcycle cage

Those trails of light? The freakin motorcycles!

After the show we headed to dinner at Yu Shan restaurant. Yet another tour company choice, served family style.

Crunchy jellyfish

Slices of sausage

Savory pumpkin "jello"

Cubes of bean "jello"

Black pepper beef

Pieces of fish in a xiaoshing wine flavored sauce

Mushroom soup

Tangerine chicken

Sauteed pork and cucumber

Fried pork strips wrapped in bean curd

Fried chicken strips

Bok choy and shitaake mushrooms

Cabbage soup

Sweet, dense triangles of mantao-like bread

Sesame buns to fill with ground pork bits

Bean paste filled with haw fruit and dipped in sugar

Phew! That was a long post. But it was a long day for us, jam packed with lots of sightseeing and lots of food. I think most of our China posts will end up like this, but please let me know if it gets to be too much – I can always cut back on the pics. I’m just excited to share our experiences with everyone, and I’m glad to be posting again!

Happy Anniversary!

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by virginia

Today is our second wedding anniversary, and the first anniversary of Two Fat Bellies. We’ve given it countless delicious meals, 254 posts, and an extra 10 lbs (at least for me) over the past year. It’s been a fun and exciting journey thus far, and even though we’re taking an unplanned break right now (my new computer should be arriving at the end of the month), we don’t have any plans to stop blogging.

To celebrate this great milestone, we just had an absolutely wonderful meal at Eleven Madison Park. Lets just say, it was a top 5 meal. But enough with the spoilers.

As sort of a first blog-iversary gift to ourselves and to our readers, we’ve joined twitter! A first step towards more social networking. We would have joined facebook as well, but my being the technical n00b that I am, I screwed up and now we have to wait 2 weeks until our (Josh’s) account resets. Lets just say he was not a happy camper, since this was not his decision to begin with.

In the meantime, please follow us on twitter (http://twitter.com/twofatbellies) as we learn how to tweet or twat or whatever the hell you call it.

Thanks to all of you who have read our blog from the beginning, and we hope there are many blog-iversaries (and wedding anniversaries!) to come.

Technical Difficulties

Monday, May 10th, 2010 by virginia

Sorry everyone, we’re having some computer issues, hence the lack of posts. Not sure when the problem will get fixed but we’ll try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Hopefully we’ll be up and posting again soon!

China Day 1 – Flight and Beijing

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by virginia

We left for China on Thursday afternoon, flying on Air China from JFK to Beijing. The flight itself was fine, with minimal turbulence, but the amenities on the plane were lacking (no personal tvs and bad movies at random intervals on grainy projection screens). The food was pretty decent though, as far as coach airplane food goes. Nothing spectacular by any means, but definitely edible and relatively flavorful. We ended up having two meals on the way over, dinner and lunch, and while the entrees changed, the sides did not. Both times we were given a tuna salad and a roll on the side, and a pre-packaged mango shortcake for dessert. I had chicken and rice first, which came in a nice black bean sauce.

Chicken in black bean sauce with rice, tuna salad, bread, and mango shortcake

Josh had beef and rice, with chewy beef and blandly steamed broccoli and carrots.

Beef with rice, broccoli, and carrots

For my second meal, I had seafood noodles. The noodles were pretty limp but still had some chewiness to them, and the four accompanying shrimp were fairly edible.

Seafood noodles with shrimp

I don’t remember what Josh had. Pork maybe? It was in a gloppy brown sauce with more bland broccoli. Meh.

Possibly pork with rice and broccoli

We landed in Beijing in the early evening but by the time we got through immigration, got our bags, met up with members of our tour group, and took the hour bus ride from the airport to the city, it was pretty late. We were still hungry though so we ventured out of our hotel, the New Otani, and went in search for food. We wound up at a restaurant on the street behind the hotel that seemed to be the most crowded. The restaurant’s specialty appeared to be seafood (like whole fish in a spicy chili broth), but none of us were in the mood for fish so we ended up picking mostly familiar dishes and a few fun snacks.

The name of the restaurant on the menu

We started out with some beer, of course, one that was local to Beijing. It was pretty light and fairly tasteless, but refreshing enough.

Yanjing beer

Our first dish was sweet and sour deep fried crullers (yeo tiao, or “oil sticks”). These crullers are popular in Taiwan wrapped in sesame pancake and dunked into bowls of hot soy milk, so I was intrigued to see them served in a different way. The sticky sweet and sour sauce was more sweet than sour, and had a subtle maple flavor to it. It went well with the crunchy pieces of cruller. I actually liked this dish a lot, even though I originally thought it would be weird.

Sweet and sour deep fried crullers

We had to order Josh’s favorite dish, shredded pork in garlic sauce. It had a good amount of spice and lots of fresh ginger mixed in. I was only slightly turned off by the weirdly soft texture of the pork, but that was something I would have to learn to deal with over the course of the next week.

Shredded pork in garlic sauce

I was excited to have the marinated duck, since I’ve always found poultry to be better in Asia. This was a bit disappointing because the duck was quite small, and the skin was not rendered and super fatty. Flavor-wise it was good though, with lots of duck flavor shining through.

Marinated duck

The mapo tofu we ordered was SUPER spicy and burned my mouth so much that not even plain rice or beer could calm it down. You can just see how much bright red oil is coming off the dish, though Josh really enjoyed it. I like a little spice, but not when my mouth goes totally numb. The chunks of tofu were good though, a bit firm but still quite silky.

Super spicy mapo tofu

From the snack section of the menu, we ordered baked buns with sesame. They were nicely browned on the outside with a lot of sesame sprinkled on, and the inside was filled with pork.

Baked pork buns with sesame

The bun part was a bit thick, but the pork inside was pretty tasty.

Porky innards

For dessert, we had fried sesame balls with black sesame paste filling. I’ve had similar balls in Chinatown but they’re usually filled with red bean paste. These were also significantly larger than the ones in Chinatown, practically the size of softballs. We asked our waitress to cut them in half so they would be more manageable.

Fried sesame balls filled with black sesame paste

Overall we thought the food at Fei Teng Yu Xiang was quite good. Everything was well seasoned and there was lots of spice involved, as it is a Sichuan restaurant. We weren’t in the mood for seafood but I’ve read that it’s their specialty, so maybe we missed out but I still liked what we had. We definitely ordered way too much food for the four of us but the meal was super cheap – less than US$25 TOTAL, including the beers we had. It’s hard to beat that!

Fei Teng Yu Xiang
Beijing, China

We’re Still Here…

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by virginia

Sorry for the lack of posts from China – Josh’s computer battery died while we were away (actually, the charger shorted out when we plugged it in), plus we fell asleep every night so early. Now we’re back but swamped catching up at work, and I’m still falling asleep at absurdly early hours. Not quite jet lag, since I do sleep through the night, just exhausted I guess. We did see some cool/pretty stuff while we were away, so I plan on posting pics as soon as we get them downloaded from the memory cards (yes, multiple. Josh got a little click happy while we were away). Unfortunately, the food pretty much sucked. We didn’t really get any time to go off on our own so we were stuck eating the tour-arranged meals only, and the dishes they served us weren’t terribly exciting. But we did manage to sneak in a few decent snacks in Shanghai and at a random rest stop stand, and those were probably the best things we had all trip. More details to come, soon, I hope.

P.S. Happy birthday to Alice!