Sunday, December 28

li jia cai restaurant - appropriating hutongs!


i have had my eye on this restaurant ever since i heard about it from toomuchfood.

in planning my trip to beijing, i called my mom months ahead of time to ask her to make a reservation and get all the details about this place.  though we didn't end up making a reservation until the last minute, we still got in easily for lunch.  

li jia cai serves "chinese aristocrat cuisine." i've seen negative reviews about this place charging too much and targeting foreign tourists, but i didn't care.  i marched in there fully aware of my cultural appropriation of old beijing hutongs (indeed, this was confirmed by the fact that the minute we drove into the alleys, the rickshaw drivers literally started chasing us because they were dying for business.  they charge a certain price to give "hutong tours," where they take you through all the alleys and talk about all the old hutongs).

here's a pic of all the rickshaws lined up, freezing outside in hopes of getting some tourists.

after some confusion, we finally made our way to the narrow alley where the entrance was.  we stepped through a brightly painted round, green doorway into a tiny courtyard.  not exactly a siheyuan, which i have yet to visit, but very quaint.


once in the courtyard our server led us to a very modest room on the left. it was small and plain, with bare walls and white tablecloths. a large electronic heater hung above the table, blasting hot air in my face. throughout the course of the meal, i would see servers bustling outside this window, bringing in food continuously.

the menu here is prix fixe, with prices ranging from about 200 yuan to 2000 yuan (~30 USD to 300 USD). i thought everything kind of just got weird after about the 500 yuan set (example: shark fin something or abalone other or sea cucumbers!), so i chose the 330 yuan set. each set comes with 7 or 8 cold dishes and quite a few hot dishes (5? i lost count). everything is portioned per person (so for example, for spare ribs, we got 4 so there was 1 for each person). i like this a lot because i love being able to taste a little bit of everything without getting overwhelmingly full. still, towards the end i thought i would die if one more dish came.


cold appetizers - serving size for 4 people. starting with the green blob thing at the top and going clockwise, these are:  1) tofu - looks like avocado but it's not! this was kind of like a mushy preserved tofu, salty and seasoned nicely. called "jade tofu." yum. 2) lettuce root. i don't remember eating this because i was too busy with everything else 3) i know, this doesn't look very pleasant, but it was so delicious...another one of those tofu dishes - made from the course bits that are leftover in tofu production  4) this cute little dish is actually delicate slices of cabbage root coiled together with horseradish dressing 5) i love cold chicken dishes and this one was great - the sauce on top was kind of sweet/sour but not overwhelming 6) disgusting. i took a bite of this and had to spit it out because there was cilantro hidden inside.  there's nothing special about this one anyway! just some shredded carrots. 7) in the middle we have sliced pork - what can i say? i love pork.


here's a close up of this delicious chicken.


beef fried in a light batter. really tasty and reminded me of beef jerky, except wrapped in fried yumminess.


fried dough cut into cubes. crispy when you bite into it but nice and chewy later.


i love this dish. meat and veggies are sandwiched between two pieces of lotus root and then battered and fried. you dip this in soy sauce.


this dish was beautifully presented but unfortunately cilantro struck again. it's a tiny cup of egg custard, kept warm by the large cup/device propping it up (hot water inside).


these braised pork ribs were sooo juicy and tender - i wish i had more!


lightly fried scallops. surprisingly good! the green stuff around it is salty, fried seaweed. oily and crispy - delicious.  we also had chicken fried in the same batter. kind of boring so i'm not posting that one.

sea cucumber. ew. after all these years, i finally succumbed to trying one. i only took a small bite. it was crunchy, chewy, and slimy at the same time. kind of tasteless, but really not worth going through the texture for this.


this dish was one of my favorites of the meal.  it's so simple but the flavors were so powerful that this is now one of the most memorable dishes of the set.  first you are given a juicy piece of fatty pork sitting in light broth with cabbage.  then you mix some rice into the dish, along with soy sauce to taste.  i slurped this down and ate the pork practically in one bite.


another savory dish: stir fried eggplant with ground pork. this is a classic chinese dish, and it was really great here without being overwhelmingly oily.




shrimp! (the little cubes on top are like tiny french fries, except crispier and better - i love little details like this.)


delicious lightly fried fish.

DSC_0475 i didn't know we'd be getting beijing duck too. AUGH! i couldn't imagine eating this at this point. but i did. their duck is cooked differently. instead of the usual beijing duck roasting method, they first roast it and then finish it off by lightly frying the duck. this made the duck extra crispy outside but still tender inside. it was delicious!


a few "dessert" items. candied walnuts and berries.


...and then we finally rolled ourselves out of the restaurant.

Saturday, December 27

digital overload

when i was packing for beijing i realized that i would seem a little crazy - i was bringing 3 cameras (nikon d80, sony cybershot, and a holga), 2 phones (iphone, and global gsm motorola phone to use in beijing), along with all respective chargers and usb connection devices. of course, then there is my laptop.  i had to do a photoshoot of all my electronic equipment.

can't there be 1 universal wire that does EVERYTHING???

Wednesday, December 24

crazy cctv building


apparently, they were trying to finish this in time for the olympics but that didn't happen. cctv is china's main television network - this building is amazing!

beijing kao ya / peking duck!

every time i'm in beijing, my parents take me to the beijing da dong roast duck restaurant - one of the best peking duck places here.  i don't ever remember eating peking duck anywhere else.

i couldn't wait that morning to get out of bed so we could come here for lunch.  to my pleasant surprise, the restaurant has evolved in the past 3 years to include a wide range of food.  the menu was literally a thick hard cover book, with artistic photos for each item taking up an entire page.


it was overwhelming to think that i would have to make room for the duck AND all this great, creative food.  but i did it! 


salad - i don't think i even touched this


one of my favorite dishes here. i think it's called something like "duck treasure" - tender pieces of duck in a savory hoisin sauce with pine nuts and beans, cupped by a delicate crispy "nest" on lettuce!


some kind of sprout (looks like pea sprouts but apparently it's from some kind of tree?)


this was one of those amazing "new" dishes. on the left side is smoked salmon and some kind of crumbs rolled into a layer of avocados. on the left side are tiny fried dough-like objects. it was beautifully presented. when it came to the table the avocado roll had a round glass over it. inside, it was cloudy - when the server lifted the glass the smoke rose into the air and it smelled like our house when we bbq with wood chips. i wish i got a picture of it before they did that!


another one of those new inventions. it came in a huge black bowl, and when i peered over the edge, two plump birds constructed with bak choy lay next to an "egg". it actually wasn't an egg, but steamed fish shaped like an egg. inside the egg, the "yolk" was made of crab roe. this was so creative and absolutely delicious!


another staple. cabbage with chestnuts.


stir fried bean sprouts and green bell pepper.



FINALLY. here comes our whole duck. the servers stand next to your table and carve it for you.


all the duck condiments. on the top left corner, you have sliced cucumbers and turnips. to the right of that, hoisin sauce and scallions; bottom right - garlic and sugar, and the last one is 2 types of pickles.


these are the thin pancakes you use to make your little duck "burrito"


mmm duck. 1 whole duck makes about 2 plates like this, plus the head (which i stay away from)



you can dip the crispy skin in sugar and eat it that way too. really indulgent.


duck soup - just a basic broth. SOOO good and flavorful, and not at all oily/greasy. i had two bowls.


finally we get to "dessert" - this is an almond jelly/soupy like concoction.


and fruit! i looove the little clementine looking things - they have a really weird english name which i'll research later but basically they are teeny tiny oranges and you eat the skin too.

i don't think we ate dinner that night. at least, we just had some light snacks. this was worth it - i am going to try to go back again before i leave!!

Sunday, December 21

dinner - (how is it possible to eat again after bellagio?)


after walking around at this crazy new luxury mall (where i felt like i was either at bloomingdales or rodeo drive - which i never go to - because everything was gucci, prada, chanel, juicy couture, etc etc) we actually went to dinner.

since i was still in a food coma from lunch, i just asked for some simple, casual really didn't matter to me where we went because i was so grateful to just be here. i asked for some "jia chang cai", which means basically home cooking - like the casual chinese dishes you eat everyday at home. mainly, i wanted my favorite potato dish - "tu dou si" - julienned potatoes stir fried with green pepper. see description from chungking post here.


edamame - according to my dad, this was soaked in cooking wine?


veggies! however, this was kind of salty and covered in msg. tasty, but my palate is adjusting to the strength in flavors.


a chicken soup - the broth was wonderfully thick and heavy and there were tiny shreds of coconut mixed in.


yet another delicious fatty dish i always eat in beijing: "mei cai kou rou," meaning preserved vegetable with meat. but the pork is soooo fatty (and delicious and great for my arteries!). i poked it with my chopstick and could see gooey fat coming out. the preserved vegetable stuff at the bottom is what i really love.


the best way to eat the pork dish is to stick a piece in these buns. mm! the golden colored ones you see are baked, while the white ones are steamed. you can dip the baked ones in this creamy condensed milk sauce - sounds weird but really satisfying.


finally, our potato dish arrived. sadly, my parents were extremely unhappy with the way the restaurant butchered this dish. i, however, had less discerning taste since i was just grateful to be eating practically ANYTHING here. but they cooked this in soy sauce (no!) and in oil that had chinese peppers in it (which numbs your mouth). i ate a few bites and thought it was edible, but my parents were vehemently against this dish, telling the server to tell the chef to taste it himself. hilarious!  

also, upon further inspection from our takeout bag, i noticed that this restaurant is translated as "golden tripod attic."  huh??

i'm off to eat "beijing kao ya" (aka peking duck) in a few hours.  but first, i must eat the leftovers from these previous meals for breakfast!