Roast Duck Dynasty

Beijingers love their roast duck. It’s a dish that’s synonymous with the capital and has been served since imperial times.

There’s even a museum dedicated to Peking roast duck (北京鸭子), which walks visitors through its origins and, more interestingly, shows step-by-step how the animal goes from the farm to your dinner plate. The museum is located on the seventh floor of Quanjude (全聚德), one of Beijing’s most popular roast duck restaurants.

First, we see the ducks sunning under radiant blue skies, enjoying their last moments of freedom.

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Now in captivity, the ducks are fed to fatten them up, so they can later return the favor and fatten you up.

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Stubborn ducks that skip meals will not be tolerated.

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Once they’re nice and plump, things get serious and out comes the knife. Continue reading

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Hole-in-the-wall restaurant leaves hole in the stomach

I’m a big believer in giving second chances. And if you’re a restaurant that serves great dumplings for less than $2 a serving, I’ll even give you a third, fourth and fifth chance even if the occasional batch leaves me feeling a little green.

Such was the case at my favorite neighborhood dumpling joint, 杭州小吃 (Hangzhou Snacks). The place has all the characteristics of a Chinese dive restaurant. Limited seating. Few spouts for hand washing. No bathroom. And dirt-cheap prices.

A middle-aged man runs the restaurant with his wife. He’s short on words and smiles but always remembers what I want: two orders of dumplings and a tall, cold bottle of Yangjing beer. The man often smokes cigarettes while he cooks, occasionally looking up at a TV mounted to the wall to read a headline on the 6 o’clock news.

The man takes care of the steamed buns and dumplings, while his wife boils the soups and serves the vegetable and rice dishes. She’s the charmer of the two, and not averse to greeting me with a smile when I settle my bill.

The dumplings are comfort food, the Chinese equivalent of my mom’s salmon patties and mashed potatoes. But for a foreigner with a weak stomach, eating there comes with a risk. As one of my friends eloquently put it: “I go there regularly. After eating their dumplings, I also have to go regularly, if you know what I mean.”

But, like a girl who refuses to leave her abusive boyfriend, I kept coming back, until a recent bout of food poisoning that forced me to see a doctor. His advice? Stay away from the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food. “Even we don’t eat that stuff,” he said.

That was two months ago, and I’ve since heeded his advice. Still, there are days when I pass by the restaurant, spot a bowl of fresh dumplings steaming up the window and think about stopping.

My heart says go, but my stomach says hell no.

 

Red duck district

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My favorite roast duck restaurant in Beijing, Liqun, is a bit tricky to find if you’re a first-time visitor. It’s located in a hutong, or alleyway, and the neighborhood isn’t particularly well-lit at night.

Fortunately, someone came up with the ingenious idea of drawing a series of ducks on the side of a building nearby. So once you get close, all you have do is — literally — “follow the ducks” … and then eat them, of course.

The Queen of Beers

If Budweiser is the King of Beers, then Hello Kitty is definitely the Queen of Beers.

Available in six tropical flavors — including passion fruit, lemon lime and banana – Hello Kitty Beer is sure to sap whatever manliness you possess with just one sip. The beer was introduced in Taiwan and is now available on the Chinese mainland.

According to ABC News, the beverage is marketed toward adult fans of the cartoon cat (wink, wink; take a look at the can and judge for yourself). Continue reading

Fragrance of fitness vs. KFC’s 11 herbs and spices

Over the weekend, I hiked to the top of a mountain at Fragrant Hills Park, an imperial garden in northwest Beijing. The park is well-known for its Smoke Tree leaves, which turn red in late autumn, attracting thousands of tourists.

I reached the peak – 557 meters above ground – in an hour and a half, and after I climbed the final set of stairs I turned around to take in a view of the city. Just as I pulled out my cellphone to take a picture, an old man using a walking stick passed me. He was hiking barefoot and shirtless, and moving at a brisk pace. He must have been at least 60 and was fit too, especially for his age.

The man who passed me at the top of the mountain.

I wouldn’t want to challenge this guy to a race.

While I stood in the shade to collect my breath and give my burning legs a rest, the man kept going, passing a large rock formation and an ancient temple, until I could no longer see him. Continue reading

Small town PRC

By the time the sun set in Anxi, the only noise I could hear outside was the crow of a lone rooster. The streets near the home where I was staying were empty. The skies were dark, lit up only by stars peeking out from the clouds blowing overhead.

It reminded me of home.

I come from a small town in Eastern Kentucky. Small as in population 6,000. Anxi, population 1 million, is a “small” place too, according to the family I stayed with. Continue reading

Fast-food salads and smoothies? I’m not lovin’ it!

USA Today reported last week that Burger King was making a series of changes to its menu in an effort to create a new image. It wanted to offer more healthy options.

“It doesn’t sound like Burger King,” the article said. “There’s a quiet whir of blenders crafting made-to-order smoothies with real strawberry, banana and mango pieces. Nor does it taste like Burger King. Not when one of its three new salads is topped with tangy apple slices and dried cranberries, and covered in an apple cider vinaigrette. You can even get made-to-order frappes.”

The fast-food chain’s home page shows pictures of the new items, but none of the juicy patty of meat for which it is named. Why Burger King wants to reinvent its image is beyond me. Continue reading