My 3 Must-Eat Meals in Beijing

After seeing my family (almost all of whom live in China save one branch of our family tree), the best thing about visiting China is the food.

The food game in China is next level. It’s not just about the quality and authenticity, but there are ingredients and entire cuisines that you can’t find in the US. Good luck trying to have homemade frogs legs and haw juice over here.

In Beijing, I had 3 must-eat foods that I didn’t want to leave without:

  1. Peking duck
  2. Hot pot
  3. KFC’s 老北京鸡卷 (or “Dragon Twister”, apparently)

Lemme explain.

1. Peking duck

Peking duck is a meal I can’t avoid when in Beijing, aka Peking, and I wouldn’t dream of it anyway. I used to be obsessed with Peking duck, to the point where I ate too much too fast in one evening and stopped eating it for a long time. The crispy duck skin, the succulent meat, the sweet bean or hoisin sauce, the fresh cucumber and scallion, all wrapped up in a thin little pancake. It’s one of my favorite meals back home, and there are a lot of restaurants that do it well here in the US. (In fact, I had Peking duck for my 24th birthday dinner.)

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Christmas dinner, a few hours after I landed in Beijing

But Beijing takes it to that next level, because it is the birthplace of this famous dish. First of all, the history of the dish in this city is extensive. There are several restaurants that have been around for hundreds of years and are household names for Peking duck. Second of all, Beijing hasn’t let tradition keep them from mixing things up, and during my 2014 visit to China, I learned that the toppings game for Peking duck has been elevated. In addition to scallions (mandatory) and cucumber slivers (optional but so common that they’re mandatory for me personally), you can expect to find additional toppings like cantalope melon, rhubarb, mango, and pop rocks.

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Pop rocks! This was a thing I discovered a few years ago but the novelty hasn’t worn off for me just yet. The crispy duck skin is served separately from the meat, and you have the option of dipping the skin into pop rocks for a really fun textural party in your mouth. Some of the more traditional restaurants won’t have pop rocks but will have sugar for you to dip the duck skin. Some places have both, like above. (The green thing next to the cucumber is green pop rocks. Pop rocks!!)

Also, Beijing knows that if you have Peking duck, duck-shaped dinnerware makes 100% sense. I don’t know why US restaurants don’t really serve duck on little duck-shaped platters but it’s super logical and I am a little put out that I can’t have duck on a duck-shaped plate in America.

2. Hot pot

Hot pot is one of my all-time favorite meals anywhere. I love doing hot pot at home, because it’s so warming, you control how your food is cooked because you cook it yourself, you control the flavors with your dipping sauce, it’s a communal experience with everyone around a table. I always eat it the northern/Beijing way, and of course, Beijing is the perfect place to return for that.

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I’ve been meaning to write up a post about how I like to do hot pot, but Beijing has a ton of hot pot restaurants in many different styles. Above is lunch, less than 24 hours after I landed, and they had all of my favorite condiments for making my dipping sauce, these intestine skewers, and prawn chips which I think are brilliant and will try to include in my home meals from now on! (That crunch!) Hot pot warms you from the inside out, especially if you eat mutton, which is considered to be a “heating” food according to Chinese medicine. Make sure to order a LOT of veggies!

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Hot pot is one of those meals with a fairly famous story behind it. Kublai Khan was preparing for battle and, in his hunger, demanded meat, but the hunters were unable to find anything besides a herd of sheep. They brought back lambs and the chef started preparing when Kublai Khan stormed into the kitchen and demanded to know why he was still not eating. He saw that the meat was already sliced and threw it into boiling water, cooking the super-thin slices almost instantly. The meat was served to him with just a little bit of seasoning, he went on to win his battle, and he requested that his chefs prepare lamb for him this way in the future. Above, you can see the traditional way to do hot pot in a traditional steamboat, which isn’t my favorite because the thin slices of meat occasionally stick to the metal in the middle.

3. KFC (… in China)

KFC may be cause for a few raised eyebrows, so let me explain. A few years ago, my cousin took me to a KFC and ordered me the 老北京鸡卷 (laobeijing jijuan, or Old Beijing chicken wrap) and I absolutely loved it. It is Peking duck – pancake, sauce, scallions – but instead of roast duck you have fried chicken. I was eagerly looking forward to eating it during my last trip to China, and was told I’d get to have it.

But I didn’t. And that disappointment had been sitting in the pit of my stomach for over 2 years. I knew that when I finally got to eat it, it wouldn’t be as good as the hype that was building but I couldn’t help it. Fried chicken AND Peking duck?

I told my family during our first Peking duck meal that I wanted to get my KFC this time and I was gonna do it, dangnabit! And get it I did, thanks for my wonderful aunts who were all too happy to oblige my weird American-ness.

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We went to the first KFC that was opened in China, which was in fact the first Western fast food restaurant to open in China. To be honest, I don’t eat KFC in America, but I love KFC in China. I love that they were the first ones there, I love how they’ve adapted the menu to cater to local tastes with dishes like the Dragon Twister (I honestly had no idea it was supposedly called that). Once my dad came back with breakfast a few years back and said he got it from KFC. I thought that was excessive and weird and opened my eyes to see traditional Chinese breakfast foods that I know and love!

And I finally got my chicken wrap. And yes, it wasn’t that mind-blowing, partly because it seemed to have been sitting for a little bit and wasn’t very fresh. But I still think it’s a beautiful thing, to take all the fun of Peking duck and then throw fried chicken in there.

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I ate so much good food in Beijing, and had a lot of great dining experiences. But when I was in the air, I wanted to make sure I ate these 3 things before I flew back home.

I’m very grateful to my family for making this happen for me, and for spoiling me silly by feeding me so much wonderful, delicious food.

What are some of your can’t-leave-without-eating-this foods and meals?
Do you have any for China?
Previously, I had 拔丝地瓜 (basidigua, yams covered in caramel that pulls away from the plate when you try to eat it) on my must-eat list but I think it’s getting too messy for me to enjoy as much as I did when I was a lot younger. However, I still have yet to see anywhere in America offer it on their menu, while it’s still hugely popular in China and I did get to eat it when I went back this time!

Sick Day Stream of Consciousness

Hi all,

I am still more under-the-weather than I thought I’d be, so my blog post isn’t quite ready for you just yet.

Just wanted to check in and say hi and maybe say a few things.

  1. Have you seen La La Land and, if so, what did you think? I liked it, but it was not as amazing as I was led to think it would be going in. People overhyped it and I thought there was a lot of room for improvement. That being said, I will never be mad watching Ryan Gosling return to his dancing roots.
  2. I haven’t watched the newest episode of Sherlock yet, please no spoilers.
  3. While I was sick last week, I watched the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy for the first time. (I watched The Phantom Menace in theaters when it came out and fell asleep, I was pretty young…) Would you be interested in me including just every movie I see in a year-end recap or is the new releases of the year enough? Currently, the new releases recap excludes, for example, if I see a December release in January of the following year.
  4. Should I start watching the Korean drama that DramaFever has been promoting on Facebook so hard???
  5. My coworker offered to teach me to lift on Wednesday morning and now I’m so scared, that pride thing may be the death of me. (Also 7:30AM?)
  6. Still a bit jetlagged because I slept through so much of my sick days that I wasn’t able to adjust as efficiently as I usually do. Yesterday morning I woke up at 2:30AM and just never went back to sleep, instead opting for a day full of activities to celebrate my company’s 15th anniversary.

How are you doing? Is 2017 treating you well so far?

27 + 72 Hours

I’m home from being with family in China for over 2 weeks! But getting here was a long journey. While I flew direct from DC to Beijing by using the miles I’ve been hoarding, I chose a flight with a layover on the way back to a) save some money and b) so that the timing would be a little more convenient. I didn’t want my family in China taking me to the airport in the middle of the day or for my boyfriend picking me up to have to come to the airport really early or really late.

So, my flight left Beijing Saturday evening at 1:25AM, which meant my family could be in and out of the airport by 12:30 and I could spend the entire day with them. It was a great last day, except for the sniffles I got. (That pollution is no joke!)

My flight to Doha was pretty uneventful, except for the flight attendant waking me for every meal, none of which I was interested in eating. (Why would I want dinner 2 hours after takeoff, it’s 3:30 let me sleep.) In fact, I hardly remembered takeoff at all, and when I opened my eyes on my own again, we had arrived.

This was my first time flying internationally alone. I realized this as I got to the transfers line and went through another security screening. Hamad International Airport is really nice and I enjoyed taking it all in while I walked to find my gate. After walking something like half a mile to get there, I realized my sniffles were maybe worse than I was letting myself believe.

After a quick call with my family, I was urged to get something to eat, since I refused all the meals on my flight. But I didn’t feel well enough to eat. And I was feeling very frustrated by the fact that almost all of the food was back where I started, miles and miles away. (It’s a large airport.) I sat down at one of the edge tables of an illy coffeeshop and started feeling very helpless. I’d never flown internationally solo before, and now I was also sick with no one to help take care of me, in a foreign country in a new airport I wanted to explore but just didn’t have the energy to.

I had a little bit of an emotional breakdown at the table, when a really kind server came by and offered to bring me a water. He got me a nice bottle of water and some napkins to dry my tears (slash for me to blow my nose into, I was pretty disgusting at this state) and when I thanked him he said, “Please, miss, just smile okay?” After his show of kindness and giving my boyfriend a call, I felt a bit better, but still really physically crummy. Plus, I was pretty embarrassed to have been caught crying in public.

So, without exploring the airport much, it was through another security screening before boarding my flight back to DC. I never took my temperature during the flight, but I’m pretty sure I was in full-blown fever mode when I woke up after sleeping through the first half of it. At that point, I wanted to sleep more, let my body rest and recover…

.. but I’d slept for nearly 15 hours total at that point. It was a little difficult to coax my body into more sleep immediately. I watched some in-flight entertainment (Qatar Airways has a really great selection) and had one meal and somehow managed to lull myself back to sleep.

Several times over the course of the next 6 hours, in little intervals of 1-2 hours. It was a little painful but I didn’t want to do anything besides sleep and feel my hot fever-breath on my face after I put my hood over my face so as not to breathe my germs all over my fellow passengers.

We arrived nearly an hour later than planned, and the landing almost made me throw up. (My seat mate, who had been quietly sleeping the whole flight spent the descent heaving into a bag.) I also realized when we landed that my period was early, hence the waterworks back in Doha. Also my nose had begun bleeding from dryness… BUT eventually, I got my bag from baggage claim (Qatar Airways has a much lower weight restriction for carry-on bags than I realized) and was reunited with my boyfriend, over 27 hours after leaving Beijing. 

(In hindsight, I would spend the extra money for a direct flight, since the time from Beijing to DC and Doha to DC is about the same… so the 9 hours for my flight from Beijing to Doha and my 2+ hour layover were the cost I paid for the cheaper ticket.)

I then spent over 72 hours at home, mostly in bed, mostly sleeping. I fully intended to go to work Monday morning, and was in a rush to get home, get showered, and get ready… but my fevers and runny nose kept me at home.

For the next three four days.

My triumphant Monday return was delayed until today, Friday, and even so I barely have the energy to show my face at work. My suitcase was untouched from where my boyfriend had brought it up, since I was too feverish to carry it on my own and, then, to even consider unpacking it, and my sleep schedule was essentially more on China-time than US-time, as I would fall asleep around 2AM, wake up at 6AM (no alarm needed), and then take a 7-hour fever nap after considering (but ultimately not eating) lunch during my days at home. (As per last year, kicking off the new year at a low body weight thanks to illness…)

Anyhow, I haven’t been this sick in a very long time, and I haven’t been sick at all for over a year, dodging the multiple colds that have gone around my office throughout the year. It’s a matter of personal pride, at this point, that I haven’t gotten my coworkers’ diseases, and the streak continues since they were no where to be found when I got sick this time around.

Stay healthy my friends!
Do you have any tips for what you do when you’re sick?
I usually employ some never-fail tricks but have been unable to use them with my travels. Maybe I’ll share them soon, since a lot of folks have been sick!

2016 in Books

Last year was one of the first years I managed to keep my meager reading resolution! I had to face the hard truth and be realistic with my goal of one book per month, which was very achievable given that I either didn’t read at all in a month or would go on a streak and read many books.

One of the biggest challenges was dedicated reading time. As I mentioned in my 2016 resolutions post, dedicated reading time is key to achieving a certain quantity of books read. For most of my post-grade school life, my dedicated reading time has been on my commute. This meant a lot of reading during my painful 2-hours-each-way days, but not as much reading at my significantly more comfortable 20-minutes-door-to-door job. I also have been reading less on my morning commute, specifically, since we got an Express hawker at my metro stop, which means I will opt to read that morning’s paper instead of my book in the morning. Before committing to reading, I would read the paper in the morning and do the crossword and/or Sudoku puzzles in the afternoon. Now, I try to just read as much as I can in the morning, and then recycle the paper as soon as I get off the train. (I miss my puzzles, though.)

As listed in my 2017 resolutions post, here are some contributing factors for how I was able to achieve my modest reading goal this year:

  1. The Blogging for Books program gave me fresh reading material and motivation to complete books so I could review them.
  2. I invested in an eReader, after years of hardcore resisting, because it really is very convenient to be able to carry so many books so easily.
  3. There was extensive work on the metro that led to some severe delays during my commute, so I tried to make lemonade from that lemon and would read during these hour-long delays. Ah, it was almost like the olden days of my commute, except instead of traveling several miles, I was just sitting underground waiting for 5 trains to pass. Good reading was done, and it kept me calm.

I reviewed the books I received through Blogging for Books here, but I wanted to just give a shoutout to my favorite reads of the year and put together a little cover-collage like I do with my annual movie round-up.

The Tsar of Love and Techno is, by far, one of my favorite fiction novels. I’ve been recommending it left and right for Anthony Marra’s devastatingly gorgeous prose and insights into Russia through the ages. I don’t often reread books, but I get the feeling I’ll be revisiting it soon. Even though I finished the book a year ago, now, I still remember lines and characters and storylines really vividly. It’s a book that will stick with me for a long time.

The Street of Eternal Happiness was a better read than I was expecting. Written by an outsider journalist, this book and its narrative style taught me a lot more about China and its different generations of people than I think I would have learned organically. If you enjoyed Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, another book written with several non-fiction narratives that paint a telling portrait of a city and a country (Mumbai, India vs. Shanghai, China), you’ll like this one. I would recommend both of these books to anyone interested in people, anthropology, history, and how narratives emerge from the three.

The Martian had a lot of hype to live up to, since I watched the stellar movie before reading Andy Weir’s original book, but it exceeded the hype. It was so smartly-written, so well-researched, and didn’t fall victim to the little things that Hollywood did to the story to try to, well, Hollywood it. (Looking at the erasure of Asian characters and that absurd Iron Man scene at the end…) I laughed out loud, I anxiously sat at the edge of my seat, I found myself so disappointed when the book came to an end. All the hype about Weir’s intense research for the science of the book couldn’t prepare me for how real it all felt. So worthy of a film adaptation that helped me visualize things that were harder to conceptualize in the novel (like where things on Mars were respective of each other) but both media are both consuming for this story.

Weapons of Math Destruction first came across my radar when author Cathy O’Neil came to DC for a reading and signing. I didn’t go and I regret it now, because she really nailed how shifting to a data-driven world without considering the consequences of doing so sloppily is hurting those who are already disadvantaged. Read this if you care about data, how it’s used, and how it can affect you, but also because the style of writing is simple, straight-forward, informative without being dry, and keeps you wanting more.

Crazy Rich Asians popped up on my radar when it was published by Kevin Kwan over a year ago, and I absolutely devoured it – start to finish – during my train ride from Beijing to Changde. First of all, it’s going to make you want to go to Singapore ASAP to eat. Second of all, it provides a look at the people who are part of the statistic of Singapore being home to the most millionaires in the world. The Western world doesn’t really hear much about the rich Asians that are quietly buying up companies and running the world, but even more interesting than this look at the upper echelons of life was the characters. They are full of depth, their Asian-ness is both a big part of their identities and not a defining characteristic. What would I give to be in the film adaptation of this movie, which I hear will be casting Chinese and Asian actors.

Those are my stand-outs from this year. Some notes I have for books I haven’t reviewed on this blog:

  • As much as I like the KonMari method and the idea of it, I am such a sentimental hoarder that it causes me a lot of pain to think about throwing away my stuff when all my junk does, in fact, “spark joy”. I may have to reevaluate how much joy and if it’s worth it, but I hated how she suggested just throwing out bags of stuff.  There has to be a better way.
  • Aziz Ansari is underrated for how astute his observations about modern romance are. The characters he portrays on TV and on stage seem very silly, but he seems like a very observant, empathetic guy who really understands people’s motivations and thoughts.
  • The Book Thief  was so hyped up for me and I was on the waitlist for it so many times but I just didn’t feel it. (I did cry when one of the characters died, though.)
  • I really love the Game of Thrones books, they are much better than I was expecting them to be. I haven’t read fiction at this epic level in a long while, and boy, is it a treat. The books are so long but I am enjoying them a lot.
  • Unfortunately, I really didn’t like Between the World and Me. Something about Ta-Nehisis Coates’s writing style just isn’t my cup of tea, as I felt similarly reading his write-up in The Atlantic about President Obama.
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Are we friends on Goodreads yet?

What books would you recommend I read in 2017? There are a lot of classics I’m thinking about reading, including books everyone read in high school but my class, apparently. (Sorry Harper Lee fans.) I don’t even know how to find new books now. I get really scared when I start a new fiction since one of my biggest busts this year was a work of fiction by an author I am unfamiliar with. It’s been so long that I just read and read and read, and I feel like now I feel the stakes are higher since my reading time is more precious.

Right now, I finally have my hands on Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words so I’ll be starting the year with that, if I like it enough to finish it!

… and I believe that should be the last of my 2016 recaps! I am back from China and will be putting up some recaps and thoughts from that trip shortly.

2016 in Film

As you may know, I love movies. I used to dream of achieving stardom in Hollywood (it’s not too late, you say?) and I started truly enjoying watching movies as art as well as for entertainment when I was in middle school. Here are the new releases I saw in 2016, in the order that I watched them (* denotes an early viewing):

  1. Deadpool
  2. Knight of Cups*
  3. Zootopia
  4. I Saw the Light*
  5. Mother’s Day*
  6. Keanu*
  7. Captain America: Civil War*
  8. Me Before You*
  9. The Lobster
  10. Nerve*
  11. Star Trek Beyond*
  12. Jason Bourne
  13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  14. Rogue One

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Not a lot, this year… You can see how strong I was going with the early screenings and then it just kind of… fizzled away as I started feeling the toll of all those movie screenings. But on the plus side, I managed to write reviews for nearly every new release I saw this year! (Except for Jason Bourne. Sorry, Matt Damon.)

This list is subject to change as I am putting it together before I leave for China, where I am unable to update this blog. However, in the past, I have had a lot of last-minute additions to the list due to my flight to China carrying new titles!

I know I missed a lot of movies this year that I’ve been meaning to see.

What are the movies I definitely need to find and watch? I still want to see Moana and I have heard so many great things about La La Land.

Past new release round-ups: 2015 | 2014 | 2013