Onto food! Not the food they’ve been feeding us. That’s been solidly passable cafeteria fare. No, worth mentioning more is the three hour lunch I had yesterday featuring Peking duck courtesy of one of the directors. Wonderful delicious duck fat and some great veggies to pair.
Secondly, I saw a middle school classmate I haven’t seen in damn near ten years The friend, Beulah, used to play bass at Portola, before going to a different high school and Columbia university. The fact that I am old enough already to have gone ten years without seeing someone I know is a bit surprising. We went to little Russia, or Yabao street, which used to be the main area for Siberian traders back in the day, and has maintained a sizeable Russian population today that has resulted in many Russian-speaking Chinese residents as well. Having grown up in the Bay Area where the largest immigrant community with its own neighborhood is Chinatown, it’s always really cool to see these kinds of things in other areas, whether it’s Little Italy in Boston or Russian town in Beijing. Didn’t spend as much time there as I wanted, but did get some chocolate and vodka from one of the stores to take home with me. No tea or cognac chocolates though which was my main goal.
From there on to nanluoguxiang, an old alley that’s been reborn as a snack/shopping/bar pedestrian street, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Beijing. There I bought some Beijing specialty snacky type things, and moon cakes, which are oh so delicious. There’s just something about the crust and sweet fillings that gets to me. They can actually be filled with any variety of things, from hawthorne, to dates, to nuts, to other berries, really anything. They’re called mooncakes cus they’re round, like the moon (when it’s full at least), and are traditionally given during the mid-Autumn festival when the moon is at its fullest, but can be eaten whenever. They also represent friendship and family togetherness, as a full moon is full, just as family coming back together as is customary on mid-Autumn festival.
Pictured here with my present (consolation prize?) from one of the directors. A book called “Unusual Language” that I’m looking very forward to reading.
On to drink. Those of you who put up with me may know about the drink recipe I carry in my wallet, and have probably heard me rave about both it and the bar where I had it. The drink is the “Queen of Renaissance” and is essentially a corpse recover no. 2 with white wine vermouth subbed for Cointreau. It’s sweet, smooth, tasty, and incredibly alcoholic. I actually got a free corpse reviver by teaching I to a bartender in Bellingham, Washington.
The bar where I had it is 毛毛虫 (mao mao chong, Caterpillar) in Beijing, off nanluoguxiang down a long and poorly lit alley with little else, its small size making it easy to miss. Probably no more than 25 seats, a single bartender, a single oven cranking out two personal pizzas at a time (pretty good if I do say so), two beers on tap, and a bar stocked with some of the most mystical things I’ve ever seen.
As soon as I read their cocktail list I fell in love. They do a bunch of in-house infusions, e.g. Thai tea whiskey, fig bourbon, Sichuan chili tequila, oolong vodka, chili vodka, lemongrass vodka, chrysanthemum vodka, pandan vodka (vodka’s easy to infuse, eh?) I think that’s all that comes to mind.
Sadly the Queen was absent from the menu this time around, but I still found enough to satisfy my love of innovative unique delicious cocktails. Firstly was the “tail of the dragon” which was two types of vodka, lemongrass and chili, mixed with lychee liqueur, coconut milk, garnished with mint leaf. Had a kick to it while remaining sweet.
Next I had the “gentleman’ martini”: Bombay sapphire gin, chrysanthemum vodka, and dry vermouth garnished with an orange twist. One of my favorite martinis I’ve had, and the chrysanthemum came through, but I would have liked sweet vermouth rather than dry to make it a little more drinkable to a wider array of palates.
Beulah went with something with the Thai tea whiskey, which was actually palatable to me!
Here’s a snapshot of one of their older special menus to give you an idea. A must-visit if you’re ever in Beijing.
Another fun story, that will make more sense if you’ve ever seen Shaolin Soccer. If you haven’t, watch it. All you need to know is that there’s a restaurant in the film that has a woman making 馒头 (man tou, man toh), steamed buns that are the main staple starch for a lot of northern China. Seeing them in this movie, I thought they were super sweet, sumptuous morsels of bready goodness. When I came to China for the first time, I came to find out that they are for the most part completely flavorless, a little dry, and filling. That’s not to say bad, just not what I was expecting.
To my surprise again though, the man tou served at breakfast here are the man tou I’ve been searching for since the age of six. Super sweet, moist, satisfying, and even better if dipped in warm milk (not the prescribed Chinese way of eating them, but I DGAF). A funny thing that made this trip a little more special.
Speaking of special, I’ll leave you with this shirt, that seems to be some devious propaganda devised by Disney and Cambells’