"You and I are so crazy about each other, as hot as a potter's fire. Out of the same chunk of clay, shape a you, shape a me. Crush us both into clay again, mix it with water, reshape a you, reshape a me. So, I have you in my body, and you'll have me forever in yours, too."
-- trans. by Qiu Xiaolong
HuYa Jiaozi Restaurant 虎丫餃子餐廳, hiding in the far end of a rugged hutong, is a long and squalid way to go for a jiaozi shop in Beijing, the "Jiaozipolis" of China. But what a jiaozi shop -- you have more than thirty different kinds of fillings to choose from.
Sit down and order jiaozi by the liang (one liang = 50g). Sit down and be a man and order at least 10 liangs for yourself. Triple your pleasure with their signature "shan xia" jiaozi (三鮮餃子), or three umami dumplings: debauch yourself with a menage a trois of pork, shrimp and sea cucumber. Is it too much to have all the "shan xia" by your good self? You'll have to find out yourself. But then what a jiaozi!
Li's Cuisine: Just one of the nine million bicycles in Beijing.
"There are nine million bicycles in Beijing." Katie Melua once whispered this to me many moons ago when we're in a tryst. She went on with how many light years we are from the edge and, what a vast population we've in the world...
I bet she revealed a whole lot more similar palavers to me in sight and in sound that night but I could barely remember a thing: I was too busy then sucking the truthiness about her bicycles remark. It sounded flat out froth to me at that time. Because, 9 million? It didn't add up. It sounded, well, plainly too lyrical to be true.
Think for a second. Have you ever seen any bike when you're taking a breather in the Great Wall, or in the Forbidden City, or Summer Palace, or Tienanmen, or Wangfujing or even when swimming with a bunch of octogenarians in Zhongnanhai? What happens to the bikes? Sure there're many but if there're 9 million of them, you should be able to see it everywhere whether it is high noon or twilight, shi ma? In fact, by the law of average, if the figure is so true, how come there was not a splashing about of your flesh and fluid by crazy running bikes in droves last time you're in Beijing? The whole damn thing just not being logical...
Incidentally, there are 16 pages for the menu of Li's Cuisine with each single page featuring one prix fixe. The whole thing doesn't make any sense either. The prix fixes start from RMB200 on page une to a whopping RMB2,000 on page finale. Yet, the cheapest prix fixe shares exactly the same 10 starters with that of the most expensive one. In short, there are to be 10 or even more identical dishes no matter what you order.
Why bother with all the hassles to come up with 16 tasting menus when they contain more or less the same dishes? If you want to show to the world you got moves you got styles you got tastes and all that, we have a thing called a la carte.
The irrationality doesn't stop here. All dining rooms of Li's Cuisine have photo albums placed somewhere in. They are photo collection of all the big shots, politicians and CEOs and all the people that make you feel like a midget standing next to who have had dinner here. That despite, this prowess showmanship failed to add up to me yet again as I leafing through. The gang pictured are all occidentals -- this whole stash to me relates nothing to the food, Chinese food no less. In fact, we were dining together with two Beijing old-timers and both of them said they could churn out something better from their own kitchen. I, on the other hand, being someone living in Hong Kong and someone who have tried their steepest selection through the mill, can tell you any decent seafood restaurant of us can beat Li's Cuisine in their own game as far as seafood delicacy goes, be it abalone, sharks fins, bird's nest and the fish maw.
I wish I could have Li's Cuisine etched on my memory with her food. But sadly that isn't the case. It's just an airy fuss with nothing brilliant to it in the end, as though the fact there're nine million bicycles in Beijing.
Bibendum's Red Guide is rumored to come to Asia. 2008.
Fujiyama & Co. is in a dead cert for
one red guide herself for the restaurants in Tokyo are well in a league of their own when it
comes to fine dining Asia. Beijing, on the other hand is cut out to follow suit because of the Summer Olympics and hence the strong pull for visitors, among other reasons. In case the rumor miss anything, it'd be how much the newsstands in Shenzhen
will charge you for a pirated copy.
Oh yes, I hear someone asking: "just two of Asia?"
No. There is more.
As "a tale of two cities" as ever, both Singapore and
Hong Kong were short-listed and we are in the dark who was anointed --
Sillypore has better English in its corner but Honkie Town got better -- I must say it -- dim sum. It all boils down to ANMC: Asia's Next Michelin City.
Chances are, with the usual practice of holding the coronation ceremony in October, the elusive delegates of Michelin
are somewhere doing their inspections in Tokyo, Beijing and,
Singapore or/and Hong Kong (who's to say there can't be a tie?) NOW to
secure a timely launch.
That's all I've got to say now.
And one more thing...
TianDi Beijing will make the list. You'll see five sets of crossed utensil -- hope they remember to change the fork into chopsticks -- next to its anecdote to signal super lush. They've without doubt the most comprehensive wine list in the whole China. The setting is a showcase of opulence orchestrated by an aesthete of a restaurateur. The service is as impeccable as it can be, at least by China standard. All well and good except there's no telling how many star it will be garlanded with its menu. Because plainly, nothing I tried impressed me.
"In the teahouses one could hear the most absurd stories," Lao She (1899-1966) writes of the scene set in one of his best-known works: Teahouse《茶館》.
Since the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, Lao She, one of China's favorite literary sons, or the People's Artist -- as he was commonly hailed by readers -- was incessantly denounced and criticized by the publicity machinery of Chairman Mao's regime. Finally, the curtain fell at the dusk of October 24, 1966. Lao She, aged 67, drowned himself in a Beijing lake, maybe humiliation, maybe dismalness, maybe revulsion and maybe hell after being paraded through streets in chains and banners and beaten up by the Red Guards for more than 6 hours the day before.
Jiang Qing (江青), figurehead of the Cultural Revolution, had this to say of Lao She when asked what badges the writer "counter-revolutionary/reactionary" and why his "reformation" is needed: "he is a capitalistic writer because he eats an egg everyday for breakfast."
40 years on, the teahouse named after that man is said to be one of the most cash-generating teahouses in China.
"Woah woah woah Chen my man, Ya got soul! Wat is that ya just did after da flipwork?"
"Oh tis? Da Black Dragon Fannin' His Tail (烏龍擺尾)." "And da one before that?" "Holdin' da Moon in My Arm (懷中抱月)."
"Wat's 2B next?" "Notchin' Up Step by Step (步步高陞) N da Eagle Spread (大鵬展翅), if U so wish." "Hold on a sec, lemme take a seat...notchin' wat?" "See your glass movin' up as I pour?" "That is smooth, that is Super Bad! N which one is your fave?" "Got 2 B da dragon, I feeeeeeel good whenever I do it (自我感覺非常好)!"
What is the "taste of Beijingness" (jingweier京味兒), as they often say?
Could it be those grandpas in Houhai Park "walking" their birds? Or the penetrating herbal stench of Tongrentang? A quiet stroll along Wangfujing and Dongdan late in the autumn? The Jingbianzi (the savvy Beijing accent, 京片子) your cab driver kept trashin' but you could never understand? A ride in an old-fashioned pedicab through the hutongs of Shicha Hai? Or, a treasure hunt at the Panjiayuan Antiques Market?
of a quake off Taiwan and the Internet outage ensued, I got to
read mawkish Chinese newspapers lately more than ever before.
and gratefully, in a short spell less than 2 weeks, I become a thinker
loaded with observations. UnLike so many others, I start to worry a
little about the growing of a monstrous and colossus China overpowering
that may bully its neighborhood and progressively the whole world in