Down for Dumplings

Wednesday, April 20, 2011:  Beijing Bound

Down for Dumplings

We were finished with Tianamen Square by high noon. The day felt muggy and gross, especially after standing on the endless line to see Mao Zedong. All that sweating and squinting made us hungry.

Our wonderful Mr. Kang took us to a local dumpling shop. To begin, Dad had a hard time getting in the restaurant, for there were only steps and no ramps for the handicapped. For a few minutes, we all stood there dumbfounded as to what to do. Three ladies were still too weak support systems to lift a heavy combination of Dad plus wheelchair. Luckily, the waitresses and a manly manager came out, looking as dumbfounded as we were. The ladies were useless with us, but the manager helped Mr. Kang lift Dad up the shallow steps. The scene was slightly comical, just knowing that the heavy labor entailed in lifting a man in a wheelchair up several steps, long or shallow, was not part of their job description. Seriously, walking down the streets of China anywhere, most elder people were not wheelchair-bound or crippled like Americans here. In general, people are less lazy and more health-conscious. People take stairs, ride bicycles, take walks, exercise in the parks, etc…

Chefs hard at work

Dumplings, or 餃子 jiao zi, from Beijing were authentic and astounding. They were handmade (手工製作 shou gong zhi zuo) and stuffed with yummy mixtures, NOT the bootleg frozen dumplings born from machines. Chefs rolled the dough and mixed the stuffings consisting of pork, chicken, shrimp, eggs, vegetables, etc… in their glass-enclosed isolation room for the public to see. We offered Mr. Kang to join us, but he kept politely resisting our offer. For helping us this entire trip and taking us all about Beijing, we really wanted him to join in our festivities. But I guess he did not want to intrude on our family gathering or he was just being polite. Either way, Mom packed some fresh dumplings and dishes we ordered on several plates and walked out of the restaurant. Yea, it looked weird when she tried walking out the restaurant with plates of food and of course, she was stopped at the door. I was sure the lovely waitresses were dumbstruck again that Mom was casually leaving the restaurant with their food and fine utensils. But, Mom has her way with words, and she went out to Mr. Kang. He was very thankful, and we were glad he was with us as well.

Now, to the delicious family pig-out.

1)   Pig Skin Jelly – 肉皮凍 Rou Pi Dong

It sounds disgusting, but worth a try. It is seriously no different from eating Jello, gummy bears, marshmallow Peeps, and other sweet goodies, just minus the dental consequences and holy cavities. It’s a cold dish made from pig skin:  gelatinous, savory, and probably fattening. The gelatin that makes the consistency so elastic and chewy is derived from collagen typically found in animal skin and bones. Most gelatin comes from pork skins, and hence, arises one of Beijing’s ethnic dishes. If I talk more about this Pig Skin Jelly goodness, I will probably be arrested by the PETA police or even envision my fellow readers puke on their sparkly clean Macbooks, so I’ll move on to something more universally appetizing =)

2)   Chicken Stomach/Intestines – 雞腸 Ji Chang

– This was a bold dish to try. I gobbled it down because 1) I was hungry and 2) I didn’t think about what I was putting through my system.

3)   Chicken – 雞 Ji, specifically Shou Si Ji (Shredded Chicken)

– Pure white meat chicken with browned skin… enough said.

4)   Kiwi-Banana fruit juice, 100% au naturel

– I’d just like to comment on how much I love fruit juice in China. It is freshly blended and 100% juice. It has the pulp and the fiber, no added ingredients such as sugar or preservatives. It is pure, fresh, and revitalizing. Now I want to invest in a blender and more fruits in my pantry =)

5)   Dumplings – 餃子Jiao Zi

– Steaming dumplings straight out of the boiling water could not have tasted any better. The dumpling skin had the ideal chew factor. That is, the bite down into the hot dumpling was enjoyable because the special flavors meshed well and complemented the elasticity of the dumpling dough. The dumplings also came with ‘Dumpling Soup,’ which was just the water the dumplings were boiled in. The waitress served the dumpling soup from a kettle. I found the dumpling soup particularly refreshing and tasteful, but Kelly just stared at me. She said to me, “How could you LIKE the soup?? It’s just dumpling WATER that is just BLAND!” I shrugged my shoulders, gave her a smile, and slurped down the last drops of my dumpling soup =)

Shrimp and cucumbers:  Titillating combination! Usually dumplings are stuffed with various meats and vegetables, but tender shrimp and cucumbers are out of the ordinary. Also, I’m used to eating cucumbers the Shanghainese way, mixed with sesame oil, vinegar, and seasoning for a light appetizer. So these dumplings were a twist to my normal culinary preferences that were surprisingly satisfying.

Egg and chives:  Chives and green onions are frequent additions to various meats in dumplings. Now, with eggs, a classic breakfast ingredient in America, in dumplings, dumplings have

Pork and mushrooms

We left the restaurant satisfied. Again, Dad had to get out the way he came in. The restaurant workers were prepared for us this time, as they promptly came to the door when we were leaving. Going down for Dad was a little easier for the men, since gravity gave an extra nudge.

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